A Hero from the Wee County
by PETER RUSSELL
with additional material by Elizabeth Trowbridge
with additional material by Elizabeth Trowbridge
Thomas Callan, the sixth and youngest child of Peter Callan and his wife, Ann(e) Hackett,1 was born in Rathiddy, Louth Parish, County Louth. He was baptised on 13 July 1853, which also may have been the same day as his birth: a rare event but apparently not entirely unknown in the Catholic Church. Nicholas Callan and Catherine Jane Kelly were chosen as sponsors (godparents).2 Nothing more is known of his life in Ireland.
Emigration to America
One source says the family left Ireland and emigrated from Liverpool to New York aboard the 1,448-ton ship Cultivator in 1856, whereas another suggests it was the following year.3 At first they lived in Greenpoint, Long Island,4 but by June 1860 the Callans were firmly established in Newark, New Jersey.5
Thomas Callan, who was educated at St. Patrick’s [Brothers] School in Newark, left home at an early age to learn the undertaking business before venturing into the grocery trade and finally serving an apprenticeship with a morocco leather manufacturer.
A Call to Arms.
In the month following the outbreak of the American Civil War, perhaps motivated by the prospect of adventure, 18 year-old Patrick Callan volunteered for three years service in the newly-organised 2nd New Jersey Infantry. He was assigned to Company C under the command of Captain James Duffy and during the next three years fought at Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Bull Run, Crampton’s Gap, Antietam, Salem Heights, Banks Ford, Gettysburg and the Wilderness. By the end of hostilities seven officers6 and 89 enlisted men had been killed or mortally wounded but Patrick was fortunate to survive unscathed or, at least, not seriously injured.7 He was mustered out on 21 July 1864 at Newark, his home town.
No doubt Patrick’s stirring tales of fighting Johnny Reb would have fired the imagination of his eleven year-old younger brother and, a decade later, may well have been a contributing factor in Thomas Callan’s decision to enlist in the post-war Frontier Army.
Return to Civilian Life
The 1870 Federal Census for Newark records Patrick working as a journeyman morocco dresser, while 17 year-old Thomas is still serving his apprenticeship in the same trade.8 ‘Morocco’ is a type of goat skin that is much lighter in weight than the more conventional leather. A ‘dresser’ was the person who actually tanned or softened the hide, which was used in making a wide range of different products, including shoes, ladies’ gloves, hat bands and the binding in books.
On 17 January 1873 Patrick Callan married Irish-born Margaret Rice, daughter of Charles Rice and Mary Rogan. Shortly after they moved to Lynn, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, known as “the shoe capital of the world,” where Patrick was able ply his trade as a morocco dresser. Their first child, William, was born there on 11 November the same year. It seems likely that Thomas most probably followed them to Lynn as soon as he had completed his own apprenticeship, which would account for him joining the United States Army in Boston in 1876 even though his brother and family had returned to New Jersey, some 230 miles away, the year before.
Enlists in United States Army
Thomas J. Callan was enlisted on 10 March 1876 at Boston by Lieutenant Henry Lawton and described as having blue eyes, dark hair, a fair complexion, standing 5′ 9 1/2″ tall, age 22, occupation ‘morocco dresser.’ From Boston he was sent to the General Mounted Recruiting Service at St. Louis Depot where presumably he was taught to ride a horse and on 15 April he was transferred and assigned to the 7th Cavalry, Company B, which he joined at St. Paul, Minnesota, on 27 April. Four days later Companies B, G and K, under the command of Lieutenant Edward Godfrey, crossed the Missouri River, near Bismarck, Dakota Territory, and went into camp two miles south of Fort Abraham Lincoln.
On 17 May 1876 all 12 companies of the 7th Cavalry, which formed a part of General Alfred Terry’s Dakota Column, marched west out from Fort Abraham Lincoln to locate the ‘hostile’ Indians who had failed to meet the 31 January deadline to report to a designated reservation.
The Battle of the Little Big Horn
The events surrounding the Little Big Horn campaign and the first day of the battle are too well known to need reciting here in any detail. Suffice to say Company B, under the command of Captain Thomas M. McDougall, went on the Reno Scout which discovered the Indian trail leading up the Rosebud Valley; was assigned to escort the pack train; and joined Reno and Benteen’s beleaguered battalions on Reno Hill, without knowing what had happened to Custer and his five companies.
On the morning of 26 June, the second day of the battle, the hot sun was already beating down and the wounded on Reno Hill were in desperate need of water. Captain Frederick Benteen, Company H, responded by leading a charge west of his position, which cleared a route down to the river, since named Water Carriers’ Ravine. Many men, including Callan, volunteered to go for water. They took with them iron canteens and camp kettles and made the hazardous trip to the river under heavy fire from the enemy during which several were wounded, though Callan himself escaped any injury. The water they brought back undoubtedly saved many lives.
As the day wore on the rate of enemy fire noticeably decreased and late in the afternoon the Indians broke camp before moving slowly away from the river in the direction of the Big Horn Mountains – the Battle of the Little Big Horn was over. The following day General Alfred Terry, now with Colonel John Gibbon, 7th Infantry, and the Montana column, broke the news that Custer and 209 others under his direct command had been killed.
The rest of that summer was spent chasing Indians with little success and in September the regiment returned to its various forts in Dakota Territory.
Thomas Callan was with his company in the Nez Perce campaign in 1877 (See below, ‘Another Heroic Adventure’).
If the Federal Census of 1880 for Billings County, Dakota Territory (not to be confused with the city of Billings, Montana) is to be believed, Thomas Callan had taken a 22 year-old New York-born laundress, named Lizzie, daughter of Irish immigrants, for his wife. However, in the absence of any hard evidence, one can only speculate if this was a genuine marriage or something of a temporary and less formal arrangement known a little further north in Canada as a la façon du pays (i.e. after the fashion of the country) although it more usually applied to a liaison between white men and native women.The fate of Lizzie is lost to history.
For the balance of his time in uniform he was assigned to several periods of detached duty and detached service which included four spells with the Quarter Master Department, company cook, cutting logs, and as escort to the Northern Pacific Rail Road in October 1880. Two months later he found himself in sick quarters suffering from frostbite of the left foot and on 9 March 1881 he was discharged at Fort Yates, Dakota Territory as a “Private of Good Character.”9
Callan returns East
Having been discharged from the Army Thomas Callan returned to the East and spent the next twelve months back working in the leather business before going to New York to accept the position of manager for the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in New York. We learn from the Register of Marriages for the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Valley, Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, that on 18 June 1884 “Thomas Joseph Callan, born Louth County, Ireland, son of Peter Callan and Ann Hackett, married Mary Matthews, born Newark, New Jersey, daughter of Michael Matthews and Mary McDermott.” All four parents were immigrants from Ireland.
According to notes made in 1974 by the late Mary Callan, a second cousin of Liz Trowbridge, ” … there was a male child born of this union. When only a few years old their son died. Mary died either prior to her son’s death or shortly thereafter.” An obituary in The Statesman, Yonkers, New York, says that Mary’s “death occurred about a year later” but makes no reference to a child. Further research is needed to verify this information.
Moves to Yonkers, New York
On 11 January 1888, Thomas walked down the aisle of Our Lady of the Valley to be joined together in holy matrimony with Brooklyn-born Mary Jane Nolan, daughter of Irish immigrants, Thomas Nolan and Mary Colloton. This ceremony, and probably that of Thomas’ previous marriage, was conducted by his older brother, William,10 who was the parish priest at East Orange during this period. Thomas and Mary were blessed a daughter, who was given the rather unusual forename, at least for a girl, of Joachim,11 born in New York on 3 March 1889.
Thomas’s sister Jane took her vows as a nun and became known as Sister Mary Joachim. She died, age 36, on 13 February 1888,12 at the Sacred Heart Academy, Hoboken, New Jersey, and it is not unreasonable to assume that Thomas and Mary named their only child after her recently-departed, saintly aunt.
Applies for a Medal of Honor
Perhaps Callan had seen the following announcement in the press, which had been syndicated around the country, and felt he had an equally compelling case to be awarded a medal for bravery on the second day of the battle.
FOR BRAVERY – JANESVILLE, Wis., March 31.—Clerk of the Circuit Court Theodore W. Goldin was presented with a bronze medal on which is inscribed: “The Congress, to Private Theodore W. Goldin, of Troop G, Seventh U. S. cavalry, for most distinguished gallantry at the Little Big Horn river, Montana, July (sic) 26, 1876.” General J. B. Doe, assistant secretary of war, presented the medal in the name of the president of the United States.
Two months later, through the good offices of New York Congressman, Bernard L. Fairchild, Callan’s case was presented to Adjutant General George Ruggles. On 17 June 1896, the Adjutant General’s Office replied and said it was looking into the merits of the case.
Thomas Carmody, a former Private in Company B, made the following sworn statement in support of Callan’s application:
- Honorable J.H. Babcock,
- Assistant Adjutant General,
- War Department,
- WASHINGTON, D.C.
- State of New York, City and County of New York, 82:-
- THOMAS CARMODY, being duly sworn, deposes and says that he resides at Number 1731 Sedgwick Avenue, in this city of New York, and was a Private in Troop B. 7th Cavalry of the United States Army during the months of May and June 1876 and prior thereto.
- That the deponent is well acquainted with one THOMAS J. CALLAN, and knows the said Callan for a period of about twenty years, and that formed his acquaintance with the said Callan during the battle of Little Big Horn, which took place on the 25th. day of June 1876, about 7 P.M.
- That the said Thomas J. Callan, who resides at No. 30 Maine (sic) Street, Yonkers, N.Y., was also a member together with this deponent of Throop (sic) B. 7th Cavalry of the United States Army, and that on the said 25th. (sic) day of June 1876, deponent was present with the said Thomas J. Callan during the battle of Little Big Horn as above mentioned, and that the deponent witnessed and saw the said Thomas J. Callan participate in the said battel (sic), and saw the said Callan together with Sergeant Murray, Privates Mc.Cabe, Boareen [Boren] and Pinn [Pym], bring water for the wounded men on the battel (sic) field that were wounded during the said Battle of Little Big Horn.
- Sworn to before this
- 10th. day of July 1876 Thomas Carmody [signed]13
A recommendation from Captain Thomas M. McDougall
Welland, New York September 14th 1896
- This is to certify that Thomas J. Callan late of Troop “B” 7th Cavalry, was present and in the battle of the “Little Big Horn” Montana, June 25th and 26th 1876 and that I recommended him then, for a “Medal of Honor” for his gallantry as one of the men that volunteered to obtain water for the wounded of the command and succeeded in bringing water to them – and also for his good conduct in assisting to drive Indians from the trees in the bottom while the men attempted to get water. I was his Troop Commander at the time and during the battle of the Little Big Horn, Montana, June 25th and 26th 1876.
- T. M. McDougall [signed]
- Captain US. Army.
Callan receives his Medal of Honor
- War Department
- ADJUTANT GENERAL’S OFFICE
- Washington, November 3, 1896
- Mr. Thomas J. Callan,
- Yonkers, New York.
- By direction of the Assistant Secretary of War, I enclose herewith a medal of honor awarded to you for gallantry at the battle of the Little Big Horn, Montana, June 25 and 26, 1876, while serving as private Troop B, 7th Cavalry. The records show that you volunteered and succeeded in obtaining water for the wounded of the command and were conspicuous for good conduct in assisting to drive the Indians from the trees in the bottom while the men attempted to get water.
- Yours respectfully,
- Assistant Adjutant General15
Another Courageous Adventure. Years later, former Company B First Sergeant John Henley voiced the opinion that Callan was awarded the Medal of Honor, not so so much for carrying water to the wounded, but for an 1877 incident.16 Callan and another man were sent by Colonel Samuel Sturgis from a camp in the field to Colonel Nelson A. Miles at Fort Keogh. Callan’s horse played out on the ride and the second man went ahead with the dispatch. Arriving at Fort Keogh, he made his report, but neglected to mention Callan was still afoot in the field. Callan walked into Fort Keogh many hours later and made his report. Miles threw the first man in the guardhouse for neglect of duty. Henley believed this incident was more the reason Callan received the medal than just his actions during the Little Bighorn.” Custer’s Heroes, p. 41. [I found nothing in Callan’s Medal of Honor file to support Henley’s story – Ed.]
Douglas Scott goes on to say: “It seems likely that Callan received the 1862 pattern medal instead of one of the new 1896 variety (differing only in ribbon types), because on November 13, 1896. only ten days after being sent the medal, Callan wrote to Adjutant General George Ruggles mentioning that he had received the medal and worn it a couple of times. He further stated that someone looking at it touched it and the ribbon broke because it was so rotten, not a likely occurrence if it had been an 1896 patten ribbon. Callan, by the same letter, sought a replacement ribbon.” [Custer’s Heroes. pp. 41-2]
Callan eventually received the replacement ribbon and bow knot in May 1897.
The following advert in The Statesman, Yonkers, Tuesday, 16 January 1900, shows that the Great A&P Tea Company’s range of merchandise extended far beyond the nation’s favourite beverage.
THAT SPECIAL SALE – Of Pure Borax Soap will be continued all this week at THE GREAT ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC TEA COMPANY, 29 Main Street. They also wish to inform the public that they will sell, this week, seven pounds of Gloss Starch for 25c. The special sale of soap is seven cakes for 25c; it will clean your cloths (sic), hands and face, and will not injure the most delicate fabric. Be sure to use it! Butter reduced to 28c. per pound.
The Federal Census enumerated on 13 June 1900 for Downing Street, Yonkers, lists Thomas Callan, head, age 50, born Ireland (his ‘date’ of birth having been changed from July 1850 to July 1849) Manager of a Tea Store; Mary Callan, his wife, age 36 born New York September 1863; and Joachim, daughter, age 11, born New York March 1889, at school. Thomas’ year of immigration into the United States is shown as 1853, which clearly contradicts the year given by his elder brother, Patrick, who said it was in 1857.
When the 1904 pattern Medal of Honor was introduced, Callan clearly wanted one and wrote on company headed paper to Major General Fred C. Ainsworth, recently appointed as Military Secretary, as follows:
The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company – 29 Main Street, cor. Warburton Ave, Yonkers, N.Y. Aug 24th 1905. Sir: Today I send in small wooden box enclosed my old Medal of Honor and Bow Knot for exchange for new one (Registered) also the application Form Filled out. Yours most Respectfully, T J Callan (signed), 125 Downing Yonkers NY
Callan receives new pattern medal
January 1906 in New York was the coldest in living memory with the thermometer reading as low as 6 degrees Fahrenheit, a record that stood for the next 118 years. No doubt Thomas Callan recalled the bitter weather of December 1880 in Dakota Territory, when he suffered from frostbite in his left foot, and took pity on his fellow citizens as is evidenced by the following piece that appeared in The Statesman, Yonkers, 11 January 1896, which reads “An Accommodation To Travellers – Manager Callan, of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, corner of Main street and Warburton ave, extends an invitation to those waiting for cars to use his store as a waiting room.“
We know that Callan was forced to retire due to ill health later that year and he himself may have been a victim of one of the harshest New York winters on record.
War Department clerk J. B. Dickey had sent Callan his new Medal of Honor on 20 September 1905 but, on 19 March 1906 Callan asked for the return of of his original medal. Douglas Scott writes: “Under a regulation change in 1907, the old pattern Medals of Honor had to be surrendered at the time a new pattern was issued. A Joint resolution of Congress of February 27, 1907, determined that there was no harm with the recipients having both old and new patterns. Those who surrendered their medals were entitled to reclaim them as Callan did in March 1906 letter. Apparently, the return occurred after authorization by the Joint Resolution for Callsan’s acknowledgement of its receipt is dated March 22, 1907, less than one moth after the resolution was passed.” [Custer’s Heroes. p.42]
Callan wrote: Genl. P. Thadd – Sir: Have received per registered letter today one Medal of Honor for which I thank you. Thos. J. Callan (signed), 125 Downing st, Yonkers, N.Y.
The Final Chapter
Thomas Joseph Callan died at his home in Downing Street. Yonkers, around 11:30 p.m. on 5 March 1908. Cause of death being chronic interstitial nephritis. He was buried (presumably without military honours) four days later in Grave 5, Lot 18, St. Stephen’s Section, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, East Orange, New Jersey.
The whereabouts of either of his Medals of Honor is unknown. Perhaps they were pinned to his chest and went with him to his grave? Yet another mystery that is unlikely ever to be solved.
Thomas Joseph Callan an chuid eile i síocháin
Callan certainly played a most active part in the social life of his local community. We learn from his obituary17 that his was an honorary member of the John C. Fremont Post, No.590, Grand Army of the Republic; a member of the Yonkers Council No. 300, Catholic Benevolent Legion; Medal of Honor Legion; Yonkers Lodge No. 707 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Skatemuck Tribe No. 355, Improved Order of Red Men; Exempt Fireman’s Benevolent Association; Treasurer of the City Hose Company, Volunteer Fire Department, for 12 years; had been a member of the Montgomery Club, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and a faithful member of St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
He was survived by his widow; daughter, Joachim Eugenia; a sister, Mrs. Mary Degnan; and a brother [see above], ex-alderman, Patrick A. Callan, Newark, New Jersey.
The Improved Order of Red Men. I find it rather amusing that someone who went mightily close to having his hair lifted, or worse, at the hands of hostile Sioux, Cheyenne and Nez Perce on the Great Plains during his five-hitch in the 7th U.S. Cavalry should join a movement that went under the name of the ‘Improved Order of Red Men.’ Equally quaint are its qualifications for membership which, in 1886, were defined in the same pseudo-Indian phrasing as the rest of its constitution: “No person shall be entitled to adoption into the Order except a free white male of good moral character and standing, of the full age of twenty-one great suns, who believes in the existence of a Great Spirit, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and is possessed of some known reputable means of support.”
The Order, which still exists, has a three-tiered structure. Local units are called “Tribes” and are presided over by a “Sachem” and a board of directors. Local meeting sites are called “Wigwams.” The state level is called the “Reservation” and governed by a “Great Sachem” and “Great Council” or “Board of Chiefs.” The national level is the “Great Council of the United States.” The Great Council consists of the “Great Incohonee” (president), and a “Board of Great Chiefs,” which includes the “Great Senior Sagamore” (first vice-president), “Great Junior Sagamore,” “Great Chief of Records” (secretary), “Great Keeper of the Wampum” and “Prophet” (past president).
The Yonkers group called themselves ‘The Skatemucks” (after a local tribe) and, in essence, it was a working man’s social club and benevolent society similar to the Odd Fellows fraternal organisation. I guess it was fun.
An Alternative Obituary
ONLY SURVIVOR OF CUSTER MASSACRE – Death of Thomas J. Callan, Who Was Sent for Reinforcements Before Slaughter Begins. Yonkers, N. Y., March 6 – Thomas J. Callan, the man whom General Custer sent for reinforcements when his command was entrapped by Indians on the Little Big Horn river, in Montana, and who led a relief force back to the place where Custer and his men had been slaughtered, died at his home here today (sic). Callan received a medal from congress in recognition of his bravery in making the dash for reinforcements for Custer. An overwhelming body of Indians had already surrounded Custer’s troops when Callan was chosen to carry out the dispatch asking for help. He made his way through the Indian lines to the nearest military post, and then headed the relief party on the long road back to the scene of battle. They arrived too late, however, the entire Custer command having been annihilated by the Indians. Callan left the army twenty-three years ago and since that tine has been engaged in business here. [If only it were true, Ed.]
This apocryphal tale was published in newspapers right across America, including the Cococino Sun, Flagstaff, Arizona; the Hopkinsville Kentuckian, Kentucky; the Pioneer Express, Pembina, North Dakota; the Richmond Planet, Virginia; the Plymouth Tribune, Indiana; to name but a few.
As British Custer Historian, Elisabeth Kimber, posted on the Little Bighorn History Alliance Message Board, 16 January 2008: You can see how he’d get fed up, over the years, with patiently explaining “well, no, actually, I simply fetched water …” and “well, no, my big adventure wasn’t actually at LBH …”. Far easier to satisfy his hearers by giving them the story they wanted! Must have been great for business at the tea house [general store].
Mary Jane Nolan Callan
Thomas Callan’s widow, Mary Jane Nolan, applied for an army pension on 24 February 1919, which was not only granted but back-dated to 4 March 1917. Mary went to live with her only child, Joachim, now Mrs. Joseph Beary, and died of cancer, age 79, in New York on 17 May 1943. Her mortal remains were interred next to those of her late husband in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, East Orange, New Jersey.
Notes & Sources
- 1. Peter Callan and Anne Hackett were married in Louth Parish on 3 March 1842. Their six children were: Patrick (b. 1843); William (b. 1 Jan 1845); Mary (bapt. 23 Mar 1847); Anne (b. ca. 1850); Jane (bapt. 22 Jul 1851); Thomas (bapt. 13 Jul 1853).
- 2. Certificate of Baptism, Louth Parish, Armagh Diocese, dated 29 March 1996. A date of birth on a tombstone is certainly no guarantee that it is correct. There are numerous examples of fallacious information on the tombstones of British-born troopers, including Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas Causby, NCS; First Sergeant Edward Garlick, Company G; Private James Pym, Company B; Private Walter Sterland, Company M; and Private Peter Thompson, Company C. The author has found no documentary evidence to substantiate Thomas Callan’s date of birth which, therefore, must remain uncertain. G. A. Custer: His Life & Times, by Glenwood J. Swanson (2004), p.152, incorrectly places County Louth in Scotland.
- 3. Ancestry.co.uk – Message Boards – posted by nagrodPA – 16 Febraury 2014, re William Callan, says 1856. The Federal Census (15 April 1910) for 11th Ward, Newark City, Essex County, New Jersey, for Patrick Callan, states 1857.
- 4. The Statesman, Yonkers, New York, 6 March 1908.
- 5. 11th Ward, Newark City, Essex County, New Jersey (Federal Census 1 June 1860).
- 6. Captain Henry H. Callan (a relative perhaps?), Company H, was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness.
- 7. Patrick Callan was granted an invalid pension on 10 November 1906. The nature of his disability(ies) is not known to this writer (U.S. General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934).
- 8. 7th Ward, Newark City, (Federal Census 10 June 1870). Note: Callan is written as ‘Callen.’
- 9. Based on information in Military Register of Custer’s Last Command, p. 63, Roger L. Williams, (2009)..
- 10. Reverend William R. Callan, born January 1845, died 20 February 1898, buried in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey.
- 11. Joachim Eugenia Callan married Joseph A. Beary [aka Barry and Berry], ca. 1907. Joseph, son of Irish immigrants, Patrick and Mary Beary, was a station inspector with the United States Customs Service in New York. For many years they lived at 158 Devoe Avenue, Yonkers, New York. Joseph died there, after a short illness, on 16 July 1943. He was buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, New York, on 19 July 1943, which he shares, amongst others, with baseball legend Babe Ruth, actor James Cagney and Sal Mineo, who played the role of White Bull in the 1958 film Tonka. No children. Joseph left a net estate of $16,138. Joachim Callan Beary died 20 June 1981 in Broward County, Florida.
- 12. Buried in the Callan Family plot in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, East Orange.
- 13. Thomas Carmody, born ca. 1844 in New York City, son of Irish immigrants, a veteran of the Civil War and several U.S. Army enlistments, retired from the military on 20 April 1891, and settled in New York City. He died of cancer in that city on 14 August 1912 (Military Register, p.65).
- Callan’s claim was also supported John James (aka John Cassella), a former private in Company E, dated 30 July 1896 (Custer’s Heroes: The Little Bighorn Medals of Honor, p. 41, Douglas D. Scott, 2007). James was born Rome, Italy, ca. 1848. He was with the pack train and in the hilltop fight. His fate is unknown to this writer.
- 14. It is interesting to note that McDougall claimed he had recommended Callan for a Medal of Honor 20 years before although, apparently, no mention of this appears in any of McDougall’s correspondence in the Little Big Horn Medal of Honor file (Custer’s Heroes, p. 41).
- 15. Ref: 35445 A.G.O. November 3, 1896.
- 16. Walter Camp collection, Brigham Young University, as cited in Liddic and Harbaugh, 1995.
- 17. The Statesman, Yonkers, New York, 6 March 1908.
A Second Irish-born 7th Cavalryman buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
The Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in East Orange, New Jersey, has the distinction of being the last resting place of not one but two Irish-born members of the celebrated 7th Cavalry who were recipients of the prestigious Medal of Honor, namely, Private Thomas Callan and Private [later 1st Sergeant] Thomas Sullivan.
The Medal of Honor plaque (see below) to Thomas Sullivan says he was born on 20 April 1859 and, if so, he may have been the son of Patrick Sullivan and Bridget Conolly (sic), baptised in the parish of Drogheda, diocese of Meath, County Louth, on 23 June 1859. Almost certainly he was the Thomas Sullivan, from County Meath, who arrived in New York from Liverpool on 30 March 1889 on the immigrant ship City of Chester. We know he was enlisted in the U.S. Army at Newark, New Jersey, on 20 September 1889, at a stated age of 28 years and 5 months, and assigned to Company E, 7th Cavalry, when he was described as having hazel brown eyes, dark brown hair, a healthy complexion, standing 5 foot 9 1/2 inches tall, a labourer from County Meath, Ireland.
For his bravery at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, on 29 December 1890, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, for which the citation reads “Conspicuous bravery in action against Indians concealed in a ravine.” Having completed no less than seven enlistments, four in the 7th and three in the 2nd Cavalry in Thomas Sullivan, Company H, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, he was retired from the army on 16 June 1912 at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the rank 1st sergeant. The El Paso Herald, 14 June 1912, carried the following report:
Sullivan Retired – Upon the arrival of the Second cavalry in El Paso, Sergt. Thomas Sullivan of Troop H, was notified that he had been retired and his retirement became effective Friday, after a service of 30 (sic) years in the army. He will draw two-thirds pay for the remainder of his life. He is a medal of honor man and has a splendid record in the army service.
Thomas returned to Newark where he worked as a watchman; a guard in a shipyard (may have been the same employment under different name); a policeman; and a special officer. He married, quite late in life, to an Ellen (surname unknown to this writer), also from Ireland and they had no children. Ellen died, aged 65, on 6 June 1934 and Thomas, aged 80, on 10 January 1940.
No record of his death could be found in the New Jersey registers but a Thomas Sullivan died in Manhattan, New York on 10 January 1940, which matches the date of death on the military plaque in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Was this the same man?
Note (*): Thomas Sullivan was a private in Company E, 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee; a sergeant in the same company on 17 December 1891 when he was awarded the Medal of Honor, and a 1st sergeant in Company H, 2nd Cavalry when he was retired from the army. The Medal of Honor plaque should therefore read ‘1ST SERG CO H 2 US CAVALRY.’
Additional material re Thomas Sullivan’s non-military career provided by Colonel Sam Russell, U.S. Army. Sam is a great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the Battle of Wounded Knee, and runs http://ArmyAtWoundedKnee.com a blog dedicated to documenting through primary sources the Army’s actions at Wounded Knee.
Sam and the author share a common interest in the 7th Cavalry and the Plains Indian Wars but are not related.