O'Neill, James

Place of Birth: Liverpool

Date of enlistment: 8 November 1872

Age given at enlistment: 21

Rank: Private

Company: B

Location on 25 June 1876: Fort Abraham Lincoln



Name, date and place of birth not yet verified.

A Diminutive Scouser?

Port of Liverpool 1865 as James O'Neill would have known it.

  • Was he the 17 year-old Englishman James O’Neill, a labourer, who arrived in New York from Liverpool aboard the 2,428-ton S.S. France on 12 July 1869?
  • On enlistment in U.S. Army at Cincinatti, Ohio, by Lt. James Wheelan on 8 November 1872, a James O’Neill claimed he was age 21,* born in Liverpool and described as being 5′ 4 1/4″ in height with blue eyes, brown hair and a florid  complexion, previously employed as a ‘Laborer’.  His place and date of birth have yet to be verified.
  • O’Neill was sent to the Cavalry Depot at St Louis, Missouri, and transferred to the 7th Cavalry on 22 November 1872 before being assigned to Company B nine days later. He joined his company, which was engaged on Reconstruction duty in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on 9 December 1872; participated in the Yellowstone Campaign (1873); the Black Hills Expedition (1874); and spent a second period on Reconstruction duty, this time in Shreveport, Louisiana (1875-6).
  • He was listed  sick from 2 May to 30 June 1876 (acute bronchitis) in the post hospital at Fort Abraham Lincoln  and consequently did not take part in the Little Big Horn campaign.  O’Neill was discharged at the fort on 18 September on a surgeon’s certificate for “Chronic bronchitis and incipient tuberculosis originated last winter in Louisiana and increased by transfer to Dakota Territory. Was unfit for field service and on sick report ever since with no prospect of recovery within reasonable time.”  He is believed to have resided in Lexington, Kentucky. (Military Register of Custer’s Last Command, Williams, p. 238). 
  • His date of death remains unknown to this writer.


  • (*) There are numerous incidences of men giving their age as 21 years at their first (often only) enlistment who proved to be somewhat younger, including Private Timothy Donnelly, Private Theodore Goldin and Sergeant Major William H. Sharrow.
  • Note: All editions of Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, currently edited by Ronald H. Nichols, confuse the James O’Neill above with his namesake from County Derry (present-day Republic of Ireland), whose enlistment in the U.S. Army by Lt. Patrick Cusack, also in Cincinatti, dates from 12 June 1876. This trooper, a naturalised American citizen, died 17 December 1931 in the National Military Home, Sawtelle, California, from adenoma of the prostate and chronic myocarditis and was buried 21 December 1931 in the Los Angeles National Cemetery.  He was not a member of the 7th Cavalry at the time of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Headstone of James O'Neill, Company L, 7th U.S. Cavalry, Los Angeles National Cemetery. NOT to be mistaken for the James O'Neill, Company B, above. 'Ohio' indicates the state in which he enlisted, not his place of birth.

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