The 1864 Valley Campaign – St. Patrick’s Day Post – Col. James A. Mulligan

Welcome to my blog on the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. My name is Scott Patchan and I have studied this topic in intricate detail for nearly twenty-five years. Over the course of that time, I have written three books on the topic, The Forgotten Fury: The Battle of Piedmont; Shenandoah Summer:  The 1864 Valley Campaign; and Opequon Creek: The Last Battle of Winchester. I also served as an historical consultant for Time-Life’s Voices of the Civil War: Shenandoah 1864 and have written dozens of articles and led dozens of tours on Valley Topics, not to mention my scores of visits to Valley battlefields. I have served on the Kernstown Battlefield Association Board of Directors for nearly ten years now.

My purpose in writing this blog is to move beyond the bounds of traditional publications and share aspects of my research with fellow Civil War enthusiasts that might not otherwise see the light of day. Having met so many good friends over the years in the course of my research, I hope to make many more through this blog. With my inaugural post coming on Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought it appropriate to delve briefly into the life of Colonel James A. Mulligan who gave his life for the Union Blue on the green fields of Kernstown on July 24, 1864.

Mulligan was born to Irish parents in Utica, New York on June 25, 1830, but the family moved to budding frontier town of Chicago, Illinois in 1836. His father died while he was still young but his mother subsequently married a successful Irish farmer

Col. James A. Mulligan

whose largess later allowed Mulligan to attend college. Of his youth in Chicago, Mulligan looked back fondly upon his “halcyon days when we hunted pigeons and hoed corn, [and] sparked the girls in mellow sunshine.” Mulligan also grew up to be a devout and practicing Roman Catholic, graduating from the University of Saint Mary’s of the Lake in 1850, quite an accomplishment for the son of immigrants in those days.

After graduation he studied law in Chicago, but yearned for adventure. He found it in 1851 when he joined an expedition that was surveying the path for a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, serving as clerk for the project. When he returned home in 1852, he resumed his legal studies. In 1855, he became the editor of The Western Tablet, a Catholic newspaper published out of Chicago. The following year, Mulligan gained admission to the Illinois Bar and began practicing long. He soon became a rising star on Chicago’s Democratic political scene, becoming associated with the powerful Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Mulligan moved to Washington and spent a year clerking at the Department of the Interior but determined he had had “enough” of Washington and went home to Illinois.

In 1857, Mulligan met the beautiful Marian Nugent and made her his “Darling Wife” after two year courtship. In 1860, Mulligan used his powerful oratorical skills to campaign for Douglas in the presidential election. When the Southern States began to secede from the Union upon Lincoln’s election, Mulligan wrote, “ Dare now to preserve this government, vindicate its strength and the republic passed through this crisis will stand with such assured dignity and firmness through all the coming centuries, that no foe without, no Judas within shall ever dare raise an armed hand against her.” He then used his powerful personae to raise “Mulligan’s Irish Brigade” from Northern Illinois with one company of Detroit Irish thrown in for good measure.

The unit subsequently was designated the 23rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and saw its first action at the Siege of Lexington, Missouri in September of 1861. When the firing briefly ceased, Confederate General Sterling Price sent note asking Mulligan why the firing stopped. Although vastly outnumbered, Mulligan coyly replied, “General, I hardly know unless you have surrendered.” Although Mulligan ultimately surrendered his outgunned forces, he became a symbol of hope against long odds at a time the north had endured shameful defeats at Bull Run in Virginia and Wilson’s Creek in Missouri.

After being exchanged, Mulligan and his men spent the next two years guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in West Virginia. Although he longed to join the Army of the Potomac’s famed Irish Brigade, it was not to be. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1864, Mulligan and his men signed up for another tour of duty when their enlistments expired, lured no doubt by the opportunity for a thirty-day furlough home.

Mulligan returned to action in time to resist the General Jubal Early’s Confederate raid on Washington, D.C. and assist in the pursuit back to the Virginia. On July 24, 1864, Mulligan led his command at the Second Battle of Kernstown. Although he warned his commander, General George Crook, that the Confederate army was in full force, Mulligan received orders to attack. Mulligan questioned the orders through a staff officer but was told in no uncertain terms to advance immediately. He complied and the results were disastrous. Mulligan rallied his Irish Brigade and 10th West Virginia infantry behind a fence lining a lane on the Pritchard Farm. As he rode behind his battle line urging the men to stand firm, a Rebel bullet struck his leg. His men lowered him from his horse but he was struck in the torso by two more bullets before they placed him on the ground. His 19-year old brother in law, Lieutenant James Nugent came to his aid only to be shot and killed instantly. Mulligan’s men refused to leave him so he ordered them to “Lay me down and save the flag.” He died in the Pritchard House two days later.

His pregnant wife Marian left their two young children with a Unionist family in Cumberland, Maryland and rushed to Winchester but by the time she arrived he had already died. Thousands of people awaited the arrival of Mulligan’s remains at the Chicago Rail Station and even more attended his wake and funeral.

For all of Mulligan’s popularity while he was alive, he quickly vanished from the pages of history. Yet his devotion to God, Family and Country like that of so many who have given their lives for American liberty lives on to this day in the daily lives of millions of Americans as they go about their daily lives.

For further reading see:
Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign by Scott C. Patchan



Filed under Biographical

14 responses to “The 1864 Valley Campaign – St. Patrick’s Day Post – Col. James A. Mulligan

  1. David Lowe

    Way to go, Scott. A nice first post. I’ve thought about starting a blog on military earthworks but have yet to get up the courage.

  2. Scott,

    Welcome to the Civil War blogosphere, especially with a Civil War battle blog! I’ve mentioned your site and linked to you at TOCWOC and Beyond the Crater.


    by all means start one up. That sounds like a very interesting topic, especially since I suspect you’d be doing more than one post on the Petersburg Campaign.

  3. Welcome to blogging, Scott! As a postscript to your piece about Mulligan, his name continued to carry weight in the Valley in years after the war… at least among G.A.R. members there. The post at Winchester was named for him. It’s interesting that his name was selected above any others for the name of the post.

    • Robert: Do you know who started the GAR post? Mulligan commanded a lot of the West Virginia troops during the time he spent along the B & O Railroad and they held him in very high esteem. He also treated the people of the South Branch Valley fairly and provided food for the women and children unlike his predecessor Robert Milroy. I would surmise that the “Mulligan Post” went over a lot bettter with the veterans friends and neighbors than the “Sheridan Post” in the Valley.

      • Not sure yet. Our SUVCW camp has started investigating it a little more, but it looks like it was the only GAR Camp in the Virginia section of the Valley. I have a hunch there should be something more about it at Handley, but haven’t had the time to check yet. I’d like to get a roster of members. I do have a couple of accounts where veterans were given full G.A.R. honors when buried in the Winchester National Cem.

  4. James McCorry

    Great post on Mulligan. Have read your book. When will your next book be published by Savas/Beatie. Thanks, James

  5. Very cool that you’re now in the ‘sphere, Scott. Happy blogging!

  6. JE


    I’m currently editing a large collection of Civil War letters for publication later this year (fingers crossed) and I have a few 170 ONG letters you may be interested in, one in particular detailing the experiences of the regiment from Cool Spring to HF. Shoot me and e-mail and I’d be happy to share them with you.

  7. Hi Scott,
    Welcome to the CW blogging world. I’ll look forward to reading your posts.

    I assume “Opequon Creek” is an upcoming book.

  8. Luke Lemke

    Good to see you online. Had a chance to enjoy your tour for the Civil War Forum about a year ago. Great weekend for us. Looking forward to your Opequon book. Thanks for your many contributions.

  9. allan tischler

    Scott: Fantastic work on the content and breadth of the work you have done. Just to add my 2 cents worth to the “8th Corps” thing-a-ma-jig, is that this error was started by the journalists who were writing then, it came from them when one reads, as you know so well, the contemporary newspaper accounts. As far as I have seen, the men under Crook’s command did not themselves refer to his organization as the “8th Corps” in their letters home or in their recollections, because as you have pointed out this was an organization that fielded men at Winchester during the Second Battle but not during the third one, otherwise called “Opequon Creek” or “Opequon.” In so far as corps symbols on monuments here in the Valley goes, the star on the 19th Corps monuments, was established after all of the Valley battles had been fought. During the campaigning their symbol was a star-burst, seen on at least one extant divisional flag and from a general order designating what the men should wear on their uniforms. Lastly, by pure chance, I came across the account of when and how Grover got wounded at Cedar Creek.

    Guys, keep up the ball field chatter. Lots of very insightful, good-natured comments and observations. By the way, work is being undertaken (poor choice of words??) in the Winchester national Cemetery, yet my only concern is that the 46 Union soldier headstones laying flat on the ground and in the ground, where grass has grown over them (how or when or why, I have not found out yet) will also be “raised upright” and reset to conform to all of the rest of them in there for the onset of the 150th.
    Closing in awe of the great comments, Allan Tischler

  10. John Batzel


    I read your article in B&G magazine on 3rd Winchester and see that you are writing a book on the battle. My gg grandfather Capt William Yancey of the 10th Va was wounded there and was curious if in your research if you came across his name and the nature of his wounding?

    John Batzel
    Roanoke, Va

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