Friday, April 15, 1994

American Civil War Letters - Margaret Prendergast

In 1986 Fordham University Press of New York city published the civil war letters of Peter Welsh, a Sergeant of the 28th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers under the title "Irish Green and Union Blue".

Welsh who was born in America of Irish parents in 1830 enlisted in the Massachusetts Volunteers in September 1862, almost five years after he had married an Irish girl Margaret Prendergast. Margaret was born in Athy in 1835 to Michael Prendergast and Mary Prendergast nee O'Toole. The Prendergast parents had seven children in all and Margaret emigrated from Athy in her teens to seek her future in the new world. Her sister Sarah, who married Michael Hoey of Bagenalstown, in St. Michael's Church, Athy, on the 6th of July, 1865 was also to emigrate to American after the birth of her first daughter Margaret. Her brother Francis had earlier gone to America in 1864. Two other sons of Michael and Mary Prendergast were James, of whom nothing is known and Patrick who married Catherine Lawler in Athy where they continued to live.

When her husband signed up to fight in the American Civil War Margaret went to live with her uncle James Gleeson in New York. During his time in the 4th Regiment of the Irish Brigade Peter wrote letters to his young wife which were preserved and handed down until eventually published in book form in 1986. The original letters were carefully preserved by Margaret in a Victorian red writing case and are today kept in the archives of the New York Historical Society.

Peter Welsh, who before enlisting was a carpenter, was wounded at Spotsylvania Courthouse on the 12th of May, 1864. He was brought to Carver Hospital in Washington where his wife Margaret immediately visited him. The Doctors advised that his injured arm should be amputated but Peter would not agree to a handicap which he felt would prevent him from ever working again as a carpenter. After surgery was performed to remove the bullet and some shattered bones, blood poisoning set in and Peter Welsh died on the 28th of May, 1864. Margaret immediately telegraphed her Uncle James Gleeson in New York with the said news "He is dead and will be in New York in morning". On the 1st of June, 1864 Peter Welsh was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens County, New York in the area now known to thousands of Irish emigrants as Woodside. A fine memorial was erected over his grave.

His wife Margaret who had no children survived him by 28 years. She never remarried and continued to draw the small pension to which she was entitled as a widow of a civil war soldier. It is believed that Margaret Welsh, nee Prendergast, made a number of trips to Athy after 1864 and we know that she was a sponsor at the baptism on the 6th of June, 1875 in St. Michael's Church, Athy, of Mary, daughter of her brother Patrick and his wife Catherine.

The letters which the Athy born woman carefully preserved provided the first published contemporary account of the American Civil War by an enlisted man of the Irish Brigade.

The name Prendergast is relatively common in the Athy area. The first of that name was Maurice de Prendergast, one of the leading Anglo Norman invaders to accompany Strongbow to Ireland who obtained extensive grants of land in the south and west of Ireland. The name which is often corrupted to Pender is derived from Prendergast a Parish in Premrokeshire, Wales, from where Maurice came.

Margaret Prendergast of Athy lies buried with her husband in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.

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