A Remarkable Famine Emigrant: Catherine Long and the Union Cause

Irish Americans in the civil war covers the stories of numerous Irish Famine emigrants who later found themselves caught up in the American Civil War. Many of these stories deal with the consequences for those who suffered during the conflict, as thousands were forced to deal with a second great trauma in their lives. However, seismic disruptive events such as the Famine and Civil War also highlight the remarkable resilience and determination of many in the face of adversity. Such is the story of Catherine Long, an emigrant from Kerry who made courageous decisions to alter her family’s fortunes in the midst of Famine ravaged Ireland. 

The dramatic scenery around Dunquin as it appeared in late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is the area from which the Garveys and Longs emigrated (National Library of Ireland)

Catherine Garvey was born in Dunquin, Co. Kerry around the year 1810. She married local farmer John Long, and although their lot was better than that of many others it was nonetheless a tough existence. The trials of 19th century life saw the couple lose a number of children at a young age, before the onset of the Famine put the lives of their three surviving children at risk. Despite the fact that they had some land and livestock, the scale of the catastrophe quickly eroded the family’s reserves. Catherine witnessed people dying of hunger around the streets and churches near her home, and decided that she had to get her family to America, where her brothers Matthew and Bartholomew already lived. However, her husband John was reluctant to start anew in a new country, as ‘his ignorance of the language and the people over the sea had a terror for him.’ It seems probable given this statement that John had poor English; Dunquin remains a stronghold of the Irish language to this day. (1)

Despite her husband’s concerns, Catherine had set her mind on getting her family out of Ireland. She decided to strike out on her own and do everything necessary to make that happen. Taking what must have been the heartbreaking decision to leave her husband and children behind, she boarded a vessel bound for Canada. She left without telling her children where she was going, perhaps seeking to spare them an emotional farewell. Clearly Catherine hoped it would not be long before she could send for them. Her journey was not-incident free; fever broke out on the densely crowded ship, reportedly killing forty or fifty of the emigrants aboard. Catherine also fell ill, only recovering as the boat closed in on Quebec. From here she made her way to the United States- it may well be that she is the Catherine Mc Long recorded as arriving in Boston on 12th June 1846. Eventually she joined her brothers in West Brattleboro, Vermont, and set to work trying to earn the money that would allow her to be reunited with her family. (2)

Emigrants in Caherciveen, Co. Kerry on their way to the United States in 1866 (Library of Congress)

Catherine initially worked in Roswell Goodenough’s hotel before taking employment with the family of Deacon Hayes, the uncle of future President Rutherford B. Hayes. Within four years she had raised enough money for her husband and children to join her. They arrived just in time to be recorded in the 1850 census for Brattleboro, which lists Laborer John (42) and Catherine (40) along with children James (12), Job (10) and Mary (8). John found work on the railroad and soon another son, Patrick, was born. More children followed as, together again, the family began to build a life for themselves in their new home. (3)

By the time of the American Civil War John was invalided and no longer able to work- he would pass away in 1865. The onset of the conflict meant that large numbers of Catherine’s family and extended family would serve the Union- a fact that would be highlighted in later years. Her eldest son James, by 1861 a cotton-dealer in Missouri, lost much of his property during the war and served in the 46th Missouri Infantry. Second son Job had tried initially to enlist in Vermont but had been rejected due to his short stature. Instead he joined the ranks of the 11th Massachusetts who began their service at the First Battle of Bull Run. The youngest boy, Patrick, joined the Union Navy, where he contracted tuberculosis. He moved to Texas soon after the war for health reasons, where he died in an accident. Catherine’s brother Bartholomew Garvey lived in Virginia in 1861 and was reported as having been imprisoned in Richmond’s Castle Thunder for his Union sympathies. His three sons also fought for the North. The emigration of the Garveys and Longs from Ireland in the 1840s resulted in a significant contribution to Union arms during the Civil War. Members of the family experienced having horses shot from under them in action and the struggle for survival in the horrors of Andersonville POW camp. It was these connections that first sparked interest in Catherine’s story during the 1890s, when it was noted that she had three sons, two brothers and seven nephews who had served the Union cause. (4)

A Private in the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, the regiment in which Jobs Long served (Library of Congress)

After the war and her husband’s death, Catherine divided her time between Brattleboro and the home of her daughters in New York. In 1893 her remarkable story was covered by the Boston Globe. The reporter was impressed with the Irishwoman:

Notwithstanding her advanced age and the hardships of her eventful life she is hale and hearty, retaining her old industrious habits, her sturdy common sense, and the rich brogue of her native country. She takes long walks, cares for her own room and clothing, and does much to help in the home of her daughters. When not otherwise employed she is a tireless knitter. She is deeply interested in all local matters, especially of political interest. She is very proud of the war record and experiences of her kindred. With one exception her children are living, and fourteen grown children love to listen to her tales of the old country and of the new. (5)

Catherine Long died at the age of 87 in her daughter’s home on Elliot Street, Brattleboro in 1897. The Vermont Phoenix afforded her an extensive obituary, keen to highlight the experiences of a woman witha remarkably interesting history.’ Her decisions and determination to do right by her family during the tough years of the Irish Famine set the Longs on markedly different path, taking them from rural Co. Kerry to the ranks of the Union cause and beyond. (6)

An elderly Kerry woman on the way to her son's funeral c. 1905. It was in the hope of a better life that Catherine Long took her family to the United States in the 1840s. (Library of Congress)

(1) New York Irish World 9th September 1893, Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897; (2) Ibid., Boston Passenger and Immigration Lists; (3) New York Irish World 9th September 1893, Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897, 1850 Federal Census; (4) Ibid.; (5) New York Irish World 9th September 1893; (6) Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897;


1850 US Federal Census

Boston 1821-1850 Passenger and Immigration Lists

New York Irish World 9th September 1893. Taught Her Sons Patriotism. The Life Story of a Grand Old Irish Woman. Her Three Sons, Two Brothers and Seven Nephews Fought for the Stars and Stripes.

Vermont Phoenix 19th March 1897. Mrs. Catherine Long. 

AUTHOR:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s