Mickey of Company K
James P. Sullivan of the 6th Wisconsin
An Irishman in the Iron Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of James P. Sullivan, Sergt., Company K, 6th Wisconsin Volunteers, editing and commentary by William J. K. Beaudot and Lance J. Herdegen, Fordham University Press, New York, 1993, 189pp.
Veteran James P. Sullivan contributed several articles about his war experiences to various Wisconsin newspapers during the 1880s. Know as J.P. or Pat to family and friends, he used the pen name Mickey, of Company K. Originally written as the spirit moved him (his article on Gettysburg was the first one written & published), for this collection the editors have rearranged them chronologically. He didn't write about his entire service, either - only portions of it - but Beaudot & Herdegen have done an outstanding job filling in the omitted details in their commentary. Along with writing of battles, marches, opinions on various generals, etc., Sullivan offers his own brief summary of the war, written in King James Bible-ese (I especially liked his description of the British government: "a beef-eating Philistine named John Bull"), his attempt at drilling two raw recruits who can't march in column without kicking each other, and the company mule Beauregard. He also gives a roster of everyone in Company K - the original members, later recruits, draftees and substitutes. Included is his 1885 report on a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) gathering held in Ontario, Wisconsin.
He was born 21 June 1843. By 1845, his parents Dennis and Catharine (nee Flynn) had moved the family (which at the time included a daughter and two sons) from Ireland to Wisconsin by way of Canada. They finally settled in Greenwood Township, Bad Ax (later Vernon) County. Six other children born over the next several years completed the family.
By 1860, young Sullivan was out on his own, working as a farm hand near Wonewoc in Juneau County. On 4 May 1861, he went to a war meeting held in Mauston, where a company (the "Lemonweir Minute Men") was being raised by Rufus R. Dawes. He signed up on the 8th, but being underage and a bit on the short side to boot, some of the men objected to his enlistment. Second Lieutenant and fellow Irishman John Crane resolved the problem in June by taking Sullivan to a local justice of the peace, who appointed himself Sullivan's guardian and swore Sullivan in on the 21st.
Dawes' men were mustered in as Company K of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment and traveled east to join the Army of the Potomac. The brigade which the 6th was assigned to included the 2nd and 7th Wisconsin and the 19th Indiana, and came under the command of Brigadier General John Gibbon, who had been an artilleryman in the pre-war Army. Gibbon's old outfit - Battery B, 4th US Artillery - was assigned as the brigade's artillery support. Gibbon's brigade was the only one in the Army of the Potomac composed of men from "Western" states, and he added a few things to make it even more distinctive: instead of the usual 4-button sack coat and forage cap, he had them dress in Regular Army frock coats and tall black hats pinned up on one side. This gave them the nickname "The Black Hat Brigade"; even after Gibbon was later promoted to division command away from the brigade they continued to wear them. At the battle of South Mountain (14 September 1862), observing their dogged attack up the slope, army commander Major General George B. McClellan christened them with a new name - "The Iron Brigade". Later that year, the 24th Michigan joined the brigade. It took a while, but after their baptism of fire, the 24th was accepted by the others. The brigade suffered very severe losses at Gettysburg, and the last 2 years of the war would see other regiments come and go in an attempt to strengthen the brigade, and the 19th Indiana be taken away and swallowed up into another regiment, but the men of these 6 units - and only these 6 - will always be associated together as The Iron Brigade.
Getting back to Sullivan, he took part in the stand-up and short range fire fight at Brawner Farm (Gainesville) and 2nd Bull Run (Manasses) in August 1862. He was shot in the foot at South Mountain, a wound that put him into the hospital for 3 months, after which time he was medically discharged and sent home. Six weeks at home was all he could put up with. He went to a recruiting office and asked them if he could enlist. "Anything owning a name could enlist" was the answer, so he signed up with the 6th again and was soon back in his old spot in Company K. His next fight was during the Chancellorsville campaign in late April & May 1863.
At Gettysburg on 1 July 1863, he participated in the Sixth's charge on Confederate Brigadier General Joseph R. Davis's brigade, which was using an unfinished railroad cut for cover. The attack was successful and many prisoners were taken, but Sullivan was badly wounded in the left shoulder. He went to the courthouse in town, which had been converted to a hospital. When the Federal lines broke later that day and the town was overrun by the Confederates, Sullivan and the others at the hospital found themselves behind Rebel lines and were now prisoners of war. Fortunately, when Lee retreated, many of the Federal wounded who'd been captured, including Sullivan, were left behind and free again.
"Fight for the Colors" depicts the assault by the
Sixth Wisconsin upon the Second Mississippi
at the unfinsihed railroad cut.
© 1985 Don Troiani, used with permission
Sullivan ended up in Cuyler Hospital in Philadelphia, where he met Angeline Shaeffer; they married in February 1864. Back with his regiment and veteranized (he re-enlisted on 22 January 1864), he obviously determined to see the thing through to the end. But he did not write anything concerning Grant's Overland Campaign or the first months around Petersburg. On 1 August 1864, he was promoted to Sergeant. He was stuck by shell fragments during the Weldon Rail Road battle on 21 August 1864. Most of the metal was removed, but a piece lodged near the base of his skull never was. At 1st Hatcher's Run (27 October 1864), he was wounded again, this time shot in the thigh.
That winter, he got a furlough to visit his wife. Once he was back, he and his uncle (who was also in Company K) took off on their own for a few days without getting permission, figuring that missing a few roll calls in the middle of winter would be no big deal. When they returned, they were surprised to discover they had been listed as deserters. J.P. lost his stripes and was reduced to the ranks.
After the war, Sullivan returned with his wife and son George (born 23 March 1865) to Wisconsin. They tried making a new life in Dakota Territory, but soon returned to farming in south central Wisconsin - by the 1880s on 40 not-so-prime acres in Forest Township, Vernon County. 3 other children had arrived in the meantime: Anne, John and James. He became very involved in veteran activities, both in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and the Iron Brigade Association - he was the first enlisted man to speak before the latter. It was also during this period he began writing his articles.
Sometime after 1885, 2 of the children, Anna and James, died. Then in the mid 1890s, Sullivan gave up farming and took up law, being admitted to the bar on 1 September 1897. He bought a lot in Ontario, Wisconsin and built his office - which he painted red, white and blue - on it. He also became village clerk. But more troubles came when son George got involved in a shooting and went to jail, and James and Angeline divorced soon after. He remarried in January 1899, this time to Bessie Gorham; this marriage produced a son, James Fitz, born 24 March 1901 (who was still alive in 1992 and wrote the Foreword to his father's book). Sullivan's health was already failing, though. His age, old wounds and the hardships of time in service were rapidly catching up to him - in 1900, he was unable to attend a Brigade reunion and could only compose and send a poem to speak for him - and he died on 22 October 1906. He was buried in Ontario Cemetery with his GAR comrades in attendance.
There are hats in the closet, old, ugly to view,
Of very slight value they may be to you.
But the wealth of the Astors should not buy them to-day,
With letters of honor, old Company "K"...
...But the Heavenly Commander has said, we have heard,
That duty, well done, shall have its reward
When the long roll is sounded, the great muster day,
May we all meet in Heaven - brave Company "K".(1st & last verses from Old Company K by "Mickey of Company K")
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