John Dooley of the First Virginia
John Dooley,
1st Virginia Infantry

John Dooley: Confederate Soldier - His War Journal, edited by Joseph T. Durkin, S.J., with Foreword by Dr. Douglas S. Freeman, Georgetown Univ. Press, 1945.

Captain John Dooley, CSA.  Photo credit: Georgetown University Press, used with permissionJohn E. Dooley, born in Richmond, Virginia on 12 July 1842, was the youngest son of John and Sarah Dooley, both of Limerick, who emigrated from Ireland in 1832.  They married in 1836 at Alexandria, Virginia before moving to Richmond later that year; their marriage produced 9 children.  An infant daughter - Alice Erina - died in 1843, and the eldest son, George, died when he was 23 in September 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the war.  The surviving children were Mary, James, John, Alice (2nd daughter of that name), Florence, Sarah and Josephine.

Despite his poor beginnings, John's father had found success in America as a furrier and hatter, and by the beginning of the war, the Dooley family had risen to become part of the upper crust of Richmond society.  They were also at the center of the local Irish-American community - John Mitchel and his family, who had also settled in Richmond, were close friends of the Dooleys.  John, Sr., also became captain of the Montgomery Guards, a militia unit which would become Company C of the 1st Virginia Infantry.  The Dooleys were devout Catholics and attended St. Peter's Cathedral in Richmond.

The start of the war found John, Jr. as a freshman at Georgetown College.  He did not enlist immediately - he felt (or maybe was told by his parents) that he was too young.  So he stayed in school for about another year while his father and brother James went off to war with the 1st Virginia, fighting at the Battle of First Manasses/Bull Run.  During his service, John's father was promoted to Major and served as acting commander of the regiment during the first few months of 1862.  Health problems forced him to resign that April, not to mention he was already well past military age.  Brother James was seriously wounded and captured at Williamsburg, Va., on 5 May 1862; although paroled almost immediately, he too was out of the war.  (He would marry Sallie O. May, a Lunenberg girl, on 11 September 1863; postwar, he became a successful Richmond businessman.)  John left Georgetown in Spring of 1862 and enlisted in June of that year, finding himself assigned to provost duty in Richmond.  He soon tired of police and guard duty, and in August managed to get himself transferred to the 1st Virginia, at which point his journal begins.

The 1st Virginia  was assigned to Kemper's Brigade under James Longstreet, and, by the time John joined it, had already been in several fights, including Yorktown, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and the Seven Days' battles of the Peninsular Campaign.  Its original strength of 1100 men in 11 companies had been reduced to 66 (in addition to battle casualties and losses to disease, 5 companies had been detached, and many of the remaining soldiers had been detailed for duties elsewhere).  Now it was on the move back toward the Manasses area for what what would be John's first fight: the Battle of Second Manasses/Bull Run.  He almost didn't get there - while bedding down two nights before the battle he came close to being trampled by a couple of spooked horses which had broken loose.  Fortunately, John was only bruised and a bit shaken by the experience, and quickly recovered. 

While at the battle of South Mountain, Maryland, on 14 September 1862, Dooley was terrified - the only thing keeping him from running was that he was more frightened at the thought of being considered a coward than of being killed. John describes all this, the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, and the time up through the Gettysburg campaign.  He does not, however, make any observations concerning Longstreet's activities in the Suffolk area.  His entries for this time period are very limited, really only mentioning how in April 1863 he was elected Lieutenant of Company C, his going home in May, and then being put under arrest for overstaying his leave.  (This bit of trouble didn't last long - due to a lack of officers the regiment couldn't afford having him just sitting around, and he was soon restored to duty.)

At Gettysburg on 3 July 1863, the 1st Virginia took part in what became known as Pickett's Charge, being posted in the center of Kemper's Brigade.  About thirty yards short of the Federal lines, Dooley was shot through both thighs and was unable to move; it wasn't until the next day when he was picked up by Union stretcher bearers and taken to a II Corps (USA) hospital for treatment.  Of the 209 men the 1st had taken into the charge, about half were casualties, with many of the wounded, like John, being captured.  Now a POW, the second part of his journal is about his time spent in prisons - specifically Ft. McHenry and Johnson's Island - and how he managed to survive the ordeal.  It was some time before his wounds healed.  He was finally paroled at the end of February 1865, arriving home the beginning of March.  On the 30th of that month, he and a friend went on a planned tour of the South; shortly after setting out, news of Richmond's fall overtook them.  They tried to rejoin their units, or at least get back to Lee's Army, but events were moving too fast and they didn't make it before they learned Lee had surrendered on 9 April.  With the war now as good as being over, they decided to resume their trip, viewing the desolation.  During his reflections of this and on all that had happened, he turned toward his faith and considered joining the priesthood - the Jesuits in particular - then started making his way home.  The journal entries conclude as he arrives back at his parents' house in Richmond.

In September, 1865, John decided to return to Georgetown to enter the Novitiate of the Jesuit order and was assigned to teach in the preparatory school.  His sister, Florence, married William Lynn Lewis on 18 February 1868.  The joy of the family soon turned to sorrow, however, as, just 3 days later, John, Sr., age 57, died in Richmond (21 February 1868).

Unfortunately, John was too ill to go to Richmond to attend either wedding or funeral, and was confined to the Georgetown infirmary.  Nor would he survive to fulfill his wish to become a Catholic priest; his health had never been very good to begin with (when he enlisted in '62, he weighed only about 130lbs.) and the rigors of soldier and prison life had definitely taken their toll.  He died of consumption on 8 May 1873, 9 months before he was scheduled to be ordained, and was buried at Georgetown.  His mother, brother James, and sister Josie were with him when he died.

It's sad Dooley's Journal has been out of print so long.  It's been well used as a primary source; I've noticed that a lot of the stories Dooley told are utilized by historians.  Since he began his military service as a private and later became an officer, he gives a perspective on army life from both sides of the rank divide. His detailed account of Pickett's Charge very possibly was written while John was still lying wounded on the field.  His description of his "visits" to the several prison POW camps plus his tour of the South make his book an even more useful reference.  Probably its biggest value is that it was written at the time of the events - it wasn't written or reworked after the years had dimmed his memory or cast a patina on his experiences.  The editor, Fr. Durkin, did an excellent job of annotating entries and providing an afterword on what happened to John and his family once the journal ends.  Included in the Appendices are some of Dooley's stabs at poetry:

1.  A tribute to John Mitchel's son Willie, a very close friend of Dooley's who was killed at Gettysburg while serving in the 1st Virginia's color guard during Pickett's Charge.  (Although Dooley says Willie was carrying the regimental colors when he was killed, and the story is often repeated, it appears that perhaps he did not - other sources indicate that the assigned color NCO, Sgt. William Lawson, carried the banner all the way up to just before the Federal line at the stone wall before being hit, long past the point where Pvt. Mitchel went down.)

2.  "Tongue in cheek" verses about his messmates at Johnson's Island while he was a POW.

Appendix 3 provides a summary history of the 1st Virginia from its early beginnings in 1661 up to the time of publication during WWII.

It's a book well worth tracking down.

Additional Resources Used:
"The Damned Red Flags of the Rebellion": The Confederate Battle Flag at Gettysburg by Richard Rollins, Rank and File Publications, Redondo Beach CA, 1997.

Bernard J. Henley papers - Marriage & Obituary Indexes from Virginia Newspapers, online at the Library of Virginia.

Updated 21 November 2004


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