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Michael H. Leary letters

Collection MS-1986-043: Michael H. Leary letters


  • Creation: 1861-1863

Scope and Content Note

This collection of forty-six letters, dated from July 1861 through August 1862, is addressed from Michael H. Leary to Ellen (Nellie) Desmond. Also included within the collection are several envelopes addressed to Nellie. One postmark is dated 1863, indicating Leary continued to correspond with Nellie beyond the context of this small collection.

Leary’s correspondence primarily relates the activities of the 9th Regiment including preparation to march, scouting expeditions, engagement with the Confederates, military reviews before General McClellan and President Abraham Lincoln, and picket duty. Leary offers, in response to Nellie’s questions, commentary on the Trent Affair. The majority of the letters were penned from Miner’s Hill, Virginia. Other letters were addressed from Washington, DC, and Yorktown and Richmond, Virginia. The other significant subject of Leary’s letters focus on his relationship with Nellie. Leary expresses continued desire for the war to end that he might return to her. He speaks of their material exchanges – a photograph, money, clothing – as well as the possibility of Nellie moving to New York with the family she works for. The final letters Leary penned from a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of the letters were written on Union stationery.


Access Note

Collection is open for research; also available digitally.

Copyright Restrictions

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note

Michael H. Leary, a union soldier, was employed as a printer in Boston, Massachusetts prior to enlisting with the Irish-American dominated Ninth Massachusetts Regiment on June 11, 1861. The Ninth Massachusetts Regiment spent the months of May and June at Camp Wightman on Long Island in Boston Harbor. Encamped at Emmart's Farm until after the Battle of Bull Run, the Ninth Regiment moved to Arlington Heights, Virgina for a brief time. The winter was spent at Miners Hill, Virginia until March 10, 1862. Serving alongside the Fifth Corps during the Peninsular Campaign, the Ninth Regiment was engaged at Hanover Court House, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, and Malvern Hill in Virginia. During the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, the Ninth Regiment remained in reserve. The winter of 1862-1863 was spent at Falmouth, Virginia.

Leary deserted the Ninth Massachusetts Regiment on January 28, 1863, but returned and was eventually transferred to the Thirty-Second Massachusetts Veteran Volunteer Regiment when his three-year term with the Ninth expired. Daniel G. McNamara, a former Lieutenant with the Ninth Regiment and military historian, details the furloughs granted to the soldiers of the Ninth Regiment during the month of February. McNamara recalls that some men overextended their stays at home, "With the exception of a few desertions and 'stay-overs' the honorable action of the men was an example that would put to shame the above mentioned commissioned officers (Daniel G. McNamara, 277)." Leary was most likely one of these stragglers. His letters indicate a great desire to be with Nellie, so he may have remained at home in Boston longer than allowed.

In 1863, the Ninth Regiment was engaged in Pennsylvania at Gettysburg as well as at Chancellorsville in Virginia. After spending the winter in quarters at Bealton Station, Virginia, the regiment participated in the Wilderness Campaign in May 1864. For the 170 men who re-enlisted from the Ninth Regiment, as well as other Massachusetts Regiments, the Wilderness Campaign continued with action at Spotsylvania, North Anna and Bethesda Church in Virginia. The Thirty-Second Regiment participated in the Siege of Petersburg from June 1864 through April 1865 and was part of the pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. Assigned to Company H as a Private, Leary was mustered out of the army on June 28, 1865, receiving his final discharge on July 11.

Sources: The History of the Ninth Regiment, Daniel G. McNamara (Boston: EB Stillings & Co., 1899) The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle, M.H. McNamara (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1867) ‘The Fighting Ninth’ for Fifty Years and the Semi-Centennial Celebration, Frank J. Flynn (Boston: s.n. 1911?) Commanding Boston’s Irish Ninth: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Christian G. Samito Ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998)


.25 Linear Feet (1 container)

Language of Materials



Michael H. Leary was an Irish-American from Boston, Massachusetts and soldier in Union Army during the Civil War. This collection is composed of correspondence from Leary to Ellen (Nellie) Desmond, mostly written from Virginia. The collection begins in 1861 while Leary was stationed in Washington D.C. and continues through 1863. The final letters Leary wrote from a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The letters provide accounts of Leary's life in the Ninth Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War as well as his desire to reunite with Nellie.



Source of Acquisition

Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time.

Existence of Digital Copies

Collection is available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.

Related Materials

Bernard and Margaret Hayes letters, MS.2018.026, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Florence and Ellen Burke letters, MS.2018.023, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

George Byron Lord letters, MS.1986.162, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Isaac Plumb, Jr. family papers, MS.2018.011, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Michael H. Leary Letters
Elizabeth Delaney, 1988. Revised by Sarah K. Nytroe, 2002; and Kelly Webster and Lindsay Skay Whitacre
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States