An Irishman at the Battle of Lynchburg

By Eli Stewart

Despite being a lesser-known engagement, the Battle of Lynchburg acts as a unique tapestry in which an array of notable people from across the East Coast convened in a seemingly insignificant town to fight in the Civil War. Many of these individuals went on to do prominent work after the war while others left a lasting impact before their deaths on the battlefield. This blogpost reflects on the life of Irish-American journalist and Union soldier, Major Charles Halpine. Through his gifts of humor and journalism , Halpine not only grants a unique perspective of America during the 1850’s and 60’s, but also sheds light into the lives of Civil War soldier in compelling way. As historian William Hanchett describes, Halpine “deserves recognition as being one of the major minor figures of American history.”

Charles Graham Halpine was born in Oldcastle, Ireland on November 3, 1825 to his mother, Ann and his father, Nicholas Halpine, who served as a Protestant clergyman. In 1844, he enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin (the alma mater of his father) and pursued a degree in medicine. Dropping out before he graduated, Charles continued his education in London where he studied law and contributed article to English newspapers and magazines. On January 25, 1849, Charles married Margaret G. Milligan while both were only 19 years old. The following year, Charles left his wife and newborn daughter Syble in the care of Margaret’s parents and sailed for America, as many Irishmen did in the years following the historic potato famine.

Initially settling in Boston, Halpine became good friends with Benjamin P. Shillaber, a writer for the Boston Post, and in September, 1850 began printing a weekly paper through their press called the Carpet-Bag. Despite being short-lived, the Carpet-Bag printed a variety of jokes, poetry, stories, essays, and cartoons from across the nation. One notable entry was Mark Twain’s first published story called “The Dandy Frightening the Squatter,” released on May 1, 1852.