As the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War approaches, The Clare Herald profiles one of the many hundreds of Clare men understood to have fought on both sides during the American Civil War.
At age 66, Clare-born Barney McAvoy joined the Union side to fight in the American Civil War. He enlisted in the 154th New York in 1862. He survived the war.
McAvoy was born in Clare in 1796. According to Irishamericancivilwar.com: “He would have been a toddler when the 1798 Rebellion erupted in Ireland, and a man of 19 when Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon Bonaparte on the field of Waterloo. He was the son of Michael McAvoy and Elizabeth Poland, both of whom were dead by 1810. Barney married Elizabeth O’Hare in Ireland in 1823, and would go on to have four children with her.”
Barney spent some time in Scotland and England, where he served six months in the Marine Service, before emigrating to the United States in 1832. He worked as a pipe-maker and a butcher before settling into life as a farmer in Cattaraugus County, New York. By the time of the 1860 census Barney (in which he lists his age as 60) was a widower and his eldest child, John, who was born around the mid-1820s, was no longer living at home. His three other children had been born in New York, and were Francis, a 25 year old school-teacher, 23 year old Eliza and 18 year old Joseph.
On 4th August 1862 Barney went to his local recruitment station in Olean and enlisted, becoming a member of Company G of the 154th New York. His comrades would claim in later years that the Irishman dyed his hair in order to pass as younger man, and insure his enlistment proceeded without a hitch! He was 5 feet 3 1/2 inches in height, with grey hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. Despite his advanced years Private McAvoy successfully navigated the carnage of the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863, all the more notable given the extremely heavy fighting which the 154th endured on both occasions. It was to be illness that eventually proved his undoing. On 27th September 1863 Barney was sent to the Third Division US General Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, suffering from rheumatism. He recovered sufficiently to rejoin his regiment in Tennessee, but was unable to continue on campaign. He was discharged for disability on 7th February 1864 at Lookout Valley.