It has been said that the American Civil war was a Brother's War, the truth of this statement is exemplified in the story of the Magner Family, which left Castletownroche, County Cork, IR. In 1849 and arrived in Nicollet County, Minnesota by 1852. The family included three sons, Michael, James and Mathew. Michael died in 1855.
James worked at the Lower Sioux Agency in Minnesota
to help pay for a farm. Mathew, perhaps sensing more opportunity in the
sunny South, moved to Friar's Point, Mississippi. When War came in 1861,
Mathew donned Confederate Gray, while James was Commissioned Lieutenant
on the staff of Union General Thomas W. Sherman, a West Pointer who had
served in Minnesota before the war.
As aide-de-camp to Sherman, James soon found himself heading South on a Steamer Atlantic. Sherman commanded the 12,000-man land force in the campaign to capture Port Royal, South Carolina. The Port fell in November and remained in Union hands 'til the end of the war. James Magner stayed there only until the summer of 1862 however, when he transferred to the division of Ambrose Burnside and moved North to Virginia.
Brother Mathew Magner also ended up in the Old Dominion, as a Lieutenant in Company D, 43rd Battalion, Virginia Calvary- "Mosbly's Rangers". The hit & run style of warfare conducted by Mosby attracted the best and the brightest of the South's irregulars.
On the other side of the lines, James Magner was appointed Captain of Company I, 28th Massachusetts Infantry, an Irish Regiment in Burnside's IX Corps. In his new command, James was in four hard-fought battles in the space of about three weeks: Manassas, Chantilly, South Mountain and finally Antietam. After a year of garrison duty in Port Royal, it was a rough introduction to war along the Potomac, but Magner comported himself well and won the respect of his troops.
He also impressed them with his language skills. Magner spoke English, Sioux and Gaelic. On the march one day soon after Magner joined the 28th, the veteran infantrymen were criticizing the new officer in Gaelic, not knowing that he understood their words. Magner spun around and tore stripes off them in their native tongue. That facilitated and his bravery in combat and earned for him a place in the unit.
Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, the Santee Sioux Uprising sent Magner's mother and sisters fleeing for safety to Fort Ridgely. James applied for leave and secured his possessions. In December 1862 the 28th Massachusetts was transferred to the II Corps "Irish Brigade" one of the most famous fighting units in the Army of the Potomac. The newcomers arrived just in time for the bloodletting at Fredericksburg. The Irish suffered more than 500 causalities. Not long afterwards, on January 26, 1863 James Magner wrote home, telling of a "review of Summer's Grand Division, composed of the II and IX Corps, by the commander of the Army: General Burnside appeared in front of us, we presented arms, he rode along our line amid a profound silence…… I have never been an ultra McClellan man, but now I am convinced that no General but McCellan can lead this Army to victory. This may be treason but it is my firm conviction."
Burnside was soon replaced, not by McCellan but by "Fighting Joe" Hooker, and spirits rose in the ranks. Magner did a brief stint of recruiting duty in Boston. In May, the Chancellorsville campaign came and went, and with it went "Fighting Joe" to be replaced by George "The Old Snapping turtle" Meade, who lead the Army to Gettysburg.
The Irish brigade took barely 500 men into action across the Wheatfield on July 2nd and lost 200 of them. Among the wounded was Captain Magner of Company I, who was shot through the left wrist. As the injury healed in succeeding months, James took brief furloughs, which he used for trips as far as New York City and Boston. During the recuperation he also served on Court martial Duty. By the spring of 1864 he was back with the regiment for the start of the U.S. Greatness' overland campaign.
In May the Army of the Potomac crossed their pontoon
bridges into central Virginia, not to turn until Lee was defeated. Heavy
causalities in the thickets of the Wilderness and the trenches around a
rural courthouse greatly reduced the Blue host but they pressed on to eventual
victory. Left behind among the fallen was James Magner, killed in action
at Spotsylvania on May 18, 1864.
Less is known about the military career of Lieutenant Mathew Magner, riding with Mosbly's Rangers. He too, was wounded during the Gettysburg campaign, but survived the war and returned to Mississippi, only to die a short time later of wounds and yellow fever.
From: Roger Norland