On Easter Saturday morning, Lord Lucan's Crowbar Brigade works the countryside around Skibbereen, west County Cork. Delmo Roux, a bastard of French-Irish ancestry, leads the wreckers. Red Delmo takes his pay from the Marquis of Scull engaged to pry the horde of peasants from his lordship's estates. Tenants like the Lynches of Lambskill who for three generations have rented land from the nobleman's family, living and dying in the same damp and filthy mud-floored cottage.
None of these Lynches has ever seen the marquis, who makes his home in Bath, England, and at Leghorn, Italy. Only once in his lifetime has the landowner spent a few days in County Cork coming to assess what extra fees he can squeeze from his tenants, a visit in response to reports of a bumper crop of rye and potatoes. The marquis doubled the rents and hurried back to Bath where he ordered a new carriage and a hunter from the same stables supplying Queen Victoria's horses.
This was before Ukrosh, the Great Hunger that is killing Ireland. On this Easter Saturday morning, the shadow of death lies over the Lynch family. There were eight Lynches, mother and father, four daughters and two sons before the famine. Now three remain: Fiona Lynch, the mother, the child NELLIE LYNCH, eight, and her brother, FARRELL LYNCH, nineteen years old. Fiona has famine fever and is close to the end. Nellie is thin and deathly pale, "a paleness not of a common sickness but as if she'd been thawed out of ice, in which she'd been embedded until her blood had turned to water." Since the beginning of the year, Farrell has had two week's relief work at eight pennies a day. Big-boned and broad-shouldered, he is gaunt and exhausted from foraging for a few miserable scraps.
There are twenty cottages on Lambskill's single street. Red Delmo intending to tumble every one before day's end. Seventeen houses stand empty, their tenants gone forever. At two occupied cottages, inhabitants obediently carry their possessions outside and watch helplessly as their hovels are demolished.
When the wreckers reach the Lynch house, Farrell blocks the doorway: "My mother is dying in her bed. For love of God, let my mama be until I can fetch the priest."
"Out with the baggage!" roars Delmo Roux.
The Crowbar Brigade shoves Farrell aside and carries the stricken woman's bedstead out of the cottage. Nellie cries with fear and horror clutching the rags that cover her half-naked mother.
Fiona Lynch dies in the ruins of Lambskill. Farrell buries his mother and makes a shelter for Nellie bidding her remain there until he returns.
That night Farrell bludgeons Delmo Roux to death. He fetches Nellie and flees Skibbereen taking back roads to the city of Cork. He's near collapse, carrying little Nell on his back, when a coach draws up and its occupant invites the pair to ride with him to the port.
Their benefactor is sixty-seven-year-old Ben Steele of Boston who has come with the Massachusetts, one of a hundred ships crossing the Atlantic in 1847 to bring relief to Ireland. At Cork, Ben gives the pair a few shillings for food, not expecting to see them again. When the Massachusetts sails twenty stowaways are flushed from the hold. Farrell and Nellie Lynch are in the crowd led to the gun-deck, where they stay for the rest of the voyage. They reach Boston on April 10, 1847, a single day that sees one thousand Irish migrants stream ashore. Over the year thirty-seven thousand refugees arrive in the city, where the nearby ruins of Ursuline Convent stand as stark reminder of smoldering prejudices against Catholics.
Farrell and Nellie live on the streets for a month before a family from Lambskill lets them move in with them. There are fifteen adults and children jammed into a pesthole on Half Moon Place between Broad Street and Fort Hill. To reach their tottering rookery, they climb a battered wooden stairway, "Jacob's Ladder," that leads up to Humphrey Place, whose denizens hold themselves a rung above the starvelings below.
The descendents of Milo Lynch live on the heights of Humphrey Place. Milo's son, TITUS LYNCH, heads a family that continues to exist on the edge of the law keeping the "Stars," the police, busy at various groggeries and dancing halls they own. The constables frequently descend on Titus's shanties and cellars and make wholesale arrests for unlicensed fiddling, dancing, and other "depravities."
Titus avoids prison thanks to the skill of his lawyer, ASA TRANE, a son of Loyal and Adaline. Titus is more than a client to Asa, for among many properties bought by Colonel Trane were six mansions in Fort Hill, now rotting piles inhabited by immigrants. Every week Titus sends his minions down Jacob's Ladder to collect rents due to Trane. - Asa's uncles and nephews continue the family trade as gunsmiths at the Trane Iron Foundry in South Boston. The heavy ordnance for the siege of Vera Cruz in the Mexican War was cast here. When not making war materiel, the factory turns out machinery for New England's textile mills.
When cholera breaks out in the Irish ghettos, city authorities set up a quarantine station on Deer Island. Desperate for work, Farrell takes a job as a laborer on the island, not a day passing without Farrell and his mates having to dig graves for victims of the pestilence. Three-quarters of seven hundred fatalities are Irish, their remains mingled with the bones of Praying Indians interned on Deer Island two centuries ago.
Farrell returns to fetid Broad Street every night dreading that he'll find Nellie sick with the disease. She stays healthy thanks to the concern of MARCY LYNCH, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Titus. The girls meet when Nellie races up Jacob's Ladder to escape Mother Sullivan, an old hex of Half Moon Place said to have been around when witches blackened New England's skies. Nellie becomes a regular visitor at the home of Titus and DORCAS , who feed and clothe their impoverished namesake. Farrell, too, gets a warm welcome from Marcy, who falls for the big Irishman.
Farrell becomes a jack-of-all-trades in Titus's dance halls. Over six feet tall, he has a pair of fists large as tea kettles that he uses with equal effect in wielding a pickaxe or pounding the head of a troublemaker. As one of Titus' rent-collectors, Farrell extracts payments as ruthlessly as the Crowbar Brigades who serve the lords of Ireland.
Farrell's work brings him into contact with Dick Fletcher's son, JASON FLETCHER, the best caterer in Boston, who runs "Jason's" on Congress Street. Jason's son, BILLY FLETCHER, is the same age as Nellie, a handsome young man who is top of his class at the segregated Smith School in the African Meeting House. Their relative, Reverend GIDEON FLETCHER, grandson of Nixie Fletcher and Crispus Attucks, is a Baptist minister associated with the abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Parker. When the Fugitive Slave Act comes into force in 1850, Reverend Fletcher is with other African-Americans who advocate armed resistance to southern slave-catchers hunting runaways in Boston.
Farrell marches to the drumbeat of The Pilot , mouthpiece of Boston's Irish community, which condemns the abolitionists as an "imbecile faction of radical insurrectionists."
In February 1851, Farrell's work as an enforcer gets the attention of fellow Irishman, U.S. marshal Patrick Riley who appoints him as special deputy assisting in fugitive slave arrests.
John Caphart, a veteran slavecatcher from Virginia, comes to Boston seeking a warrant for a runaway, Shadrack Minkins. Farrell and six deputies surround Cornhill Coffee House where Minkins works as a waiter. The runaway is frog-marched out of the coffee shop over to the Court House.
Reverend Gideon Fletcher and members of Boston's Vigilance Committee converge on the court building. Within the hour a hearing begins with half a dozen abolitionist lawyers including young Richard Henry Dana: Minkins enjoys no civil liberties or protection, all that's required is to confirm his identity and authenticate the slavecatcher's documents, and he can be handed over. Since it's a Saturday afternoon, the hearing is adjourned to the following Tuesday, Minkins to be confined in the Court House.
Riley and Farrell are clearing the courtroom, when protestors storm the hallways and seize Minkins, sweeping him through the corridors to freedom. By nightfall, Minkins is across the Charles on his way to Concord, first leg of his flight to Montreal.
Over the next two months, Reverend Fletcher and the Vigilance Committee help dozens of fugitives leave Boston. Most aren't actively sought as runaways but flee a city rife with rumors about the dreaded Caphart and other slave hunters.
In April 1851, Farrell and other officers seize Thomas Sims, a twenty-three-year-old Georgia slave, following a desperate struggle on Richmond Street (North.) Unlike Minkins, Sims is a drinker and patron of the Ann Street bordellos and gets no sympathy from Boston's citizens. He is judged a "chattel" and handed over to his owner's agents. Three hundred men armed with cutlasses form a hollow square around the captive and march him from the Court House to Long Wharf, where he is placed aboard the brig Acorn . Farrell sails with the ten-man escort taking Sims to Savannah, where they're feted on their arrival. Sims is put in Savannah jail and made to hug the widow, the whipping post, every morning for a month.
Farrell and Marcy are married in 1853 uniting the two Lynch families. One key difference between Farrell and Nellie and the four generations descended from Malachy the Water Rat lies in their religion. Titus and his family are Episcopalians, a faith adopted by his great-grandfather when Catholicism was outlawed. Farrell and Marcy take their vows in one of eight Catholic churches in Boston which now has 35,000 registered Catholics.
Farrell and Marcy take rooms above The Honey-Pot in Hanover Street, one of Titus's dance halls. Nellie lives with the couple. The fifteen year old is small and slender, with raven hair down to her waist and deep-set green eyes. Her entire schooling consists of eighteen months with the Sisters of Notre Dame at St. Mary's in the North End but she is sharp-witted and considered a good find by her employer.
Six mornings a week, Nellie rises at 4.30 a.m. and walks through the dark streets to the Beacon Hill mansion of Captain Benjamin Steele. A widower since 1846, Ben shares the house he built on Beacon Street opposite the Common with his son, CYRUS STEELE, and his family. Cyrus's wife, CECILIA, is the daughter of Transcendentalists from Brooke Farm in West Roxbury, a colony of poet farmers and philosophers propagating a New Age of Reason. Founded at the former Praying Town of Punkapoag, poor harvests and shaky premises spelled doom for the experiment that collapsed in 1846. Cecilia's parents have found a new calling as Free-Soilers in Kansas joining other Boston abolitionists to do battle against Missouri slavers and border hellions.
Nellie is one of four servants. Mary, the cook, is also Irish and in her forties; Beatrice from Vermont is in her twenties; Cincinnati, a former Louisiana slave, is sixty. The servants enjoy the benign regime of Cecilia who brings the lofty notions of Brooke Farm to the scullery with revolutionary divisions of labor and meditations on Almighty Goodness and Wisdom. Captain Ben still goes down to the Long Wharf every day, often brought to the brink of mutiny when he comes to his breakfast table and finds it totally bare. His servants are out with Cecilia delivering Easter baskets to the poor or on a similar high-minded ramble.
There are seven Steele children, the oldest the gentle-mannered OLIVER STEELE, who is seventeen and attends Harvard and plans to be a lawyer. Oliver's best friend is Billy Fletcher, the 15-year-old son of caterer Jason, who is frequently called to prepare a feast at the Steele mansion. The militant abolitionist Reverend Gideon Fletcher is also a regular guest.
Nellie encounters many a wondrous visitor at the house on Beacon Street but the one that delights her most is Billy Fletcher. He has the same twinkle in his eye as his great-grandma, the pirate's daughter who loved a wayward Puritan.
Farrell leads a new class of cudgel boy, the "Shoulder-Hitters," all Irish and filled with hatred toward Know-Nothings like Angel Gabriel who goes around Boston tooting his horn as clarion call to anti-Papists and zealots in the Liberty Guard combating Rome, Rum and Robbery. Anti-immigrant Know-Nothings demand a twenty-one year residency to earn the vote. A Nunnery Committee probes Catholic schools. Catholic boys in public schools are caned for refusing to recite the Commandments. Irish militia companies are threatened with extinction.
Violence between Irish and Yankee spills over into the racial arena. Shoulder- Hitters are opposed to the betterment of blacks, slave or free, at the expense of the hungry sons of Ireland. Farrell's mob is involved in the last and most notorious fugitive slave case in June 1854, when a judge orders Anthony Burns sent back to Virginia. Farrell marches with Irish gunners of the Columbian Artillery escorting the prisoner to a ship at T Wharf. As the bells of Boston's churches toll for the death of liberty, Farrell, former prizefighter Bruiser Sullivan, and the Chilean Luigi Varelli, "Spanish Lew," celebrate Burns's departure at Adams House tavern. Spanish Lew spots Richard Henry Dana, one of Burns' lawyers, walking down Washington Street. "Let him have it, boys!" shouts Varelli. Bruiser Sullivan smashes Dana's head with a billy club. Farrell's too busy finishing his drink, which is just as well for Bruiser gets two years in Leverett Street jail for the beating. No one dares finger Spanish Lew, crime boss of the North End.
A week after the Burns episode, Farrell is crossing Boston Common when he comes upon Nellie sitting beside Frog Pond with Billy Fletcher. Bystanders stop Farrell from thrashing the young black, but he drags his sister away and forbids her to return to the Steeles.
Nellie leaves Boston and takes a job in a Lowell mill. Once marvels of progressive industry, workers now complain of slave labor in twenty-year old factories choked with cotton dust. In spring 1865 Nellie leaves Lowell for Nahant where she is a chambermaid in Nahant House. "Fat old merchants in white hats and fussy old maids and dowagers" find the summer resort "sublime." Less sublime for servants like Nellie who work twelve-hour shifts running and fetching for the very proper Bostonians.
On a day in September 1856, a sudden storm churns up the waters and batters the cliffs of Nahant, Nellie watching awe-struck as a fishing smack is driven toward the rocks. Impulsively she dashes down to the shore just as the struggle lost and the Maid of Drogheda swept to its doom. A flaxen-haired survivor is tossed ashore and lands at the feet of green-eyed Nellie.
"Aye, aye, 'tis an angel I see," cries the schoonerman. "'Tis over, my lad, 'tis over," he says and falls back in a swoon.
His name is ROARK O'BRIEN and he's from Fingal in Dublin County. He is a refugee of the Great Hunger but entirely different from the habitants of the Broad Street rookeries. O'Brien and his fellow Fingalians came to Boston in the late 1840s and in less than a decade outstripped their Yankee rivals making money like shells. The Fingalian fishermen learnt their trade in the Irish seas where for a hundred years before migrating to Boston, they used the hook-studded trawl line. The "long line" proved a far handier way of fishing than the old Yankee's one man, one line, and one hook. In 1851, there was one Irish-owned fishing boat among sixty smacks in Boston. A year later there were thirteen boats and by 1854, County Dubliners owned most offshore schooners in the Boston fishing fleet.
Roark O'Brien sailed the Maid of Drogheda across the Atlantic to the New World. The ship was thirty-five years old and decrepit, but she served him well until she broke her back on the rocks at Nahant. Within a year, the young skipper has a new trawler on the stocks at Scituate, a handsome vessel of fifty-five feet to fish the Georges Bank. When the schooner goes down the slip, she carries the name Nellie . A tribute to the angel Roark O'Brien met at Nahant and took as his wife.
Farrell Lynch and the Shoulder-Hitters pack Tremont Temple, when abolitionists pay homage to John Brown hanged for his raid on Harper's Ferry. Farrell's ruffians provide muscle for the Broadcloth Mob led by Yankee bankers and factory owners battered by the Panic of 1857 and desperate to keep slave cotton flowing to their mills.
Oliver Steele and Billy Fletcher are in the brawl that spills out onto Tremont Street. They hold back the attackers and allow Reverend Gideon Fletcher and the anti-slavery leaders to retreat to Joy Street Baptist Church, where Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips re-convene the meeting. "How fitting we should seek sanctuary in a black church!" declares Phillips, as a mob of a thousand shouts for firebrands to burn down the building. The police come in force and disperse the rioters.
Oliver arrives home with a bloody nose and his clothes in tatters. Cyrus Steele disapproves of his son fighting like a "gutter Irishman," but Cecilia applauds Oliver. When not slugging it out with Shoulder-Hitters, Oliver is a model of propriety especially in the parlor of Professor Abiel Ainsworth of Cambridge, a botanist blessed with nine daughters. Young Steele causes a flutter among these butterflies, but the one that owns his heart is the beautiful Evangeline. Even as war clouds gather, Oliver and Evangeline make plans for the future, no tragic musings of a poet, only bliss in the "home of the happy." At Christmas they attend a glittering affair at Papanti's, Boston's last grand ball before the sound of the guns drowns out the music.
Captain Ben Steele took his first steps during the Revolution and sees the coming storm. The sprightly eighty-year-old belongs to a group of Boston Whigs favoring a Compromise with the South. In April 1861, he travels to Charleston with Congressman William Appleton, a Beacon Street neighbor and fellow Whig who still hopes for a settlement with the secessionists. The two go to New York where they board the steamer Nashville and make a rough passage to Charleston. They arrive off the bar on Thursday evening, April 11, and wait for the morning tide to turn. Ben goes on deck around 4 a.m. Suddenly, there's a flash and a roar as the shore batteries of Fort Johnson open fire, the shells arcing through the sky to blast Fort Sumter.
In Boston on April 27, a group of Irishmen of very different stamp from the Shoulder-Hitters strike a blow for the Union. Roark O'Brien and his crew go to Gray's Wharf, where a ship from Georgia is docked . They demand that the Oleander's captain strike the Confederacy's "rattlesnake" and replace the treasonous colors with the Stars and Stripes. The southerners threaten to use their guns against the crowd. Roark and his men move to board the ship. The rebel banner is taken down and flung ashore. Jubilantly, the Irish destroy the flag and parade the shreds through the streets.
Roark and Nellie, Farrell Lynch, Oliver Steele and the Fletchers are the main protagonists in the Civil War period. Some highlights of the plotlines for their inter-twined roles:
Oliver joins the 5 th Regiment of Massachusetts Voluntary Militia, the "Minute Men," who entrain for Washington on April 21, 1861. On July 20, they march to Centreville with McDowell's army. The following day the regiment is in the Battle of Bull Run and loses nine men killed, two wounded and twenty-three captured. "Such a rout I never witnessed before," reports the division commander. "There was a fine position a short distance in the rear, where I hoped to make a stand if I could rally a few companies. In this I utterly failed." The 5 th is sent back to Boston and mustered out on July 31. Oliver won't speak of his terror in an inglorious flight and shows no interest in re-enlisting. Ben frets over his grandson's reluctance to return to battle, the word "coward" never on his lips but the suspicion is there.
In April 1862, Roark O'Brien is second-in-command of the gunboat Neponset in the fleet of David Glasgow Farragut who has orders to seize New Orleans. The Mississippi delta is flanked by Fort Jackson on the left and Fort St. Philip on the right. A log barrier is stretched across the river, beyond which a Confederate fleet lies in wait. Roark leads a party of raiders who blast a gap between the logs. Just after midnight on the 24 th , Farragut orders the dash past the forts. Neponset is third in the line of attackers, the gunboat's captain killed in the first salvo. The command falls to Roark who takes the Neponset through the curtain of fire. They take forty hits before they're out of range, only to be engaged by a dozen enemies including the ironclad Manassas . The plucky Neponset challenges the Manassas and takes a hammering but keeps the enemy at bay until Farragut's flagship comes in for the kill.
Under a sky blackened by smoke from two million bales of blazing cotton, New Orleans capitulates without a shot. Farragut heads north to Vicksburg leaving the Neponset and its new commander Roark O'Brien behind with an occupying force under Ben Butler of Massachusetts. Butler is "The Beast" to the folk of New Orleans disdained for his blows against Southern belles. The ladies show their contempt for Yankees by pulling their skirts aside and flashing their thighs at the invaders. The cross-eyed Beast retaliates with General Order Number 28 ordering the guilty women to be punished by public proclamation as prostitutes.
Nellie O'Brien responds to a call for ladies of Boston to hurry over to Tremont Temple with needle and thread to make bandages for the wounded. She lands among some of the grand dames Beacon Hill who don't hide their prejudice toward a little Irish biddy. Nellie angrily quits their ranks and goes to Washington where she volunteers as a nurse with the Sanitary Commission. She has no more luck in meeting the standards of chief nurse Dorothea Dix, who demands "plain-looking women over thirty, dressed in brown or black, no bows, no curls, no jewelry, and no hoops."
Nellie is about to return home when she meets Clara Barton. The forty-year-old Barton saw that while wounded soldiers were well cared for in Union hospitals, they suffered terrible agonies waiting to be transferred from the front. Nellie joins Clara in late August 1861 and reaches Bull Run as the second battle rages. "Three thousand men were brought down from the field and lain on the ground beside the train, and so back up the hill until they covered acres," Clara later recalls. Nellie is at Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War, and two months later, behind the lines at Fredericksburg, Virginia. She encounters the shattered remains of the 28 th Massachusetts, all Irish boys who flung themselves against Lee's entrenchments mowing whole gaps out of their ranks.
In March 1862, Oliver becomes superintendent of freedmen on the Sea Islands off the South Carolina coast. The fall of Port Royal the previous November saw one hundred and eighty-nine plantations with ten thousand slaves abandoned At Boston's Old South Meeting House parishioners established the Boston Education Commission for the "industrial, social, intellectual, moral and religious elevation of the Sea Islanders released from bondage." Not a few enthusiastic supporters did so in expectation of a steady supply of cotton for the New England mills.
Oliver, Cecilia and Evangeline are among fifty-three volunteers arriving in the Atlantic at Beaufort on March 9, 1862. "Never did a vessel bear a colony on a more noble mission, not even the Mayflower when she conveyed the Pilgrims to Plymouth," says the agent who greets them. The trio goes to St. Helena Island where they occupy Clarendon, a plantation with two hundred slaves. Oliver begins the task of introducing the former bondsmen to the regimen of free labor. The two women start a school for the slaves' children. Cecilia returns to Boston in July finding the heat unbearable and the redeemed Ethiopians "perplexing."
Oliver soldiers on bravely but his cotton crop is only a tenth of the plantation's ordinary output. Evangeline's harvest is much greater, sixty pupils crowding her benches from noon to three, the forenoon left open for the children to labor in the fields. They learn the alphabet, multiplication tables and singing:
For none in all the world before
Were ever glad as we,
We're free on Carolina's shore,
We're all at home and free!
Oliver is overjoyed when Billy Fletcher arrives at St. Helena in July 1863 with the first of New England's black regiments. Billy celebrates the Fourth of July at Clarendon with Oliver and Evangeline. Two weeks later the 54 th regiment marches to attack Fort Wagner on Morris Island. Billy is carried back to Beaufort, when half the enlisted men of the 54 th killed or wounded below the Confederate parapet. Oliver's vigil at the hero's sickbed deepens the feelings of inadequacy instilled by his terror at Bull Run. There are pickets on St. Helena and sporadic alarms, but mostly life is peaceful for the "Gibeonites," the slaves of slaves, as skeptics call them.
In July 1863, Farrell and his Shoulder-Hitters stir up a mob in the North End: "To Cooper Street Armory, boys - to the Gunhouse! We'll give 'em New York." Inflamed by the New York conscription battles two thousand Boston rioters swarm Cooper Street and lay siege to the armory with bricks, stones, clubs and pistols. In the gun-house, two brass pieces are wheeled over to the entrances, one at North Margin Street, the other at the main entrance on Cooper. When the mob attempts to break down the heavy oak doors, the order is given to fire and the cannon sweep all before them.
The insurgents fall back leaving their dead and wounded and stream down to Dock Square. Farrell and the Shoulder-Hitters are met with powder and ball just a stone's throw from the site of the Boston Massacre. Farrell stands his ground. "Don't run like cowards, boys. Give the damn Yankees hell!" He receives a bullet in the arm, another in his head, before his mates drag him to safety.
Farrell escapes arrest as a ringleader staying with friends in Charlestown until his wounds heal. His huge fists have carved out a place for him in public but his personal life is a shambles. Marcy and their sons, JOHN and TERENCE, flee to her parents when she can no longer suffer Farrell's rages. Titus Lynch banishes his son-in-law from his grog-shops and dance halls. Farrell drifts from job to job doing heavy labor alongside the "nigars." He works on the huge Back Bay project filling in the fetid tidal flats to provide six hundred acres of new land for the city. He lives in a room on Ann Street in the North End, a notorious quarter with dens of opium eaters and prostitutes. These denizens lie low when Farrell Lynch comes roaring home after downing a flood of Medford rum, swinging his fists and cursing mankind.
In September 1863, Asa Trane makes Farrell an offer he cannot refuse. Asa's son, Tobias, has his name picked in the draft. Asa offers Farrell $600 to serve in Tobias's place. A fortune to Farrell who accepts and signs up as a substitute, though not happy about going to war alongside Lincoln's Negro-worshippers.
Oliver Steele's name is also drawn. Exemption is easy for a plantation superintendent and Evangeline wants him to stay, but for a week he agonizes over his decision. He opts to report for duty. He marries Evangeline before he leaves for the front, Reverend Gideon Fletcher conducting the ceremony in the slave chapel at Clarendon.
Oliver and Farrell serve with the 110,000-man Army of the Potomac under Ulysses Grant on the advance toward the Rapidan against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. At noon on March 5, the battle begins at Chancellorsville on a field strewn with skulls of earlier combatants. It continues for six bloody weeks fought foot by foot through the tangled thickets of the Wilderness, around the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania and on to the hell of Cold Harbor.
Farrell is with the 28 th Massachusetts who are in action on May 6 and 7 losing ninety-seven officers and men; at Po River, Bloody Angle and Spotsylvania from May 10 to 18, with one-hundred-and-twenty-five losses; and Cold Harbor on June 3, where they suffer a further blow of fifty-seven.
Oliver serves with the 11 th Massachusetts, the "Boston Volunteers." The terror of First Bull Run returns in the Wilderness but with no place to flee he stands his ground through two days and nights of blind and bloody battle. He is shot at Cold Harbor where seven thousand Union men fall in the first eight minutes. Then the two armies sit glaring at each other for three days, no litter bearers are allowed onto this Golgotha, their commanders unwilling to ask for a truce.
Farrell is unhurt but trapped among the wounded. As he crawls away on the first night, he comes upon Oliver. He saves Steele's life carrying him off the field and taking him behind Union lines. When the litter bearers are finally sent forward, of the thousands of wounded Union soldiers only two are still alive.
At the Wilderness, Nellie and Clara face a harrowing mission: "I saw two hundred six-mule army wagons in a line, reaching far out on the Wilderness Road, every wagon crowded with wounded men, stopped, standing in the rain and mud, wrenched back and forth all night by the restless, hungry animals. Under many a wagon, a dark spot told all too plainly where some poor fellow's life had dripped out in those dreadful hours," said Clara.
Oliver's family first gets news that he is dead, before word comes that he was spotted at an abandoned farm used as a field dressing station. When a month passes with no notice from Oliver himself, Captain Ben takes his old servant, Cincinnati and makes the arduous journey south. He meets Nellie who helps Ben track down his grandson at a military hospital in City Point, Virginia.
In 1864 at the siege of Petersburg, Farrell watches a tunnel packed with four tons of gunpowder blow up beneath Confederate lines. He blunders in The Crater with Union troops, the enemy firing mercilessly down on them. A thousand men lie dead before the survivors raise the white flag. White soldiers are allowed to surrender. "Kill the niggers!" shout the Confederates. Hundreds of black troops are bayoneted and clubbed to death. Farrell who has rarely shown anything but scorn for African-Americans is enraged by the savagery. Fighting to save a young black, he is bayoneted. He survives his wounds and is carted off to Andersonville prison. Here he languishes for the rest of the war living like an animal in a hole in the ground.
Roark O'Brien and the Neponset take part in Admiral Farragut's daring raid at Mobile, the last major Confederate port. The Union fleet consists of fourteen wooden ships and four ironclads. Seven wooden ships are gunboats like the Neponset , each lashed to the port side of a larger sloop to serve as shields against the sixty-nine guns of Fort Morgan. At 6 a.m., the Union fleet moves forward, the ironclad Tecumseh in the lead. Ninety minutes later with the Confederate's most powerful vessel, Tennessee, bearing down on her, Tecumseh hits a mine and sinks in thirty seconds.
Farragut sees his second ship of the line stop and throw her engines into reverse.
"What's wrong?" he barks from a perch in his flagship's rigging.
"Torpedoes, sir," comes the answer from the deck.
Farragut's voice rings out above the din of battle: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
The Neponset's men hear metal primers of mines striking their hull. None explode. They evade Tennessee's ram and attack and capture one of the ironclad's supports. Pounded into submission, the Tennessee surrenders, effectively ending the power of the Confederate Navy.
Oliver recovers from his wounds and returns to his post as a brevetted captain in January 1865. He takes part in Second Hatcher's Run and again stops two bullets and is back in Beacon Hill by early March cited for "gallant and meritorious conduct in battle." On April 3, he witnesses the city's rejoicing as word comes of the capture of Richmond, one-hundred-gun salute firing a salute on Boston Common. Two short weeks later, the bells of Boston's churches toll a mournful dirge as news of Lincoln's assassination falls "like a thunderbolt from a clear sky."
Life quickly returns to normal for Nellie and Roark, their only disappointment a failure to have children. In 1867, Marcy Lynch contracts consumption and dies leaving Terence and John virtually parentless, Farrell coming back from the war permanently marked by the horrors of Andersonville. Nellie and Roark provide a home for her nephews, who rarely see their father, Farrell more often than not incarcerated in Leverett Street jail for drinking and brawling.
In fall 1872 distemper kills half the horses of Boston bringing transport in the city to a halt. On Saturday evening, November 9, a fire starts in a hoopskirt factory on the corner of Summer and Kingston Streets engulfing the buildings and beginning its advance across sixty-five acres of the city.
Farrell is at The Eagle tavern on Ann Street, when men struggle past trying to drag a fire engine usually pulled by six horses. Farrell shoulders his way through the crowd and puts himself in front of the engine using all his muscle to move it down toward Dock Square and on to the blaze.
In the Somerset Club, Oliver and other members first ignore reports of an "ordinary fire," but by ten the conflagration rages northward swallowing up great granite warehouses like brush heaps and making the sky glow red. Oliver and other volunteers fetch dynamite from the Ancient and Honorable armory to blow up buildings and contain the rush of the inferno as the fire reaches Washington Street and threatens Old South Church.
Nellie is on the scene to support the injured and exhausted. In the shadow of Old South, Nellie finds the body of Farrell. Her brother's heart gives out in his mighty exertions this night, twenty-five years after he came to make a new life for them in America. Through her tears, Nellie sees not the ruins of Boston but Lambskill in County Cork from which she fled with Farrell. It was a good journey.
©2007-2008 Errol Lincoln Uys