Memorial Day - Honoring Our Local Heroes Who Gave Their Life for our Freedom

Sunday, May 30, 2021

What is Memorial Day?  According to, 'Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.  Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.'

Over the past few years, I've observed some confusion on social media over this special day of observance, particularly in confusing Memorial Day with Veteran's Day....both days honoring veterans, but one specifically honoring veterans who died in the line of duty.  If you read my recent blog post, you know that we recently discovered John's third great grandfather, Michael O'Sullivan.  Michael was an Irish immigrant who lied about his age in order to fight in the civil war.  He was shot through the thigh and although he did not die from his wounds during the war, he died later as a result of complications the injury caused.  He is one of the brave we honor this holiday.

Over the years I've visited and photographed the Gerald B.H. Solomon National Cemetery a number of times and have featured it here on the blog.  Recently we discovered another cemetery that is the resting place for soldiers who gave their lives for ours.....that is the Soldiers' Lot in the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Although not as vast or majestic as the unending fields of grave markers at the national cemeteries, the Soldiers' Lot is equally as sobering.  

"Nestled on the grounds of one of the nation’s oldest rural cemeteries, the Soldiers’ Lot in the Albany Rural Cemetery is the final resting place for 149 Union soldiers, many who died of injury or illness in hospitals around Albany during the Civil War. The lot is located in the North Ridge section of the 467-acre cemetery.  The Soldiers’ Lot is located along North Ridge Road at Lot 7, Section 75.  The Albany Rural Cemetery Association donated the 0.16-acre lot to the Federal Government in June 1862 for the purpose of interring soldiers who died in the Albany region.  Most of the interments are soldiers who died while in Albany’s Civil War hospitals. The last burial in 1897 brought the total number of interments in the lot to 149.

Standing 15-feet high, the only monument in the Soldiers’ Lot is the Grand Army of the Republic monument, which commemorates the local men who lost their lives during the Civil War.  The monument, constructed in 1873, features a bronze statue of a Union soldier atop a tall granite base. Bronze plaques attached to the base list the names of the fallen soldiers.  Also attached to the base is a bronze plaque featuring a bas-relief portrait of President Abraham Lincoln.  Albany Rural Cemetery is the final resting place for numerous political leaders. Chester A. Arthur, the twenty-first president of the United States, is buried in the cemetery, as are eight presidential cabinet secretaries, five U.S. senators, 32 U.S. representatives, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices.  The cemetery also contains the remains of Colonial and Revolutionary-era figures, including twelve assemblymen of the New York Colony and six members of the Continental Congress. " (Text courtesy of the Albany Rural Cemetery website).

According to a book about Albany Rural Cemetery, written by Paul Grondahl (former Times Union reporter), "The cemetery association’s records noted the lot was donated with a resolution “that a sufficient and suitable ground be set apart to inter the remains of officers and soldiers who have fallen or may fall in endeavoring to suppress the present rebellion.” A total of 1,030 Civil War soldiers and sailors have been identified as buried in the cemetery, based on the research of Civil War historian Michael Bodnar, including six Medal of Honor recipients, 26 generals and three Confederate soldiers. Most are buried in private family plots. Those in the Soldiers’ Lot included many men whose families could not afford to bury them privately. Over the decades, the ground settled and some gravestones shifted. A major restoration was completed in the fall of 2013. The marble gravestones once more stand in perfectly straight ranks as a stirring tribute to the Union soldiers who gave their lives to preserve the republic. (These Exalted Acres: Unlocking the Secrets of Albany Rural Cemetery)

Unless you are married to a military member, or have one in your family, I think it's easy, on a daily basis, to forget the sacrifices our military make for our freedom.   Even as we watch the national news and witness the unrest in other countries, even as we have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam and so many since, we take for granted the price so many have paid for the liberty and justice we have in our country today.  These men and women gave their lives so that we could have our lives, our freedom, our country.  They deserve so much more than one day of recognition, but isn't it the very least we can do to remember their sacrifice.  Consider paying a visit to a cemetery this week - the National Cemetery, the Albany Rural Cemetery or any cemetery and pay your respects and pray a prayer of thanksgiving for every service member who gave their life for you and for me.

From Father Denis O'Brien of the US Marine Corp:
It is the soldier, not the reporter, 
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,
who serves beneath the flag, 
and whose coffin is draped by the flag, 
who allows the protestor to burn the flag. 

And one last thought, a prayer if you will....For those who have sacrificed their lives so that we may be free -
We remember you, we honor you, we love you and
we humbly thank you for your service.  A simple 'thank you' is not
enough for all that you've endured.  We pray that you live on
through the loving memories shared by your family and loved ones.
We pray that the strife, battles and wounds of war be calmed for eternity in God's loving grace.
May you find rest at last and know that those left behind cherish your spirit,
honor your commitment, send their love and will never forget your sacrifice.

To purchase Paul Grondahl's book, These Exalted Acres: Unlocking the Secrets of Albany Rural Cemetery, link is provided here: These Exalted Acres

Finding a Hero In Our Family Tree - Captain Michael O'Sullivan

Friday, May 21, 2021

 Michael M. O’Sullivan was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1808.  He married Catherine Howe in St. John’s Church in Limerick in 1829.  Michael and Catherine raised 6 children, Honora, Elizabeth, Michael, James, Catherine and Mary. He is my husband's third great grandfather.  Michael immigrated from Ireland and settled in Albany, NY.  This is his story.

Michael’s story came to us through a variety of sources, including his own words in letters now safely preserved at the NYS Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, from John's mutual ancestors’ family trees on, and from various documents found on the web.  When I began my quest to explore our family ancestry, I had no idea what tales I’d find, but Michael’s story is beyond any expectation I hoped to uncover.  Let me tell you what I can about the multi-faceted Michael O’Sullivan. Photo of Michael courtesy of the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY.

In September 1870 when he was 62, Michael wrote a letter to Reverend Brother John Austin Grace of the Irish Christian Brothers School in Dublin, Ireland.  Michael O’Sullivan was a pupil of Brother Grace and his letter to Brother Grace is now preserved in the Brothers’ archives in Dublin.  Michael writes, “I am almost ashamed to write to you, after my having delayed so long to answer your letter.  The delay was occasioned partly by the death of my son and one of my daughters – the former died a year ago, leaving a wife and seven children, the latter died two years ago, within a year after her marriage.  My health is very much impaired – not by natural sickness but by the consequence of wounds I received during the late Civil War in this country.”

Michael goes on to tell that after his father’s death, he left Limerick in 1823 and went to Dublin.  I bound myself apprentice to a mason, was at the finishing of the Revenue Docks in rere of the Custom House stores; worked in Belfast, Derry, Monagham, Tyrone, Donegal, Westmeath, Galway, Tipperary and Cork.  I prepared the first stone of the Donnybrook Bridge, attended the Marquis of Anglesea in laying it."  He writes, “I was a good stonecutter then, working at both trades as circumstances required.  I was selected by the late Very Rev. James O’Rafferty as Teacher of Tullamore National School, and was a member of the first class of teachers trained in Merrion St. Model School.  I conducted the school until 1840 when a combination, headed by some of the local Orange Magistracy, forced me to fly from Ireland.  My political opinions were at variance with those of the magistrates, and I freely exposed their doings in the Pilot, Athlone Sentinel and Carlow Morning Post.  Although never belonging to a secret society, I took every opportunity to shew my hostility to the petty tyrants who misgovern the country.”

 Michael and his family arrived in the United States in the early 1840's. He received his naturalization papers in 1855. For many years, Michael was a teacher in the different parochial schools in Albany – St. Mary’s, St. Joseph's, and St. John’s which some sources say he established.  One record also lists his occupation as catholic bookstore owner.   On October 7, 1859, a newspaper report states, “He  (Michael O’Sullivan) was brutally attacked by 3 assailants while leaving the Cathedral in Albany (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), with a daughter and her female friend between 11-12:00pm.  The newspaper reporter wrote, “the attackers should be imprisoned for life.”

Referring back to his letter to Brother Grace, Michael says, “Since I arrived in the US, I managed to obtain a respectable livelihood for my family until the war broke out in 1861.  I raised a company of 86 men, all Irish Catholics, without soliciting any of them to enlist, and without the aid of even one glass of intoxicating liquor, as I was then, and now and since 1834 a “Teetotaler” of the most rigid school.  My company being picked men, above common intelligence, moral and, I may say, religious, they were selected as vacancies occurred by the casualties of war, to be Lieutenants and Captains, and I had the pleasure of leaving the Regiment at the close of 1863, to see my place of Major filled by one of my recruits, John Dwyer from Co. Kilkenny. I was in 23 general engagements and skirmishes, the severest of which were “Fair Oaks, Antietam, the “Seven Day’s Fight (in which we fought 8 times in 7 days), Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Yorktown, etc.  I was shot thro’ the left knee which partially disables me, and after three months in hospital resumed my command, promoted Major and was invalided on a pension of $20 a month.  Since coming home, I have been employed in some of the State and US Departments, although frequently and seriously ill from the effects of my wounds.  Yet not withstanding all my trials, I am still robust and although 64 years old, my appearance is that of a man about 50, not even having gray hair.  The 63rd Regiment in which I served, formed part of the celebrated Irish Brigade,  commanded by the gallant soldier, the late Major General Thomas Francis Meagher, one of whose favorite officers I had the pleasure to be.  Our brigade had three Catholic Chaplains, Mass every morning, sometimes on the battlefield, surrounded by the dead and wounded; Rosary every evening and Confessions at any time, day or night.”  He goes on to say, “I am at present Clerk in the US Marshal’s Office and I go home to my little family every two weeks, to Albany, 150 miles up the Hudson River, spend Sunday at home and return to the office Monday morning.  I hope soon to write to you again when I will acquaint you with the state of Catholicity in the neighborhood of Albany at present, in contrast with 30 years ago - making Albany a centre, with a radius of 30 miles - and you will be astonished and thank God at the result."

In addition to being fortunate enough to have this letter from Michael, several of Captain O’Sullivan’s letters home from war appeared in local newspapers.  Without the experience of having served in battle, their vivid descriptions, and the stark reality of war – a war a relative participated in – bring light to a world most of us are fortunate not to have experienced.  Here’s some excerpts from some of those letters:

Captain Michael O’Sullivan of Company F, 63rd New York, in one of the few surviving accounts of the battle, described it to a New York newspaper:. “We have fought the enemy, and our company has either been killed or wounded, with the exception of eleven.”

Captain Michael O'Sullivan, Of Co. F, 63d Regiment N. Y. S. Y., who was wounded slightly in the leg, in the battle of Antietam, wrote home to Albany from the hospital at Keedysville on the same day, thus:

" We have fought the enemy, and our brigade has been cut to pieces! Every man of my company has either been killed or wounded, with the exception of eleven. I received a rifle shot in the left thigh, going completely through-fortunately without touching the bone. Poor Lieut. Henry McConnell was shot through the brain, and never spoke again. P. W. Lyndon, my First Lieutenant, was shot through the heart. Only one Captain (O'Neil) remained on the field. James De Lacey is killed-as also Tim. Kearns. Lieut. Sullivan, Terry, Murray, and the two Mahers, are all safe. Major Bentley is slightly wounded. Sergeant John Dwyer is wounded in the head. Sergeant Major Quick and M. McDonald are not touched. All the line officers of our regiment are either killed or wounded, save one Captain and five Lieutenants.

" * * * At this moment (10 A. M.) my wound is not yet dressed; but it gives me only slight inconvenience. I expect to leave here for Frederick to night, and from thence, probably, home for a season. Those mentioned above are the only Albanians of whom I have positive knowledge at this writing; but I will endeavor to account for them all."


MARYLAND, Sunday, Sept. 21.
I am permitted once more to write to you. My wound is not as serious as I had anticipated, having bled a good deal, and at the time it looked very ugly, the bullet hiving gone through and through the fleshy part of my thigh, a few inches above the knee. It gives me no pain worth talking of, although the only dressing it has got, up to this time, is cold water, which I keep constantly pouring on it, day and night. This is in itself a great inconvenience, as I have not slept an hour at any one time until last night, when I got four hour's sleep, and awoke very much refreshed. I can scarcely move off my back, but I can very well afford to bear my situation with more than patience, when I look around the vast field and see poor fellows who are suffering from wounds, many of which are mortal- some shot through the head, back, groin, sides, shoulders and abdomen; others with lacerated limbs, and many, whilst undergoing amputation of legs and arms, shrieking and moaning in such manner as would penetrate the most obdurate heart.
I am laid near the Surgeon's quarters, and within one hundred yards and in full view of our Brigade burying-ground, in which fatigue parties are constantly employed burying the dead "uncoffined and unsung." Two groups of graves amongst the rest command my attention, and produce most melancholy thoughts in my mind. One, containing five mounds, rudely fenced in, in which are buried everybody's friend Lieut. McConnell, De Lacey, Kearns and Robbins, of Company K (Albany Co.); the other, containing the graves of Lieut. Lydon, Sergeant Gillespie, Corporals Kerrigan and Doherty, and private Madden, of my company (K)-upon whom, and all the other poor fellows, may the Lord have mercy!

Extracts from an Albany Officer's Private Letter.
CAMP CALIFORNIA, Va., Jan. 18, 1862.
“Oh! how solemn it is to hear the death dirge reverberating from hill to hill, in this wild country, and still more melancholy it is to see the mortal remains of a poor soldier, far from home and friends, placed in a hole (scarcely a grave), on which, it may be, "the foeman and the stranger" may tread in some future time. What a mockery is life, when it ends thus! The other day I was at the funeral of a fine young man who was accidentally shot by his own brother. To witness the distraction of the poor father and brother over the grave, was more than I could bear, and I was glad to escape from their wailings, although they mourned the lost one in German. May God give us the melancholy happiness to die among our friends, unless our lives are sacrificed in the path of duty on the field of battle!”

Michael O’Sullivan lived a rich life, filled with family he loved, fighting for a cause he believed in.  He went to war with his son at the age of 53.  He lied and gave his age as 45 when he enlisted.  A book written in 1899 by Myron A. Cooney about prominent people buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, NY, features a full-page story about Michael. 

 Mr. Cooney writes of Michael: “Even now in this city there are many middle-aged men who refer with pleasure and gratitude to his care of them in youth, his kindly counsel, and watchful guidance.  In 1865, July 4th, there was a presentation of NYS flags to Gov. Fenton and on this occasion, Captain O’Sullivan with his colonel, RC Bentley, represented the 63rd Regt, NYSV.  On account of his educational work in this city and his natural ability, he was connected with all the literary societies in this city from their inception, also with that of St. Vincent de Paul. St. John’s Institute presented him with a sword and revolver as a token of remembrance and esteem when he left for the seat of war.”
The article below is from 'Antietam on the Web':

After the war, Michael was a clerk of Criminal Statistics for eight years, until his death on February 21, 1873. His daughter, Catherine (Kate) died on September 8, 1856 at 21 years of age.  She and a younger sister were among the first members of the Cathedral choir.  At her funeral, Bishop McClosky (later Cardinal), preached, she being the only lay person for whom he did this service.  His daughter Elizabeth was named Executrix of his will.  He left her and his wife $20,000 (the equivalent of $400,000 today) to carry on his business.  Below is Catherine's tombstone in the St. Agnes Cemetery.

I am grateful for the work Michael’s second great grandson did to collect much of this story.  It is unlikely I, alone, would have been able to piece so many fabrics of Michael’s story together.  Thanks to Walter, John has a vivid picture of his 3rd great grandfather and the amazing life he led, giving so much of himself to others.  
If you've read this far, you may be thinking Captain O'Sullivan wasn't really a hero compared to so many heroes of today, and perhaps that's true.  I believe each of us has the ability to be a hero in some shape or form, that we have the ability to change lives for the better, to move people, to make the world a better place, not just in a big, showy way.  For us, finding an ancestor of John's that did all those things was a thrill and someone John is proud to call his Great, great, great Grandfather.  Isn't it time you began to search for the heroes in your family tree?
Post Script:  After discovering this family hero, John and I were inspired to fund some repair work to bring the O'Sullivan gravesite back to its original state.  Another of Michael O'Sullivan's ancestor, his second great grandson, Walt Kahnle, wanted to take part in the restoration and contributed to the project.  Michael's daughter Elizabeth's stone had a new base poured and her monument is not standing sturdily, as is Catherine's.  Her stone was also given a new base and then cleaned and the cross on top repaired.  His daughter Mary's monument was also given a new base and the cross itself was repaired and cleaned.  Now the whole family plot is sitting on the hill, sparkling and standing out from many locations in the cemetery.  To read more about St. Agnes cemetery, check out my post...

Escaping the Raindrops Inside the Cozy Warmth of The Speckled Hen

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

 It may be raining and dreary outside today, but inside the warm and cozy walls of The Speckled Hen, the atmosphere is anything but dreary.  For a brief hour, I forgot about the cold and damp outdoors and was transported into a magical place - a place surrounded by colorful floral bouquets, flickering lights, perfectly curated vignettes - and for that hour nothing in the world existed outside those walls. 

It's been a long year for everyone.  We've sacrificed so much, accommodated so many changes and limitations. Now, finally, we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, a promise of hope and a glimmer of normalcy.  We've all coped in our own way but me, one of the ways I've coped is by enjoying the time to decorate, season after season, so that my own space, though lacking in human company, at least looks pleasing and comforting to me.  One of my favorite places to find items for my own decor (as all my regular readers already know) is at the Speckled Hen in Scotia.  We made a little trip there today and as always, the Hen never disappoints.  Maureen is a master when it comes to curating, and it's impossible to come out empty handed.  My little granddaughter recently asked me, "Grandma, how come you have so much stuff?"  The answer is easy.....I shop at the Speckled Hen!  Today's trip was no exception and though I didn't have any particular need or item in mind, I found plenty just the same.  Check out all the beautiful things we saw..........

Look at this beautiful sheer flag draped above.  That beautiful flag is available for under $25.  It could be used in a multitude of ways to accent your patriotic decor!  Maureen's whole shop is filled with unique pieces like this.  And this Amish made wooden star below....the photo doesn't do it justice!  

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and Sunday is Mother's Day.  I can't think of a better place to shop to find the perfect gift for Mom, Grandma, a hostess gift, a teacher gift or a treat for yourself.  Maureen has a table full of gifts all packaged for gift giving or she will help you curate the perfect gift for that special someone in your life.  

The Speckled Hen is open Wednesday-Friday, 10:00-6:00 and Saturday 10:00-4:00.  Mark your calendar for her annual 1/2 Price Tent Sale, June 12th.  You won't want to miss it.   If it's been a while since you visited the Hen, or if you've never visited....what are you waiting for.  Located at 38 Saratoga Road (Route 50) in Scotia, I promise you'll go back season after season for all your decorating needs.  You know I sure do!  Thanks for stopping by Life As I See It.  Use the links below to share this post, or share from my Facebook page ( or from the Speckled Hen Facebook Page: (

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