Patrick Kelly was born in Castle Hackett, County Galway, Ireland in 1821. His father died when Patrick was about 9 years old, leaving Patrick and his sister to be raised by their mother. He came to America in 1850, just after the Great Famine and settled in New York. His wife Elizabeth died at her home on Rapelyea Street, Brooklyn in late 1858, leaving no children.
When the American Civil War broke out, Kelly enlisted as a private in the 69th New York State Militia. He quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant of Co. E.
Patrick Kelly was appointed but never commissioned, as captain in the 16th US Infantry. On December 31, 1861, he was commissioned as lieutenant colonel of the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry, a largely Irish speaking regiment. After Antietam, Kelly was promoted to colonel of the 88th. He led his brave men on the assault of Marye’s Heights at the battle of Fredericksburg.
These horrific battles decimated the famed Irish Brigade. Brigade commander, General Thomas Francis Meagher, resigned on May 14th, 1863, in protest of not being allowed to raise new recruits for his depleted brigade. General Meagher turned the command of the brigade to Colonel Kelly.
Kelly led the brigade at Gettysburg with just a fraction of the original number of soldiers. A year later he was again at the head of his command at the Battle of Petersburg. It was there that he was killed on June 16, 1864. He was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery on June 26 1864.
A letter to the editor of the Irish American newspaper described the scene as Kelly’s body was carried from the field; “..strong old veteran soldiers wept like children, and wrung their hands in a frenzy…there never was a more unblemished soul in it than honest Colonel Patrick Kelly…”
The Irish Brigade finished the war, victorious over the rebel forces. The pain and suffering of the likes of Patrick Kelly and thousands of other Irish immigrants gained for the Irish and Catholics, greater acceptance by the American society by day.
For unknown reasons, Kelly and his young wife are buried in an unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery. The Galway Association of New York knew immediately what they had to do when they were approached by the Irish Brigade Association. Together, along with the Irish Brigade, they unveiled a memorial stone in honour of this Galway man, who made the ultimate sacrifice for his adopted country.
If you wish to visit the stone, you can do so by taking the No.7 Subway to the 33rd Street Station. By car, exit the Long Island Expressway at Greenpoint Avenue.