The Exploits of Patrick Griffin: "He Must Have Been Irish"

By
Rebecca Blackwell Drake

Patrick Griffin was a child soldier when he joined the Sons of Erin, Nashville, and left for war. During his first year
as a Confederate solider he ended up in prison at Camp Douglas. The next year found him fighting on the battlefield
 in Raymond. Following the Battle of Raymond, he was taken prisoner and kept in a make-shift prison in town.
This three-part series is based on Patrick Griffin's memoirs called
"The Famous Tenth Tennessee"
, Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1905.

Part I

In spite of his mother's opposition, Patrick Griffin lied in order to join the Sons of Erin, an Irish Brigade from Nashville. Griffin was slightly less than seventeen years old - not exactly soldier material but an excellent drummer. Touting his talent for the drums, he finally convinced his mother that the Sons of Erin could not go to war unless he was there to make the music. She relented.


Patrick Griffin, 10th Tennessee Infantry

On that never-to-be-forgotten day when the Sons of Erin left for war, Griffin recalled, "We marched down to the wharf in Nashville and boarded the steamboat, B. M. Runyon. My mother was there in the crowd with several of my relatives. Two big fellows from our brigade jumped overboard. They could not stand the pressure; but they were picked up and as the boat started up the river to make the turn Jimmy Morrisseey {fifer} and I started up the tune 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' and we kept it going till the hills around Nashville had vanished from sight."

Commanding the Sons of Erin was Randal McGavock, a graduate of the Harvard School of Law and a former mayor of Nashville. Griffin, honored to be in McGavock's command, referred to his leader as God's own gentleman. Some months later, when the Sons of Erin joined with other Irish Brigades to form the Tenth Tennessee, popularly known as the "Bloody Tinth," McGavock was appointed Lieutenant Colonel.

On May 12th, 1863, as the 10th Tennessee marched through Raymond and out to the battlefield, it was the tall, handsome McGavock who led the brigade. He looked startlingly handsome on his horse even though the stirrup straps were too short for his gangly legs. His gray coat was highlighted with a scarlet lining and his sabre belt swung loosely at his side. Sergeant Patrick Griffin, and the rest of the brigade followed on foot. Several hours after the impressive, crowd winning, march through town, Colonel Randal McGavock was one of the first killed on the battlefield. The tragic event changed the life of Patrick Griffin forever.

"I was standing about two paces in the rear of the line and Colonel McGavock was standing about four paces in my rear," Griffin recalled years later. "We had been under fire about twenty minutes when I heard a ball strike something behind me. I have a dim remembrance of calling to God. It was my colonel. He was about to fall. I caught him and eased him down with his head in the shadow of a little bush. I knew he was going and asked him if he had any message for his mother. His answer was: 'Griffin, take care of me! Griffin, take care of me! I put my canteen to his lips, but he was not conscious. He was shot through the left breast, and did not live more than five minutes."

Distraught over the death of his friend and commander, Griffin continued to fight until his unit began to withdraw from the field. "While we were stopped, I met Lt. Colonel William Grace and asked him if he knew that Colonel McGavock had been killed when the battle first began?" Colonel Grace was surprised but gave Griffin orders to get off the battlefield the best way he could. "I explained to Colonel Grace that I wanted to go back after the Colonel's body, but he said that it was out of the question. I insisted that I had given my promise to the Colonel to take care of him, and that I was gong to do it to the best of my ability, whatever happened." McGavock was determined to find his commander's body and give him a proper burial.


Colonel Ranal McGavock,
10th Tennessee Irish

Backtracking onto the battlefield, Griffin searched until he found McGavock's body and, with the help of other members of the brigade, began to carry the body into town. Progress was slow because of the heat and the carnage on the battlefield.

After lugging the body for several hours, Griffin was surprised when a Yankee officer with a thick Irish brogue addressed him saying, "Who is this officer you are holding in your arms?" A surprised Griffin answered the bluecoat saying, "My own colonel. His name is McGavock - an Irish name." Griffin then inquired as to the officer's name and found that he was Captain McGuire. The encounter revealed the oddest of circumstances. McGuire was from the same county in Ireland as the parents of Patrick Griffin and Randal McGavock. Sympathetic to the cause, Captain McGuire ordered his men to place McGavock's body in one of the Union army wagons for transport into town. Of Captain McGuire, Griffin later commented, "I want to say right here that I am convinced that if ever there was a good Yankee he must have been Irish!"

After Griffin was taken prisoner and placed in a Raymond jail for the night, McGuire promised to try to procure a parole for his Irish counterpart. "The Colonel's body was placed on the porch at the hotel and remained there till the next morning," Griffin reminisced. "The next morning, Captain McGuire came with a two days' parole for me. I got a carpenter and had him to make a box coffin, for which I paid him $20.00. My fellow prisoners assisted me in every way they possibly could. I hired a wagon in town and got Capt. McGuire's permission to have all the Confederate prisoners follow the Colonel's body to the grave. We had quite an imposing procession, with, of course, Yankee guards along. I had the grave marked and called the attention of several of the citizens of Raymond to its location, so that his people would have no trouble finding him when they came to bear him home to Tennessee."

Of the death of his commander and friend, Patrick Griffin would later remark, "Although I was only a boy then, the memory of the miserable loneliness of that night has never been quite blotted out in the years that have intervened. Although I was literally worn out, I did not sleep a wink the night before I buried my colonel. No man has ever come across life's pathway to fill McGavock's place in my heart."

 


Source: Patrick Griffin, "The Famous Tenth Tennessee", Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1905.

Editor's note: Patrick Griffin, 10th Tennessee, was a 19-year-old soldier who was awed by his commanding officer, Col. Randal McGavock. Historians now agree that he could have fabricated many of his stories.

 

Part II - "Finding A Gold Mine"

 


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