Patrick Ginley was born in Ireland, on December 22, 1822. In 1860, young Patrick was a private in the 69th Regiment New York National Guards. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he would volunteer for his adopted country, being assigned to Company G, 1st New York Light Artillery. The 1st New York Light would serve the United States in 44 engagements, in the east, and would not muster out until 1865.
Ginley, and his 1st New York battery would be with the Army of the Potomac, from the Peninsula Campaign, through CS General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, at Appomattox Court House. It was during the Petersburg Campaign, that Ginley would provide his most important service – specifically on August 25, 1864 at the Battle of Ream’s Station.
In an effort, to get below Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, cutting their communications, and supplies, US Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, would send the II Corps south of Petersburg. Commanded by US Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, one of the most well respected commanders in the army, the II Corps would push south, along the Weldon Railroad, on August 24. They would engage the Confederates, at Ream’s Station in this “recognizance in force,” the next day. The Confederates were commanded by CS Major General Henry Heth.
The Battle of Ream’s Station, also called the Second Battle of Ream’s Station, was a significant defeat for the United States. Tearing up track, on the Weldon Railroad, the II Corps would meet Heth’s Division of the 3rd Corps at Ream’s Station. Defending a poor position, Hancock’s Corps would be attacked, and overrun, by Heth’s single division. During the battle, the Federals would suffer 2,750 casualties, compared to 814 for Heth’s Division.
During the battle, Ginley would be detailed for orderly service. With his captain engaging the Confederates, in a very “hot” battle, Ginley would be sent with a message, to General Hancock. Ginley was sent back, by headquarters staff, to find out what troops were battling US Major General Francis Barlow’s division. Going back through the same cut, he had just traversed, Ginley, and Colonel Walker would ride through raking Confederate fire. Unfortunately, unknown to Ginley, or Walker, a large Confederate detachment had flanked the Federals out of their works here, and they were riding directly towards them.
Walker would enter the cut first, and pull up his horse, dismounting. It was at this time that Ginley realized they were amongst the enemy. Attempting to turn his horse around, a Rebel volley into the works, would send his horse reeling, landing on young Patrick, who feared it had broken his leg. Cutting himself from his horse, he found he had suffered no significant injury. Looking around, Ginley found that he was alone, except for a lone cannon. Ginley, and another Federal soldier charged towards the gun, without being seen by the Rebels. With battle smoke partially hiding them, they were able to get to the gun. It was at this time that they were seen by a Confederate, and told to get away from the gun. Not moving, Ginley’s companion was shot dead. Hiding behind the gun, Ginley was somewhat protected. Pulling on the lanyard, the big gun bucked and emptied its contents into the Confederates on the breastworks – mowing a swath through them, and scattering many of them. During the confusion, Ginley was able to escape, running most of the way across a field, before the Rebels knew he had escaped. With yells from the enemy, and their bullets whizzing by him, and cheers from the Federals who had witnessed his heroism, Ginley made it back to his lines. The young Irishman was not done. Grabbing a flag, from a dead color bearer, and a saber, he ran back, and forth, across the front, rallying the Federal troops, carrying canister for the guns and in many cases actually firing the cannons. His wild actions steadied the troops around him and brought them together in fighting order. With a volley, from an advancing group of Massachusetts troops, the Rebels scattered. Ginley with a cheer planted the flag on the ramparts as the “boys in blue” swarmed over the works, after the Confederates.
After the battle, Hancock would state, “Ginley, you are the hero of the day.”(i) Later, General Grant, with his hand on Ginley’s shoulder would state,
“Private Ginley, it is not to-day nor to-morrow that you and every man undergoing the hardships of this war will be remembered by the country for his services. But every hero sooner or later receives his just reward. In this day of history making, when the deeds of individual valor are taking their places in the record of the War of the Rebellion, when the records are in the hands of those at Washington who helped to make them, each individual act of heroism of which there is a record will be recognized.”(ii)
On October 31, 1890, private Patrick Ginley would receive the highest honor, in the land, for his services 26 years previously, being awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor. The citation read,
“The command having been driven from the works, he, having been left alone between the opposing lines, crept back to the works, put 3 charges of canister in one of the guns, and fired the piece directly into the body of the enemy about to seize the works; he then rejoined his command, took the colors, and ran toward the enemy, followed by the command, which recaptured the works and the guns.”(iii)
After receiving his Medal of Honor, Patrick Ginley would live 26 more years, dying in New York, on April 5, 1917. He is buried at Cavalry Cemetery in Queens, New York. For his actions, on August 25, 1864, at Ream’s Station, Virginia, Patrick Ginley is a true American Hero.
(i) The Story of American Heroism, published by J.W. Jones, 1897, p.485.
(ii) The Story of American Heroism, published by J.W. Jones, 1897, p.483.
(iii) R.J. (Bob) Pfoft, Editor, United States of America’s Medal of Honor Recipients, Fifth Edition, Pg. 875.