Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Confederate Soldier & Good Father John

Before Fr. John O’Brien, of Fr. John’s Medicine fame, arrived in Lowell in 1848, he spent many years in the Virginia. He and his brother, Fr. Timothy, are given credit by historians for supporting the small number of Catholics and actually building the cathedral before they left to come to Lowell. During his time in Richmond, VA he befriended the Dooley family. John and Sarah Dooley were Irish immigrants and part of Fr. John’s parish. They were part of the small Catholic population, but had become wealthy by becoming merchants. Their son, John, grew to be an ardent Catholic, supporter for Irish freedom, and adherent to Southern secession from the Union.
John originally started his studies at Georgetown, but with the advent of the Civil War he sought to join the Confederacy. He had to wait until he was of age, but eventually signed up with 1st Virginia Regiment. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually achieved the rank of Captain. He fought in the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. It was during Pickett’s Charge the he was wounded in both thighs and taken prisoner to Johnson’s Island, Ohio.
 It was while he was a prisoner that he penned a diary of his life in the Confederate army and life as a prisoner of war. His journal is one of the most well-known accounts of the life of a Confederate soldier and life in a Northern prisoner of war camp. The reading is fascinating with details of camp life and the horrid conditions of prison life.
It was during his time at Johnson Island he wrote to Father O’Brien. Evidently the family had kept in close communication once the priest left Richmond to come to Lowell. There were several letters between the two men. Dooley was seeking Fr. O’Brien to intercede with the prison commander to gain his release. In 1863, Dooley received $50 from O’Brien, whom he calls his “generous hearted old friend,” in the hopes of obtaining a parole. The priest pleads with Dooley upon his release to come to Lowell “where I will have everything I may desire.” The plea did not work and Dooley suffers from his wounds.
 Another account is when Dooley met a Union soldier from Lowell. The soldier shared that he was a parishioner of Fr. John’s. And the two spoke at length. At some point Dooley asks how the Union soldier can be fighting for the North when it was clear that the South was on the side of freedom. The Union soldier tearfully responds that he joined the army for the money. He returns with blankets for Dooley, and the two never see each other again.
Dooley finally gets word of his impending release and sends a final note to Fr. John thanking him for his kindness and saying farewell. Dooley returns to Georgetown to pursue studies for the priesthood. In 1873 his battle wounds weaken him to the point where he never is ordained, but is still buried in the Jesuit cemetery at Georgetown.
The book is available at: https://www.amazon.com/John-Dooleys-Civil-War-Americans/dp/1572338229

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article, Dave. Thanks! It's nice to know the O'Brien's had an affect on people outside of Lowell!! Hope you are well. ;-). Barbara Bond