In April 1938 the New York Times and Gettysburg Times brought news of the death of a 96-year-old veteran of the American Civil War. Michael Gaffney’s passing was newsworthy in itself as the number of veterans was dwindling, but it was also claimed that the Irishman had been present when Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address almost 75 years before.
Born in Dublin around 1840, Michael had immigrated to the United States in 1853. During the war he served in the 33rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, better known as the 4th Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment, enlisting on June 11, 1861 and mustering out with his comrades on June 17, 1864. The Gettysburg newspaper covered the story with the headline ‘Vet Dies; Heard Lincoln.‘ The New York Times offered the most detailed report:
MICHAEL F. GAFFNEY
Civil War Veteran Who Heard Lincoln at Gettysburg
Special to the New York Times
West Orange, N.J., April 3. Michael F. Gaffney, 96-year-old veteran of the Civil War, died here last night at the home of his daughter, Mrs. William Conner of 28 Llewellyn Avenue, after a week’s illness. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he came here as a child and at 20 enlisted in a Pennsylvania regiment, with which he fought at Antietam, Bull Run, second battle; Gettysburg and the Wilderness. He heard Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. In the Eighteen Seventies Mr. Gaffney served as a captain in the Fifth Regiment, New Jersey National Guard. For some years he was a stationary engineer in the employ of the city of Newark. He belonged to the Phil Sheridan Post, G.A.R., of Newark. Also surviving are two other daughters, Mrs. Elizabeth Robshaw of Newark and Mrs. Margaret Crinnian of Brooklyn.
* Damian Shiels is an archaeologist and historian who runs the IrishAmericanCivilWar.com website, where this article first appeared. His book 'The Irish in the American Civil War' was published by The History Press and is available here.