The Medal of Honor symbolizes the ideals of patriotism, courage, sacrifice, and integrity and is the highest award presented for military valor in action. Those recipients have shown bravery in combat, going above and beyond the call of duty, risking – and often sacrificing – their lives for the welfare of others.
First introduced for the Department of the Navy in 1861, the Medal of Honor would be created for the Department of the Army’s Medal of Honor in 1862. The Department of the Air Force, which originally used the same Medal as the Department of the Army, introduced their own Medal of Honor in 1965. Since its inception during the U.S. Civil War, more than 3500 recipients have been honored with the Medal of Honor.
This is the story of a Medal of Honor recipient.
In my years of traveling and doing cemetery research, Saint Joseph’s Cemetery on the northern edge of Girardville – located in Schuylkill County – ranks among the saddest ones I had visited. Standing along Route 54, I stared at the cemetery covering the hillside – despite its poor condition, it is apparent someone has been working on cleaning up to sacred grounds, which had been hidden by thick brush only a decade ago.
Having talked to a couple friends living in the region, I had a rough idea where the grave was I had come to remember. I carefully made my way up the hillside and paused to get a better look at the cemetery – the years had destroyed the once grand monuments and family plots and I could only wonder what the hillside looked like when it was in its prime. The fence at the bottom of the historic hillside was decorated with patriotic ribbons to honor the men resting here who had served their country in wartime, but I also knew that they were mostly to honor and remember one man who fought during the U.S. Civil War.
I did not need to enter the cemetery grounds to visit the resting place – I could see the decorated grave a short distance away. The grave was marked with a military stone and was decorated with a patriotic wreath – it seemed out of place compared to the forgotten graves on the hillside.
I followed the path between the fence and the drop-off to Route 54 and was soon standing at the grave of Patrick Monaghan, the Medal of Honor recipient who rests here. I paused at his grave and stood in silence to remember the actions of Patrick Monaghan, who received the Medal of Honor during the U.S. Civil War.
Patrick Henry Monaghan was born on November 19, 1843 in Belmullet, County Mayo in Ireland and in 1848, his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Schuylkill County.
In August 1861, Monaghan was mustered in as a private in Company F of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. After the unit completed its training, in November 1861 they were sent to Hatteras Island. In February 1862, they were involved with the capture of Roanoke Island. By August of 1862, the regiment was moved into Northern Virginia where they were involved in a series of battles: Second Battle of Bull Run, Battle of South Mountain, and Antietam before arriving at Fredericksburg in December 1862.
At the start of 1863, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry was sent to Lexington, Kentucky as a part of the Western Theater. While serving during this time, Monaghan was promoted to corporal. At the end of the year, Monaghan was mustered out of service, but reenlisted on January 1, 1864 – he was promoted to sergeant in Company F of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. The regiment would see action in the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor.
In June 1863, the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry was headed toward Petersburg, Virginia. It would be during the advance on Petersburg when Monaghan would perform the action which would be remembered with the Medal of Honor.
On June 16, the 48th Pennsylvania was involved in a push to overtake the Confederate breastworks. The Union army was pushed back and in the process of the clash, the 7th New York Heavy Artillery lost its battle flag during the charge. The next morning, the Union army again rushed the breastworks. In the process of overcoming the enemy, the battle flag of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery was recovered.
The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry would use the knowledge of the miners and would be a part of digging a shaft that would be filled with explosives for the Battle of the Crater in June and July of 1864. The end of 1864 and the beginning of 1865 saw the regiment at Fort Sedgwick, which was located near Petersburg, Virginia.
It was while at the fort that Monaghan would receive his Medal of Honor on December 1. It was presented to Monaghan on December 16 by Major General George. The citation for his Medal of Honor reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Corporal Patrick H. Monaghan, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on June 17, 1864, while serving with Company F, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, in action at Petersburg, Virginia, for recapture of colors of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery.”
In April 1865, the regiment occupied Petersburg, where they remained until the end of the war. Monaghan and the regiment were mustered out of service on July 17, 1865.
After the war ended, Monaghan returned to Schuylkill County, married and raised a family, settling first in Minersville and then in Girardville. Monaghan would be a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard. He was mustered into service on July 24, 1872 and would eventually be promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1880. In addition to serving in the National Guard, Monaghan taught in the Schuylkill County schools from 1873 until 1916. Less than a year after his retirement – on October 22, 1917 – Monaghan would pass and was buried at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery.
Sadly, Monaghan’s bravery would be forgotten. Other the years, trees and shrubbery covered the hillside and the graves of those resting there. It would not be until 2021 that his gravesite was restored and a proper military stone, which remembers him as a Medal of Honor recipient, was placed at his grave.
I finished paying my respects to the Medal of Honor recipient and slowly made my way along the fence and down the hillside. While the cemetery lies in poor condition, I was comforted knowing that Monaghan’s service had not been forgotten and that somebody is upkeeping his grave.
Note: In researching Patrick Monaghan’s service, I’ve come across two major mistakes in the history books. First, everything I’ve read puts him as a member of Company F. However, in the official correspondences recorded in The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, every mention of Monaghan receiving the Medal of Honor states he was a member of Company G. I’m unsure why this is wrong in the all of the official correspondences.
Also, in The 48th in the War: Being a Narrative of the Campaigns of 48th Regiment, Infantry, it mixes up the recapture of the flag by Patrick Monaghan with Robert Reid, of Company G, who captured a Confederate flag on the same day.