“So how did Pat Ryan lose that eye in the Civil War?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you.
But first I’d like to talk about how my discovery of his Civil War service record (as I noted previously, he enlisted on 8 November 1863 at Little Rock in Co. K, 3d Arkansas Cavalry, Union Army) and of his pension file vastly expanded what my family knew about his life. Which wasn’t much, when all was said and done, before I found this material. It was, for the most part, a handful of family stories, some of which I recounted in my last posting, augmented with documents that are sparse for an important period of Pat’s life, due to the destruction of Grant County, Arkansas, records by fire in 1877. What I want to emphasize in this posting: as you work on family members of the past who may have done military service and may have left pension files, don’t forget to be assiduous in searching for such files. They can contain a wealth of surprising genealogical information, like the pages from “the old Family Psalm Book” of my ancestors Richard and Rachel Dorsey Harrison, which Rachel tore out and sent in with her application for a widow’s pension for Richard’s Revolutionary service (W2934), pages with the names and birthdates of their children written on them.
We did already know from Pat Ryan’s tombstone in the Orion Baptist cemetery in Grant County, Arkansas — I shared a photo in my last posting — that he was born in 1846, and we knew both from family tradition and the information recorded on the tombstone of his father Valentine Ryan in the same cemetery that Pat had been born in County Kilkenny, Ireland. When I eventually located the family’s place of residence before the Ryans left Ireland in 1852 and 1853 (this was a so-called “chain migration” in which Valentine came to America first, and his wife Bridget and their three children followed in the next year), I was able to find his record of baptism on 14 April 1846 in Kilbeacon Catholic parish in Mullinavat.
I shared a digital copy of that record in my last posting. After my friend John Ryan in Piltown, County Kilkenny, kindly found for me the precise parish in which my Ryan family lived before leaving for America, I went to Ireland, headed to Mullinavat with my gracious hosts John and his wife Maura, and asked to see the original parish register. The parish priest hemmed and hawed at that request and made me vow never to publish information about illegitimate births of other families listed in the register before he’d let me see it (Illegitimate births? Families other than my own? Why would I ever want to publish such information?!).
When I had the old leather-bound book with its stained brown pages in my hands and began to leaf through it, the very first record I located was that of the baptism of my great-grandmother Catherine Ryan on 19 August 1849 — the date given for her birth on her tombstone in the Orion cemetery. It was only then, when I saw that Cath. Ryan, daughter of Val. Ryan and Biddy Tobin, had been baptized on 19 August 1849, that I knew with absolute certainty I had found the specific parish in which my family had lived prior to its emigration.
Up to this point, both John Ryan and I had had some doubts about the records he had found, which were defective transcripts of the original records indexed by the county historical society at Rothe House in Kilkenny, and which did not match perfectly the sparse information I had about my family — and did not include my great-grandmother Catherine and her brother Patrick as children of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin. (The reason for the mismatch turned out to be that the records had been mistranscribed — hence the importance of my going to the parish itself and reading the originals, which have now been generously made available online in digital form by the National Library of Ireland.)
When I turned up the declaration of intent of Pat’s father Val Ryan to become an American citizen, which he filed on 10 October 1854 in Clarke County, Mississippi, I learned from that document that he had arrived in the port of New Orleans on or about Christmas day 1852. New Orleans ships’ lists for that date have not survived.
I knew from family stories that Valentine Ryan had come to America through the port of New Orleans, that the family had gone briefly to southeastern Mississippi, where Val and Biddy Tobin Ryan’s daughter Margaret married Robert Allen Sumrall on 22 October 1856, and that they had bought farm land in Jefferson (later Grant) County, Arkansas, in 1859 — all pieces of information confirmed by documents I acquired as I began doing family history.
The same stories recount that Bridget and children Margaret, Pat, and Kate came to America the year after Valentine immigrated, and that when their ship arrived in New Orleans, he had not received word that they were coming, but they met him walking down the street as they disembarked: the luck of the Irish, the stories said. The 1900 federal census listing for Catherine Ryan Batchelor in Grant County, Arkansas, confirms 1853 as the year in which she came with her mother and siblings to America. I have not located a ship’s list for them.
These bits and pieces of information had allowed us to know, then, that Pat Ryan, who was seven years old when his family emigrated from Ireland, had spent the American part of his boyhood first in Clarke County, Mississippi, and then in south-central Arkansas in a part of Jefferson County that became Grant at the latter county’s formation in 1869, where his family moved when he was thirteen years old. The 1860 federal census gives his name as Patin, the Irish diminutive for Pat. On the 1920 federal census, all of Catherine Ryan Batchelor’s children whom I can locate report that their mother’s native language was Irish.
According to Máirín Nic Eoin, the area in southern County Kilkenny from which the Ryans emigrated to America was the most most Irish-speaking area of the county into the 19th century. An 1815 observer, Atkinson, noted that prosperous pig breeders and dairy men of the Walsh Mountains in which Mullinavat sits could not speak a single word of English in 1815. Maps accompanying Nic Eoin’s essay show that the southwestern portion of the county had Irish speakers numbering up to 40% in 1851, and up to 15% in 1891.
The Ryans were evidently a family that arrived in America speaking Irish as their first language, and that was the language spoken at home, one can presume, though, like many people in their area of Ireland in the period of their emigration, they probably also had at least a passing acquaintance with English as well. All of this — and it’s not a great deal, is it? — we can know and/or infer about Pat Ryan’s boyhood and young adolescence after his family came to America.
Then came the Civil War, for which my family had a total blank when it came to Pat Ryan, except for the story that he had lost an eye at some point, and was that not in the Civil War? But how did he lose that eye, and where and for whom did he do military service? No one seemed to have specific information to answer those questions — not until I happened on his service record and pension file, which I’ll discuss in greater detail tomorrow. On St. Patrick’s Day . . . .
This is the second posting in a nine-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and the next posting in the series is here. That posting will end with a link taking you to the next in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.
P.S. I plan to write more about the family of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin after I finish my series on their son Patrick, and in later posstings, I’ll also provide specific citations for the federal censuses mentioned above, and the 1859 federal land purchase of Valentine Ryan in Jefferson County, Arkansas.
 Clarke Co., Mississippi, Circuit Ct. Minutes, 1850-54, p. 381.
 Máirín Nic Eoin, “Irish Language and Literature in County Kilkenny in the Nineteenth Century,” in Kilkenny: History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on an Irish County, ed. William Nolan and Kevin Whelan (Templeogue: Geography Publ., 1990), p. 466.
 Ibid., p. 465.