Wednesday, July 25, 2012

John Cassidy - Memento Mori

John Cassidy's Prayer Book (GMNP- NPS)
Sometimes, it is the smallest item that provides the biggest impact. Such is the case with Corporal John Cassidy's copy of The Manual of the Christian Soldier.

John Cassidy was born in Ireland in 1839, and immigrated to Philadelphia with his parents.  By 1860, he is listed living in the 2nd Ward of that city with his family, working as a painter. When the war began in 1861, Cassidy found that the pay was good and steady in the Army.  He enlisted in Company H of the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry, an Irish regiment of the Philadelphia Brigade, and fought at the battles of Glendale, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  In January 1862, he received a copy of the Manual of the Christian Soldier from the chaplain of the 69th, Fr. Martin, and carried it with him until Antietam, when he lost it amidst the chaos of battle. 

After Cassidy, the book was also owned by William Scheiffer of the 91st Pennsylvania, who found the book on the battlefield, and later by Michael Shannon of the 25th Virginia. At some point the book found its way back to John Cassidy, who carried with him into Gettysburg.

The 69th Pennsylvania was lightly engaged on July 2nd and the next day, formed the first defense of the stone wall at The Angle, the culminating point of Pickett's Charge. John Cassidy was killed that day, shot through his prayer book that he kept in his breast pocket.

Cassidy was taken to his home in Philadelphia where he died of his wounds on July 16th and was buried in the Old Cathedral Cemetery there. Cassidy's niece later donated his "wounded" prayer book and the photograph below to Gettysburg National Military Park, all that remains of Cassidy's personal documentary record. 

Corp. John Cassidy, 69th PA (GNMP- NPS)
When I first heard of Cassidy's story, I was intrigued, and I found all I could about John Cassidy. I recently wrote a profile of Cassidy for work, and after it was done, I wanted to see one of the few tangible things left from Cassidy: his prayer book. Fortunately, it is now on display at the Gettysburg NMP Museum, and any visitor can see it. After searching the exhibits for the book, which I had only previously seen from the images above, I finally saw it, small, unassuming, and yet, very poignant. 

John Cassidy gave his last full measure of devotion to the cause of his country, and you can see a memento of that devotion bound up in his little book left behind.

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