My Favorite Historical Person: Thomas Francis Galwey

When asked the question about someone from the time period of the American Civil War that I admire most, I must admit it was daunting to pick just one individual. It would be easy to pick one a Grant, Lee, Sherman, or the like from the pile of notable military figures of the era. The same could even be said of politicians or those that were influential in a significant and notable way from the home front.

For me, however, as I have grown and evolved as a historian over the years it has become sort of a penchant of mine to bring the individuals, events, battles, that are underdogs or nearly forgotten back to the forefront. This is the particularly so with the average enlisted man in the ranks. Approximately three million men served on either side during the war. At most, off the top your head, think of how many you can name, or even know enough about to consider them admirable. It is in this place that I found someone who I most admire. His name is Thomas Francis Galwey. 

Never heard of him? Neither had I until about fifteen years ago. I was in a new and used military history bookshop, a store of a book junkie’s dreams, when I pulled out a bright red hardcover wrapped in mylar. I knew from the protective sleeve and the price that the book must be special. I quickly discovered that it was because it was out-of-print and had been for a long time. What I later learned after reading it was that it was even more special because of the life it chronicled between its covers.

Thomas Francis Galwey

The Valiant Hours: An Irishman in the Civil War was based on the unpublished diary of Galwey himself. Born in London, England in 1846 to an Irish family, Thomas and his family had emigrated to the United States in 1851. The family eventually settled on a farm on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. When the war broke out in the spring of 1861, Galwey eventually found his way to Company B, 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. W.S. Nye, who edited the work, noted that Galwey “…was a slim, beardless youth only 5 feet 4 inches tall, but with a restless, lively spirit which soon won him promotion to corporal, sergeant, and lieutenant. His dark hair and snapping black eyes, as well as his effervescent and courageous spirit proclaimed his Gaelic ancestry, of which he was intensely proud.” Galwey went on to serve with the regiment from 1861 through the siege of Petersburg in 1864. He had participated in the West Virginia campaign, and then the major battles of the eastern theater with the Army of the Potomac following Second Manassas.

So why do I admire Galwey so much? Certainly there is admiration in the fact that at fifteen years of age he “snuck” into the army. He had been turned away for his age at other recruiting depots but continued trying to get in on the war effort until he found Company B, the Hibernian Guards. I also admire the length of his service. The 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, like so many early war units, began as a three month unit. Galwey could have honorably claimed that his duty to his newly-adopted country was done but he did not. He, like thousands of others, re-upped for the war effort and served for three more years. His ascent through the ranks, his overall attitude toward the war effort, and even his several wounds are all things that I also admire. In the end, however, it is what he did after the war that has held my admiration the longest and deepest.

When Galwey mustered out, and later when the war came to an end, he was only nineteen years old. It is what Galwey did with his young life following his service and the war that I chose him as the person I most admire. Galwey became a champion of education, lifelong learning, and the opportunities that knowledge provided, principles that I hold dear. Following the war, Galwey earned an A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. He tackled and mastered ten different languages, including Latin and Greek. He used his education to advance in numerous careers, such as a lawyer, editor, and educator. And in all ways, during his postwar life in New York and Texas respectively, Galwey continued to serve his country, this time as an active, participating member of society and his communities. It is for these reasons that Thomas Francis Galwey will forever hold my historical admiration.

12 Responses to My Favorite Historical Person: Thomas Francis Galwey

    1. Unfortunately it is not back in print. I attend many Civil War shows and go to numerous used bookstores a year and am seeing it less frequently. It is worth the money, however. A must have in your library.

  1. We often focus on the problems of soldiers returning from the war/wars, and rightly so. We often forget that many more returned and continued their lives, never untouched, but fired to hardness in war’s crucible. They returned to go on to productive lives, leaving behind a legacy we are part of today. Huzzah.

  2. Love the love for the 8th. I am a student of their fellow Gibralter Brigade member the 14th Ind. so great to see the personal story of Galway. There is a Regt. file here at Antietam of the 8th which is an important source for historians of the battle and the brigade. Thanks.

  3. Thank you great story nice to remember the common soldier .
    come to Buffalo and give a talk some time .

    1. Thomas,

      Absolutely. Send me a line through our contact page. I’ve never been to Buffalo and would enjoy an opportunity to talk about this time period in our history with your group.

  4. I learned about Thomas Galwey when I was homeschooling my children several years ago. The book we read was titled “The Long Rosd to Gettysburg” by Jim Murphy. The book features excerpts from Galwey’s diary along with entries from another young Confederate who wrote about his experience, Lieutenant John Dooley of Virginia. Although the book is written for grade school students between 4th-8th grades, adults will also enjoy and marvel at the stories of these extraordinary young men and their experiences during and after the turning point of the war, the battle of Gettysburg.

  5. My sister bought me a copy of The Valiant Hours over 50 years ago. As a Civil War History buff, I read and enjoyed it very much.
    In 2010, my grown son, knowing I always wanted to go, decided to treat me to a trip to Gettysburg battlefield. While there, I recalled the book but couldn’t remember what unit Galwey served in. I called home and had my wife dig out the book and get me updated. We found a monument to the 8th Ohio, out in front of the Union lines, where they faced the left flank of “Pickett’s Charge”. That really brought home the reality this young man faced on that day. I just re-read the book and followed along with maps and stories from my Civil War library.
    I agree with Mr. Welch, a great character.

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