The Civil War may have been more than 150 years ago and all of the combatants long since departed this earth, but some Civil War re-enactors have made it their job to identify those soldiers who never got a proper burial and make it right. So it was that last month, a group assembled at St. Patrick’s Cemetery on Fifth Street to “bury” Patrick Masterson, an Irish immigrant to Rhode Island who served in the Union army from 1863 to 1864.
As it happens, one of Masterson’s two children, Daniel (born in 1862) went on to serve as one of East Greenwich’s first fire chiefs. Patrick Masterson’s great-great granddaughter is East Greenwich resident Elaine Vespia, who works in the Town Clerk’s office.
Here is Patrick’s story, as presented by Ben Frail, a member of Major Sullivan Ballou Camp 3, a Civil War re-enactor regiment (Frail is Vespia’s son in law):
Born in Ireland to William and Anne Masterson in 1835 or 1836, Patrick immigrated to the United States where he took up work as a shoemaker. On 19 Aug 1861, Patrick married his wife Catharine Reilly, he was 25, she was 27. On 15 June 1862, the couple’s first child, Daniel was born with their second, Rosanna, born 28 Oct 1863. In December 1863, Patrick left his family behind and enlisted as a private in Company E, 3rd Rhode Island Calvary. He was promoted to saddler and served with the regiment during the Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864 and from then on in the defense of New Orleans. On Dec. 16, 1864, Patrick boarded the ill-fated steamer North America with over 200 of his Union comrades, 23 of which were from the 3rd Rhode Island Cav. He was on his way home on sick furlough from exposure. On the afternoon Dec. 22, the North America “sprung a leak” of the coast of Florida around 1:30 p.m. Throughout the afternoon the vessel took on more water and was soon considered lost. The crew’s efforts were focused on saving the paying passengers of the vessel and themselves. Only eight of the sick and wounded soldiers were saved. All 24 Rhode Islanders, including Patrick, went down with the ship. Early in the morning of Dec. 23 the North America disappeared underneath the waters of the Atlantic. Patrick’s body was not recovered.
Good rest to you, Patrick Masterson.