1st Lt. Patrick White
Patrick H. White was born in Sligo, Ireland and moved with his parents and siblings to Nova Scotia to escape the Irish famines in the mid-1840's. After his parents moved to Chicago, he worked in a meat-packing plant there. One of things that White also did as a young man was to join an artillery militia group in Chicago. This artillery battery became known as the Chicago Artillery, or First Illinois Light Artillery Battery A, when its militiamen volunteered to be one of the intrepid units to join the Union Army at Lincoln's first call for troops. Since Patrick White's parents had both died, he decided to stay in Chicago to help his sister raise his brothers and sisters.
In August 1861, however, White could not hold back any longer. With his militia comrades already gone, he volunteered for the Chicago Light Artillery Battery B which was being assembled by Ezra Taylor.
White along with Battery B actively participated in most of the major Western battles beginning with the battles at Belmont and Ft. Donelson, and was highly regarded by Union generals such as U.S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. Battery B was stationed next to the latter general at Shiloh Church on the morning of the battle when the Confederates surprised the Union army and pushed them back almost into the Tennessee River in their rear. After the bloodbath at Shiloh, Patrick White returned to Chicago in May 1862 in order to recruit additional soldiers.
Back in Chicago, White's sister and neighbors observed that the young soldier had sixteen holes in his coat and pants as a sobering reminder of the Rebel barrage of bullets, shot, and shell at Shiloh. In the midst of those intense two days of fighting in Tennessee, Patrick White also had had his sword, sash, and belt blown away. During his stay in Chicago, he was awarded a new sword in a ceremony held on May 2nd and promised to never surrender it unless to another officer.
After being promoted to Captain of the Chicago Mercantile Battery on February 28, 1863, Patrick White led his new troops to participate in several Union's successes prior to Vicksburg. The Battery actively contributed to victories at the battles of Port Gibson, Big Black River, and Champion Hill. During the latter battle, the Chicago Mercantile Battery was involved in a fierce artillery duel on the afternoon of May 16th. White's artillerists' successfully attacked the Confederates, led by General Lloyd Tilghman who was killed there by shrapnel from the Mercantile Battery.
On May 22, 1863, General US Grant conducted his first major assault against the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg, Mississippi. In the midst of Grant's en echelon attack, General A. J. Smith sought an artillery commander to take on a particularly dangerous assignment. Smith turned to Patrick H. White who accepted his request to pull a six-pound cannon down a steep hill and then up another to fire point blank into a Rebel stronghold. The Confederate target was the Second Texas Lunette, a fort from which the Confederate soldiers were tenaciously fighting to prevent Smith’s men from obtaining access to Hawkins Ferry Road, one of the major entrances into Vicksburg. White and his small band of artillerists were joined by some infantrymen from the 23rd Wisconsin who helped them to pull their cannon through the ravine up to the Confederate fort. Today, the leader of the 23rd Wisconsin (Colonel William F. Vilas) and White both have monuments at the battle site in recognition for their gallant assault. Captain White and five of his men also received the prestigious Medal of Honor in 1896.
Camp Ford Prison
Banks' blunder at the Battle of Mansfield led to the loss of 21 cannons, which included all guns from the renowned Chicago Mercantile and Nim's 2nd Massachusetts Batteries. Captain White and his fellow captured soldiers were led on foot by the Rebels from western Louisiana to the eastern part of Texas where Camp Ford had been built as the largest Confederate prison in the Trans-Mississippi area. By the time White, Pinckney S. Cone (his Senior 1st Lieutenant), and 19 other men from the Chicago Mercantile Battery reached the prison, it was overcrowded with Yankee prisoners from the Red River Campaign. The Union soldiers at Camp Ford were barely subsisting under the squalid living conditions there. White and his men remained imprisoned for fourteen months and were not released until May 29, 1865 when they rejoined their artillery comrades in New Orleans.
After the Civil War
At the end of the war, Captain Alex McDow of Walker's 16th Texas Infantry signed his Parole of Honor to be released as a POW at Houston, Texas. He returned home to Victoria in southern Texas and lived there with his daughter. Prior to his death in 1891, Captain McDow had prominently displayed White's sword above the mantle in his living room and wanted his daughter, Mrs. Kate Browning, to return it someday to its rightful owner. Thus, Mrs. Browning ran an advertisement in The National Tribune, a Union veterans' weekly newspaper, at the beginning of 1896 and offered to return the captured sword to Captain White.
In the meantime, Patrick H. White had moved from Chicago immediately after the Civil War to get married and settle in Albany, New York. Surprisingly, White saw the tiny, obscure advertisement placed by McDow's daughter and was able to retrieve his lost sword. He was ecstatic to be reunited with his presentation sword after 35 years. For the rest of his life, Patrick White kept his beloved sword in the hallway of his home along with his other Civil War memorabilia. Upon his death on November 25, 1915, White's daughter gave her father’s belongings to one of his friends, John Boos. Boos gathered much of Captain White’s documents, including his diary, POW parole document, correspondence, wartime and postwar photos, etc. and bound them into a leather book. Additionally, White’s friend John Boos persistently worked with the Illinois State Historical Society to publish some of the artillery commander’s memoir in 1922. Most of artillery captain's reminiscences, however, have never been published. Today, Patrick H. White's sword, Medals of Honor, revolver, and canteen are still on display at the New York State Museum in Albany, NY.