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American Civil War and Fordham: The McMahon Brothers

Martin McMahon

General Martin T. McMahon- Class of 1855, served in Army of the Potomac. His remembrances were published in The Fordham Monthly.

Major General Martin T. McMahon

Born: March, 1838, Canada

Died: April 21st, 1906 NYC

General Martin T. McMahon, graduate of St. John's College in 1855, had perhaps one of the most exemplary Civil War careers of any graduate of the College.

At the outbreak of the Civil War McMahon yearned to participate, joining the Union Army as a captain in the early days of the war.  An extremely successful military career was soon to unfold, including a close friendship and bond with Union General George B. McClellan, head of the Army of the Potomac.  McMahon, himself, would eventually be breveted a Major General at the close of the war, having served on the staffs of many important generals.

McMahon finest moment however, came undoubtedly at the Battle of White Oak Swamp during the Seven Days' Battle in late June 1862.  McMahon volunteered to destroy a Confederate pontoon train.  McMahon not only destroyed the pontoon train but also saved the instrument wagon, which was extraordinarily valuable.  For his actions McMahon was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  McMahon’s two brothers, John and James, both Fordham graduates did not survive the war.

McMahon's post-war credentials rival his service record.  Among many other positions, he was Minister to Paraguay, New York State Assemblyman and Senator, Head of the Fordham Alumni Association, and Judge of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace of New York State, over which he last presided just days before his death on April 21st, 1906.

He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

James McMahon

James P. McMahon

Born: 1835 Wexford, IRE

Died: 1864, Charles City Crossroads, Virginia

After succeeding his brother, John, as head of the 164th New York Volunteers, James P. McMahon would leave a memory all his own. John, who attended Fordham University from 1849-1853, filled the leadership vacuum caused by his brother's death by disease in March 1863. His most glorious moment would come, undoubtedly, during heavy fighting at the Charles City Crossroads in Virginia in the midst of Battle of Cold Harbor during the Wilderness Campaign of 1864. His superiors had ordered him to charge and take the Confederate fortifications. He took the flag from the killed flag-bearer and stormed up the hill, placed the flag into the ground and called back to his men: "Come on, boys: their works are ours. Here's your flag." However, while he was able to survive the charge up the hill he did not survive the battle. As he stood at the top of the mound he was gunned down by several riflemen, riddled with 18 bullets. In addition to John, James had another brother, Martin T., who attended Fordham, earned the rank of Major General and had a successful post-war career, as well.

John McMahon

Colonel John E. McMahon

Born 1834, Wexford, IRE

Died March 1863, Buffalo, NY

John E. McMahon's Civil War service, while cut short by disease, was nonetheless of great importance. As a Colonel in the early years of the war he was commissioned to muster a regiment from the Buffalo area, his hometown. However the regiment that he raised up was eventually consolidated and McMahon was placed in charge of the new 164th New York Volunteers; the regiment was heavily Irish Catholic. It would prove to be one of the hardest fighting regiments of the war losing more than half of its men in a period of less than two years. Graduating from St. John's College in 1852 with a BA and in 1854 with an MA, John McMahon was the oldest of three brothers, all who attended Fordham and all who served bravely in the Civil War. John along with one of his brothers, James, died in the war, he himself dying of disease in March of 1863; his brother James would succeed him as leader of the regiment.

Subject Guide

Vivian Shen's picture
Vivian Shen
Walsh Library, Rose Hill Campus
Special Collections, 4th floor

Further Reading