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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Col. James P. McMahon

Patrick McMahon, a native of Pallas Green, county Limerick, Ireland, with his wife and their three boys, John E. McMahon, Martin T. McMahon and James P. McMahon, the subject of this sketch, emigrated to America in 1839. They first settled in Pennsylvania. There, the father being an intelligent and able man, obtained employment, as an engineer, on the public works of that State. About the year 1852, he, being engaged as a contractor, in the construction of the New York and Erie Railroad, removed to the State of New York, settling in Cattaraugus county, where he afterwards became extensively engaged in the lumber business.

He gave to his three sons a good education, and all of them graduating at St. John's College, Fordham, near New York city. Each of this noble trio has proved himself worthy of the great paternal care and attention bestowed on their education, John E. McMahon was, at the age of twenty-one, Private Secretary of Gov. Seymour, in 1854. At the breaking out of the war, he was in the successful practice of the law in Buffalo, New York, where in the fall of 1862, he engaged in raising troops for the Corcoran Legion, which was to be commanded by Gen. Michael Corcoran. He was, on the 8th of November, 1862, commissioned Colonel of the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth Regiment New York Volunteers, and served in Virginia till his death, by disease contracted in the service, in the winter of 1863. He was a young man of brilliant talents and attainments.

The youngest brother, Martin T. McMahon, having served as Private Secretary to Postmaster General Campbell from 1853 to 1857, studied the profession of the law, and, about the year 1860, went to San Francisco, California, where he was engaged in the practice of his profession in copartnership with Ex-Governor John B. Wellek. When the call to arms came for men to defend the Union, in 1861, he raised a company of volunteers and joined the Army of the Potomac, in the fall of that year, with the rank of Captain. He was soon appointed on the staff of General McClellan, and there remained till that General was relieved from the command of the Army of the Potomac, when he was assigned to the position of Chief of Staff on General Sedgewick's staff, where he continued to serve till that gallant soldier's death, in May, 1864. He continued in the service till he was mustered out, after the close of the war, as Brevet Major General. After this period of four years service, he returned to the practice of his profession in New York city, where he is now Corporation Attorney, an office of great responsibility and importance, to which he was appointed for his worth, and the courage and patriotism that he and his family had displayed during the war. He is now only thirty-one years of age.

The other brother, Col. James P. McMahon, was born in the county of Wexford, Ireland, in the year 1836, and came with his parents, as already stated, to America in 1839. After graduating at St. John's College in 1852, he was engaged in assisting his father in the lumber business till 1856, when he removed to Albany and commenced the study of the law in the office of his uncle, Matthew McMahon, Esq., then a prominent member of the bar in Albany. He was admitted to practice in 1860. He remained with his uncle till the breaking out of the rebellion in 1861, when he prepared to enter the contest for the Union.

When in the summer of 1861, Gen. T. F. Meaghar commenced to raise the Irish Brigade, he at once went to New York city, raised a company, and joined the Sixty-ninth Regiment N. Y. Volunteers (known as the First Regiment of Meaghar's Brigade), with the rank of Captain.

After this regiment reached the front, Capt. McMahon soon evinced great capacity and quick perception into military affairs, and was selected by Gen. Meaghar as his aid, in which position he acted for several months. In the battle of Fair Oaks, on the 1st of June, 1862, he received the thanks of his Brigadier General, and of his Division Commander, Maj. Gen. Richardson, for his cool bravery and tact in bringing a portion of the brigade through a heavy fire, and securing for it a position of importance. As a recognition of his services in this battle, in which he killed and captured more of the enemy than his command, the brave Richardson called him at the close of the day to take a place on his staflf with the rank of Major. There he remained, accompanying the General through the Peninsula campaign, and being with him at the battle of Antietam, in which Gen. Richardson fell mortally wounded. Gen. Richardson was fondly attached to his young aid; and after he was wounded, the few days that he lingered, he insisted upon his remaining by his side till he died.

Shortly after the death of Gen. Richardson, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Regiment New York Volunteers, which was raised at Buffalo by his brother, John E. McMahon, for the Corcoran Legion. On the 20th of March, 1863, Col. John E. McMahon, his brother, who was Colonel of the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth Regiment New York Volunteers, and attached to the Corcoran Legion, dying, James was at once appointed to the Colonelcy vacated by his brother's death. In April of this year (1863), he led the expedition on the Edenton road, near Suffolk, where he surprised and routed a much larger force than his own, comprising the Seventeenth Regiment Virginia Infantry. He captured their garrison and equipments, and many prisoners, with a small loss to his own command.

About a week afterwards his regiment was in a second engagement on the Edenton road, repulsing the enemy and capturing a line of their works, his command being the only one engaged out of about ten thousand troops. For several days in May he was engaged in active skirmishing on the Blackwater. He was at the defence of Suffolk, Va., during the siege by the enemy under Gen. Longstreet. On the evacuation of it by our army, Col. McMahon's command was the last to leave, forming the rear guard of the army.

The Legion was ordered thence to Portsmouth, where they remained till ordered to Centreville. For some four months, they were engaged in following and fighting Moseby's band, who were met by Col. McMahon's Regiment at Snicker's Gap, and, after a hard fight, dispersed and many of them taken prisoners.

In May, 1864, the Legion was ordered to join the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac, and marched with Gen. Grant through the bloody battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, in which last-named battle Col. McMahon lost one hundred and twenty-five men of his regiment. He continued to lead his small but heroic band till the battle of Cold Harbor, where the gallant young Colonel, while charging the enemy's works at the head of his command, fell on the ramparts of the enemy covered with many mortal wounds. At the time he had the colors in his own hands.

Col. McMahon was devotedly loved by his men and officers. The Surgeon of his regiment. Dr. Regan, of Brooklyn, when the word reached him that the Colonel had fallen, wept, and said he wished it had been himself instead of Col. McMahon. On the day of the fall of this officer, it was impossible to bring off his body or reach the spot where he fell; but a few days after men from both armies visited the battlefield under a flag of truce, when a rebel officer informed Adjutant Beattie of the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth, where the body of his Colonel was buried. The rebel officer said: "We hated like the mischief to kill him, for he was a brave fellow. He was without immediate succor within near range of our guns, apparently wounded in the thigh. We repeatedly asked him to surrender, but he shook defiantly his sword and shouted 'Never!' He also shouted to his men to come on. We, therefore, had to fire on him and drive your fellows back."

This rebel officer also told Adjutant Beattie (since Colonel of the same regiment), that he had ordered him to be buried in a marked spot, where his friends might obtain his body. He pointed it out to the Adjutant, who removed the thin earth over it, and identified his lamented friend and Colonel, and brought away with him some strips of his under-clothing as the only memento of his friend that he could obtain.

This hero's body is mingled with the sods of Virginia on the field where he fell, and no mark now designates his grave from the others that fill those bloody fields. His deeds simply told are his eulogy. He and his two brothers, assisted by their father and their uncle, Matthew McMahon, Esq., of New York, raised for the Army of the Union, and took to the field, nearly two thousand of their countrymen, Alas! how few returned! Not one-fifth of them all!

After his death, Gen. Meagher, in writing to a New York paper of some of the officers who fell at this battle, says: "Next came the news that McMahon, planting his colors with his own hands on the enemy's works—planting them there with a boldness worthy of the grand and soldierly name that he bore, and whom perhaps the recollection of the Malakoff and its Irish conqueror may have inspired, was stricken down by the bullets he so splendidly defied. Who of the old brigade—the favorite brigade of Summer and Richardson—can forget the dashing, handsome, and indefatigable soldier, with his strictly defined features often illuminated with enthusiasm; sometimes expressing the scorn and haughtiness of a true-blooded Celt; with a heart for hospitality; with a soul for glory; and hatred and sarcasm for what was mean, and a quick look and blow for what was treacherous? Who can forget his fine bearing, erect and graceful; the decisive character of his intellect; his high sense of honor; his physical activity—all those healthy and superior gifts which made him a soldier at the start, and qualified him, even in the first hours of boyhood, to be a fit exponent of his martial race and kindred? Who can forget all this, whenever that grand picture of McMahon planting the colors of his regiment in the face of the fire storm, and foot to foot with the desperate foe, is spoken of in the camp by the survivors of the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac?"

A few words more will close the story of this brave man and patriot soldier. His pure Christian character deserves a remark. Amid all the temptations of camp life, he never for a day forgot to bend his knee to the God of battles. He was a sincere and devoted member of the church of his fathers.

His father, who was most ardently devoted to his children, at the time of Col. John E. McMahon's death, was laboring under a severe indisposition, and the sad and early death of his firstborn and noble boy, it is thought, hastened his death, which soon succeeded that of John.

There are now left of this family Major General Martin McMahon and three younger sisters—their mother having died many years ago. Few families can furnish a prouder and more honorable record of services to their country, than that to which the subject of this sketch belongs. Honor to the memory of the gallant and patriotic brothers who died for their country, and respect to him who, though living, served his country no less faithfully, but was more fortunate in surviving to behold the restoration of peace and the Union, for which they all periled life and everything that they held dear on earth.

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