‘A Distinguished Ulsterman’ – St Clair Mulholland: the American Civil War Colonel from Lisburn

Bridge Street has been one of Lisburn’s most important areas going right back to its earliest times. The street’s close proximity to the Lagan was vital in its development, including the growth of the gasworks, covered in an earlier Virtual Museum post. Besides functioning as the town’s engine room, Bridge Street also produced a number of notable people in the town’s history. One such figure was American Civil War veteran, St Clair Mulholland. St Clair Augustin Mulholland was born on 1st April 1839, the fifteenth child of Henry Mulholland, a lighter-owner on the Quay, and his second wife, Georgina Sinclaire.

The Mulholland family left Bridge Street and Lisburn in 1850, St Clair’s eleventh year, seeking a new life in America. Settling in Philadelphia, the young St Clair eventually became involved with the local Pennsylvania Militia. Upon the outbreak of civil war, he enlisted on the Union side in 1862. Serving as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment with a strong Irish membership, Mulholland quickly displayed vital leadership qualities.

St Clair Mulholland 1839-1910 (ILC&M Collection).

A mere two months after joining the Irish Brigade, Mulholland found himself in command of the 116th after regiment leader, Col. Dennis Heenan fell wounded at Fredericksburg. Despite being badly wounded himself several times over the course of the Civil War, Mulholland persevered on the battlefields and received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia in 1863.

Returning to civilian life in Philadelphia, St Clair Mulholland married Mary Dover, also from Ireland, and had three children. Although the war was over, there was little sign of Mulholland slowing down. In civic life he held a number of high profile positions, including Philadelphia’s Chief of Police from 1868.

With his stock continuing to rise, in 1894 Mulholland was appointed as United States Pension Agent by American President Grover Cleveland. He would hold this position for many years, working under Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, and Roosevelt. Upon his reappointment under Roosevelt in 1906, the news was relayed with pride in his home country, with the Belfast Weekly News hailing him as ‘a distinguished Ulsterman’. The paper also noted that ‘no little satisfaction has been expressed in Lisburn’ at his reappointment to this prestigious position.

The Story of the 116th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, by St Clair Mulholland (Courtesy of Archive.org)

Mulholland was also recognised as one of the early historians of the Civil War and the Irish Brigade. His work is credited with helping to preserve the history of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry. In 1899 he published the popular work The Story of the 116th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, which was reprinted as late as the 1990s.

In the 1890s, however, as many new immigrants from Ireland and other parts of Europe made their way to America, Mulholland became an advocate for immigrants and what they contributed to their new homeland. He was often found defending immigrants from negative and unwanted attention from nativist groups. St Clair Mulholland died in his adopted city of Philadelphia on 17th February 1910, and is buried in its Old Cathedral Cemetery. Which famous Lisburn native would you like to see profiled in a future Virtual Museum post? Let us know.

You can read St Clair Mulholland’s The Story of the 116th Regiment free at Archive.org here.

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