Major Michael O’Connor, Ninth Massachusetts Infantry (1861-1898)


It seems difficult to realize that only a year ago this summer such accounts as the following formed the subject-matter of every issue of the daily press:


“The little line of graves where the dead of the Ninth lie buried is lengthening. At one time we had four deaths in four days a death a day a ratio which promised then to hold out until better sanitary, feeding, and sleeping conditions prevailed. A change, however, has come about since then.

“One week ago to-day, about half an hour after midnight,Major O’Connor died. He had been quite low for several days. An isolated tent had been accorded him, and two Cuban nurses were hired to act as attendants.

“The corporal of the night detail had just posted his midnight relief when he saw the flaps of Major O’Connor’s tent break open and a Cuban nurse coming across the field in the moonlight. He surmised what had happened before the Cuban had told him. He immediately notified the commander of I company, of which the dead major had been a member when he joined the militia ten years ago.

“At once a detail of eight men was formed to dig the grave. It was two o’clock in the morning when we began our work, and reveille had been sounded by every regiment on the field when our task was done.

“Then we went back to the hospital and prepared the body for burial. We arranged Major O’Connor’s uniform about his body, placing with it all his private papers. There was one letter, evidently from home, which had come too late for his reading. Sealed and all we placed it with the others. We wrapped him in the gray woollen blanket of an enlisted man.

“In two relays of our men we carried his body, resting on a litter, across the hot field to the little hollow at the foot of the old hospital hill, where we had dug the grave. The major’s last resting-place came just within the shadow of a wide-spreading tree. Only five paces away was the grave of his brother officer, Major Grady.

“This was a burial even simpler in ceremony than Major Grady’s, though at the latter’s burial no taps were sounded, no volley was fired.

“Major O’Connor was very popular with the officers and with the rank and file of the regiment. The night before he died the writer was talking to him in his tent. He asked about the welfare of all mutual friends before he discussed his own case. He said that the nights seemed so long to him. The writer answered that it must seem so to a sick man, adding that this one was nearly over. ‘It is already almost dawn,’ the writer said. ‘Yes,’ he answered, after a moment’s silence; ‘my last dawn here, probably.’

Brave Major Michael O’Connor was the idol of his battalion. Modest, spirited, and true, his death was a sad one. He had been indefatigable in his efforts for his men, often prowling about among the tents of his companies after taps, with a blanket thrown over his shoulders, seeing to the comfort and welfare of his command. His men naturally grew to love him.

He, too, fought against every feeling of sickness until finally compelled to give in. He died of the worst case of yellow fever known in the army. So dangerous was his condition that the poor fellow was not permitted to die in the hospital, but was removed to a tent by himself, and there left to his God. His was one of the most sorrowful deaths in the entire army.”

Major O’Connor was born in Boston, January 31, 1861. He attended the Boston schools, graduating from the Bigelow Grammar School in 1874, and from the English High School in 1877. After several years in trade he, in 1885, entered the Boston Dental School, taking a three years’ course in dentistry. He graduated in June, 1888.

About the time he left the dental college he joined the militia, taking a prominent part in forming Company I of the Ninth Regiment. He was soon elected adjutant, and not long afterwards became major in the regiment. He was greatly interested in its work, and labored indefatigably in its behalf. When the war broke out he was anxious to go to the front, notwithstanding his rapidly growing business. He realized the dangers of the war, but never having been ill, and being a strong, well-built man, an athlete, in fact, he did not mind them.

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