Dictionary of Virginia Biography

John Edward Dooley (12 July 1842–8 May 1873), diarist, was born in Richmond and was the son of two Irish immigrants, John Dooley, a prosperous merchant, and Sarah Dooley. In the autumn of 1856 he entered the preparatory department at Georgetown College (later University), in Washington, D.C. Dooley wanted to enlist in Confederate military service following Virginia's secession from the Union in April 1861 but was too young. By June 1862 he had left school, however, and had returned to Richmond, where he joined a local militia company chasing conscripts and deserters. Wanting to see action in the field, Dooley enlisted on 11 August 1862 as a private in the 1st Regiment Virginia Infantry, a unit in which his father and elder brother James Henry Dooley, who later became a prominent Richmond entrepreneur and philanthropist, had served. He began keeping a diary of his military experiences, which he continued until May 1865.

Dooley fought with the 1st Virginia in many engagements, including the second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) and the Battles of Sharpsburg (Antietam) and Gettysburg. Despite possessing what he described as a "delicate appearance," he proved his toughness and was promoted to first lieutenant on 10 April 1863. Dooley commanded Company C, an Irish-dominated Richmond unit known as the Montgomery Guard, once commanded by his father. He received a battlefield promotion to captain, backdated to 17 May 1863, most likely during the Battle of Gettysburg and possibly during Major General George Edward Pickett's charge on 3 July 1863. During the battle Dooley received serious wounds in both thighs and was captured. As a prisoner of war at Johnson's Island, Ohio, from 24 August 1863 to 27 February 1865, he continued to write in his journal about conditions there and also commented on Confederate battles.

After being paroled Dooley was sent to Virginia for exchange. He returned to Richmond, where he noted the low morale and the war-inflated prices of goods, but he left late in March for Danville. Following the fall of Richmond and the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House early in April, Dooley felt honor-bound to travel to North Carolina with the intention of perhaps joining General Joseph Eggleston Johnston's efforts to continue fighting. Noting the destruction, chaos, and impossibilities of a Confederate victory, however, Dooley went only as far as Charlotte and then returned home.

The wartime experiences Dooley recorded in his journal provide a firsthand glimpse into a soldier's life, from the boring routine of camp life to the horrors of battle. He wrote about the tremendous difficulties of transporting men and matériel, how the Confederate army had fewer soldiers and arms than Union forces, and how such basic necessities as food, clothing, blankets, and tents often were in short supply. Dooley candidly described being scared during combat and how only honor, pride, and duty steeled his resolve. He vividly recounted battlefield conditions of confusion, artillery fire, and carnage all around him, as well the terrible conditions at field hospitals. He described the devastation of land, towns, and farms in Virginia and remarked on how the war had made enemies of longtime friends and had even rendered them capable of spying on one another.

Dooley also commented on larger issues, such as the South's justifications for secession. He wrote that "we were the last representatives of free government, and that when we fell the right of self government…would fall with us; and despotism more galling than any tyranny of Europe would be forced upon the land by a party of brutal men, uneducated, unrefined, unprincipled, inhuman, criminal, and perjured." Like many other slaveholders, he held a paternalistic attitude toward bondsmen. One of his family's slaves, Ned Haines, joined him in September 1862 and despite opportunities to escape remained until the 1st Virginia began the Gettysburg campaign in June 1863. Dooley observed that Haines "appears to have an idea that were he to go away I should be utterly at a loss how to get on without him. Perhaps he has his own difficulties also, for Ned, like all negroes, would not like to labour for his living."

In September 1865 Dooley entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Georgetown to study for the priesthood. He suffered serious health problems related to his lungs and to the physical toll of the war, and in 1867 he was made a prefect in order to conserve his strength. His health declining, Dooley spent weeks in the infirmary and by 1871 was almost entirely limited to studying. Before he could receive ordination, John Edward Dooley, S.J., died on 8 May 1873 of consumption and was buried in the Jesuit cemetery at Georgetown College.

Dooley reworked and expanded sections of his diaries while he was a prisoner of war and later during his years at Georgetown. Historian Joseph T. Durkin published portions of Dooley's writings, which had been kept in the archives of Georgetown University, in 1945 as John Dooley, Confederate Soldier: His War Journal. It was reprinted in 1963 and in 2005. In 2012 historian Robert Emmett Curran published John Dooley's Civil War: An Irish American's Journal in the First Virginia Infantry Regiment, an expanded and more complete version of Dooley's diaries, journals, and writings.

Sources Consulted:
Biography in James S. Easby-Smith, Georgetown University in the District of Columbia, 1789–1907… (1907), 2:85–86; full name and variant birth date of 11 July 1842 in Saint Peter's Catholic Church Baptismal Register (1834–1856), Accession 33473, Library of Virginia; Joseph T. Durkin, S.J., ed., John Dooley, Confederate Soldier: His War Journal (1945), esp. 7 (first quotation), 28 (second quotation), 56–57 (third quotation), 123 (self-reported birth date), frontispiece portrait; Robert Emmett Curran, ed., John Dooley's Civil War: An Irish American's Journey in the First Virginia Infantry Regiment (2012); John E. Dooley, S.J., Papers (including diaries and other MSS), Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers (1861–1865), War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Lee A. Wallace Jr., 1st Virginia Infantry (1984), 33–43, 66, 91; Norman C. McLeod Jr., "Not Forgetting the Land We Left: The Irish in Antebellum Richmond," Virginia Cavalcade 47 (winter 1998): 36–47; obituary in Richmond Daily Dispatch, 10 May 1873.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Andrew S. Cheely.

How to cite this page:
Andrew S. Cheely,"John Edward Dooley (1842–1873)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Dooley_John_Edward, accessed [today's date]).

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