Civil War Blog

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Death of a Civil War Veteran’s Son in West Point Football Game

Posted By on November 20, 2014

About 105 years ago, the Army-Navy Football game, scheduled to be held at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, was cancelled as a result of the death of an Army player in a prior football game with Harvard University, and the football programs at West Point and Annapolis were is danger of being abolished.

“Young Byrne expired just as the sun was rising over the hills along the Hudson, with his grief-stricken father John Byrne, a Civil War veteran, at his bedside.”

“No more football will be played by the West Point eleven this year….”

The article that appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot, 1 November 1909,  included news of the death or probably death of three other football players, all of which occurred at around the same time in 1909:


Cadet Byrne, of Buffalo, Dies as result of Injuries Sustained Saturday


Indiana Man Had His Skull Fractured During Football Game

by the Associated Press to the Patriot

West Point, New York — 31 October 1909 — Because of the death of Eugene A. Byrne, of Buffalo, New York, no more football will be played by the West Point eleven this year.  This statement was made by Col. Hugh L. Scott, Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, late tonight, after consultation with the athletic authorities of the academy on the death of Young Byrne, who expired this morning as a result of injuries sustained in the Harvard game yesterday. The Army and Navy game, which was to have been played in Philadelphia, has been called off.

The army is accustomed to death, but not in this deplorable form, this tragedy of the gridiron has brought such poignant grief to officers and cadets alike that the end of football at West Point and Annapolis is predicted by many.

Young Byrne expire just as the sun was rising over the hills along the Hudson, with his grief-stricken father John Byrne, a Civil War veteran, at his bedside.  Brave as the young soldier’s fight against death, it was hopeless from the start.  Buried beneath a mass of struggling layers in the Harvard-Army game yesterday, his neck was twisted and broken by the weight of the crushing pile above him, and he was picked up with every nerve of his body except those of his hear and face helpless to perform their function.

Only the immediate resort to artificial respiration kept the boy from instant death, for he did not draw a natural breath after receiving the fatal shock.  Surgeons were unable to make a complete examination last night on account of his critical condition and opinions varied as to whether a blow on the spine or on the solar plexus caused the paralysis.  But X-ray photographs taken after his death revealed a dislocation between the first and second cervical vertebrates, causing the first vertebrae to be thrown forward, pressing against and probably resulting in a lesion in those nerve centers of the medulla obiongata, which govern the respiratory muscles.  This caused the natural process of breathing to cease altogether, and the artificial means of respiration resorted to was all that kept the injured cadet alive until this morning.


Medical School Player Killed

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 31 October 1909 — Michael Burke, aged 21 years, of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, died in a hospital here today from injuries received in a football game yesterday between the teams of the Medico-Chirurgical College and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.  Burke, who was a member of the junior class of the Medico-Chirurical College, was struck in the head while attempting to tackle one of the opposing players.  After play he was found insensible on the field and died without  regaining consciousness.


Indiana Player’s Scull Fractured

Kokomo, Indiana, 31 October 1909 — In a football game between teams representing Kokomo and Noblesvile today, Ogle Seagraves of Kokomo, was probably fatally injured.  He was kicked in the back of the head and suffered a concussion of the brain, super-inducing convulsions.  The scull probably was fractured.


Wilson Also Will Die

Annapolis, Maryland, 31 October 1909 — The condition of mid-shipman Wilson, whose injuries are so similar to those that resulted in the death of young Byrne is about the same tonight as it has been for two weeks, with the exception of the sinking spells from which he has rallied each time.  His father, Wesley Wilson, who has been here for nearly two weeks, was joined today by his other two sons, L. B. Wilson, of Cincinnati, and Hansford Wilson, of Covington, Kentucky.

Wilson’s injuries, consisting of a fracture of the first cervical vertebra and complete paralysis from the neck down due to pressure on the spinal cord, were received in the game with Villanova two weeks ago yesterday.  He dived through two Villanova players who were assisting Halfback Kelly in a long end run, and with a hard “flying” tackle, stopped the play.  He was picked up unconscious and taken to the naval hospital, where he has been ever since.  Unlike Cadet Byrne, he regained consciousness and ever since has been cheerful, taking an active interest in the football team.  He does not realize his condition, but the surgeons confidently expect his injury will ultimately result in death.


The final decision to cancel the Army-Navy game for 1909 was made and reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 7 November 1909:



Philadelphia, 6 November 1910 — Dr. J. William White, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania committee having charge of the arrangement at Franklin Field for the annual Army-Navy football game, received official notification today from the West Point and Annapolis athletic authorities that the game this year would not be played out of respect to the memory of Cadet Byrne.  Notwithstanding the fact that the game was declared off several days ago, the Pennsylvania authorities have been in constant receipt of inquiries regarding the possibility of the game being played.


Colonel John Byrne, the father of Eugene A. Byrne, was born on 24 June 1840 in Ireland.  During the Civil War he commanded the 155th New York Volunteer Infantry.  He died on 30 December 1909 in Buffalo, New York, two months after the death of his son.  He is buried in the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point.  More information about him can be found at his Findagrave Memorial.

Eugene A. Byrne was born 17 June 1888 and was a member of the West Point Class of 1910.  He is also buried at the Post Cemetery at West Point.  More information about him can be found at his Findagrave Memorial.


One Response to “Death of a Civil War Veteran’s Son in West Point Football Game”

  1. Karen says:

    What a tragic accident. It seems likely that the death of his son caused John to pass on soon after. It leaves me wondering about Eugene’s mother. She must have passed prior to her son which was surely a mercy in this case.

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