Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Mary Kilraine of Williamstown – Civil War Laundress

Posted By on June 4, 2015


A brief story telling of the funeral of a Williamstown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania woman, Mary Kilraine, appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot on 1 August 1905:



By Associated Press to The Patriot

Williamstown, 21 July 1905 — Mrs. Patrick Comiskey, who died on Wednesday, after a long illness, was buried in the Catholic Cemetery, on Saturday.  She was the only woman in town who had the right to be buried with the honors of the Grand Army, which were accorded her.  She had served as laundress in the army for several years during the Civil War.  Rev. Father Dougherty officiated.

Researcher Maggie McCoy Wilson, a descendant of Mrs. Comiskey, has provided the following additional information about Mary Kilraine from an old newspaper article that was passed down in the McCoy family:

The death of Mrs. Patrick Comusky, which occurred at her home on Wednesday morning at 6 A.M., is attended with many elements of sadness.  For the past four years, she had been a sufferer with diabetes….

Mrs. Comuskey’s maiden name was Mary Kilraine.  She was born in Wicklow, Ireland, 66 years ago…. After a short residence in Scotland, the family immigrated to this country when the deceased was 14 years old.  One year later she united in marriage with Patrick Craven and settled in New Mines, Schuylkill County.  Two sons were born when the husband and father was mustered for the war.  This plucky woman whose name should go down in history bravely fought the wolf of want from the door until her last resource seemed gone, when she determined to seek redress from the President.

Family records indicate that Mary and Patrick Craven were married at Minersville, Schuylkill County, on 25 June 1857. The two sons, James Craven and Patrick Craven, were born respectively on 21 August 1860 and 4 July 1862.  Mary’s husband, Patrick Craven joined the 5th U.S. Artillery on 12 December 1861.

Continuing the obituary…

Starting southward, she at last reached the White House and seated herself near the mansion and awaited developments.  Presently, a youth noticed her dejected looks, approached and inquired the cause of her presence.  He seemed touched by her simple story of want and handed a card to her and told her to call the following day at a stated time when she would be granted an interview with the President.  The card bore the name of Abraham Lincoln and true to his word at the appointed time, she was ushered into the presence of the illustrious Lincoln and his cabinet officers.  After hearing her story, he informed her that nothing could be done at that crisis of the war toward discharging an able-bodied man, but in case of accident to him he should be returned to her.  In such a case, he would be of no use to me, she replied.  Her answer so amused the President that arrangements were immediately made to place her into her husband’s company, where she took charge of the laundry department.

While there is no independent verification of the above story, the information was widely accepted in the Williamstown community.

Two years later she became a widow and two years after that the Orderly Sergeant of Major Randolph, Patrick Comusky claimed her for his bride and together they continued their service for the 5th Regular Battery at Garden Keys, Florida, until the close of the war when they went honorably discharged.

The death of Patrick Craven actually occurred after the Civil War on 23 January 1866 as shown by the official record (below) which gives the cause of death as “acute inflammation of the liver.”


Click on document to enlarge.

However, the widow Mrs. Craven did marry Patrick Comusky, who was a member of the same U.S. artillery regiment.  Family records, confirmed by the 1900 Census, give the date and place of that marriage as 7 March 1866 at Fort Jefferson (Dry Tortugas), Florida.  Some time after the marriage, the couple returned to Williamstown.

The obituary continues…

Mrs. Comusky was noted for her witticism and bright sayings.  She possessed a full share of proverbial Irish wit and would frequently entertain her friends with anecdotes of more than ordinary interest pertaining to her life which was hard fought out.  For over thirty years, she resided in [Williamstown] where she leaves an honorable record among her neighbors and friends.

The obituary gives clues to the genealogist as to what happened to surviving members of this family:

Besides her husband, she is survived by two sons, Patrick Craven [or Philadelphia] and James Craven [of Williamstown], sons of her first husband.  The following surviving members of her second family are:  Edward Comusky [of Philadelphia], Henry Comusky [of Connecticut], John Comusky [of Tower City], Theresa Comusky and Celia Comusky [of Philadelphia], and Mary Comusky [Mrs. Michael McCoy, of Williamstown].

The obituary concludes with the funeral information:

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, forenoon, in Sacred Heart Church by Rev. Father Dougherty.  Interment in the Catholic Cemetery.

At the left of her grave marker at the Catholic Cemetery is a G.A.R. star verifying her service in the war and the recognition by the Chester Post of Williamstown of her service.

Additional information is sought on Mary’s service during the war – especially any confirmation of the story about meeting with President Lincoln.  Comments can be added to this post or sent by e-mail.


No known picture exists of Mary Kilraine.  The photograph at the top of this post is from the Library of Congress and shows a “wash woman” with a Union regiment.  However, the woman pictured has young children with her.  It is not known where Mary’s two sons were residing during the war and there is no evidence that she took the children with her to Florida.

The news clipping in from the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.



One Response to “Mary Kilraine of Williamstown – Civil War Laundress”

  1. sue mason says:

    Interestingly, Ft. Jefferson, Dry Tortugas off of Key West, FL> is where Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisioned in 1865 for setting the leg of John Wilkes Boothe following the Lincoln Assassination. It was a horrible place. It is now a wildlife sanctuary. it is called DRY Torgugas because it has no fresh water.

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