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Patrick Rogan, Son of Leitrim: A Biography of First Sergeant Patrick Rogan

Note: Dr. Richard M. Luppi is a member of the board of the Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields. Luppi is also a direct descendant of Patrick Rogan.

Substitute Volunteer for the Union Army

Patrick Rogan was born in County Leitrim, Ireland, in 1847 and immigrated to the United States during the American Civil War.1 Like other sons of Erin, Rogan sought a new life in America as a result of the Great Famine, English prejudice and repression, and harsh economic conditions which pauperized the Irish peasantry and gradually depopulated Ireland. Once in America, Rogan found himself, like other Irish, facing new forms of prejudice and discrimination by the established “Yankee” and an uncertain future as a poorly paid laborer.2

Possibly within weeks or months upon entering the United States, Rogan entered into military service. Civil War records show that Rogan enlisted at the age of 18 years on February 21, 1865 as a substitute volunteer for Calvin P. Wheeler. The Civil War was America’s first experiment with the draft, or compulsory military service. However, the new draft law did allow a man who was drafted to avoid military service by paying another man to substitute for him. Records show that Wheeler paid Rogan $625.00 to replace him for one year. The money was deposited with the U.S. Army Paymaster and was payable to Rogan upon his discharge. The deal was made in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Rogan was inducted into Company E of the 76th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry, the Keystone Zouaves.3 Apparently unlike other Irishmen, Rogan did not view the substitution provision of the draft law as anti-Irish and anti- Working Class but rather as an opportunity for a military career, which was a station higher than that of simple laborer.

Upon his enlistment, he was described as having grey eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion. He stood at five feet, seven inches, and was given the rank of Private. He signed his enlistment papers with an “X” which indicated he was illiterate in English at the time. Rogan served with the 76th Regiment until the regiment was disbanded shortly after the Civil War at Raleigh, North Carolina, on July 18, 1865. At that time, Rogan was paid his $625.00 and honorably discharged. Having served with the 76th Regiment during the waning months of the Civil War, Rogan probably saw little military action.4 However within only a year’s time since his discharge, Rogan decided to make the regular army his career. He later faithfully served the U.S. Army for thirty years, enlisting and reenlisting seven consecutive times.

Enlistment with the Seventh Regiment of Infantry

On July 6, 1866 Patrick Rogan enlisted in Company A, Seventh Infantry at Reading, Pennsylvania for three years, being listed as a nineteen-year-old laborer.5 Rogan would remain with Company A throughout his subsequent military career. Rogan joined the regiment then stationed in Florida, as part of the army of occupation during the Post-Civil War Reconstruction Period. In April 1869, the Seventh Infantry was ordered out West to join the Department of the Platte, and consolidate with the 36th Infantry.6 At the end of his very first enlistment Rogan was a Sergeant stationed at Camp Douglas, Utah Territory. During this time, Rogan married Margaret McLennon. From that union Rogan fathered 12 children, most of whom were born at different military posts garrisoned by Company A.

Margaret McLennon was the daughter of Sergeant Michael McLennon, Company A, Seventh U.S. Infantry. Rogan had known Sergeant McLennon and his family during his service in Florida. Michael McLennon was another Irishman who sought a better life in America after the Great Irish Famine. He enlisted as a Private with the U.S. Army on September 20, 1852 and was assigned to Company A, Seventh Infantry. He continually enlisted in the same company and regiment until his death. He saw extensive military action with that regiment during the Civil War and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He was seriously wounded on July 2, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and later died at Tallahassee, Florida, on March 26, 1867, while on active duty. His widow, Mary McLennon, the former Mary Ryan of County Kilkenny, Ireland, would later follow Rogan and his wife, Margaret, to Montana Territory when the Seventh Infantry was ordered to establish headquarters there in the spring of 1870.7

At the end of his second enlistment on July 6, 1874, Rogan was 27 years of age and a Sergeant stationed at Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, with Company A, Seventh Infantry. On the following day, Rogan reenlisted for another three years with Company A. During Rogan’s station at Fort Ellis, his brother-in-law, John McLennon, enlisted in Company A on September 1, 1871. He was only sixteen years of age and four feet eleven inches tall. His given occupation at the time of his enlistment was that of “boy”. His initial duty with Company A was that of musician, or drummer. He would remain with Company A, Seventh Infantry, for the remaining years of his life.8 Margaret Rogan also had several unmarried sisters at this time. One of them married Sergeant Mildon H. Wilson of Company I, Seventh Infantry.9 In a very short time, all three men, Rogan, McLennon, and Wilson, would find themselves locked together in military combat on the same battlefield during the Nez Perce War of 1877.

The Nez Perce War of 1877

In June 1877, Company A and I, Seventh Infantry, were ordered to leave Ft. Shaw and begin the construction of Fort Missoula. The fort was the newest post in Montana, and would be built entirely by soldier labor. Six officers and 69 enlisted men were involved in the project. At this time the Nez Perce War had broken out in Idaho, and in July word was received at Fort Missoula that a large party of Non-Treaty Nez Perce Indians under Chief Joseph were coming over the Lo Lo trail into Montana in their efforts to escape from General Oliver Howard’s pursuing army. Subsequently, Colonel John Gibbon commanding the Seventh Infantry at Fort Shaw, ordered four additional companies of the regiment to concentrate at Fort Missoula for military actions against the Nez Perce Indians. At Fort Missoula, a number of enlisted men would be left behind to continue the construction of the fort. One of those was Rogan’s future son-in-law Sergeant John Linden Reynolds, Company A, who acted as Chief Carpenter.10 Those men who became part of Colonel Gibbon’s field force included Rogan and Rogan’s brother-in-law, musician John McLennon, Company A, and his other brother-in-law, Sergeant Mildon H. Wilson, Company I.

As the Nez Perce Indians entered the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, they felt relatively secure. General Howard’s army was far behind in Idaho, and they had won two earlier military engagements with it in their war of flight. However, unknown to the Nez Perce Indians was the rapid movement of another army against them that was only several marching days behind. That army was Colonel Gibbon’s Seventh Infantry, and a group of Montana Volunteers.

The Battle of the Big Hole, August 1877

After five days of forced marches, Gibbon’s force discovered the Nez Perce Indian camp on August 8 in the Big Hole Valley of Western Montana. Having crossed the continental divide, Chief Looking Glass had convinced Chief Joseph and others that the Nez Perce should camp in the deep grassy meadow along the Big Hole River so as to rest their women, young, and elderly. 89 tepees were pitched in the form of a V, with its apex pointing upstream, or South.

That night the Nez Perce started to sing and dance, feeling that they were free from the grasp of Howard’s soldiers. However that very night, while fires of the Indian encampment began to dim, Colonel Gibbon secreted his military force alongside the foot of a mountain overlooking the Indian camp, and began to make preparations for a dawn attack. As the dawn approached Gibbon’s different companies took position and advanced toward the Indian village in a skirmish line. Between them and the Indian village were thickets and the North fork of the Big Hole River.

All was quiet in the village under the pale starlight that barely outlined the silhouette of individual tepees. Suddenly, an Indian rode out through the misty dawn towards the soldiers to gather the nearby horse herd. The Indian was instantly fired upon and killed, and the entire army quickly advanced upon the village, firing volley after volley into the tepees. The Indians, completely surprised, rushed from their lodges in panic. Some ran for the thickets and riverbank for cover. Children screamed, dogs barked, and horses broke their tether and stampeded. For a few minutes there was no return fire from the Indians, but as soon as they recovered from their surprise, they opened fire upon the troops “with terrible effect”.11

At the southern end of the village, the soldiers from Companies D and K had successfully crossed the river. As Company A, under the command of Captain Logan, crossed the river at the extreme southern end of the village, they gave immediate support to Companies D and K, whom were being fired upon by Indians sheltered by the river bank. It was there at the southern end of the village that “the greatest slaughter took place”.12 Gibbon later reinforced the area with soldiers from Companies F, I, and G.13 In less than twenty minutes, the soldiers had command of the southern end of the village. While some soldiers were burning tepees others were either engaged in hand to hand combat or returning fire.

During the twenty-minute melee, a number of soldiers and officers were killed including Captain Logan. Though the Indians were largely driven from their village they were not defeated. At different locations in the village, Looking Glass, Joseph, and White Bird were heard above the din of battle admonishing their warriors, rallying them, and urging them to counterattack. In a very short time, the soldiers found themselves being surrounded, and subject to long range rifle fire. Being wounded himself, and realizing that holding the village was untenable, Gibbon gave orders for an orderly retreat back across the river to a position where they had earlier commenced their attack on the village.

It was during the retreat from the village that First Lieutenant Charles A. Coolidge (later Brigadier General), Company A, was severely wounded. While assisting private Charles Alberts who was shot through the left lung, Coolidge received a shot through both legs just above the knees.14 He became so faint he nearly drowned crossing the river during the retreat and “was carried to a place of safety by First Sergeant Patrick Rogan, to whom Congress awarded a medal for bravery in this engagement.”15

General Coolidge Gravesite, Arlington - photo courtesy of Robert Luppi

In a very short time, Gibbon’s command found themselves digging defensive rifle pits, and being besieged by warriors. While the main party of Nez Perce began to abandon their village and depart, the soldiers were continually attacked by groups of Indians acting as a rear guard. Their superb marksmanship had a most telling effect on the number of casualties sustained by the soldiers. The battle ended on the evening of August 10 when the remaining Indians, aware of the advance of Howard’s army, withdrew from the battlefield after firing a farewell volley of rifle fire.

Outnumbered by the Nez Perce, the Seventh Infantry and Montana Volunteers sustained heavy casualties. Sergeant Patrick Rogan was not wounded during battle. However, 39 soldiers were wounded and 31 killed.16 Almost half of the officers were either killed or wounded; many of them wounded more than once.17 In his official report of the battle, Colonel Gibbon described the engagement as a “sharp little affair.”18 One participant viewed that description as an understatement. Lieutenant Charles A. Woodruff wrote years later that Gibbon’s command “…had suffered a greater per centum of loss than that of the Light Brigade at Balaklava…”19 Historians Mack Brown and Aubrey Haines have expressed the belief that the Seventh Infantry achieved no victory at the Battle of the Big Hole but could have been exterminated had the Nez Perce been willing to pay the price.20

On December 2, 1878, Sergeant Patrick Rogan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of the Big Hole. His official citation reads: “Verified and reported the company subjected to a galling fire from the enemy.”21 In recommending Rogan for the medal, Second Lieutenant Francis Woodbridge provided the following information: “I was personally ordered by General Gibbon to form my company, in order to deploy it in another direction. I was obliged to do this on the open ground, where the company was subjected to a galling fire from the bluffs. Sergeant Rogan was one of the first to obey my order and verified and reported the company to me as coolly as he might have done on Parade.”22

Following the Guidon of Company A, Seventh Infantry

Rogan’s third enlistment with the Seventh Infantry ended on July 7, 1879 at Fort Logan, Montana Territory. Rogan was a Sergeant at that time and 32 years of age.23 He quickly reenlisted again with the Seventh just before the regiment was transferred to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, where Company A took station on October 1, 1879.24 In 1882, the regiment was then transferred to the Department of the Platte, with its headquarters at Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory. Rogan’s fourth enlistment expired on July 5, 1884. At that time he was still a Sergeant. Rogan reenlisted for the fifth time. While at Fort Laramie, three children were born to Patrick and his wife, Margaret. They were Jennie, Charles and Hughie Rogan.

On July 14, 1887, Company A was ordered to depart from Fort Laramie and proceed to Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, there to take station at Camp Pilot Butte, in order to relieve two other companies of the Seventh Infantry that were sent there in 1885. In 1885, white coal miners killed many Chinese miners when the Union Pacific Railroad undercut their jobs by hiring Chinese miners at lower wages. “Chinatown”, the section of town home to the Chinese workers was burned to the ground, and many Chinese workers left Rock Springs under the fear of death. With Camp Pilot Butte located in the center of Rock Springs, the soldiers were ordered to keep peace between the white coal miners and the Chinese. In 1887, there were no suitable living quarters for the families of the enlisted men at the fort. Subsequently, Patrick had to purchase lumber and build a crude dugout for his family until the U.S. Government gave permission for the construction of housing for enlisted men’s families. It was at this time that Rogan’s thirteen year old daughter, Catherine, died.25 The following year, on May 14, tragedy struck again with the sudden death of Patrick’s brother-in-law, Corporal John McLennon, who was also awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of the Big Hole.26 Patrick ended his fifth enlistment at Camp Pilot Butte on July 5, 1889. He was 42 years of age and now a First Sergeant.27

Patrick reenlisted again, and on October 11, 1889, Company A was transferred from Camp Pilot Butte to Fort Logan, Colorado. His sixth enlistment expired on July 5, 1894, while Rogan and his company were stationed in Trinidad, Colorado, to enforce the mandates of U.S. Courts. Patrick was then 47 years of age and a First Sergeant. Again, Patrick reenlisted but for the last time. Facing mandatory retirement, Rogan retired the following year on September 29, 1895 at Fort Logan, Colorado, as First Sergeant, after completing thirty years of service with Company A, Seventh U.S. Infantry.28

“An ideal regular army non-com and soldier.”

As a Sergeant, and later First Sergeant, for Company A, Seventh Infantry, Patrick Rogan performed the typical duties of his non-commissioned officer rank. An NCO’s life at a frontier post in the West was not just deploying the company for military operations against Indians but also organizing the company for fatigue duty, which consisted of either establishing a military post or maintaining one. Recorded duties by Rogan include: serving as Police Sergeant for the post; serving as an escort for the paymaster, serving as Provost Sergeant; overseeing the company while guarding engineers working on Missouri River improvements; serving as a witness in a General Court Martial; overseeing the company working on a telegraph line; organizing and deploying company for a possible riot in Denver, Colorado, and instructing the company in target practice, marching, and parade duty.29

The U.S. Army during the Indian Wars was essentially a caste system, with the services of the First Sergeant forming the structural backbone of the company. All ranks below that of First Sergeant had to get permission of the company’s First Sergeant to even speak to a commissioned officer; and privates had little contact with their officers beyond the formal exchanges of military courtesies. In essence, “the First Sergeant actually ran the company, and was expected to do so by the company officers.”30 Since commissioned officers typically left the duties of running their companies to their First Sergeants, those NCO’s had to be natural leaders of men. They also had to have the ability to either persuade, or physically enforce discipline within the company. Yet they could not be physical bullies for that could mean court martial. At the same time, the First Sergeant had to also command the respect of his company officers; for a company officer could at his very whim “break” or reduce any enlisted man in rank. Historical records indicate that Rogan was never reduced in rank, which was so common during the American Indian Wars.

Enlistment records describe Patrick Rogan’s character as being either “excellent”, or “exceptional”.31

The fact that Rogan was made Sergeant during his first enlistment with the regular army, and later held the rank of First Sergeant for most of his military career, supports the former Superintendent of the Big Hole National Battlefield, Alfred Schulmeyer’s assessment, that Rogan had the “…native ability to lead men, take charge of situations, to take responsibility, and to organize activities.”32 In writing for the periodical, Winners of the West, in January 1943, Charles N. Loynes, nearly 90 years of age, and former Sergeant of Company I, Seventh Infantry, remembered his military service with Sergeant Patrick Rogan and stated that Rogan “…was an ideal regular army non-com and soldier. How well I remember him! So until I was discharged in 1880 we did duty together. I hope he is still living, but as I will soon be 90 years old it is doubtful if there are many left.”33

Retirement Years and a Growing Military Family

Upon his retirement from military service in 1895, First Sergeant Patrick Rogan moved back to Rock Springs, Wyoming, where he was later employed as a night watchman for the Union Pacific Coal Company for fourteen years. Other members of Rogan’s family also lived in Rock Springs at this time. Patrick’s eldest daughter, Margaret, had married Patrick’s army friend John Lindon Reynolds on April 25, 1891. Margaret was eighteen years of age at that time; and Reynolds was forty-two years old. Reynolds served fifteen years with the Seventh Infantry.34 He was a member of Companies I and A and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He participated in the Sioux War of 1876 while with Colonel Gibbon’s Montana Column. He later joined the Wyoming National Guard and rose to the rank of Captain. In 1892, when he was first given the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Wyoming National Guard, the members of Company A at Camp Pilot Butte awarded Reynolds an Officer’s dress sword. Other members of Rogan’s family also served Company A, Seventh Infantry.

The first son on Patrick, William J. Rogan, was a corporal in Company A, while Patrick was First Sergeant at Camp Pilot Butte in the late 1880’s. William later saw military action during the Spanish-American War and was wounded in battle at El Caney, Cuba, on July 1, 1898. Frank P. Rogan, Patrick’s other son, also joined the Seventh Infantry and rose to the rank of Quarter Master Sergeant. He also experienced combat during the Spanish-American war and participated in the battles of El Caney and Santiago. He later became a Coroner in Rock Springs, and was also elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives.35

The Passing of First Sergeant Patrick Rogan

Patrick Rogan died on December 27, 1912, at the Wyoming General Hospital in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He was a widower, and sixty-five years old. The local Rock Springs paper, the Rock Springs Rocket, announced the death of Patrick Rogan on its front page. The article described his military service, and also made the observation that “among his papers was found a notification which accompanied a medal awarded by Congress, commending him for bravery at Big Hole, Montana territory, which is considered a high honor.”36

McLennon - Rogan Gravesite - photo courtesy of Robert Luppi

The article also noted that Rogan was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and that “A salute will be fired over his grave.”37 Rogan was buried in the family plot next to his wife and brother-in-law, John McLennon. In May 1995, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society conducted a ceremony honoring First Sergeant Patrick Rogan and Corporal John McLennon with official gravestones. Included in the ceremony was a non-commissioned officer from Fort Stewart, Georgia, who unfurled the flag of the Seventh Light Infantry in recognition of two of its own.

Copyright, Richard M. Luppi (None of the contents of this article may be reprinted or republished without the express written permission of its author).


1. Certificate of Death, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State of Wyoming, December 27, 1912.

2. Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror, Boston: Little, Brown and company. 1993. pp.139-154.

3. Schulmeyer, Alfred, "Letter to Lawrence J. Luppi", November 29, 1978.

4. Schulmeyer.

5. Nelson, Mark, "Brief Biographies of Patrick Rogan and John McLennon", Sweetwater County Historical Museum, Green River, Wyoming, p.1.

6. Rodenbough, Theo. F., The Army of The United States, New York: Argonaut Press, 1966, p. 505.

7. Lewis, Brig. General H.B., "Letter and Attachments to Frank P. Rogan.", April 28, 1943.

8. Nelson, Mark, p. 7.

9. Cullen, Thomas P., Rock Springs: A Look Back, Portland, Oregon, 1991, p. 174.

10. Fort Missoula: A Budding Post, author unknown, p. 1-2, Sweetwater County Historical Museum, Green River, Wyoming.

11. Rodenbough, The Army of The United States, p. 509.

12. Haines, Aubrey, An Elusive Victory, West Glacier, Montana: Glacier Natural History Association, 1991, p. 56.

13. Scott, Douglas D., A Sharp Little Affair, Lincoln, Nebraska: J and L reprint Company, 1994, p. 94.

14. Haines, p. 100.

15. Rodenbough, The Army of The United States, p. 509.

16. Haines, p. 110.

17. Shields, G.O., The Battle of The Big Hole, New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1889, p. 104.

18. Haines, p. 119.

19. Rodenbough, p. 705.

20. Haines, P. 135.

21. The Medal of Honor of The United States Army, Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1948, p. 230.

22. Mark Nelson, p. 1.

23. Mark Nelson, p. 2.

24. Rodenbough, p. 510.

25. Fort Missoula, p. 5; Cullen, p. 165.

26. The Medal of Honor of The United States Army, Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1948, p. 230.

27. Mark Nelson, p. 2.

28. Mark Nelson, p. 2.

29. Mark Nelson, pp. 3 – 7.

30. Rickey, Don, Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977, p. 58.

31. "Enlistment Records: Patrick Rogan", Sweetwater County Historical Museum, Green River, Wyoming.

32. Schulmeyer, p. 3.

33. Loynes, Sgt. Charles N., "Remembers Sergeant Very Well", Winners of The West, January 28, 1943.

34. Fort Missoula, p. 6.

35. Cullen, pp. 170-174.

36. Rock Springs Rocket, Rock Springs, Wyoming, December 27, 1912, p. 1.

37. Ibid.

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