Father Whelan became chaplain of the Montgomery Guards, an Irish company raised in Savannah for the First Georgia Volunteer Regiment at age 60. Having been a prisoner of war himself following the fall of Fort Pulaski, Whelan had some idea of what prison life was like. He came to Andersonville in June 1864 and remained for four months during the hottest season of the year, and the period of greatest mortality. He ministered to the sick and dying in such heat that he had to cover his head with an umbrella.
When six of the raiders were sentenced to hang, he tried to get a stay of execution. Failing at that, he prayed for them as the trap was sprung.
After his departure in late September, he borrowed $16,000 in Confederate money and purchased ten thousand pounds of flour, which was baked into bread and distributed at the prison hospital.
The prisoners never forgot him and many recalled him in their memoirs. Father Whelan died 6 February 1871 at the age of sixty-nine.
Did You Know?
The Sultana was a steamboat on the Mississippi River that sunk on April 27, 1865, after its steam boiler exploded. Of the 2,400 passengers on board, an estimated 1,600 were killed. A majority of the passengers, a little over 2,000, were Union soldiers many of whom had survived Andersonville prison and were returning home. Most of these men had survived the horrors of Andersonville only to be lost in what became the greatest maritime disaster in the history of the United States.