Doris Shelvay found a special and historic way to celebrate Presidents Day by solving a half-century family mystery and finally getting to visit her late grandfather’s grave.
For at least 50 years, relatives believe, no family member had visited the grave of Daniel J. McManus, who was wounded in the Civil War about 150 years ago and died in 1898.
That all changed Monday afternoon when Shelvay, a Town of Hamburg woman in her early 80s, finally got to visit his tombstone in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna.
“I wanted to know where he was before I passed away,” Shelvay said. “I have peace of mind now. I found him.”
Many people know their grandfathers, remember them, or at least visit their graves.
Shelvay, though, is just starting to learn about a man she never knew, who died about 32 years before she was born.
“That’s the amazing part, that my grandfather fought in the Civil War, and I’m alive to tell about it,” she said.
Shelvay’s father – who was Daniel McManus’ youngest son, Joseph F. McManus – was only 4 or 5 when his father died. Joseph McManus died in 1950, and Shelvay didn’t learn much of anything about her grandfather until her mother gave her Cpl. McManus’ framed Civil War discharge papers before she died in 1963.
That’s 50 years ago, long before the Internet. Details about Daniel McManus’ life, his military service and his grave site all were buried with Shelvay’s ancestors.
But it was a mystery that always ate at her. There were occasional calls to local cemeteries and others who might be able to unlock the mystery, but nothing definitive until a couple of weeks ago, when a friend found a computer reference to Cpl. McManus being buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, a mere five miles from his granddaughter’s home.
A phone call to the cemetery set up the visit Monday.
“I wanted to do it on Presidents Day,” Shelvay said. “It’s the celebration of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays. I thought it would be nice, because there’s a link between my grandfather and Abraham Lincoln.”
Since Shelvay learned about her grandfather’s grave site, others have found out more about his Civil War service. His badly yellowed – almost browned – discharge papers show that he was a member of the 48th New York Infantry Regiment Company F. He was discharged at Fort Monroe, Va., in September 1864 “by reason of expiration of term of service,” after three years as a soldier.
While some of the Internet references provide slightly conflicting dates, it seems that McManus, a recent immigrant from Ireland, may have enlisted at age 16, in August 1861.
He later was promoted to corporal and then wounded in action on May 19, 1864, at Bermuda Hundred Va., during a series of battles fought outside Richmond.
“I just wonder if he lost a limb,” Shelvay said. “Those were lead bullets back then, and once those bullets hit your bone, you had to have your limb amputated. And they did it right on the battlefield.”
McManus was discharged four months after he was wounded, so it’s not clear how badly he was hurt and whether he returned to the battle lines.
Following the war, McManus worked for years at M.H. Birge and Sons Wallpaper Co. on Niagara Street. He apparently met his future wife, Hannah, at one of the two boardinghouses her family operated, on Tupper Street and Trinity Place in Buffalo.
Besides filling in some of the branches in her own family tree, Shelvay is thrilled that people are thinking and talking about a man who has been in his grave for 115 years – a once-wounded soldier who helped keep this nation’s Union intact. “He’s finally being recognized,” she said. “Someone should have recognized him a long time ago. He shouldn’t have been dead for that long without anybody finding him.”