Richard Fitzgerald was born in County Waterford, Ireland in 1838. After immigrating to the United States, he worked as a fireman prior to serving in the army. He was enlisted into the General Mounted Service by Lieutenant Magruder in Baltimore, Maryland on January 20, 1859. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 10” tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion.
At this period, the General Mounted Service meant assignment to the Cavalry School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania and various recruiting assignments. Fitzgerald rose through the enlisted ranks, and was serving as a first sergeant in the permanent company at Carlisle Barracks service when he was appointed a second lieutenant in Company I, 5th U.S. Cavalry on November 7, 1863.
Cavalry depot commander Captain David Hastings of the 1st U.S. Cavalry submitted the recommendation for his appointment, which was also signed by every officer assigned to the depot. It read: “Sergeant Hastings is well instructed in all the details and duties relative to the mounted service, and will make an excellent Cavalry Officer. His character and services justly intitle [sic] him to that position: he done some good service, as first sergeant of the permanent company of this Depot, in the recent battles in Pennsylvania and Maryland.”
Lieutenant Fitzgerald joined his regiment at Mitchell’s Station, Virginia the following month. He served there through the winter and spring, including skirmishes at Barnett’s Ford, Charlottesville, Stanardsville, and Morton’s Ford. Although assigned to Company I, he spent very little time there. He was on special duty commanding Company E from January to March, then shifted to Company M in April as the spring campaign began.
He led his company ably in the Overland Campaign and Sheridan’s two raids toward Richmond. He was promoted to first lieutenant in Company I on June 12, 1864, replacing former sergeant major Joseph P. Henley when he was killed at Trevillian Station. Fitzgerald continued to command Company M as the regiment was transferred to the Shenandoah Valley.
Lieutenant Fitzgerald led his company well in the near constant skirmishing that comprised the first month of the campaign. During the battle of Opequon on September 19, 1864, “he was killed while gallantly leading his company in a charge against the enemy.” He is buried in the military cemetery at Winchester, Virginia.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 268.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, 2 volumes. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869. Volume 1, page 152.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 1st, 2nd and 5th U.S. Cavalry
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
Price, George F. Across The Continent With The Fifth Cavalry. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1883. Pages 507-508.