Little is known about today's soldier, but he is widely recognized as the first human death in the Civil War. His name was Daniel Hough, and 150 years ago today he was killed in an accident while firing a salute at the Fort Sumter surrender ceremony.
It is known that Daniel was born in Ireland and likely came to the United States sometime during the large migration from Ireland starting in the mid-1840's. While his exact age is not known, he was probably a bit older than most soldiers because his records state that he had gray hair. He served in Battery E, 1st US Light Artillery at the time he was stationed at Fort Sumter. He was a regular soldier, as opposed to a volunteer as most soldiers who fought in the Civil War would be.
Regulars served in units designated like the 1st US Cavalry or 12th US Infantry, instead of more the familiar volunteer units designated by state like the 20th Maine or 5th New York. A career in the pre-Civil War regular army was not very appealing to most people in the years before the war. Near 100% civilian employment and low army wages meant that the regular army couldn't attract enough recruits to fill its ranks- only numbering about 14,000 out of the roughly 16,000 soldiers authorized by congress in 1860. Volunteer units weren't yet mobilized in the north until after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, so it was up to the skeleton regular force to man various forts across the country and protect United States government property.
We can only speculate why Daniel chose a career in the regular army, but it would have provided an alternative to living in tenement housing in a northern city like many other Irish immigrants were enduring at the time.
When the surrender ceremony occurred on April 14, 1861 Daniel was one of the artillerymen loading the guns. Something went wrong, and Hough was killed when the cannon he was manning fired prematurely, causing loose powder bags around the gun to explode. The blast also mortally wounded his fellow soldier Edward Galloway who died five days later on April 19, and injured 4 others. The accident must have created quite a stir during the ceremony. What made Daniel Hough's death especially tragic was that Major Anderson had been very careful not to place his men in harm's way during the bombardment, choosing only to man the lower casemates of the fort.
Major Anderson mentioned the incident that killed Hough in his official report to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas as seen here:
NEW YORK, April 19, 1861.
COLONEL: I have the honor to send herewith dispatches Nos. 99 and 100, written at but not mailed in Fort Sumter, and to state that I shall, at as early a date as possible, forward a detailed report of the operations in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., in which my command bore a part on the 12th and 13th instants, ending with the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and the withdrawal, with the honors of war, of my garrison on the 14th instant from that harbor, after having sustained for thirty-four hours the fire from seventeen 10-inch mortars and from batteries of heavy guns, well placed and well served, by the forces under the command of Brigadier-General Beauregard. Fort Sumter is left in ruins from the effect of the shell and shot from his batteries, and officers of his army reported that our firing had destroyed most of the buildings inside Fort Moultrie. God was pleased to guard my little force from the shell and shot which were thrown into and against my work, and to Him are our thanks due that I am enabled to report that no one was seriously injured by their fire. I regret that I have to add that, in consequence of some unaccountable misfortune, one man was killed, two seriously and three slightly wounded whilst saluting our flag as it was lowered.
The officers and men of my command acquitted themselves in a manner which entitles them to the thanks and gratitude of their country, and I feel that I ought not to close this preliminary report without saying that I think it would be injustice to order them on duty of any kind for some months, as both officers and men need rest and the recreation of a garrison life to give them an opportunity to recover from the effects of the hardships of their three months' confinement within the walls of Fort Sumter.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major, First Regiment Artillery, &c.
The exact location of Daniel Hough's burial is not certain, but is likely unmarked in one of the many cemeteries in Charleston.