James A. McGunnigle was born in 1841 in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada to John Foster McGunnigle and Nancy Smart Entwistle. He emigrated with his parents and arrived in Providence in 1850. Ten years later, in the census and election year of 1860, McGunnigle was 19 years old, living in Ward 5 with his parents. The following spring, on April 17, 1861, McGunnigle enrolled for service with Company G of the 1st Regiment, R.I. This stint lasted only a few months, to August 2, 1861, but McGunnigle fought at the First Battle of Bull Run. Reenlisting less than two weeks later, he became an original member of Battery B, 1st R.I. Light Artillery. With Battery B, McGunnigle fought at the Battles of Balls Bluff, Yorktown, Fair Oaks, and Malvern Hill, before leaving the unit for a six month hospital stay beginning in September 1862. He returned to the Battery on March 28, 1863. He then fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg before he returned to the hospital at the end of July, 1863 for another three months. McGunnigle was mustered out on December 22, 1863, but reenlisted as a Veteran Volunteer on the very same day. Except for a month furlough in March 1864, he remained in action until mustering out for the last time on June 12, 1865. His brother George McGunnigle also served with him in both units.
After the war, McGunnigle married Margaret Barry, an Irishwoman from County Leitrim, on March 18, 1872, in Providence. They had five children. One, John, died in infancy. Another, James McGunnigle, made the Boston Evening Transcript, March 26, 1892: "James McGunnigle, who set fire to the chapel of the Union Congregational Church in Providence in January, was acquitted in the Court of Common Pleas yesterday, the plea of insanity set up by his counsel being sustained. He will be committed to an asylum." James appears again in the 1900 census in a group home, perhaps an asylum, and his occupation is given as "vagrant." The other children were Elizabeth McGunnigle, 1877 – 1940; William Henry McGunnigle, 1879 – 1916; and Margaret Annie McGunnigle, 1881–1970.
James A. McGunnigle lived at 73 Point St. in 1875 and worked as a Feeder, in the Providence Journal Office. His occupation five years later was recorded by the U.C. Census Bureau as "works for printer." On July 2, 1884, aged just 43 years, with three children under the age of 8, James A. McGunnigle passed away. His wife Margaret lived until 1919.