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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.

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Battle at Marye’s Heights

battle-of-fredericksburgIrish fight Irish in one of the bloodiest days in Irish military history at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862 during the American Civil War. The Union Army’s Irish Brigade, the Fighting 69th, is decimated by the Confederate States Army during multiple efforts to take Marye’s Heights. In his official report Thomas Francis Meagher writes, “of the one thousand and two hundred I led into action, only two hundred and eighty appeared on parade next morning.”

The Battle of Fredericksburg, fought December 11-15, 1862, is one of the largest and deadliest of the war. It features the first major opposed river crossing in American military history. Union and Confederate troops fight in the streets of Fredericksburg, the war’s first urban combat. And with nearly 200,000 combatants, no other Civil War battle features a larger concentration of soldiers.

Major General Ambrose Burnside’s plan at Fredericksburg is to use the nearly 60,000 men in Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division to crush General Robert E. Lee’s southern flank on Prospect Hill while the rest of his army holds Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and the Confederate First Corps in position at Marye’s Heights.

The Union army’s main assault against Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson produces initial success and holds the promise of destroying the Confederate right, but lack of reinforcements and Jackson’s powerful counterattack stymies the effort. Both sides suffer heavy losses (totaling 9,000 in killed, wounded and missing) with no real change in the strategic situation.

In the meantime, Burnside’s “diversion” against veteran Confederate soldiers behind a stone wall produces a similar number of casualties but most of these are suffered by the Union troops. Wave after wave of Federal soldiers march forth to take the heights, but each is met with devastating rifle and artillery fire from the nearly impregnable Confederate positions.

As darkness falls on a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded, it is abundantly clear that a signal Confederate victory is at hand. The Army of the Potomac has suffered nearly 12,600 casualties, nearly two-thirds of them in front of Marye’s Heights. By comparison, Lee’s army has suffered some 5,300 losses. Lee, watching the great Confederate victory unfolding from his hilltop command post exclaims, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Roughly six weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln removes Burnside from command of the Army of the Potomac.


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Birth of John Hughes, 1st Archbishop of New York

john-joseph-hughesJohn Joseph Hughesprelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, is born in the hamlet of Annaloghan, near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland on June 24, 1797.

Hughes is the third of seven children of Patrick and Margaret (née McKenna) Hughes. He and his family suffer religious persecution in their native land. He is sent with his elder brothers to a day school in the nearby village of Augher, and afterwards attends a grammar school in Aughnacloy. The family emigrates to the United States in 1816 and settles in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Hughes joins them there the following year.

After several unsuccessful applications to Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, he is eventually hired as a gardener at the college. During this time he befriends Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, who is impressed by Hughes and persuades the Rector to reconsider his admission. Hughes is subsequently admitted as a regular student of Mount St. Mary’s in September 1820.

On October 15, 1826, Hughes is ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Henry Conwell at St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia. His first assignment is as a curate at St. Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia, where he assists its pastor by celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, preaching sermons, and other duties in the parish.

Hughes is chosen by Pope Gregory XVI as the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of New York on August 7, 1837. He is consecrated bishop at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on January 7, 1838 with the title of the titular see of Basilinopolis, by the Bishop of New York, John Dubois, his former Rector.

Hughes campaigns actively on behalf of Irish immigrants and attempts to secure state support for parochial schools. Although this attempt fails, he founds an independent Catholic school system which becomes an integral part of the Catholic Church’s structure at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), which mandates that all parishes have a school and that all Catholic children be sent to those schools. In 1841, Hughes founds St. John’s College in New York City which is now Fordham University.

Hughes is appointed Apostolic Administrator of the diocese due to Bishop Dubois’ failing health. As coadjutor, he automatically succeeds Dubois upon the bishop’s death on December 20, 1842, taking over a diocese which covers the entire state of New York and northern New Jersey. He is a staunch opponent of Abolitionism and the Free Soil movement, whose proponents often express anti-Catholic attitudes. Hughes also founds the Ultramontane newspaper New York Freeman to express his ideas.

Hughes becomes an archbishop on July 19, 1850, when the diocese is elevated to the status of archdiocese by Pope Pius IX. As archbishop, he becomes the metropolitan for the Catholic bishops serving all the dioceses established in the entire Northeastern United States. To the dismay of many in New York’s Protestant upper-class, Hughes foresees the uptown expansion of the city and begins construction of the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Street, laying its cornerstone on August 15, 1858. At the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Hughes serves as semiofficial envoy to the Vatican and to France in late 1861 and early 1862. Lincoln also seeks Hughes’ advice on the appointment of hospital chaplains.

Hughes serves as archbishop until his death. He is originally buried in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, but his remains are exhumed in 1882 and re-interred in the crypt under the altar of the new cathedral he had begun.


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Birth of Brigadier General James Lawlor Kiernan

James Lawlor Kiernan, Irish-born Brigadier General in the American Civil War, is born in Mountbellew, County Galway, on October 26, 1837.

Kiernan’s father is a retired British navy surgeon. Kiernan attends Trinity College, Dublin, before emigrating to the United States around 1854. He studies medicine at New York University and practices law in New York until 1861. Upon the outbreak of American Civil War in 1861 he joins the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment as Assistant Surgeon and serves as such through the First Battle of Bull Run. When the 69th returns to Manhattan, he moves west and becomes the surgeon of the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Kiernan insists on joining the fighting ranks, and in that capacity is seemingly appointed a Major in the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. In May 1863 at Port Gibson, Mississippi, he is wounded in the left lung and left on the battlefield for dead. Recovered and imprisoned, he effects an escape back to Union forces and resigns his commission. On August 1, 1863 he is commissioned a Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers by President Abraham Lincoln, commanding a post at Miliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River. However, ill-health as a result of his battlefield wounds force him to resign on February 3, 1864.

In May 1865 Kiernan gains a U.S. consular post at Chinkiang, China. He manages to make the trip there but his health does not allow him to perform the duties. He returns to New York where he becomes an examining physician for the Bureau of Pensions, a position he holds until his death.

James Lawlor Kiernan dies on November 26, 1869. The official cause of death is “congestion of the lungs.” Perhaps he is killed by that Confederate ball that wounded him six years earlier. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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Birth of Sister Anthony, Mary Ellen O’Connell

Mary Ellen O’Connell, Roman Catholic Religious Sister better known as Sister Anthony, S.C., is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on August 14, 1814.

Connell is the daughter of William O’Connell (1769-1841) and Catherine Murphy (-1821). In 1821, she emigrates with her family to Boston, and attends the Ursuline Academy in Charlestown, Massachusetts. On June 5, 1835 she enters the novitiate of the American Sisters of Charity in St. Joseph’s Valley, Maryland, founded by Saint Elizabeth Seton, and is professed in 1837, taking the name of Sister Anthony. Soon after, she goes to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sister Anthony arrives in Cincinnati in 1837 to begin her work at St. Peter’s Orphan Asylum and School for girls. Given charge of St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum for boys when it is begun in 1852, she later oversees the combining of the two asylums in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Cumminsville. She is in Cincinnati through 1852, when the Sisters in Cincinnati become independent of their founding motherhouse in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She is placed in charge of St. John’s Hostel for Invalids, a new hospital.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Sisters volunteer as nurses. More than one-third of the community, which by then has more than one hundred members, serve. In June, 1861 Sister Anthony is one of six Sisters of Charity who go to Camp Dennison, about 15 miles from Cincinnati. A request is made from Cumberland, Virginia for nursing assistance, and eight sisters are sent to serve the wounded of both armies.

The Battle of Shiloh brings ten sisters to the scene including Sister Anthony. Some describe her word as being law with officers, doctors, and soldiers once she has established herself as a prudent and trusted administrator and nurse. She and other sisters often are picked to treat wounded prisoners of war since they show no bias in serving rebel, yank, white, or black soldiers.

When Sister Anthony serves at Shiloh she becomes known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” and “the Florence Nightingale of America.” She goes out to the battlefield to help bring in the sick and dying and also develops the Battlefield Triage. Her method is “the first recognizably modern triage techniques in war zones, saved countless lives through faster hospital treatment and won her praise from President Lincoln.” Her medical skills allow her to intervene to save soldiers’ limbs from amputation.

Sister Anthony also serves at the battlefields of Winchester, VA, the Cumberland Gap, TN, Richmond, VA, Nashville, TN, Gallipolis, OH, Culpeper Court House, VA, Murfreesboro, TN, Pittsburg Landing, TN, and Lynchburg, VA. She also serves on a hospital ship on the Ohio River. She sees no distinction between Union and Confederate soldiers. She becomes personally acquainted with Jefferson Davis and knows a number of generals on both sides of the conflict.

After the war, in 1866, Joseph C. Butler and a friend, Louis Worthington, purchase a large building at Sixth and Lock Street, to present to Sister Anthony as a gift in recognition of the sisters service during the war. There are two conditions: that no one be excluded from the hospital because of color or religion, and that the hospital be named “The Hospital of the Good Samaritan,” to honor the sisters’ kindness. It opens that same year as the St. Joseph Foundling and Maternity Hospital. It still serves as St. Joseph Hospital, a residential facility for children and adults with severe mental and multiple physical disabilities.

Sister Anthony is also recognized for her work during the yellow fever epidemic of 1877. She retires from active service in 1880, and dies in 1897 in Cumminsville, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sister Anthony’s portrait hangs in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.


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Beginning of the New York City Draft Riots

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ProtestantismThe New York City draft riots, one of the more regrettable incidents related to Irish American history, begin on July 13, 1863 and continue through July 16. Known at the time as Draft Week, they are violent disturbances in Lower Manhattan, widely regarded as the culmination of working-class discontent with new laws passed by Congress that year to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots remain the largest civil and racial insurrection in American history, aside from the Civil War itself.

The cry of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” is the cry of many in the Northern states. The rioters, predominantly Irish immigrants, are overwhelmingly working-class men, who resent that wealthier men, who can afford to pay a $300 commutation fee to hire a substitute, are spared from the draft, worried that the eventual emancipation of blacks will rob them of their jobs, and are egged on by some politicians and Southern agents.

Initially intended to express anger at the draft, the protests turn into a race riot, with white predominantly Irish rioters, attacking blacks throughout the city. The official death toll is listed at either 119 or 120 individuals. Conditions in the city are such that Major General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the East, says on July 16 that “Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it.”

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln diverts several regiments of militia and volunteer troops from following up after the Battle of Gettysburg to control the city.

The military does not reach the city until after the first day of rioting, by which time the mobs, have already ransacked or destroyed numerous public buildings, two Protestant churches, the homes of various abolitionists or sympathizers, many black homes, and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which is burned to the ground.

The area’s demographics change as a result of the riot. Many blacks leave Manhattan permanently, many moving to Brooklyn. By 1865 their population falls below 10,000, the number in 1820.

Through the years the story is told as if only Irish riot, but in fact many besides the Irish take part, and many Irish policemen, fireman, priests, and trade unionists are among the most influential in quelling them. Still, it cannot be denied, a large number of Irish do participate in the burning of the black orphanage and murder of blacks in the city. This unfortunate episode leaves a lasting stain on the reputation of New York’s Irish community.