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


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General Patrick Cleburne Commands Division in the Battle of Stones River

Irish-born Confederate States Army General Patrick Cleburne commands a division in the Battle of Stones River, also known as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro, one of the fiercest battles of the Western theater of the American Civil War. The battle takes place in Middle Tennessee from December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863.

In early December 1862, the transfer of Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner creates a vacancy for a division command in General Braxton Bragg‘s Army of Tennessee. There is no man in that Army who can breathe a word against the promotion of Patrick Ronayne Cleburne to that post, nor the promotion to major general that goes with it. Usually the months of December and January are quiet times, with soldiers in winter camps, but Union Major General William S. Rosecrans intends to drive Bragg’s army from Tennessee, winter or not.

Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland marches from Nashville, Tennessee, on December 26, 1862, to challenge Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro. Bragg awaits his advance along Stones River, just west of Murfreesboro.

On December 31, each army commander plans to attack his opponent’s right flank, but Bragg has a shorter distance to go and thus strikes first. Cleburne’s division is on the Confederate left. A massive assault by the corps of Major General William J. Hardee, followed by that of Leonidas Polk, overruns the wing commanded by Major General Alexander M. McCook and drives the corps from the field. Union General Thomas Crittenden, observing from a distance, says it is the first time the Army of the Cumberland has ever seen such panic.

A stout defense by the division of Brigadier General Philip Sheridan in the right center of the line prevents a total collapse, and the Union assumes a tight defensive position backing up to the Nashville Turnpike. Repeated Confederate attacks are repulsed from this concentrated line, most notably in the cedar “Round Forest” salient against the brigade of Colonel William B. Hazen. Bragg attempts to continue the assault with the division of Major General John C. Breckinridge, but the troops are slow in arriving and their multiple piecemeal attacks fail.

Later, Confederate Corps commander William Hardee expresses his belief that had a fresh division followed up Cleburne’s, Rosecrans entire army would have been routed. Night falls, however, and the two armies bring in the New Year sleeping on their arms. Rosecran’s army is badly whipped, but it stays put on January 1st.

Bragg is cautious and only probes to discover if the Union army is still there. The Union army has fortified their position to the west of the river, in front of Cleburne. Bragg decides to attack them east of the river. Fighting resumes on January 2, 1863, when Bragg orders Breckinridge to assault a lightly defended Union position on a hill to the east of the Stones River. Chasing the retreating Union forces, this attack is successful at first, but they are led into a deadly trap. Faced with overwhelming artillery, the Confederates are repulsed with heavy losses. Bragg chooses to withdraw his army on January 3 to Tullahoma, Tennessee. Though his army has abandoned the field, Cleburne’s performance in his first battle as a major general has been outstanding. His eventual rise to corps command seems certain, but factors away from the battlefield prevent that.

The battle ends in a victory for the Union army following the Confederate army’s withdrawal on January 3, largely due to a series of tactical miscalculations by Confederate General Braxton Bragg, but the victory is costly for the Union army. Nevertheless, it is an important victory for the Union because it provides a much-needed boost in morale after the Union’s recent defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg and also reinforces President Abraham Lincoln‘s foundation for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which ultimately discourages European powers from intervening on the Confederacy’s behalf.


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Birth of Political Economist John Elliott Cairnes

John Elliott Cairnes, Irish-born political economist, is born on December 26, 1823, at Castlebellingham, County Louth. He has been described as the “last of the classical economists.”

Cairnes is the son of William Elliott Cairnes (1787–1863) of Stameen, near Drogheda, and Marianne Woolsey, whose mother is the sister of Sir William Bellingham, 1st Baronet of Castlebellingham. William decides upon a business career, against the wishes of his mother, Catherine Moore of Moore Hall, Killinchy, and becomes a partner in the Woolsey Brewery at Castlebellingham. In 1825, he starts on his own account in Drogheda, making the Drogheda Brewery an unqualified success. He is remembered for his great business capacity and for the deep interest he takes in charity.

After leaving school, Cairnes spends some years in the counting house of his father at Drogheda. His tastes, however, lay altogether in the direction of study, and he is permitted to enter Trinity College Dublin, where he takes the degree of BA in 1848, and six years later that of MA. After passing through the curriculum of Arts, he engages in the study of Law, and is called to the Irish bar. But he lacks a desire to pursue the legal profession, and over some ensuing years, he devotes himself to writing in various publications about social and economic questions and treatises that relate to Ireland. He focuses mostly on political economy, which he studies thoroughly.

While residing in Dublin, Cairnes makes the acquaintance of the Archbishop of Dublin Richard Whately, who conceives a very high respect for Cairnes’ character and abilities. In 1856, a vacancy occurs in the chair of political economy at Dublin, founded by Whately, and Cairnes receives the appointment. In accordance with the regulations of the foundation, the lectures of his first year’s course are published. The book appears in 1857 with the title Character and Logical Method of Political Economy. It follows up on and expands John Stuart Mill‘s treatment in the Essays on some Unsettled Questions in Political Economy, and forms an admirable introduction to the study of economics as a science. In it the author’s peculiar powers of thought and expression are displayed to the best advantage. Logical exactness, precision of language, and firm grasp of the true nature of economic facts, are the qualities characteristic of this as of all his other works. If the book had done nothing more, it would still have conferred inestimable benefit on political economists by its clear exposition of the true nature and meaning of the ambiguous term law. To the view of the province and method of political economy expounded in this early work the author always remains true, and several of his later essays, such as those on Political Economy and Land, Political Economy and Laissez-Faire, are but reiterations of the same doctrine. His next contribution to economical science is a series of articles on the gold question, published partly in Fraser’s Magazine, in which the probable consequences of the increased supply of gold attendant on the Australian and Californian gold discoveries are analysed with great skill and ability. And a critical article on Michel Chevalier‘s work, On the Probable Fall in the Value of Gold, appears in the Edinburgh Review for July 1860.

In 1861, Cairnes is appointed to the professorship of jurisprudence and political economy in Queens College Galway, and in the following year he publishes his admirable work The Slave Power, one of the finest specimens of applied economical philosophy. The inherent disadvantages of the employment of slave labour are exposed with great fullness and ability, and the conclusions arrived at have taken their place among the recognised doctrines of political economy. The opinions expressed by Cairnes as to the probable issue of American Civil War are largely verified by the actual course of events, and the appearance of the book has a marked influence on the attitude taken by serious political thinkers in England towards the Confederate States of America.

During the remainder of his residence at Galway, Cairnes publishes nothing beyond some fragments and pamphlets, mainly upon Irish questions. The most valuable of these papers are the series devoted to the consideration of university education. His health, at no time very good, is still further weakened in 1865 by a fall from his horse. He is ever afterwards incapacitated from active exertion and is constantly liable to have his work interfered with by attacks of illness.

In 1866 Cairnes is appointed professor of political economy in University College, London. He is compelled to spend the session 1868–1869 in Italy, but on his return continues to lecture until 1872. During his last session he conducts a mixed class, ladies being admitted to his lectures. His health soon renders it impossible for him to discharge his public duties. He resigns his post in 1872, and retires with the honorary title of professor emeritus of political economy. In 1873 his own university confers on him the degree of LL.D.

Cairnes dies at the age of 51 at Blackheath, London, England, on July 8, 1875.


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Death of Michael Corcoran, General in the Union Army

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, dies on December 22, 1863, of a fractured skull after being thrown from a runaway horse.

Corcoran is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he does not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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The Irish 9th Massachusetts at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill

The Irish 9th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment, part of the Army of the Potomac of the Union Army, is heavily engaged at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, sometimes known as the Battle of Chickahominy River, in Hanover County, Virginia, on June 27, 1862. It is the third of the Seven Days Battles (Peninsula campaign) of the American Civil War.

Following the inconclusive Battle of Beaver Dam Creek (Mechanicsville) the previous day, Confederate General Robert E. Lee renews his attacks against the right flank of the Union Army, relatively isolated on the northern side of the Chickahominy River. There, Brigadier General Fitz John Porter‘s V Corps establishes a strong defensive line behind Boatswain’s Swamp. Lee’s force is destined to launch the largest Confederate attack of the war, about 57,000 men in six divisions.

Porter’s reinforced V Corps holds fast for the afternoon as the Confederates attack in a disjointed manner, first with the division of Major General A. P. Hill, then Major General Richard S. Ewell, suffering heavy casualties. Put into an exposed, forward position near the bridge over Powhite Creek, the 9th Massachusetts sustains heavy casualties while delaying the advance of A.P. Hill’s division, allowing other Federal forces to improve their defenses. Among the Confederates attacking the 9th’s position are the Irishmen of Company K, 1st South Carolina Rifle Regiment.

After pulling back to the main Federal line, the 9th Massachusetts regiment is hotly engaged again later in the day. Numerous attacks by Hill’s Confederates are repulsed through the day, and the 9th also helps cover the retreat of their brigade. The 9th Massachusetts is one of the last regiments of the V Corps remaining on the field as General Thomas Francis Meagher and his Irish Brigade rush into line to relieve the beleaguered remnant of the brave Massachusetts regiment. The arrival of Major General Stonewall Jackson‘s command is delayed, preventing the full concentration of Confederate force before Porter receives some reinforcements from the VI Corps.

Seeing the green flags of the Irish Brigade coming to the aid of the 9th Massachusetts, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Guiney, who had been watching his regiment shrink in number all day, shakes the hand of Meagher and exclaims, “Thank God, we are saved.”

At dusk, the Confederates finally mount a coordinated assault that breaks Porter’s line and drives his men back toward the Chickahominy River. The Federals retreat across the river during the night. The Confederates are too disorganized to pursue the main Union force. Gaines’ Mill saves Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862. The tactical defeat there convinces Army of the Potomac commander Major General George B. McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin a retreat to the James River. The 9th Massachusetts’ loses for the day are 82 killed and 167 wounded.

The battle occurs in almost the same location as the Battle of Cold Harbor nearly two years later.


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The Fenian Invasion of Canada

On June 1, 1866, a group of Fenian soldiers cross the border from the United States into Canadian territory. The events of the so-called Fenian invasion of Canada leave the organisation utterly discredited and cause much dismay among Irish American communities.

The roots of the invasion go back to 1865 when the Fenians in the United States break into two factions, one headed by William Roberts and the other by John O’Mahony, a founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. It is the Roberts wing which proposes a Fenian invasion of Canada. A number of facts are put forward by Roberts and others in support of this plan. In 1865 there are tens of thousands of battle-hardened Irish veterans of the American Civil War, as well as many officers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It is initially proposed to utilise these soldiers for an incursion into Canada that would be timed to coincide with a revolution in Ireland, thus causing Great Britain to be engaged in two widely separated theatres of war.

When it becomes apparent that the hoped-for rising in Ireland is not going to take place, the goal of the invasion is changed. The Fenians now hope that they can engineer a border incident that will entangle British forces in a war with the United States.

At the time the U.S. Government has a fractious relationship with their British counterparts, a remnant of the British Empire‘s partiality towards the Confederacy during the American Civil War. During the war the British Government comes close to granting diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy and British shipyards provide raiding vessels such as the notorious USS Alabama to the South. While this ill-feeling is unlikely to lead to full-scale conflict, the U.S. Government is in no mood to provide any aid to the British in Canada. President Andrew Johnson is aware of the Fenian’s plans but does little to hinder them.

The two competing Fenian factions launch separate operations. In April 1866, the O’Mahony wing attempts to seize Campobello Island near New Brunswick but the Fenian attackers are easily dispersed by U.S. naval forces. The Roberts wing launches its attack on Canada under the command of a civil war veteran, General John Charles O’Neill, on June 1, 1866.

General O’Neill leads a force of over one thousand men into Canadian territory near Fort Erie, Ontario. His invading army has some initial success, winning two engagements including the so-called Battle of Ridgeway with around ten fatalities (with a similar number on the Canadian side). O’Neill’s troops keep their discipline and local civilians are respected, as are Canadian prisoners of war. One soldier, Lance Corporal William Ellis, later writes, “the Fenians treatment of myself and the other prisoners was kind and considerate in the extreme.”

Yet, O’Neill is aware that far larger Canadian forces are approaching and on June 3 feels it prudent to take his army back to American territory, while they await reinforcements. However, the U.S. government is now fearful that events are spiralling out of control. Once back across the border, O’Neill’s army is met by American troops who intervene to prevent the Fenians from making any further attacks. Over the following days the Fenian army is broken up by American forces. O’Neill is arrested by U.S. Marshals and temporarily incarcerated. A second, smaller, incursion into Canada follows on June 6 but this, too, makes little headway. This second Fenian army is also broken up by U.S. forces when back on American soil. By June 8 the Fenian invasion of Canada is over.

The whole invasion demonstrates the futility of the Fenian strategy. It proves that the Canadians would fight to preserve their territory and that they could mobilise thousands of their population to do so. There is little hope that the Fenians could muster the required number of troops necessary to seize and then to hold Canadian territory. Most importantly, there could be no doubt now that the U.S. Government would not, despite its tempestuous relationship with the British Empire, offer any support to a Fenian invasion. Nor would the U.S. Government allow itself to be embroiled in a border war with British or Canadian forces. Nevertheless, these lessons are ignored by some Fenians for whom the idea of attacking Canada is a worthwhile objective over the following few years.

In 1870 another convention takes place amid more internal wrangling within the Brotherhood. There, a decision is made to launch a new attack on Canada. Once again John O’Neill commands the Fenians, among whose army is John Boyle O’Reilly, a young journalist. O’Reilly makes detailed reports on the invasion, an event that proves disastrous for Fenianism in the United States.

(From: “The Fenian Invasion Of Canada, 1866” by Ian Kenneally, The Irish Story, http://www.theirishstory.com)


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Brig. Gen. Thomas Smyth Mortally Wounded in the American Civil War

Thomas Alfred Smyth, a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is mortally wounded in a battle near Farmville, Virginia, on April 7, 1865. He dies two days later. He is the last Union general killed in the war.

Smyth is born on December 25, 1832 in Ballyhooly, Cork County, and works on his father’s farm as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

Smyth is a Freemason. He is raised on March 6, 1865 in Washington Lodge No. 1 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Smyth enlists in 1861 in the Union Army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and quickly makes the rank of captain. He is later commissioned as major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Fredericksburg (following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel) and Chancellorsville. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Col. Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. On April 7, 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a Confederate sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebrae and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, the same day Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army surrender at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President of the United States Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. Smyth is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.


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John Mitchel Re-elected to Parliament; Dies Eight Days Later

After being barred as an undischarged felon from taking his seat as elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Tipperary, John Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, is re-elected on March 12, 1875. He dies eight days later.

Mitchel is born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Derry on November 3, 1815, the son of a Presbyterian minister. At the age of four, he is sent to a classical school, run by an old minister named Moor, nicknamed “Gospel Moor” by the students. He reads books from a very early age. When a little over five years old, he is introduced to Latin grammar by his teacher and makes quick progress. In 1830, not yet 15 years old, he enters Trinity College, Dublin and obtains a law degree in 1834. In the spring of 1836 he meets Jane Verner, the only daughter of Captain James Verner. Though both families are opposed to the relationship, they become engaged in the autumn and are married on February 3, 1837 by the Rev. David Babington in Drumcree Church, the parish church of Drumcree.

Mitchel works in a law office in Banbridge, County Down, where he eventually comes into conflict with the local Orange Order. He meets Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy during visits to Dublin. He joins the Young Ireland movement and begins to write for The Nation. Deeply affected by the misery and death caused by the Great Famine, he becomes convinced that nothing will ever come of the constitutional efforts to gain Irish freedom. He then forms his own paper, United Irishmen, to advocate passive resistance by Ireland’s starving masses.

In May 1848, the British tire of Mitchel’s open defiance. Ever the legal innovators in Ireland, they invent a crime especially for the Young Irelanders – felony-treason. They arrest him for violating this new law and close down his paper. A rigged jury convicts him, and he is deported first to Bermuda and then to Australia. However, in June 1853, he escapes to the United States.

Mitchel works as a journalist in New York City and then moves to the South. When the American Civil War erupts, he is a strong supporter of the Southern cause, seeing parallels with the position of the Irish. His family fully backs his commitment to the Southern cause. He loses two sons in the war, one at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and another at the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1864, and another son loses an arm. His outspoken support of the Confederacy causes him to be jailed for a time at Fort Monroe, where one of his fellow prisoners is Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 1874, the British allow Mitchel to return to Ireland and in 1875 he is elected in a by-election to be a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom representing the Tipperary constituency. However his election is invalidated on the grounds that he is a convicted felon. He contests the seat again in the resulting by-election and is again elected, this time with an increased vote.

Unfortunately, Mitchel, one of the staunchest enemies to English rule of Ireland in history, dies eight days later in Newry on March 20, 1875, and is buried there. Thirty-eight years later, his grandson, John Purroy Mitchel, is elected Mayor of New York City.


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Death of Civil War Photographer Mathew Benjamin Brady

Mathew Benjamin Brady, one of the earliest photographers in American history and best known for his scenes of the American Civil War, dies in New York City on January 15, 1896.

Brady leaves little record of his life before photography. Speaking to the press in the last years of his life, he states that he was born between 1822 and 1824 in Warren County, New York, near Lake George. He is the youngest of three children to Irish immigrant parents, Andrew and Samantha Julia Brady. In official documents before and during the war, however, he claims to have been born in Ireland.

At age 16, Brady moves to Saratoga, New York, where he meets portrait painter William Page and becomes Page’s student. In 1839, the two travel to Albany, New York, and then to New York City, where he continues to study painting with Page, and also with Page’s former teacher, Samuel F. B. Morse. Morse had met Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in France in 1839, and returned to the United States to enthusiastically push the new daguerreotype invention of capturing images. At first, Brady’s involvement was limited to manufacturing leather cases that hold daguerreotypes. But soon he becomes the center of the New York artistic colony that wishes to study photography. Morse opens a studio and offers classes. Brady is one of the first students.

In 1844, Brady opens his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York, and by 1845, he begins to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opens a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., where he meets Juliet Handy, whom he marries in 1850 and lives with on Staten Island. His early images are daguerreotypes, and he wins many awards for his work. In the 1850s ambrotype photography becomes popular, which gives way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in American Civil War photography.

In 1850, Brady produces The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which features noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, is not financially rewarding but invites increased attention to his work and artistry. In 1854, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularizes the carte de visite and these small pictures rapidly become a popular novelty, with thousands being created and sold in the United States and Europe.

At first, the effect of the American Civil War on Brady’s business is a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. He readily markets to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers’ images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune. However, he is soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. He first applies to an old friend, General Winfield Scott, for permission to have his photographers travel to the battle sites, and eventually, he makes his application to President Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln grants permission in 1861, with the proviso that Brady finance the project himself.

His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earns Brady his place in history. His first popular photographs of the conflict are at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he gets so close to the action that he barely avoids capture. While most of the time the battle has ceased before pictures are taken, he comes under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

Brady also employs Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom is given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the American Civil War. He generally stays in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visiting battlefields personally.

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady’s eyesight has begun to deteriorate in the 1850s. Many of the images in Brady’s collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. He is criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it is intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of his photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken.

In October 1862 Brady opens an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery, titled The Dead of Antietam. Many images in this presentation are graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This is the first time that many Americans see the realities of war in photographs, as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions.”

Brady, through his many paid assistants, takes thousands of photos of American Civil War scenes. Much of the popular understanding of the Civil War comes from these photos. There are thousands of photos in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress taken by him and his associates. The photographs include Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and soldiers in camps and battlefields. The images provide a pictorial cross reference of American Civil War history. He is not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in the day is still in the infancy of its technical development and requires that a subject be still for a clear photo to be produced.

Following the conflict, a war-weary public loses interest in seeing photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice decline drastically.

During the war, Brady spends over $100,000 (equivalent to $1,691,000 in 2020) to create over 10,000 plates. He expects the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ends. When the government refuses to do so he is forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. The United States Congress grants Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remains deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it has ended, and so private collectors are scarce.

Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, Brady dies penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. His funeral is financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry Regiment. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, which is located in Barney Circle, a neighborhood in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C.

Brady photographs 18 of the 19 American presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. The exception is the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who dies in office three years before Brady starts his photographic collection. He photographs Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. One of his Lincoln photos is used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90c Lincoln Postage issue of 1869.

(Pictured: “Mathew B. Brady,” oil on canvas by Charles Loring Elliott, 1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)


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Birth of Stephen Clegg Rowan, Vice Admiral in the U.S. Navy

Stephen Clegg Rowan, a vice admiral in the United States Navy, who serves during the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War, is born in Dublin on December 25, 1808. He has a 63-year career, which is one of the longest in the history of the United States Navy.

Rowan comes to the United States at the age of ten and lives in Piqua, Ohio. He is a graduate of Miami University and is appointed as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy on February 1, 1826 at the age of seventeen. Later, he takes an active role in the Mexican–American War, serving as executive officer of the sloop-of-war USS Cyane during the capture of Monterey, California on July 7, 1846, and in the occupation of both San Diego and Los Angeles. In January 1847 he leads a provisional battalion, with the nominal rank of major, of seven companies of naval infantry (along with a company of artillery and a company of sappers and miners) for the recapture of Los Angeles.

Captain of the steam sloop USS Pawnee at the outbreak of the American Civil War, he attempts to relieve Fort Sumter and burn the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. In the fall of 1861, he assists in the capture of the forts at Hatteras Inlet. Then, taking command of a flotilla in the North Carolina sounds, he cooperates in the capture of Roanoke Island in February 1862. Promoted simultaneously to captain and commodore for gallantry, he then supports the capture of Elizabeth City, Edenton, and New Bern. During the summer of 1863, he commands the broadside ironclad USS New Ironsides on blockade duty off Charleston, South Carolina and the following August assumes command of Federal forces in the North Carolina sounds. During this time the rebel semi-submersible CSS David attacks the USS New Ironsides with a spar torpedo. In the ensuing explosion, one man is killed and a large hole is torn into the ironclad but she continues her blockading duties.

Commissioned rear admiral on July 25, 1866, Rowan serves as commandant of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard until 1867, when he assumes command of the Asiatic Squadron. Returning in 1870, he is appointed vice admiral, following the death of Admiral David Farragut and the promotion of Vice Admiral David Dixon Porter in August of that year. In December 1870 he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 62 but, like admirals Farragut and Porter before him, he is allowed to remain on active duty.

Rowan serves as commandant of the New York Navy Yard from 1872 to 1876, as governor of the Philadelphia Naval Asylum at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1881, and as superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C., from 1882 until his retirement in 1889.

In 1882 Rowan is elected as a First Class Companion of the District of Columbia Commander of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). He is assigned MOLLUS insignia number 2510. His son, Hamilton Rowan, an officer in the United States Army, is elected as a Second Class Companion of MOLLUS and becomes a First Class Companion upon his father’s death.

Rowan dies at the age of 81 in Washington, D.C. on March 31, 1890.


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Birth of Robert Horatio George Minty, Officer in the U.S. Union Army

Robert Horatio George Minty, a Brevet Major General in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is born in Westport, County Mayo, on December 4, 1831.

In 1836, Minty’s father, also named Robert, is promoted to lieutenant in the 1st West India Regiment of Foot, which is a regiment of black enlisted men with white officers. The whole family leaves Ireland and travels with him through Minty’s later childhood and teenage years. They move all around the Caribbean and West Africa ultimately being sent to Sierra Leone.

Minty’s father becomes judge advocate general in Jamaica in 1846 but dies after falling victim to yellow fever in 1848. Though he is only 17 at the time, he is allowed to take over his father’s commission in the regiment. After serving five years in the regiment he resigns his commission, possibly because he nearly becomes a victim of a tropical disease himself.

Minty immigrates to Ontario, Canada, where his mother and the family had moved after his father’s death. He is hired by the Great Western Railroad Company at a time when the railroad business is exploding in both the United States and Canada. He is involved with railroads for the rest of his life, with time out for the American Civil War.

Minty is commissioned as Major of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry Regiment on October 2, 1862, but holds that duty for only a month before he is transferred to the 3nd Michigan Cavalry Regiment and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. His time with the new regiment is again relatively brief, for in March 1862 he is given the task of recruiting another regiment that becomes the 4th Michigan Cavalry Regiment.

Promoted to Colonel and officially given command of the unit on July 21, 1862, Minty leads it as it fights in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas, taking part in the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle of Atlanta. He is brevetted Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers and Major General, U.S. Volunteers on March 13, 1865 for “gallant and meritorious services during the war.”

Minty and the men under his command are noted as being the regiment that captures the fleeing President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, at Irwinville, Georgia on May 9, 1865, as the Confederacy collapses.

Minty is honorably mustered out of the Union Army on April 15, 1865 at Nashville, Tennessee, and becomes a successful railroad executive in his post-war career. He dies at the age of 74 on August 24, 1906, in Jerome, Arizona. He is buried at Aultorest Memorial Park in Ogden, Utah.