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


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The Battle of Castelfidardo

Elements of the St. Patrick’s Battalion of the Papal army fight in the Battle of Castelfidardo on September 18, 1860.

The battle takes place at Castelfidardo, a small town in the Marche region of Italy. It is fought between the Sardinian army, acting as the driving force in the war for Italian unification, against the Papal States.

On September 7, Camillo Benso, Prime Minister of Piedmont, sends an ultimatum to the Pope Pius IX demanding that he dismiss his foreign troops. When he fails to do this, 35,000 troops cross the border on September 11, with General Enrico Cialdini advancing along the Adriatic coast and General Enrico Morozzo Della Rocca leading another troop across Umbria. Papal troops are caught by surprise and thrown into confusion. Some of the Papal troops surrender the same day and some retreat to Ancona, which falls on September 29, 1860 after a short siege.

As a result of this battle, the Marches and Umbria enter in the Kingdom of Italy and the extent of the Papal States is reduced to the area of what is today known as Lazio.

The battle is remembered for being bloody and for the highly disparate numbers of troops — less than 10,000 papal soldiers to 39,000 Sardinians. The papal army is composed of volunteers from many European countries, amongst whom the French and Belgian nationals constitute a Franco-Belgian battalion. Among the French volunteers are a notable number of nobles from western France. After the battle, while consulting the list of dead and wounded members of the papal army, the Sardinian general Cialdini is reported to say in an example of rather black humor, “You would think this was a list of invites for a ball given by Louis XIV!”

The Franco-Belgian, Austrian and Irish battalions later join the Papal Zouaves corps, an infantry regiment of international composition that pledges to aid Pope Pius IX in the protection of the Papacy for the remainder of the Italian unificationist Risorgimento. The battle is commemorated by the Italian ironclad Castelfidardo, built in the 1860s and the 26th Bersaglieri Battalion “Castelfidardo.”


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Birth of Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish Nationalist

thomas-francis-meagherThomas Francis Meagher, Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848, is born on August 3, 1823 at Waterford, County Waterford, in what is now the Granville Hotel on the Quay.

Meagher is educated at Roman Catholic boarding schools. When he is eleven, his family sends him to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. It is at Clongowes that he develops his skill of oratory, becoming at age 15 the youngest medalist of the Debating Society. After six years, he leaves Ireland for the first time, to study in Lancashire, England, at Stonyhurst College, also a Jesuit institution. He returns to Ireland in 1843, with undecided plans for a career in the Austrian army, a tradition among a number of Irish families.

Meagher becomes a member of the Young Ireland Party in 1845 and in 1847 is one of the founders of the Irish Confederation, dedicated to Irish independence. In 1848 he is involved, along with William Smith O’Brien, in an abortive attempt to mount an insurrection against English rule. Arrested for high treason, he is condemned to death, but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania.

Meagher escapes in 1852 and makes his way to the United States. After a speaking tour of U.S. cities, he settles in New York City, studies law, and is admitted to the bar in 1855. He soon becomes a leader of the Irish in New York and, from 1856, edits the Irish News.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Meagher becomes a captain of New York volunteers and fights at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. He then organizes the Irish Brigade, and in February 1862 is elevated to the rank of brigadier general. After his brigade is decimated at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he resigns his commission, however in December he returns to command the military district of Etowah, with headquarters at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At the close of the war, Meagher is appointed secretary of Montana Territory where, in the absence of a territorial governor, he serves as acting governor.

In the summer of 1867, Meagher travels to Fort Benton, Montana, to receive a shipment of guns and ammunition sent by General William Tecumseh Sherman for use by the Montana Militia. On the way to Fort Benton, the Missouri River terminus for steamboat travel, he falls ill and stops for six days to recuperate. When he reaches Fort Benton, he is reportedly still ill.

Sometime in the early evening of July 1, 1867, Meagher falls overboard from the steamboat G. A. Thompson, into the Missouri River. His body is never recovered. Some believe his death to be suspicious and many theories circulate about his death. Early theories included a claim that he was murdered by a Confederate soldier from the war, or by Native Americans. In 1913 a man claims to have carried out the murder of Meagher for the price of $8,000, but then recants. In the same vein, American journalist and novelist Timothy Egan, who publishes a biography of Meagher in 2016, claims Meagher may have been murdered by Montana political enemies or powerful and still active vigilantes. On the frontier men are quick to kill rather than adjudicate. A similar theory shown on Death Valley Days (1960) has him survive the assassination attempt because his aide had been mistakenly murdered when he accepted one of his trademark cigars, and Meagher uses his apparent death as leverage over his political opponents.