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


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Death of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

jean-joseph-amable-humbertGeneral Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, French soldier and French Revolution participant who leads a failed invasion of Ireland to assist Irish rebels in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies on January 3, 1823 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Born in the townland of La Coâre Saint-Nabord, outside Remiremont Vosges, Humbert is a sergeant in the National Guard of Lyon. He rapidly advances through the ranks to become brigadier general on April 9, 1794 and fights in the Western campaigns before being allocated to the Army of the Rhine.

In 1794, after serving in the Army of the Coasts of Brest, Humbert serves under Louis Lazare Hoche in the Army of the Rhin-et-Moselle. Charged to prepare for an expedition against Ireland, he takes command of the Légion des Francs under Hoche, sailing in the ill-fated Expédition d’Irlande against Bantry Bay in 1796, and is engaged in actions at sea against the Royal Navy. Contrary weather and enemy action force this expedition to withdraw. The trip home ends in a naval battle, the Action of 13 January 1797, during which Humbert, on the French ship Droits de l’Homme (1794), narrowly escapes death. As the ship is destroyed and sinks, hundreds of men perish, but Humbert is among the last to escape.

On his return to France, Humbert serves in the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, before being appointed to command the troops in another attempt to support a rising in Ireland in 1798. His command chiefly consists of infantry of the 70th demi-brigade with a few artillerymen and some cavalry of the 3rd Hussars, however by the time he arrives off the Irish coast the United Irish rising has already suffered defeat. The expedition is able to land in Ireland at Killala on Thursday August 23, 1798, meeting with initial success in the Battle of Castlebar where he routs the Irish Militia. Humbert subsequently declares a Republic of Connacht, with hopes of taking Dublin. However, Humbert’s small force is defeated at the Battle of Ballinamuck by the Irish Royal Army and he is taken as a prisoner of war by the authorities. The British send the French officers home in two frigates and then massacre their Irish supporters. Humbert makes no attempt to save the Irish who bravely supported him.

Humbert is shortly repatriated in a prisoner exchange and appointed in succession to the Armies of Mayence, Danube and Helvetia, with which he serves at the Second Battle of Zurich. He then embarks for Santo Domingo and participates in several Caribbean campaigns for Napoleon Bonaparte before being accused of plundering by General Brunet. It is also rumored that he engages in an affair with Pauline Bonaparte, the wife of his commanding officer Charles Leclerc. He is returned to France by order of General Leclerc in October 1802, for “prevarications, and liaison relationships with organisers of the inhabitants and with leaders of brigands.” A committed Republican, his displeasure at Napoleon’s Imperial pretensions lead to him being dismissed in 1803 and he retires to Morbihan in Brittany.

In 1810, after brief service in the Army of the North, Humbert emigrates to New Orleans, where he makes his acquaintance with French pirate Jean Lafitte. In 1813, Humbert joins the revolutionary Juan Bautista Mariano Picornell y Gomila in an unsuccessful attempt to foment rebellion in Spanish Mexico, but the effort fails. In 1814, Humbert again leaves New Orleans and joins the rebelling forces of Buenos Aires, briefly commanding a corps, before returning home. Humbert last fights the British at the Battle of New Orleans, as a volunteer private soldier in U.S. ranks, in the War of 1812, wearing his Napoleonic uniform. General Andrew Jackson thanks him for his assistance there after the American victory in January 1815. Thereafter Humbert lives peacefully as a schoolteacher until his death on January 3, 1823.

A monument to General Humbert depicting Mother Ireland stands on Humbert Street, Ballina, County Mayo. In 1989, sculptor Carmel Gallagher unveils a bust of General Humbert in Killala, Ireland, to mark the upcoming bicentennial of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

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The Races of Castlebar

races-of-castlebarThe Battle of Castlebar occurs on August 27, 1798 near the town of Castlebar, County Mayo, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. A combined force of 2,000 French troops and Irish rebels rout a force of 6,000 British militia in what later becomes known as the “Castlebar Races” or “Races of Castlebar.”

The long-awaited French landing to assist the Irish revolution begun by Theobald Wolfe Tone‘s Society of United Irishmen takes place five days previously on August 22, when almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert land at Cill Chuimín Strand, County Mayo. The nearby town of Killala is quickly captured after a brief resistance by local yeomen. Following the news of the French landing, Irish volunteers began to trickle into the French camp from all over Mayo.

On August 26, leaving about 200 French regulars behind in Killala to cover his rear and line of withdrawal, Humbert takes a combined force of about 2,000 French and Irish to march on and take Castlebar. In order to avoid a head-on attack, locals advise the French of an alternative route to Castlebar through the wilds along the west of Lough Conn, which the British believe to be impassable for a modern army with attendant artillery train. When General Gerald Lake’s scouts spot the approaching enemy, the surprised British have to hurriedly change the deployment of their entire force to face the threat from this unanticipated direction.

The British have barely completed their new deployment when the Franco-Irish army appears outside the town at about 6:00 AM. The newly sited British artillery opens up on the advancing French and Irish and cut them down in droves. French officers, however, quickly identify an area of scrub and undergrowth in a defile facing the centre of the artillery line which provides some cover from the British line of fire. The French launch a bayonet charge, the ferocity and determination of which unnerve the units stationed behind the artillery. The British units begin to waver before the French reach their lines and eventually turn in panic and flee the battlefield, abandoning the gunners and artillery. A unit of cavalry and British regular infantry attempt to stand and stem the tide of panic but are quickly overwhelmed.

In the headlong flight of thousands of British militia, large quantities of guns and equipment are abandoned, among which is General Lake’s personal luggage. Although not pursued a mile or two beyond Castlebar, the British do not stop until they reach Tuam, with some units fleeing as far as Athlone in the panic. The panic is such that only the arrival of Cornwallis at Athlone prevents further flight across the River Shannon.

Although achieving a decisive victory, the losses of the French and Irish are high, with about 150 men killed, mostly to the cannonade at the start of the battle. About 80 British are killed and some 270 wounded, captured, or deserted. Following the victory, thousands of volunteers flock to join the French who also send a request to France for reinforcements and formally declare a Republic of Connacht, which lasts 3 days and collapses when the French depart.

On September 5, the British forces are again defeated at Collooney however, after that, the rebellion quickly folds. More troops gather and by the Battle of Ballinamuck on September 8, their strength is over 15,000. Ballinamuck is the end for General Humbert, who hands in his surrender. The Irish rebels fight on briefly until scattered. Killala is re-taken on September 12. More French warships sail for Ireland, but are decisively defeated by the Royal Navy near Tory Island. With that the 1798 rebellion ends. The captured French soldiers are transferred to England and eventually repatriated. The French officers of Irish origin are hanged in Dublin with the Irish rebels.