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


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Death of Colonel Dennis O’Kane

dennis-o-kaneColonel Dennis O’Kane, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 4, 1863 of wounds sustained the previous day when fighting with the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, O’Kane is a tavern owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia regiment prior to the Civil War. When the conflict starts, he helps recruit the 24th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that has the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia as its nucleus. Commissioned Major, Field and Staff, on May 1, 1861, he is with his regiment as it serves first in Maryland and then Virginia before their enlistment expires in July 1861.

In August 1861 O’Kane joins with many of the men from the 24th Pennsylvania in re-enlisting to continue the war effort, and they form the basis of what becomes the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, Field and Staff on August 19, 1861, his new regiment is composed largely of Irish immigrants like himself, and they emblazon the Irish harp on their flag. The unit eventually is joined with the 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments to form the famous Philadelphia Brigade.

O’ Kane serves as second-in-command through 1862, participating in the Peninsular Campaign of May and June, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, and the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, where his brigade is caught in the West Woods area and takes heavy losses. In November 1862, the 69th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, is promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers. O’Kane is advanced to Colonel on December 1, 1862 to fill the vacancy.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 14, 1862, O’Kane leads his men in the third of four waves of futile Union charges on strong Confederate positions at Marye’s Heights south of the town, and sees his regiment sustain fifty-one casualties. In May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade is held in reserve and sees limited action.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, O’Kane finds the 69th Pennsylvania positioned along a rock fencing in the middle of the Union lines that becomes famous as “The Angle.” That position becomes the epicenter of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, the third day of the battle, as the remnants of the Confederate forces, having been much devastated from Union artillery fire, crash over the rock walls and engage the Philadelphia Brigade in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

O’Kane is shot in the head at the wall and dies the following day. His regiment again takes high casualties but succeeds in helping to repulse the rebels and defeat the charge. The monument for the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in Gettysburg National Military Park stands on the spot where O’Kane was mortally wounded.


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Birth of St. Clair Mulholland, Union Army Colonel

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Clair_Mulholland.jpgSt. Clair Augustine Mulholland, colonel in the Union Army in the American Civil War and Medal of Honor winner, is born in Lisburn, County Antrim on April 1, 1839.

Mulholland emigrates to Philadelphia with his parents while a boy. His youthful tastes incline him to military affairs and he becomes active in the ranks of the militia. At the outbreak of the Civil War he is commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, which is attached to Thomas Francis Meagher‘s Irish Brigade. When the regiment‘s size is reduced to a battalion, he accepts a reduction in rank to major.

Mulholland is wounded during the famous charge of the Irish Brigade up Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. At the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3 and 4, 1863, he leads his regiment and distinguishes himself by saving the guns of the 5th Maine Battery that had been abandoned to the enemy. For this he is complimented in general orders and later receives the Medal of Honor from the United States Congress. In this campaign he is given the command of the picket line by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and covers the retreat of the Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River.

Although Mulholland later claims that at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 he personally took command of the 140th Pennsylvania Infantry and led it into action, this fact is mentioned in neither his own official report of the battle, nor that of the lieutenant colonel commanding the 140th. When the 116th is returned to full strength in early 1864, he is promoted to colonel. He is wounded a second time at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House he is wounded a third time, but remains in the hospital only ten days. Resuming his command, he is dangerously wounded again at the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek. He recovers rapidly and commands his brigade in all the actions around the Siege of Petersburg, particularly distinguishing himself by storming a fort on the Boydton Plank Road. He is mustered out of the volunteer service on June 3, 1865.

On May 4, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominates Mulholland for the brevet grade of brigadier general of volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865 for his conduct at the Battle of the Wilderness and the U.S. Senate confirms the appointment on May 18, 1866. On January 13, 1869, President Johnson nominates Mulholland for appointment to the brevet grade of major general of volunteers, to rank from March 13, 1865 for his actions on the Boydton Plank Road and the Senate confirms the appointment on February 16, 1869. The brevet is issued February 20, 1869. It is the last brevet of major general issued for service during the Civil War.

Returning to civilian life after the war, Mulholland is appointed Chief of Police in Philadelphia in 1868, and signalizes his administration by the good order in which he keeps both the force and the city. President Grover Cleveland appoints him United States Pension Agent, in which office he is continued by Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He is considered an authority on the science of penology, and also devotes much of his leisure time to art studies, and as a lecturer and writer on the Civil War and its records. He compiles a history of the 116th Regiment, and another of those to whom Congress voted the Medal of Honor. In the Catholic affairs of Philadelphia, he is always active and a leader among the best known laymen.

St. Clair Augustin Mulholland dies on February 17, 1910 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Old Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia.


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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.


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Pickett’s Charge

On July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as the sun rises behind the men of Colonel Dennis O’Kane’s Irish 69th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on Cemetery Ridge, the most famous assault of the American Civil War is being prepared across the mile of open field in front of them. The 69th Pennsylvania will be at the very vortex of that assault, now known to posterity as Pickett’s Charge.

Pickett’s Charge is an infantry assault ordered by Confederate General Robert E. Lee against Major General George G. Meade‘s Union positions on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Its futility is predicted by the charge’s commander, Lt. General James Longstreet, and it is arguably an avoidable mistake from which the Southern war effort never fully recovers militarily or psychologically. The farthest point reached by the attack has been referred to as the high-water mark of the Confederacy.  The charge is named after Maj. General George Pickett, one of three Confederate generals who lead the assault under Longstreet.

Pickett’s charge is part of Lee’s “general plan” to take Cemetery Hill and the network of roads it commands. On the night of July 2, Meade correctly predicts at a council of war that Lee will attack the center of his lines the following morning.

At 1:00 PM on July 3, a massive artillery bombardment by the Confederate guns sails mostly over the heads of the 69th. The bombardment is meant to soften up the Union defense and silence its artillery, but is largely ineffective. About 3:00 PM the barrage slackens and the rebel infantrymen begin their assault. “And let your work this day be for victory or to the death,” Colonel Dennis O’Kane tells his men as the furious rebel onslaught approaches. Approximately 12,500 men in nine infantry brigades advance over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire.

Soon the 69th is forced to refuse both flanks as the Confederate tide rolls up to them and laps around both sides. While many around them run, the 69th stands fast. Although some Confederates are able to breach the low stone wall that shields many of the Union defenders, they cannot maintain their hold and are repulsed with over 50% casualties. The regiment’s tenacious stand in front of the famous copse of trees is a pivotal part of the crucial Union victory and a decisive defeat for the Confederacy that ends the three-day battle and Lee’s campaign into Pennsylvania.

Good to his word, Colonel O’Kane is killed and, lying dead near the 69th’s position, wearing gray lay Pvt. Willie Mitchel of the 1st Virginia Infantry, son of Irish patriot John Mitchel. At the most crucial battle of America’s Civil War, Irish are killing Irish on a foreign field once again.

Years later, when asked why his charge at Gettysburg failed, Pickett replies, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”


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The American Civil War Begins

The American Civil War begins on April 12, 1861. There is perhaps no other ethnic group so closely identified with the Civil War years and the immediate aftermath of the war as Irish Americans.

Of those Irish who come over much later than the founding generations, fully 150,000 of them join the Union army. Unfortunately, statistics for the Confederacy are sketchy at best. Still, one has but to listen to the Southern accent and listen to the sorts of tunes Southern soldiers love to sing to realize that a great deal of the South is settled by Irish immigrants. But because the white population of the Confederate states is more native-born than immigrant during the Civil War years, there does not seem as much of a drive in the Southern army to recognize heritage in the names and uniforms of regiments as there is in the Union forces.

In the Union army there is the fabled Irish Brigade, likely the best known of any brigade organization, organized in 1861 and led by the flamboyant General Thomas Francis Meagher. They go into battle with an emerald green flag with a large golden harp in its center, celebrating their heritage even in the midst of death. The Irish Brigade makes an unusual reputation for dash and gallantry. It belongs to the First Division of the Second Corps, and is numbered as the Second Brigade. The Irish Brigade loses over 4,000 men in killed and wounded during the war, more men than ever belong to the brigade at any given time. The Irish Brigade is commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thomas A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

In the North, centers of Irish settlement are Boston and New York, both of which have sizeable Irish neighborhoods. There are major immigration periods in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. The numbers steadily increase until, according to the 1860 census, well over one and a half million Americans claimed to have been born in Ireland. The majority of these live in the North. There are periods of severe economic difficulties both before and after the war when the immigrant Irish are singled out for the distrust and hatred of their fellow Americans. “No Irish Need Apply” is a frequently seen placard sign above the doors of factories, shops, warehouses, and farms.

The Irish are chiefly distrusted because they are Catholic, and there is much opposition in the United States to the Church of Rome. The frustration this prejudice causes leads indirectly to the boil-over of tempers in July 1863, when the first official draft is held. A mob of mostly immigrant laborers gather at the site of the draft lottery, and as names are called and those not wealthy enough to purchase a substitute are required to join up, the mob’s temper flares.

The situation escalates into full-scale rioting. For three days, cities like New York and Boston are caught up in a rampage of looting, burning, and destruction. Many of the rioters are frustrated Irish laborers who cannot get jobs, and their targets are draft officials, as well as free blacks living in the North, who seem able to get jobs that the Irish are denied. It takes the return of armed troops from the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg to bring the cities back to peace and quiet.

Such events do little to help the image of the Irish in America, until many years after the war. Despite their wartime heroics, many Irish veterans come home to find the same ugly bias they faced before going off to fight for the Union. Many of them choose to go into the post war army.

Still others follow Thomas Meagher into Canada, where they join up in an attempt to free Canada from British domination. Many simply choose to remain in the Eastern cities, hoping matters will improve as time goes by. Eventually things do get better for the Irish, but it is many long years before ugly anti-Irish prejudice fades.


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Birth of Myles Walter Keogh, Last Man Killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn

Myles Walter Keogh, soldier in the United States Army, is born in Orchard House in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow, on March 25, 1840. It is said by the Sioux that he is the last man killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn, where his horse is the only U.S. survivor.

Keogh attends the National School in Leighlinbridge and is long thought to have attended St. Patrick’s College in Carlow but that college has no record of his attendance. It is possible that he attends St. Mary’s Knockbeg College.

By 1860, a twenty-year-old Keogh volunteers, along with over one thousand of his countrymen, to rally to the defence of Pope Pius IX following a call to arms by the Catholic clergy in Ireland. By August 1860, Keogh is appointed second lieutenant of his unit in the Battalion of St. Patrick, Papal Army under the command of General Christophe Léon Louis Juchault de Lamoricière. Once the fighting is over and duties of the Pontifical Swiss Guard become more mundane, Keogh sees little purpose in remaining in Rome. In March 1862, with civil war raging in America, he resigns his commission in the Company of St. Patrick and sets out for New York City, arriving on April 2.

Keogh actively participates in several prominent American Civil War battles including the Shenandoah Valley, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Perhaps the strongest testimony to Keogh’s bravery and leadership ability comes at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, on June 25, 1876. The senior captain among the five companies wiped out with General George Armstrong Custer that day, and commanding one of two squadrons within the Custer detachment, Keogh dies in a “last stand” of his own, surrounded by the men of Company I. When the sun-blackened and dismembered dead are buried three days later, Keogh’s body is found at the center of a group of troopers. The slain officer is stripped but not mutilated, perhaps because of the “medicine” the Indians see in the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) he wears on a chain about his neck or because many of Sitting Bull‘s warriors are believed to be Catholic. Keogh’s left knee has been shattered by a bullet that corresponds to a wound through the chest and flank of his horse, indicating that horse and rider may have fallen together prior to the last rally.

The badly injured animal is found on the fatal battlefield, and nursed back to health as the 7th Cavalry’s regimental mascot, which he remains until his death in 1890. This horse, Comanche, is considered the only U.S. military survivor of the battle, though several other badly wounded horses are found and destroyed at the scene. Keogh’s bloody gauntlet and the guidon of his Company I are recovered by the army three months after Little Bighorn at the Battle of Slim Buttes.

Originally buried on the battlefield, Keogh’s remains are disinterred and taken to Auburn, as he had requested in his will. He is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery on October 26, 1877, an occasion marked by citywide official mourning and an impressive military procession to the cemetery.

Tongue River Cantonment in southeastern Montana is renamed after him to be Fort Keogh. The fort is first commanded by Nelson A. Miles. The 55,000-acre fort is today an agricultural experiment station. Miles City, Montana is located two miles from the old fort.