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


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.


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General Patrick Cleburne Wounded at Battle of Richmond

Major General Patrick Cleburne, by Louis GuillaumeIrish-born Confederate Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne commands a division at the Battle of Richmond in Kentucky on August 29-30, 1862, where he is wounded.

The battle is a stunning Confederate victory by Major General Edmund Kirby Smith against Union Major General William “Bull” Nelson‘s forces. It is the first major battle in the Confederate Heartland Offensive. The battle takes place on and around what is now the grounds of the Blue Grass Army Depot, outside Richmond, Kentucky.

In the fall of 1862, two Confederate armies move on separate paths into Kentucky, hoping to put the shadow Confederate government of Kentucky of that state into power, threaten Union cities along the Ohio River, and recruit men to join the army. First to move is Kirby Smith, departing Knoxville on August 13, leading the Confederate Army of Kentucky, whose ideas provide the initiative for the offensive. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Mississippi, leaves Chattanooga on August 27 and moves on a roughly parallel track to the west.

Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne leads Smith’s advance with Colonel John S. Scott’s cavalry out in front. The Confederate cavalry, while moving north from Big Hill on the road to Richmond, Kentucky, on August 29, encounters Union troopers and begin skirmishing. After noon, Union artillery and infantry join the fray, forcing the Confederate cavalry to retreat to Big Hill.

At that time, Brigadier General Mahlon Dickerson Manson, who commands Union forces in the area, orders a brigade to march to Rogersville, toward the rebels. Fighting for the day stops after pursuing Union forces briefly skirmish with Cleburne’s men in the late afternoon. That night, Manson informs his superior, Bull Nelson, of his situation, and he orders another brigade to be ready to march in support, when required.

Kirby Smith orders Cleburne to attack in the morning and promises to hurry reinforcements. Cleburne starts early, marching north, passes through Kingston, disperses Union skirmishers, and approaches Manson’s battle line near Zion Church. As the day progresses, additional troops join both sides. Following an artillery duel, the battle begins, and after a concerted Confederate attack on the Union right, the Union troops give way. Retreating into Rogersville, they make another futile stand at their old bivouac.

By this time, Smith and Nelson arrive and take command of their respective armies. Nelson rallies some troops in the cemetery outside Richmond, but they are routed.

Nelson and some of his men escape, but the Confederates capture over 4,300 Union troops. Total casualties are 5,353 (206 killed, 844 wounded, and 4,303 captured or missing) on the Union side, 451 (78 killed, 372 wounded, and one missing) for the Confederates. The way north towards Lexington and Frankfort is open.

During the battle Cleburne is wounded in the face when a Minié ball pierces his left cheek, smashes several teeth, and exits through his mouth. He recovers in time to re-join Bragg and William Joseph Hardee and participate in the Battle of Perryville.

The Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust, and its partners have acquired and preserved 365 acres of the Richmond Battlefield. The Mt. Zion Christian Church, which served as a hospital during the battle and has cannonballs embedded in its brick walls, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two discontinuous areas totaling 214 acres are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Battle of Richmond Historic Areas in 1996.

(Pictured: Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, courtesy of Library of Congress)


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The Battle of Oulart Hill

battle-of-oulart-hillThe Battle of Oulart Hill takes place on May 27, 1798 when a rebel gathering of between 4,000 and 5,000 massacre a detachment of 110 militia sent from Wexford town to stamp out the spreading rebellion in County Wexford.

When news of the long expected rising on May 23 of the Society of United Irishmen in the midlands reaches County Wexford, it is already in an unsettled condition due to fears brought by the recently instituted anti-insurgent disarmament campaign in the county. The measures used included pitchcapping, half-hanging, and house burnings to uncover rebel conspirators. The recent arrival in Wexford of the North Cork Militia, who are notorious for their brutality in the “pacification” of Ulster, terror raids by local yeomen and finally news of the massacres at Dunlavin Green, Carlow and Carnew, have the effect of drawing people together in large groups for security, especially at night.

One such group of one hundred or so gather on the evening of May 26 at The Harrow, near the parish of Boolavogue under the tutelage of Fr. John Murphy, when they encounter a patrol of about 20 yeomen on their way to the house of a suspected rebel. They burn the suspect’s dwelling but, returning empty-handed, they encounter Fr. Murphy’s band again. The patrol are pushing their way through when a skirmish begins in which they lose two of their number, the rest fleeing with news of the killings.

The reaction on both sides is rapid. Vengeful yeomanry patrols roam, burning and killing indiscriminately, while the rebels rouse the countryside and make several raids on manors and other houses holding arms, killing more loyalists and yeomen. News of the skirmish and raids has by now reached Wexford town and, on the morning of May 27, the bulk of its garrison, 110 of the North Cork militia under Colonel Foote, are ordered north to crush the nascent rebellion. They are joined en route by some 16 yeomen cavalry under Colonel Le Hunt. However, these yeomanry are of doubtful loyalty, many (including their sergeant) having joined the rebels that morning.

The militia reaches the village of Oulart at 2:00 PM on May 27. Finding a mass of “from four to five thousand combatants” occupying the high ground of Oulart hill, they rashly advance and pursue the rebels to the summit. The rebel leaders mistakenly believe a large body of yeoman cavalry is waiting to intercept their flight, so their forces desperately turn to face their enemy and kill the whole detachment in an instant, leaving only the commanding officer, Colonel Foote, and four other survivors to escape to their base at Wexford.

Foote reports that, contrary to his orders, the militia had advanced incautiously and were surrounded and overpowered by the overwhelming rebel numbers, mostly armed with pikes, and that “great numbers” of the rebels were killed.

Following the rebel victory, almost all of North Wexford joins the rebellion. Crown forces and loyalist civilians cede control of the countryside, withdrawing to towns such as Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wexford.

(Pictured: The Battle of Oulart Hill by Fr. Edward Foran OSA (1861-1938) who also designed the 1898 Monument in Oulart Village)


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The Battle of the Hill of Tara

battle-of-tara-hillThe Battle of the Hill of Tara is fought on the evening of May 26, 1798 between British forces and Irish rebels involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, resulting in a heavy defeat for the rebels and the end of the rebellion in County Meath.

Following the outbreak of the rebellion, signaled in Meath by the prearranged signal of the ceasing of a mail coach near Turvey hill, road blocks are posted on the Navan road. Members of the Society of United Irishmen and rebels in Meath begin to assemble at the Hill of Tara. Tara is chosen as it provides strategic control of road access to the capital of Dublin and cultural significance as the former seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Between 4,000-7,000 rebels gather at the hill. Following the outbreak of the rebellion on May 23, there are incidents of violent encounters throughout the countryside as rallying rebels make their way to Tara.

Picking up yeomanry reinforcements along the way, the combined fencible, yeoman and militia force forms up at the bottom of the hill in advance of the attack on the rebels who have established a large camp on the hill. The lack of any cannon or cavalry places the rebels at a great disadvantage despite their numbers. Disciplined volley fire and flanking cavalry action combined with withering grapeshot delivered from a 6 pounder cannon drive the rebels to within the graveyard walls at the summit. There, at dusk, the rebels make their last stand on the hill until a final grenadier assault finishes them.

The loss to the fencibles, yeomen and militia is minimal. However rebel casualties have estimates running from several hundred to several thousand dead and many wounded. Many bodies are removed during the night of the 26th and 350 dead are counted still lying on the battlefield the following day. Witnesses to the burial recollect many more bodies of those rebels who died of their wounds during the night being collected from the surrounding countryside in carts. It is noted by the witnesses that the bodies are universally disembowelled by the victors. The dead are buried in a mass grave marked by the Lia Fáil stone which is moved to mark the burial site. The defeat effectively ends the United Irishmen’s rising in Meath.

(Pictured: The high cross at the site of the Battle of the Hill of Tara, County Meath)


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The Battle of Dungan’s Hill

battle-of-dungans-hillThe Battle of Dungan’s Hill takes place in County Meath on August 8, 1647. It is fought between the armies of Confederate Ireland and the Parliament of England during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The battle takes place near the modern village of Summerhill and along the present main road between Trim and Kilcock.

By 1647, The Irish Catholic Confederation controls all of Ireland except for Parliamentarian enclaves around Dublin and Cork and a Scottish outpost in Ulster. The previous year they had rejected a treaty with the English Royalists in favour of eliminating the remaining British forces in Ireland.

In August 1647, the Confederate Leinster army under Thomas Preston is attempting to take Dublin from the English Parliamentarian garrison under Michael Jones, when it is intercepted by the Roundheads and forced to give battle. Jones had marched to Trim to relieve the Parliamentarian outpost there at Trim Castle. Preston, who had been shadowing Jones’ movements, attempts to march on Dublin before Jones’ army returns there, but covers only 12 of the 40 miles before being caught at Dungan’s Hill, where the Confederate forces have to form up for battle.

From a Parliamentarian point of view, victory in this battle is presented to them by the incompetence of the Irish commander. Preston is a veteran of the Thirty Years’ War, where he had been a commander of the Spanish garrison at Leuven, but has no experience in open warfare or handling cavalry. Jones, by contrast, had been a cavalry officer in the English Civil War. As a result, Preston tries to move his cavalry along a narrow covered lane where they are trapped and subjected to enemy fire without being able to respond. Even worse, Preston has placed a large number of his troops in wheat fields over seven feet tall. As a result these troops are unable to see the Parliamentarians until it is too late. With the Confederate army spread out and in confusion, Jones’ troops fall in amongst them causing the demoralised Irish cavalry to flee the field, leaving the remainder of Preston’s infantry unsupported.

The Confederate army’s infantry are primarily equipped with pikes and heavy muskets and trained to stand in tercios in the Spanish manner. This means they are difficult to break, but also highly immobile, without cavalry to cover their cumbersome formation when it moves. What is worse, Preston has positioned them in a large walled field, so that when their cavalry has run away, the Parliamentarians can surround and trap them. Some of the Irish infantry, Scottish Highlanders brought to Ireland by Alasdair Mac Colla, manage to charge and break through Jones’ men and escape into a nearby bog, where the English cavalry could not follow. Preston and 2,000 to 3,000 of his regular infantry manage to follow the Highlanders to safety, but the remainder are trapped.

What happens next is disputed. The Irish infantry manages to hold off several assaults on their position, before trying to follow their comrades into the safety of the bog. This makes them lose their formation and the Parliamentarians get in amongst them and then surround them in the bogland. Parliamentarian accounts simply say that the Irish force is then destroyed. Irish accounts, however, claim that the Confederate troops surrender and are then massacred. One account, by a Catholic friar named O Meallain, says that the corpses of the Irish foot soldiers are found with their hands tied. A recent study suggests that the Irishmen probably tried to surrender, but that, according to the conventions of 17th century warfare, this had to be accepted before it entitled them to safety. In this case, it was not accepted and the infantrymen were butchered.

Around 3,000 Confederate troops and a small number of Parliamentarians die at Dungan’s Hill. One of the English regimental commanders, Colonel Anthony Hungerford, is shot in the mouth, a wound that invalids him out of the English Army. Most of the dead are Irish infantrymen killed in the last stage of the battle. Those prisoners who are taken are mainly officers, whom the Parliamentarians can either ransom or exchange for prisoners of their own. Richard Talbot, a junior cavalry officer but later Earl of Tyrconnell and Lord Deputy of Ireland, is among the Confederate prisoners.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Owen Roe O’Neill‘s Ulster Army marches through the pass of Portlester Mill to mount an effective rearguard action, routing Jones’ advanced brigade and enabling the survivors of the Leinster army to escape. Jones, fearing O’Neills army, does not continue the pursuit and returns to Dublin. O’Neill and his Ulstermen return four months later to bury the dead Confederates.


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The Battle of New Ross

battle-of-new-rossThe Battle of New Ross takes place in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland on June 5, 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It is fought between the Irish Republican insurgents called the United Irishmen and British Crown forces composed of regular soldiers, militia and yeomanry. The attack on the town of New Ross on the River Barrow, is an attempt by the recently victorious rebels to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion into County Kilkenny and the outlying province of Munster.

On June 4, 1798, the rebels advance from their camp on Carrigbyrne Hill to Corbet Hill, just outside the town of New Ross. The battle, the bloodiest of the 1798 rebellion, begins at dawn on June 5 when the Crown garrison is attacked by a force of almost 10,000 rebels, massed in three columns outside the town. The attack has been expected since the fall of Wexford to the rebels on May 30 and the British garrison of 2,000 has prepared defences both outside and inside the town. Trenches are dug and manned by skirmishers on the approaches to the town while cannon are stationed facing all the rapidly falling approaches and narrow streets of the town to counter the expected mass charges by the rebels, who are mainly armed with pikes.

Bagenal Harvey, the United Irish Leader recently released from captivity following the rebel seizure of Wexford, attempts to negotiate surrender of New Ross but the rebel emissary Matt Furlong is shot down by Crown outposts while bearing a flag of truce. His death provokes a furious charge by an advance guard of 500 insurgents led by John Kelly who has instructions to seize the Three Bullet Gate and wait for reinforcements before pushing into the town. To aid their attack, the rebels first drive a herd of cattle through the gate.

Another rebel column attacks the Priory Gate but the third pulls back from the Market Gate intimidated by the strong defences. Seizing the opportunity, the garrison sends a force of cavalry out the Market Gate to attack and scatter the remaining two hostile columns from the flanks. However the rebel rump has not yet deployed and upon spotting the British manoeuvre, rally the front ranks who stand and break the cavalry charge with massed pikes.

The encouraged rebel army then sweeps past the Crown outposts and seizes the Three Bullet Gate causing the garrison and populace to flee in panic. Without pausing for reinforcement, the rebels break into the town attacking simultaneously down the steeply sloping streets but meet with strong resistance from well-prepared second lines of defence of the well armed soldiers. Despite horrific casualties the rebels manage to seize two-thirds of the town by using the cover of smoke from burning buildings and force the near withdrawal of all Crown forces from the town. However, the rebels’ limited supplies of gunpowder and ammunition force them to rely on the pike and blunts their offensive. The military manages to hold on and, following the arrival of reinforcements, launches a counterattack before noon which finally drives the exhausted rebels from the town.

No effort to pursue the withdrawing rebels is made but when the town has been secured, a massacre of prisoners, trapped rebels and civilians of both sympathies alike begins which continues for days. Hundreds are burned alive when rebel casualty stations are torched by victorious troops. More rebels are believed to have been killed in the aftermath of the battle than during the actual fighting. Reports of such atrocities brought by escaping rebels are believed to have influenced the retaliatory murder of over 100 loyalists in the flames of Scullabogue Barn.

Casualties in the Battle of New Ross are estimated at 2,800 to 3,000 Rebels and 200 Garrison dead. Most of the dead Rebels are thrown in the River Barrow or buried in a mass grave outside the town walls a few days after the Battle.
The remaining rebel army reorganises and forms a camp at Sliabh Coillte some five miles to the east but never attempts to attack the town again. They later attack General John Moore‘s invading column but are defeated at the Battle of Foulksmills on June 20, 1798.

(Pictured: The 1845 illustration “The Battle of Ross” by George Cruikshank)


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The Battle of Wandiwash

fort-vandavasiGeneral Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally‘s French army, including his regiment of the Irish Brigade, is defeated on January 22, 1760 in the Battle of Wandiwash, a decisive battle in India during the Seven Years’ War, by Irish-born Sir Eyre Coote‘s British army. Wandiwash is the Anglicised pronunciation of Vandavasi.

When Lally is selected as commander-in-chief of the French expedition to India in 1756, he is one of the greatest living soldiers of France. Lally’s force is delayed and does not leave France until May 1757. Further delays occur en route and he finally lands at Pondicherry, India, on April 28, 1758. In less than two months, Lally clears the English forces from a huge area around Pondicherry and captures almost 300 pieces of artillery. Lally next lays siege to Madras, but his naval support abandons him and, in January 1759, the English are reinforced, forcing Lally to retire toward Pondicherry. Forces away from India are conspiring against Lally now, as the merchant fleets of the French have been rendered useless by the English navy.

Lally’s army, burdened by a lack of naval support and funds resulting in his troops having not been paid in six months, attempts to regain the fort at Wandiwash, now in Tamil Nadu. He is attacked by Sir Eyre Coote’s forces and decisively defeated. The French general Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and the French are then restricted to Pondicherry where, facing starvation, they surrender on January 16, 1761.

This is the Third Carnatic War fought between the French and the British. Having made substantial gains in Bengal and Hyderabad, the British, after collecting huge amount of revenue, are fully equipped to face the French in Wandiwash, whom they defeat.

According to the 19th century book Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century by Author Eduard Cust, the French Army consists of 300 European Cavalry, 2,250 European infantry, 1,300 soldiers, 3,000 Marathas and 16 pieces of artillery while the English deploy about 80 European Horses, 250 Native horses, 1,900 European Infantry, 2,100 soldiers and 26 pieces of artillery. The Battle of Wandiwash involves the capture of Chettupattu, Thiruvannamalai, Tindivanam and Perumukkal.

(Pictured: The Vandavasi fort in Vandavasi, Tamil Nadu, India, where the decisive Battle of Wandiwash takes place.)