seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Ballyellis

The Battle of Ballyellis, a clash during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, takes place on June 30, 1798. The battle is between a surviving column of the dispersed Wexford rebel army and pursuing British forces. It is the last Irish victory in the most violent Irish rebellion in modern history with at least 10,000 killed in a campaign that sees appalling atrocities inflicted by English and Irish.

The British victory at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21 had denied the rebels static bases of operation but had not finished the rebellion and at least three major columns of rebels are operating throughout the southeast, moving outwards from County Wexford in an effort to spread and revive the rebellion.

One such column, numbering about 1,000 but accompanied by a number of women and juveniles, is mobile in north County Wexford, continually altering course to elude combined movements of pursuing British forces. The column is led by Joseph Holt, and under his command Denis Taaffe. It heads in the direction of Carnew, County Wicklow, toward the security offered by its mountain ranges when one of its foraging parties is intercepted and destroyed by a cavalry patrol. It quickly becomes evident to the British authorities that this party is a detachment from the main body of rebels. A mounted force of 200 troops consisting of Ancient Britons, dragoons, and three yeomanry corps, assemble near the neighbourhood of Monaseed to begin a pursuit of the rebels.

However, the approaching British are spotted and a force of rebels then moves ahead of the main force to prepare an ambush at the townland of Ballyellis. The spot chosen is behind a curve in the road flanked by high ditches and estate walls. Wagons are placed on the road and access points cut into the ditches. The main force arrives and deploys itself behind the wagons, on the wall and ditches with a small force left to stand on the road ahead of the barricades standing to face and lure in the approaching soldiers.

Upon spotting the small force standing on the road, the pursuing British quicken their pace and charge forward, assuming that they are facing only the rearguard of the fleeing column. Upon reaching the turn, they are met by a barrage of gunfire and are hemmed in by the rebels on three sides. As more mounted troops arrive they press their comrades further into the trap making effective manoeuvre impossible and many are easily picked off by the long pikes of the rebels.

The rear-ranks quickly flee with a few more soldiers escaping by jumping their mounts over the ditch. The rebels organise a relentless pursuit of the soldiers who are tracked and killed through the adjoining fields. At the end of the action about 120 troops, including a French émigré, and two officers are killed with no rebel casualties.

The news of this rebel victory comes as a shock to the authorities in Dublin Castle who had assumed that the offensive capabilities of the rebels had been finished at the Battle of Vinegar Hill. Reports of the defeat are downplayed and the scale of losses withheld from the general public, but the military now recognises Wicklow as the main theatre of rebel operations and begins to transfer troops there in anticipation of a new anti-insurgency campaign.


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The Battle of Benburb

The Battle of Benburb takes place on June 5, 1646 during the Irish Confederate Wars, the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is fought between the Irish Confederation under Owen Roe O’Neill, and a Scottish Covenanter and Anglo-Irish army under Robert Monro. The battle ends in a decisive victory for the Irish Confederates and ends Scottish hopes of conquering Ireland and imposing their own religious settlement there.

The Scots Covenanters land an army in Ulster in 1642 to protect the Scottish settlers there from the massacres that follow the Irish Rebellion of 1641. They land at Carrickfergus and link up with Sir Robert Stewart and the Laggan Army of Protestant settlers from County Donegal in northwest Ulster. The Covenanters clear northeastern Ulster of Irish rebels by 1643 but are unable to advance south of mid-Ulster, which is held by Owen Roe O’Neill, the general of the Irish Confederate Ulster army.

In 1646, Monro leads a force composed of Scottish Covenanter regiments and Ulster settlers armies into Confederate-held territory. According to some accounts, this is the first step in a drive to take the Confederates’ capital at Kilkenny. Other sources say it is only a major raid. The combined force is about 6,000 strong. Monro has ten regiments of infantry, of whom six are Scottish and four are English or Anglo-Irish, and 600 Ulster Protestant cavalry. Stewart and the Laggan Army are slated to join Monro’s force in the attack, however, on the day of the battle the Laggan Army is in Clogher, nearly 30 kilometres away. O’Neill, who is a very cautious general, had previously avoided fighting pitched battles. However, he has just been supplied by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, with muskets, ammunition and money with which to pay his soldiers’ wages. This allows him to put over 5,000 men into the field, an army slightly smaller than his enemy’s. The Covenanters have six cannon, whereas the Confederates have none.

Monro assumes that O’Neill will try to avoid his army and has his soldiers march 24 kilometres to intercept the Irish force at Benburb, in modern south County Tyrone. Gerard Hayes-McCoy writes, “many of them must have been close to exhaustion before the battle began.” Monro’s men draw up with their backs to the River Blackwater, facing O’Neill’s troops who are positioned on a rise.

The battle begins with Monro’s artillery firing on the Irish position, but without causing many casualties. Monro’s cavalry then charges the Irish infantry, but are unable to break the Confederates’ pike and musket formation. When this attack fails, O’Neill orders his infantry to advance, pushing the Monro’s forces back into a loop of the river by the push of pike. It is noted that the Irish pikes have longer shafts and narrower heads than those of their opponents, meaning that they outreach them and are “better to pierce.” At this point, the fatigue of Monro’s troops is apparent as they are gradually pushed back until their formation collapses in on itself. The Confederate infantry then breaks Monro’s disordered formation with a musket volley at point-blank range and falls in amongst them with swords and scians (Irish long knives). Monro and his cavalry flee the scene, as, shortly after, does his infantry. A great many of them are cut down or drowned in the ensuing pursuit. Monro’s losses are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 men, killed or wounded. The Irish casualties are estimated to be 300.

O’Neill’s victory means that the Covenanters are no longer a threat to the Confederates, but they remain encamped around Carrickfergus for the rest of the war. O’Neill does not follow up his victory but takes his army south to intervene in the politics of the Irish Confederation. In particular, he wants to make sure that the treaty the Supreme Council of the Confederates has signed with the English Royalists will not be ratified.

The battle is commemorated in the ballad “The Battle of Benburb.”


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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The Battle of Vinegar Hill

The Battle of Vinegar Hill, an engagement during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, takes place on June 21, 1798 when over 13,000 British soldiers launch an attack on Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, County Wexford, the largest camp and headquarters of the Wexford United Irishmen. It marks a turning point in the rebellion, as it is the last attempt by the United Irishmen to hold and defend ground against the British military. The battle is actually fought in two locations: on Vinegar Hill itself and in the streets of nearby Enniscorthy.

By June 18, the British have surrounded County Wexford with between 13,000 and 18,000 troops and are ready to pour into Wexford to crush the insurgency. The United Irishmen leadership issues a call to all its fighters to gather at Vinegar Hill to meet the army in one great, decisive battle. The number assembled is estimated at between 16,000 and 20,000, but the majority lack firearms and have to rely on pikes as their main weapon. The camp also includes many thousands of women and children who are staying there for protection against the rampaging military.

The British plan, as formulated by General Gerard Lake, envisages the complete annihilation of the United Irishmen, women and children by encircling the hill and seizing the only escape route to the west, the bridge over the River Slaney. Lake divides his force into four columns to accomplish this. Three columns, under Generals David Dundas, James Duff and Francis Needham are to assault Vinegar Hill, while the fourth column, under General Johnson, is to storm Enniscorthy and its bridge.

The battle begins shortly before dawn with an artillery bombardment of Irish positions on the hill. Advance units quickly move against the United Irishmen outposts under cover of the bombardment and move artillery closer as forward positions are secured. The tightening ring forces the United Irishmen into an ever-shrinking area and increases exposure to the constant bombardment, including new experimental delayed-fuse shells resulting in hundreds of dead and injured. At least two mass charges are launched by the United Irishmen which fail to break the lines of the military and the situation on Vinegar Hill soon becomes desperate for the United Irishmen.

Meanwhile, a detachment of light infantry under the command of General Johnson attacks the town of Enniscorthy but meets with fierce resistance. Buildings in the town have been fortified and the initial attack is driven back with the loss of munitions and men. A second attack commences with reinforcements including cavalry, which retake the lost cannon and ammunition while also incurring considerable casualties. The United Irishmen are slowly driven out of the town but manage to hold the Slaney bridge and prevent the British from crossing.

When British troops crest the eastern summit of Vinegar Hill, the rebels begin to slowly withdraw through a gap in the British lines later known as “Needham’s Gap”, so-named because the late arrival of General Needham’s troops prevented a total encirclement of the hill. Although the bulk of the United Irishmen army escape, many are left behind and killed in the routing phase of the battle from both cavalry and infantry attack, but also from the advanced field guns which are switched to grapeshot to maximize casualties.

In addition to conventional casualties, there are also instances of British troops raping the women accompanying the United Irishmen and in Enniscorthy, United Irishmen wounded are burned to death when soldiers set fire to a building used as a casualty station. These atrocities may have been perpetrated in revenge for the execution by the United Irishmen of numbers of mostly Protestant loyalist prisoners of war in the preceding weeks. The United Irishmen abandon much of the supplies they had taken from surrounding areas, and thirteen cannons are captured by the British, a number of which had been taken from the British forces previously.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the United Irishmen force streams uninterrupted towards the Three Rocks camp outside Wexford and, following the decision to abandon the town, split into two separate columns in a new campaign to spread the rebellion beyond Wexford. One immediately sets out to the west, the other northwards towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with General Joseph Holt‘s forces.

The defeat is therefore not the immediate crushing blow to the Wexford United Irishmen that it has falsely been depicted as, but it does alter the course of the fighting as continued resistance now takes the form of mobile warfare, raids, and large scale, guerilla-type operations.

Casualties for the United Irishmen have been variously reported, with estimates ranging from 400 to around 1,200. Kevin Whelan estimates a figure of between 500 and 1,000 including camp followers, while Archibald McLaren, a British soldier eyewitness, writes that the United Irishmen casualties total about 1,200 men. British casualties are around one hundred.


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The Second Battle of Arklow

The second Battle of Arklow takes place on June 9, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when a force of United Irishmen from Wexford, estimated at 10,000 strong, launch an assault on the British-held town of Arklow, County Wicklow, in an attempt to spread the rebellion into Wicklow and to threaten the capital of Dublin.

A British advance force of 400 is defeated at Tuberneering on June 4. This rebel victory punches a hole in the dragnet the military has attempted to throw around County Wexford and also yields them three artillery pieces. The town of Arklow has been evacuated in the ensuing panic but the rebels content themselves with taking the town of Gorey and staying within the Wexford border. On June 5 the rebels attempt to break out of County Wexford across the River Barrow and to spread the rebellion but are halted by a major British victory at the Battle of New Ross. When the rebels finally move against Arklow, the town has been reoccupied by a force of 1,700 men sent from Dublin under Francis Needham, 1st Earl of Kilmorey, who quickly fortifies the town with barricades and has artillery positioned on all the approaches to the town.

The rebel army that forms for attack on the afternoon of June 9 is a combined force of Wexford and Wicklow rebels led by Billy Byrne, Anthony Perry, Conor McEvoy, Edward Fitzgerald, and Fr. Michael Murphy. The British in Arklow consist of approximately 1,000 militia from counties Antrim and Cavan and 150 regular cavalry supported by 250 Yeomanry. They are joined by 315 Durham Fencibles (Princess of Wales’s Fencible Dragoons) arriving an hour before the rebels.

The area surrounding the town and the approaches is covered by scrub and the rebel strategy adopted is to advance under cover attacking the town simultaneously from several points. Before the action begins, the rebels under Esmonde Kyan open fire upon the town with some of the artillery captured at Tuberneering and have some success by scoring a direct hit on a British artillery position, destroying the cannon and killing the attendant crew. The main assault is quickly launched but at all entry points the Irish are thrown back by the musket fire of the well-trained and disciplined militia and volunteers, and canister shot from the 3 pounder battalion gun brought by the fencibles. An attempt by the British to turn the Irish failure into a rout is defeated when pikemen and sharpshooters drive a cavalry charge back across the River Avoca, but an attempt to force a way into the town through the outlying fishing port is bloodily repulsed.

As Irish casualties mount, the lack of ammunition and proper leadership begin to work against them, and after Fr. Murphy is killed leading a charge, their attacks start to fade. As nightfall comes, the rebels begin to withdraw under cover of darkness and collect their wounded. They are not pursued or molested by the garrison who are, unknown to the rebels, down to their last three or four rounds per man and are themselves at the brink of defeat.

While rebel casualties are estimated at about 1,000 no full casualty list seems to exist on the British side, but are probably in the region of 100 dead and wounded. The defeat at Arklow marks the third failure to extend the fight for Irish independence beyond the borders of County Wexford following the other bloody repulses at New Ross and Bunclody. The Irish strategy now changes to a policy of static defence against the encroaching British armies.


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Birth of Iris Kellett, Show Jumper & Equestrian

Iris Kellett, international show jumper and equestrian, is born in Dublin on January 8, 1926.

Kellett is the only child of Harry and Dora Kellet. She is raised at Mespil Road, Dublin, where her father runs a riding school on the site of a former British Army cavalry stables, which he had purchased in 1924. Harry Kellett works as veterinary surgeon in the British Army, and passes his skills and ethos on the proper care of horses on to his daughter.

Kellett attends St. Margaret’s School, Mespil Road, and comes home each day to teach and help out at the stables. The Mespil Road stables are of such importance to her that she refuses an offer to study veterinary science at Trinity College, Dublin in order to fully commit herself to the school.

Kellett’s first appearance in equestrian competition is at the age of nine, when she wins ‘Best Girl Rider’ at the 1935 Dublin Horse Show and from then on she becomes a regular fixture in competition. She and her great horse Rusty compete as members of the first Irish all civilian Nations Cup team in 1947, and win the Princess Elizabeth Cup for the European Ladies Championship, at White City in 1949 and 1951. She proves the equal of top male riders, and is a fitting ambassador for the growing involvement of women in competitive show jumping.

A fall from a horse in 1952, resulting in a shattered ankle complicated by a bout of tetanus, puts a halt to Kellett’s show jumping career. It is almost ten years before she is back on top form, competing again for the Irish team in the Nations Cup during the 1960s and winning the European Ladies Championship, on Morning Light, at the Dublin Horse Show in 1969.

In 1969 Kellett retires from international competition to devote herself to teaching, training and breeding horses. In 1972 she sells the riding school on Mespil Road and moves to Kill in County Kildare. Here she goes on to train some of the greatest names in Irish show-jumping including Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh and Jack Doyle.

Kellett dies on March 11, 2011, leaving behind countless friends and a legacy as a competitor, teacher, and breeder that is unparalleled.

(From: “Iris Kellett Show Jumping Legend & Exhibition, Irish Horse Gateway (www.irishhorsegateway.ie), June 17, 2013, courtesy of RDS Archives)


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Battle of Campo Santo

battle-of-campo-santoDuring the War of Austrian Succession, the Irish Brigade of Spain fights at the Battle of Campo Santo in Camposanto, Italy on February 8, 1743. The regiments of Ultonia, Irlanda, and Hibernia form the Irish Brigade fighting in Italy in a Spanish army, led by Gen. Jean Bonaventure Thierry du Mont, comte de Gages. The Spaniards and their Neapolitan allies are fought to a standstill by the Austrians and their Sardinian allies under Field Marshal Otto Ferdinand Graf von Abensperg und Traun on the Panaro.

In January 1743, General De Gages’ 13,000 strong Spanish army lay at Bologna, south of the Panaro. Count Traun’s Austrian and Piedmont-Sardinian army of 11,000 lay to the north of the river, blocking De Gages’ attempts to cross the formidable barrier. Traun prefers a maneuvering defense to risking his army in a pitched battle with his opponent, but concerns in Madrid are more political than strategic. Needing a victory, Philip V of Spain and his Queen Elisabeth Farnese demand that De Gages launch an offensive or tender his resignation. Accordingly, leaving Bologna on the night of February 3, De Gages slips across the Panaro and enters the Duchy of Modena, seeking a decisive encounter with Traun.

Fortunately for De Gages, Marshal Traun is ready to oblige him. Aware of the criticism leveled at him in Vienna where his enemies are trying to relieve him of his command, and also that Spain’s recent seizure of Savoy might well induce the King of Sardinia to negotiate with the Spanish Crown, the Marshal decides that a victory will quell the uproar and induce Austria’s allies to think twice about negotiating. Gathering up his army, Traun moves to block De Gages’ path and prevent him from advancing further into Modena. The two armies meet at the village of Camposanto.

On the morning of the battle, De Gages draws up his army on the outskirts of the village in the traditional fashion with his infantry in the center and the cavalry on the wings. Traun also draws up his army in the same manner, but being slightly outnumbered, he chooses to gamble with an unorthodox strategy. Instead of aligning himself directly opposite the Spaniards, he shifts his troops to the northwest, which means that the center of Traun’s infantry is directly opposite the gap between Gages’ infantry and the right wing of cavalry. Although this means that Traun would have a greater superiority of numbers on this wing and that he could also deliver a flank attack on the Spanish right, his own right flank would, however, be vulnerable to a Spanish flank attack. Marshall is relying on the troops of that wing to delay the Spanish long enough for the action on his other wing to be decisive.

Matters are helped when De Gages chooses 4:00 in the afternoon to launch the attack, which leaves only a few hours of daylight for a battle. The Spanish are initially successful on both wings, where their cavalry drives off the Austro-Piedmontese cavalry, wounding Count Aspremont in the process and leaving the Austrian infantry vulnerable. However instead of reforming to attack the infantry, the Spanish chase them off the field. Traun stabilises his left flank, and leads his infantry into the attack against the Spanish. Meanwhile, Count Schulenberg regroups the Austrian cavalry on the Austrian right, and launches a counterattack against the Spanish cavalry. On the other flank Aspremont’s replacement, General Leutrum, leads his wing forward as well, smashing the Spanish right wing. Due to darkness it is necessary for both armies to withdraw the field. The Spanish back across the Panaro towards Bologna. Due to the smoke and darkness, many units lose their way. The 1st Guadalaxara marches in the direction of the advancing austro-sardian infantry columns, and it has to surrender after a short defence inside the walls of a farm.

Casualties in the battle are 1,755 dead, 1,307 wounded and 824 prisoners for the Spanish, while the Austro-Piedmontese lose 397 dead and 1,153 wounded or prisoners. Traun himself has two horses shot from under him during the battle.

De Gages retreats to Bologna but on March 26 he is also forced to retreat to Rimini. Despite this, the battle is widely considered a victory in Madrid, and de Gages is awarded a victory title, Count of Campo Santo. Following the battle, France promises support and co-operation with the Spanish, but for the moment Traun has saved North Italy for Maria Theresa.

Once again hundreds of Irishmen die many miles from home for “every cause but their own.”


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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)