In early December 1862, the transfer of Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner creates a vacancy for a division command in General Braxton Bragg‘s Army of Tennessee. There is no man in that Army who can breathe a word against the promotion of Patrick Ronayne Cleburne to that post, nor the promotion to major general that goes with it. Usually the months of December and January are quiet times, with soldiers in winter camps, but Union Major GeneralWilliam S. Rosecrans intends to drive Bragg’s army from Tennessee, winter or not.
On December 31, each army commander plans to attack his opponent’s right flank, but Bragg has a shorter distance to go and thus strikes first. Cleburne’s division is on the Confederate left. A massive assault by the corps of Major General William J. Hardee, followed by that of Leonidas Polk, overruns the wing commanded by Major General Alexander M. McCook and drives the corps from the field. Union General Thomas Crittenden, observing from a distance, says it is the first time the Army of the Cumberland has ever seen such panic.
A stout defense by the division of Brigadier GeneralPhilip Sheridan in the right center of the line prevents a total collapse, and the Union assumes a tight defensive position backing up to the Nashville Turnpike. Repeated Confederate attacks are repulsed from this concentrated line, most notably in the cedar “Round Forest” salient against the brigade of ColonelWilliam B. Hazen. Bragg attempts to continue the assault with the division of Major General John C. Breckinridge, but the troops are slow in arriving and their multiple piecemeal attacks fail.
Later, Confederate Corps commander William Hardee expresses his belief that had a fresh division followed up Cleburne’s, Rosecrans entire army would have been routed. Night falls, however, and the two armies bring in the New Year sleeping on their arms. Rosecran’s army is badly whipped, but it stays put on January 1st.
Bragg is cautious and only probes to discover if the Union army is still there. The Union army has fortified their position to the west of the river, in front of Cleburne. Bragg decides to attack them east of the river. Fighting resumes on January 2, 1863, when Bragg orders Breckinridge to assault a lightly defended Union position on a hill to the east of the Stones River. Chasing the retreating Union forces, this attack is successful at first, but they are led into a deadly trap. Faced with overwhelming artillery, the Confederates are repulsed with heavy losses. Bragg chooses to withdraw his army on January 3 to Tullahoma, Tennessee. Though his army has abandoned the field, Cleburne’s performance in his first battle as a major general has been outstanding. His eventual rise to corps command seems certain, but factors away from the battlefield prevent that.
The battle ends in a victory for the Union army following the Confederate army’s withdrawal on January 3, largely due to a series of tactical miscalculations by Confederate General Braxton Bragg, but the victory is costly for the Union army. Nevertheless, it is an important victory for the Union because it provides a much-needed boost in morale after the Union’s recent defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg and also reinforces PresidentAbraham Lincoln‘s foundation for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which ultimately discourages European powers from intervening on the Confederacy’s behalf.
On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.
Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.
Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.
With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.
While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederateprivateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he does not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.
In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded and continues to serve.
Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.
New York City MayorMichael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.
Mitchel is born to James Mitchel, a New York City fire marshal, and Mary Purroy who works as a schoolteacher until her marriage. His father is Irish, and Presbyterian in faith, the son of the famous Irish nationalistJohn Mitchel, and a veteran of the Confederate States Army. Two of his uncles were killed fighting for the Confederacy. His maternal grandfather, Venezuelan-born Juan Bautista Purroy, was that country’s consul in New York, which makes Mitchel the first Mayor of New York City of Latino descent. His great-grandfather, José Joaquin de Purroy, was a lawyer from Spain who settled in Venezuela. He graduates from a Catholic secondary school at Fordham Preparatory School in the late 1890s. He obtains his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in 1899 and graduates from New York Law School in 1902 with honors. He then pursues a career as a private attorney.
In December 1906, Mitchel’s career takes flight when he is hired by family friend and New York City corporation counsel William B. Ellison to investigate the office of John F. Ahearn, borough president of Manhattan, for incompetence, waste and inefficiency. As a result, Ahearn is dismissed as borough president of Manhattan. He begins his career as assistant corporation counsel and then becomes a member of the Commissioners of Accounts, from which he investigates city departments. He gains results and recognition for his thorough and professional investigations into various city departments and high-ranking officials. Along with the help of Henry Bruère and other staff members of the Bureau of Municipal Research, he turns the insignificant Commissioners of Accounts into an administration of importance.
The young Mitchel’s reputation as a reformer garners him the support of the anti-Tammany forces. In 1909, he is elected president of the New York City Board of Aldermen, an organization similar to the current New York City Council. As president of the Board of Aldermen, he is able to enact fiscal reforms. He cuts waste and improves accounting practices. Also, he unsuccessfully fights for a municipal-owned transit system and the city sees him vote against allowing the Interborough Rapid Transit and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit companies permission to extend their existing subway and elevated lines. For a six-week period in 1910 after current Mayor William J. Gaynor is injured by a bullet wound, he serves as acting mayor. His biggest accomplishment during his short tenure is the act of neutrality during a garment industry strike.
As the mayoral election approaches in 1913, the Citizens Municipal Committee of 107 sets out to find a candidate that will give New York “a non-partisan, efficient and progressive government.” They are assisted in this endeavor by the Fusion Executive Committee, led by Joseph M. Price of the City Club of New York. After nine ballots, Mitchel is nominated as a candidate for mayor. During his campaign, he focuses on making City Hall a place of decency and honesty. He also focuses on business as he promises New Yorkers that he will modernize the administrative and financial machinery and the processes of city government.
At the age of 34, Mitchel is elected mayor on the Republican Party slate as he wins an overwhelming victory, defeating Democratic candidate Edward E. McCall by 121,000 votes, thus becoming the second youngest mayor of New York City. He is often referred to as “The Boy Mayor of New York.”
Mitchel’s administration introduces widespread reforms, particularly in the Police Department, which has long been highly corrupt and which is cleaned up by Mitchel’s Police CommissionerArthur H. Woods. Woods is able to break up gangs and in his first year in office and he arrests more than 200 criminals. Woods also launches an attack on robbery, prostitution, pickpocketing and gambling. Woods ultimately transforms the police department into a crime-fighting machine. Mitchel aims to get rid of corruption wherever he sees it. His administration sets out to restructure and modernize New York City and its government. He is able to expand the city’s regulatory activities, runs the police department more honestly and efficiently and, much like in 1910, he maintains impartiality during garment and transportation workers strikes in 1916.
Mitchel’s early popularity is soon diminished due to his fiscal policies and vision of education. He is heavily criticized for combining vocational and academic courses. He begins to trim the size of the Board of Education and attempts to control teachers’ salaries.
Mitchel advocates universal military training to prepare for war. In a speech at Princeton University on March 1, 1917, he describes universal military training as “the [only] truly democratic solution to the problem of preparedness on land.” His universal military training alienates New Yorkers and is not popular. Many feel he focuses too much on military patriotism and is indifferent to politics. This soon leads to a loss of support for his re-election bid in 1917.
Mitchel runs again for mayor in the highly charged wartime election of 1917. His re-election bid takes a hit as many New Yorkers feel he is socializing with the social elite, focuses too much on the economy and efficiency and his concern on military preparedness. He narrowly loses the Republican primary to William M. Bennett after a contentious recount but then runs for re-election as a pro-war Fusion candidate.
Mitchel’s main campaign theme is patriotism, with a media campaign that denounces Germans, Irish, and Jews as unpatriotic sympathizers with the enemy cause. He runs against Republican Bennett, antiwar SocialistMorris Hillquit, and the Tammany Hall Democrat John F. Hylan. Hylan ridicules and denounces Mitchel’s upper-class reform as an affront to democracy and to the voters. He wins by a landslide without taking a clear position on the war. Mitchel barely beats Hillquit for second place.
After failing to get re-elected, Mitchel joins the Air Service as a flying cadet, completing training in San Diego and obtaining the rank of major. On the morning of July 6, 1918, when returning from a short military training flight to Gerstner Field, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, his plane suddenly goes into a nose dive, causing him to fall from his plane due to an unfastened seatbelt. He plummets 500 feet to his death, his body landing in a marsh about a half mile south of the field.
Porter’s reinforced V Corps holds fast for the afternoon as the Confederates attack in a disjointed manner, first with the division of Major GeneralA. P. Hill, then Major General Richard S. Ewell, suffering heavy casualties. Put into an exposed, forward position near the bridge over Powhite Creek, the 9th Massachusetts sustains heavy casualties while delaying the advance of A.P. Hill’s division, allowing other Federal forces to improve their defenses. Among the Confederates attacking the 9th’s position are the Irishmen of Company K, 1st South Carolina Rifle Regiment.
After pulling back to the main Federal line, the 9th Massachusetts regiment is hotly engaged again later in the day. Numerous attacks by Hill’s Confederates are repulsed through the day, and the 9th also helps cover the retreat of their brigade. The 9th Massachusetts is one of the last regiments of the V Corps remaining on the field as General Thomas Francis Meagher and his Irish Brigade rush into line to relieve the beleaguered remnant of the brave Massachusetts regiment. The arrival of Major General Stonewall Jackson‘s command is delayed, preventing the full concentration of Confederate force before Porter receives some reinforcements from the VI Corps.
Seeing the green flags of the Irish Brigade coming to the aid of the 9th Massachusetts, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Guiney, who had been watching his regiment shrink in number all day, shakes the hand of Meagher and exclaims, “Thank God, we are saved.”
At dusk, the Confederates finally mount a coordinated assault that breaks Porter’s line and drives his men back toward the Chickahominy River. The Federals retreat across the river during the night. The Confederates are too disorganized to pursue the main Union force. Gaines’ Mill saves Richmond for the Confederacy in 1862. The tactical defeat there convinces Army of the Potomac commander Major General George B. McClellan to abandon his advance on Richmond and begin a retreat to the James River. The 9th Massachusetts’ loses for the day are 82 killed and 167 wounded.
On June 1, 1866, a group of Fenian soldiers cross the border from the United States into Canadian territory. The events of the so-called Fenian invasion of Canada leave the organisation utterly discredited and cause much dismay among Irish American communities.
The roots of the invasion go back to 1865 when the Fenians in the United States break into two factions, one headed by William Roberts and the other by John O’Mahony, a founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. It is the Roberts wing which proposes a Fenian invasion of Canada. A number of facts are put forward by Roberts and others in support of this plan. In 1865 there are tens of thousands of battle-hardened Irish veterans of the American Civil War, as well as many officers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It is initially proposed to utilise these soldiers for an incursion into Canada that would be timed to coincide with a revolution in Ireland, thus causing Great Britain to be engaged in two widely separated theatres of war.
When it becomes apparent that the hoped-for rising in Ireland is not going to take place, the goal of the invasion is changed. The Fenians now hope that they can engineer a border incident that will entangle British forces in a war with the United States.
At the time the U.S. Government has a fractious relationship with their British counterparts, a remnant of the British Empire‘s partiality towards the Confederacy during the American Civil War. During the war the British Government comes close to granting diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy and British shipyards provide raiding vessels such as the notorious USS Alabama to the South. While this ill-feeling is unlikely to lead to full-scale conflict, the U.S. Government is in no mood to provide any aid to the British in Canada. PresidentAndrew Johnson is aware of the Fenian’s plans but does little to hinder them.
The two competing Fenian factions launch separate operations. In April 1866, the O’Mahony wing attempts to seize Campobello Island near New Brunswick but the Fenian attackers are easily dispersed by U.S. naval forces. The Roberts wing launches its attack on Canada under the command of a civil war veteran, General John Charles O’Neill, on June 1, 1866.
General O’Neill leads a force of over one thousand men into Canadian territory near Fort Erie, Ontario. His invading army has some initial success, winning two engagements including the so-called Battle of Ridgeway with around ten fatalities (with a similar number on the Canadian side). O’Neill’s troops keep their discipline and local civilians are respected, as are Canadian prisoners of war. One soldier, Lance Corporal William Ellis, later writes, “the Fenians treatment of myself and the other prisoners was kind and considerate in the extreme.”
Yet, O’Neill is aware that far larger Canadian forces are approaching and on June 3 feels it prudent to take his army back to American territory, while they await reinforcements. However, the U.S. government is now fearful that events are spiralling out of control. Once back across the border, O’Neill’s army is met by American troops who intervene to prevent the Fenians from making any further attacks. Over the following days the Fenian army is broken up by American forces. O’Neill is arrested by U.S. Marshals and temporarily incarcerated. A second, smaller, incursion into Canada follows on June 6 but this, too, makes little headway. This second Fenian army is also broken up by U.S. forces when back on American soil. By June 8 the Fenian invasion of Canada is over.
The whole invasion demonstrates the futility of the Fenian strategy. It proves that the Canadians would fight to preserve their territory and that they could mobilise thousands of their population to do so. There is little hope that the Fenians could muster the required number of troops necessary to seize and then to hold Canadian territory. Most importantly, there could be no doubt now that the U.S. Government would not, despite its tempestuous relationship with the British Empire, offer any support to a Fenian invasion. Nor would the U.S. Government allow itself to be embroiled in a border war with British or Canadian forces. Nevertheless, these lessons are ignored by some Fenians for whom the idea of attacking Canada is a worthwhile objective over the following few years.
In 1870 another convention takes place amid more internal wrangling within the Brotherhood. There, a decision is made to launch a new attack on Canada. Once again John O’Neill commands the Fenians, among whose army is John Boyle O’Reilly, a young journalist. O’Reilly makes detailed reports on the invasion, an event that proves disastrous for Fenianism in the United States.
Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Col. Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.
Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. On April 7, 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a Confederatesniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebrae and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, the same day Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army surrender at Appomattox Court House.
Mulligan is born on June 30, 1830 in Utica, New York. His parents had immigrated from Ireland and his father died when he was a child. His mother remarries a Michael Lantry of Chicago, Illinois, and moves there with her son, who later attends the St. Mary’s on the Lake College of North Chicago. From 1852–54 he reads law in the offices of Isaac N. Arnold, U.S. Representative from the city. He is admitted to the bar in 1856, and commissioned a second lieutenant in the “Chicago Shield Guards.”
At the onset of the American Civil War, Mulligan raises the 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiment in 1861, which is locally known as the “Irish Brigade” (not to be confused with a New York unit by the same name). This unit includes the Chicago Shield Guards. In September 1861, he leads his troops toward Lexington, Missouri, as word had been received that this vital river town will be attacked by the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard under Major GeneralSterling Price.
The First Battle of Lexington, often referred to as the Battle of the Hemp Bales, commences on September 13, 1861, when 12,500 soldiers of the Missouri State Guard begin a siege of Mulligan’s diminutive command, entrenched around the town’s old Masonic College. On September 18, Price’s army mounts an all-out assault on Mulligan’s works, which fails. Cannon fire continues through September 19. On the 20th, units of Price’s army use hemp bales soaked in the Missouri River as a moving breastworks to work their way up the river bluffs toward Mulligan’s headquarters. By 2:00 PM, Mulligan has surrendered. Combined casualties are 64 dead, and 192 wounded. Price is reportedly so impressed by Mulligan’s demeanor and conduct during and after the battle that he offers him his own horse and buggy, and orders him safely escorted to Union lines.
Mulligan is commander of Camp Douglas, a prisoner of war camp in Chicago, from February 25, 1862 to June 14, 1862. The camp had been constructed as a short term training camp for Union soldiers but is converted to a prisoner of war camp for captured Confederate soldiers after the fall of Fort Donelson.
Mulligan and his regiment are assigned to the Railroad Division of the Middle Department between December 17, 1862 and March 27, 1863. Then they are assigned to 5th Brigade, 1st Division, VIII Corps in the Middle Department between March 27, 1863 and June 26, 1863.
Between August and December 1863, Mulligan oversees the construction of Fort Mulligan, an earthworks fortification located in Grant County, West Virginia. This fort remains one of the best-preserved Civil War fortifications in West Virginia, and has become a local tourist attraction.
On July 3, 1864, only three weeks before his death, Mulligan distinguishes himself in the Battle of Leetown, fought in and around Leetown, Virginia. Federal troops are retreating in the face of Major General Jubal Early‘s relentless Confederate advance down the Shenandoah Valley during the Second Valley Campaign. Hoping to buy time to concentrate Union forces and supplies, Major General Franz Sigel orders him to hold Leetown for as long as possible and then conduct a fighting retreat as slowly as possible to cover the other withdrawing Union units. He manages to hold Leetown for the entire day before being compelled to retreat, albeit very slowly. He continues to battle Early’s troops all the way from Leetown to Martinsburg, West Virginia, buying valuable time for Union commanders to concentrate their forces in the Valley.
On July 24, 1864, Mulligan leads his troops into the Second Battle of Kernstown, near Winchester, Virginia. Late in the afternoon, Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate force attacks Mulligan’s 1,800 soldiers from ground beyond Opequon Church. Mulligan briefly holds off Gordon’s units, but Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge leads a devastating flank attack against the Irishmen from the east side of the Valley Pike. Sharpshooters then attack his right flank from the west. Now encompassed on three sides, the Union battle line falls apart.
With Confederates closing from all around, Mulligan orders his troops to withdraw. As he stands up in his saddle to spur his men on, Confederate sharpshooters concealed in a nearby stream bed manage to hit the Union commander. His soldiers endeavor to carry him to safety, but the unyielding Confederate fire make this an impossible task. He is well aware of his situation, and the danger his men are in, and so he famously orders, “Lay me down and save the flag.” His men reluctantly comply. Confederate soldiers capture him, and carry the mortally wounded colonel into a nearby home, where he dies two days later on July 26, 1864. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois.
Early is ordered by Lee to watch the remaining Union force near Fredericksburg. If he is attacked and defeated, he is to retreat southward to protect the Confederate supply lines. If the Union force moves to reinforce Hooker, then Early is to leave a covering force and rejoin Lee with the remainder of his troops. On May 2, misunderstanding his orders, Early leaves one brigade at Fredericksburg and starts the rest of his force towards Chancellorsville. Lee corrects the misunderstanding and Early then returns to his positions that night before Major GeneralJohn Sedgwick of the Union Army discovers the Confederate retreat.
Sedgwick is left near Fredericksburg with the VI Corps, the I Corps, and the II Corps division of Brigadier GeneralJohn Gibbon. Hooker’s plan calls for Sedgwick to demonstrate near the city in order to deceive Lee about the Union plan. The VI and II Corps seize control of several crossings on April 29, laying down pontoon bridges in the early morning hours, and the divisions of William T. H. Brooks and James S. Wadsworth cross the river. The I Corps is ordered to reinforce the main army at Chancellorsville during the night of May 1. During the evening of May 2, Sedgwick receives orders to attack Early with his remaining forces.
Sedgwick moves his forces into Fredericksburg during dawn on May 3, uniting with Gibbon’s division which had crossed the river just before dawn. Sedgwick originally plans to attack the ends of Marye’s Heights but a canal and a stream block the Union forces. He then decides to launch an attack on the Confederate center on the heights, which is manned by Barksdale’s brigade, with John Newton’s division. This attack is defeated. Colonel Thomas M. Griffin of the 18th Mississippi Infantry grants the Union forces a truce in order to gather in their wounded. During this truce, the Union commanders notice that the flank of Barksdale’s left regiment is unprotected.
Sedgwick launches another attack against this flank and Barksdale’s front using elements from all three VI Corps divisions, which pushes the Confederate forces off the ridge, capturing some artillery. The first men to mount the stone wall are from the 5th Wisconsin and the 6th Maine Infantry regiments. Barksdale retreats to Lee’s Hill, where he attempts to make another stand but is again forced to retreat southward.
Confederate casualties total 700 men and four cannons. Early withdraws with his division two miles to the south, while Wilcox withdraws westward, slowing Sedgwick’s advance. When he learns of the Confederate defeat, Lee starts moving two divisions east to stop Sedgwick. Following the campaign, Early becomes embroiled in an argument with Barksdale over what Barksdale considered a slight to his brigade in a newspaper letter that Early had written. The exchange continues until Lee orders the two generals to cease.
Sedgwick loses 1,100 men during the engagement. At first he starts to pursue Early’s division but then follows the orders he received the previous day and starts west along the Plank Road towards Hooker’s army at Chancellorsville. Gibbon’s division is left in Fredericksburg to guard the city.
(Pictured: Three men in a tree on Stafford Heights watching distant fighting on Marye’s Heights during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, 1863. Smoke from the battle is possibly visible in the distance which would make it one of the earliest combat photographs of a land battle. The destroyed railroad bridge over the Rappahannock River is in the middle ground of the photo. Source: National Park Service via the Western Reserve Historical Society)
In 1840 the family relocates to Ralls County, Missouri, and then, in 1846, to St. Louis, where the father opens a general store. Ryan is educated at St. Joseph’s Academy, run by the De La Salle Brothers. Showing a strong inclination to piety, he is encouraged by his mother and teachers to consider becoming a priest. He decides to test a calling to the priesthood and on September 16, 1851, at the age of 13, enters the College of St. Mary’s of the Barrens, near Perryville, Missouri, a minor seminary for young candidates for the priesthood. By the time of his graduation in 1855, he has decided to pursue Holy Orders.
As a Southerner, Ryan feels out of place at the seminary, and soon begins to express his opposition to the abolitionist movement then gaining popularity in the Northeastern United States. He then joins in the sentiment expressed by the Catholic bishops and editors of the nation in that period, who feel threatened by the anti-Catholic opinions expressed by the leadership of the Abolitionists. His writings in that period begin to express suspicion of Northern goals. Possibly for that reason, he is sent back to St. Mary of the Barrens.
During the winter of 1860, Ryan gives a lecture series through which he starts to gain notice as a speaker. His abilities as a preacher gain wide approval, and his superiors decide to have him ordained a priest earlier than is the normal age under church law. On September 12, 1860, he is ordained a priest at his home parish in St. Louis, with the ordination being performed by the Bishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.
In the Fall of 1861, soon after the start of the American Civil War, Ryan is transferred back to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in New York. After a couple of bouts of illness, he declares himself fit to teach again in April 1862, but his superiors instead transfer him to parish duties in LaSalle, Illinois. After arriving there, he realizes that he will not be able to express his strong views in support of the Confederacy. Frustrated, and feeling ignored by his immediate superior, he requests his release from his oath of obedience. Upon his release he returns home, where he and his brother David intend to enlist in the Confederate States Army.
Ryan makes sporadic early appearances as a freelance chaplain among Confederate troops from Louisiana and begins making appearances in Tennessee in 1862. He begins full-time pastoral duties in Tennessee in late 1863 or early 1864. Though he never formally joins the Confederate Army, he clearly is serving as a freelance chaplain by the last two years of the conflict, with possible appearances at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, and well-authenticated service at the Battle of Franklin and the subsequent Battle of Nashville. Some of his most moving poems —”In Memoriam” and “In Memory of My Brother”— come in response to his brother’s death, who died while serving in uniform for the Confederacy in April 1863, likely from injuries suffered during fighting near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.
In 1879, Ryan’s work is gathered into a collected volume of verse, first titled Father Ryan’s Poems and subsequently republished in 1880 as Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. His collection sells remarkably well for the next half-century. His work also finds a popular following in his family’s ancestral home of Ireland. An article about his work appears in Irish Monthly during his life, and a decade after his death, yet another collection of his poetry is published in Dublin by The Talbot Press under the title Selected Poems of Father Abram Ryan.
In 1880 Ryan’s old restlessness returns, and he heads north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He dies April 22, 1886, at a Franciscanfriary in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body is returned to St. Mary’s in Mobile, Alabama for burial. He is interred in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window is placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launches a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it includes a stanza from “The Conquered Banner” below an inscription that reads: “Poet, Patriot, and Priest.”
Finegan’s successes are perhaps attributable to his first marriage on July 28, 1842, to the widow Rebecca Smith Travers. Her sister, Mary Martha Smith, is the wife of Florida’s territorial governor, Robert Raymond Reid, an appointee of President Martin Van Buren. In 1852, he is a member of the Committee of Vigilance and Safety of Jacksonville, Florida.
By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Finegan had built his family a forty-room mansion in Fernandina on the site of the modern Atlantic Elementary School. At Florida’s secession convention, he represents Nassau County alongside James G. Cooper.
In April 1862, Finegan assumes command of the District of Middle and Eastern Florida from Brigadier General James H. Trapier. Soon thereafter, he suffers some embarrassment surrounding the wreck of the blockade runnerKate at Mosquito Inlet (the modern Ponce de Leon Inlet). Her cargo of rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, blankets, and shoes is plundered by civilians. Attempts to recover these items takes months before he issues a public appeal. Eventually, most of the rifles are found, but the other supplies are never recovered. Also in 1862, recognizing the importance of Florida beef to the Confederate cause, he gives cattle baron Jacob Summerlin permission to select thirty men from the state troops under his command to assist in rounding up herds to drive north.
At this time, the principal Confederate military post in east Florida is dubbed “Camp Finegan” to honor the state’s highest-ranking officer. It is about seven miles west of Jacksonville, south of the rail line near modern Marietta.
In 1863, Finegan complains of the large quantity of rum making its way from the West Indies into Florida. Smugglers are buying it in Cuba for a mere seventeen cents per gallon, only to sell it in the blockaded state for twenty-five dollars per gallon. He urges Governor John Milton to confiscate the “vile article” and destroy it before it can impact army and civilian morals.
In February 1864, General P. G. T. Beauregard begins rushing reinforcements to Finegan after Confederate officials become aware of a build-up of Union Army troops in the occupied city of Jacksonville. As Florida is a vital supply route and source of beef to the other southern states, they cannot allow it to fall completely into Union hands.
On February 20, 1864, Finegan stops a Union Army advance from Jacksonville under General Truman Seymour that is intent upon capturing the state capitol at Tallahassee. Their two armies clash at the Battle of Olustee, where Finegan’s men defeat the Union Army and force them to flee back beyond the St. Johns River. Critics have faulted Finegan for failing to exploit his victory by pursuing his retreating enemy, contenting himself by salvaging their arms and ammunition from the battlefield. His victory, however, is one rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the dying Confederacy.
Some Finegan detractors believe he did little more to contribute to the Confederate victory at Olustee than to shuttle troops forward to General Alfred H. Colquitt of Georgia, whom they credit for thwarting the Union Army advance. They point out that Finegan was quickly relieved of his command over the state troops, replaced by Major GeneralJames Patton Anderson. But this change in command is necessary as Finegan is ordered to lead the “Florida Brigade” in the Army of Northern Virginia, where he serves effectively until near the end of the war.
Finegan returns to Fernandina after the war to discover his mansion has been seized by the Freedmen’s Bureau for use as an orphanage and school for black children. It takes some legal wrangling, but he is eventually able to recover this property. He has to sell most of his lands along Lake Monroe to Henry Shelton Sanford for $18,200 to pay his attorneys and other creditors. He does retain a home site at Silver Lake. Adding to his sorrows is the untimely death of his son Rutledge on April 4, 1871, precipitating a move to Savannah, Georgia. There, he feels at home with the large Irish population and works as a cotton broker.
It is while living in Savannah that Finegan marries his second wife, the widow Lucy C. Alexander, a Tennessee belle. They eventually settle on a large orange grove in Orange County, Florida. Finegan dies on October 29, 1885, at Rutledge, Florida. According to the Florida Union, his death is the result of “severe cold, inducing chills, to which he succumbed after brief illness.” The paper describes him as “hearty, unaffected, jovial, clear-headed, and keen-witted.” He is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville.