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


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Death of Civil War Photographer Mathew Benjamin Brady

Mathew Benjamin Brady, one of the earliest photographers in American history and best known for his scenes of the American Civil War, dies in New York City on January 15, 1896.

Brady leaves little record of his life before photography. Speaking to the press in the last years of his life, he states that he was born between 1822 and 1824 in Warren County, New York, near Lake George. He is the youngest of three children to Irish immigrant parents, Andrew and Samantha Julia Brady. In official documents before and during the war, however, he claims to have been born in Ireland.

At age 16, Brady moves to Saratoga, New York, where he meets portrait painter William Page and becomes Page’s student. In 1839, the two travel to Albany, New York, and then to New York City, where he continues to study painting with Page, and also with Page’s former teacher, Samuel F. B. Morse. Morse had met Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in France in 1839, and returned to the United States to enthusiastically push the new daguerreotype invention of capturing images. At first, Brady’s involvement was limited to manufacturing leather cases that hold daguerreotypes. But soon he becomes the center of the New York artistic colony that wishes to study photography. Morse opens a studio and offers classes. Brady is one of the first students.

In 1844, Brady opens his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York, and by 1845, he begins to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opens a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., where he meets Juliet Handy, whom he marries in 1850 and lives with on Staten Island. His early images are daguerreotypes, and he wins many awards for his work. In the 1850s ambrotype photography becomes popular, which gives way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in American Civil War photography.

In 1850, Brady produces The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which features noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, is not financially rewarding but invites increased attention to his work and artistry. In 1854, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularizes the carte de visite and these small pictures rapidly become a popular novelty, with thousands being created and sold in the United States and Europe.

At first, the effect of the American Civil War on Brady’s business is a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. He readily markets to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers’ images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune. However, he is soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. He first applies to an old friend, General Winfield Scott, for permission to have his photographers travel to the battle sites, and eventually, he makes his application to President Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln grants permission in 1861, with the proviso that Brady finance the project himself.

His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earns Brady his place in history. His first popular photographs of the conflict are at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he gets so close to the action that he barely avoids capture. While most of the time the battle has ceased before pictures are taken, he comes under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

Brady also employs Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom is given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the American Civil War. He generally stays in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visiting battlefields personally.

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady’s eyesight has begun to deteriorate in the 1850s. Many of the images in Brady’s collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. He is criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it is intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of his photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken.

In October 1862 Brady opens an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery, titled The Dead of Antietam. Many images in this presentation are graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This is the first time that many Americans see the realities of war in photographs, as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions.”

Brady, through his many paid assistants, takes thousands of photos of American Civil War scenes. Much of the popular understanding of the Civil War comes from these photos. There are thousands of photos in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress taken by him and his associates. The photographs include Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and soldiers in camps and battlefields. The images provide a pictorial cross reference of American Civil War history. He is not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in the day is still in the infancy of its technical development and requires that a subject be still for a clear photo to be produced.

Following the conflict, a war-weary public loses interest in seeing photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice decline drastically.

During the war, Brady spends over $100,000 (equivalent to $1,691,000 in 2020) to create over 10,000 plates. He expects the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ends. When the government refuses to do so he is forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. The United States Congress grants Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remains deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it has ended, and so private collectors are scarce.

Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, Brady dies penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. His funeral is financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry Regiment. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, which is located in Barney Circle, a neighborhood in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C.

Brady photographs 18 of the 19 American presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. The exception is the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who dies in office three years before Brady starts his photographic collection. He photographs Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. One of his Lincoln photos is used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90c Lincoln Postage issue of 1869.

(Pictured: “Mathew B. Brady,” oil on canvas by Charles Loring Elliott, 1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)


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Death of Brigadier General Robert Nugent of the U.S. Army

Brigadier General Robert Nugent, Irish-born American United States Army officer during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars, dies at the age of 76 in Brooklyn, New York on June 20, 1901.

Born in Kilkeel, County Down on June 27, 1824, Nugent serves with the 69th New York Infantry Regiment, from its days as a militia unit and into its incorporation into the Union Army at the start of the war, and is one of its senior officers at the First Battle of Bull Run.

When the unit is originally mustered out of service, the 90-day enlistment terms having expired, Nugent accepts a commission as a captain in the regular army. He is immediately assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment whose commanding officer, General William Tecumseh Sherman, personally requests. Taking a leave of absence to return to New York, he assists Thomas Francis Meagher in organizing the Irish Brigade. The newly reformed 69th Infantry Regiment is the first unit assigned to the Irish Brigade and, with Nugent as its colonel, he leads the “Fighting 69th” at the Battles of Seven Pines, Gaines’ Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale, and Malvern Hill.

Nugent is wounded, shot in the stomach, at the Battle of Fredericksburg and is eventually forced to resign his command. He is appointed acting assistant provost marshal for the southern district of New York, which includes New York City and Long Island, by the U.S. Department of War. An Irishman and Democrat, his appointment is thought to assure the Irish American population that conscription efforts would be carried out fairly. The Irish-American, a popular Irish language newspaper, writes that the selection is a “wise and deservedly popular one.” He does encounter resistance from city officials wanting him to remain uninvolved, however by mid-June he reports to his superior officer and provost marshal general Colonel James Fry that conscription efforts are “nearing completion without serious incident.”

Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Nugent attempts to keep the draft selections quiet and in isolated parts of the city. In Manhattan however, lotteries are placed in the heart of Irish tenement and shanty neighborhoods where the draft is most opposed.

In the ensuing New York City draft riots, Nugent takes command of troops and attempts to defend the city against the rioters. Despite issuing the cancellation of the draft, the riots continue for almost a week. His home on West 86th Street is looted and burned by the rioters during that time, his wife and children barely escaping from their home. Upon breaking into his house, furniture is destroyed and paintings of Nugent and Meagher are slashed, although Brigadier General Michael Corcoran‘s is left untouched.

On October 28, Nugent is relieved of his post and succeeded by General William Hayes. Returning to active duty, he assumes command of the Irish Brigade in November 1864, shortly after the death of Corcoran, and is present at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox campaign. As its last commanding officer, he and the Irish Brigade also march in the victory parade held in Washington, D.C. following Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Nugent is brevetted Brigadier General for distinguished leadership of the 69th Regiment on March 13, 1865. The veterans of the Irish Brigade are honorably discharged and mustered out three months later. Nugent, however, remains in the regular U.S. Army for the next twenty years, a formidable “Indian fighter” during the America Indian Wars with the 13th and 24th Infantry Regiments. In 1879, he retires at the rank of major and resides in New York where he is involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, the War Veterans’ Association of the 7th Regiment and an honorary member of The Old Guard.

Nugent becomes ill in his old age, complications arising from his wounds suffered at Fredericksburg, and remains bedridden for two months before his death at his McDonough Street home in Brooklyn on June 20, 1901. In accordance with his last wishes, he is buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery, located in the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn.


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The Second Battle of Fredericksburg

The 6th Louisiana Infantry, a largely Irish Confederate regiment, fights at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, also known as the Second Battle of Marye’s Heights, on May 3, 1863, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign of the American Civil War. With its ranks filled with Irishmen from New Orleans and roundabouts, the 6th fights in nearly every major battle of the Eastern Theater, from First Battle of Bull Run to the Battle of Appomattox Court House.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee leaves Major General Jubal Anderson Early to hold Fredericksburg on May 1, while he marches west with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia to deal with Union Army Major General Joseph Hooker‘s main thrust at Chancellorsville with four corps of the Army of the Potomac. Early has his own division, along with William Barksdale‘s brigade from McLaws’ division and cannons from the artillery reserve. Early is assisted by Brigadier General William Pendleton of the artillery reserve. Cadmus Wilcox‘s brigade arrives on May 3, increasing Early’s strength to 12,000 men and 45 cannons. Most of the Confederate force is deployed south of Fredericksburg.

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 General John 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 General John 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)


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Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

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 Confederate privateers. 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 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 Mayor Michael 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.


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Death of U.S. Union Army Colonel Patrick Kelly

colonel-patrick-kellyColonel Patrick Kelly of the Union Army‘s Irish Brigade (The Fighting Irish) dies on June 16, 1864 at the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War while leading the Irish Brigade forward against a Confederate position.

Kelly is born in Castlehacket, Tuam, County Galway and emigrates to the United States, landing in New York City. His wife Elizabeth is also from Tuam.

At the outset of the American Civil War, Kelly enlists in the Union Army and sees action as captain of Company E of the 69th New York Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run. He briefly is a captain in the 16th U.S. Infantry. On September 14, 1861, he is named lieutenant colonel of the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fights in the Irish Brigade’s major battles in 1862. He commands the regiment at the Battle of Antietam. While stationed at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia following the Maryland campaign, he is promoted to colonel on October 20, 1862. He leads the regiment in the ill-fated attacks in front of Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He is acting commander of the Irish Brigade at the end of 1862.

After the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, Kelly is promoted to command the Irish Brigade following the resignation of Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher. He leads the heavily depleted brigade of fewer than 600 men in an attack at the Wheatfield during the Battle of Gettysburg. The brigade loses 198 of 532 troops engaged, approximately 37%.

Kelly resumes his role as colonel of his regiment as more senior officers return to the brigade. However, with the death of Colonel Richard Byrnes at the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, he again commands the brigade. At the age of 42, he dies during the Siege of Petersburg on June 16, 1864 when he is shot through the head while leading the Irish Brigade forward against Confederate earthworks. His body is recovered and sent back to New York for his funeral. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York.


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Birth of Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish Nationalist

thomas-francis-meagherThomas Francis Meagher, Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848, is born on August 3, 1823 at Waterford, County Waterford, in what is now the Granville Hotel on the Quay.

Meagher is educated at Roman Catholic boarding schools. When he is eleven, his family sends him to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. It is at Clongowes that he develops his skill of oratory, becoming at age 15 the youngest medalist of the Debating Society. After six years, he leaves Ireland for the first time, to study in Lancashire, England, at Stonyhurst College, also a Jesuit institution. He returns to Ireland in 1843, with undecided plans for a career in the Austrian army, a tradition among a number of Irish families.

Meagher becomes a member of the Young Ireland Party in 1845 and in 1847 is one of the founders of the Irish Confederation, dedicated to Irish independence. In 1848 he is involved, along with William Smith O’Brien, in an abortive attempt to mount an insurrection against English rule. Arrested for high treason, he is condemned to death, but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania.

Meagher escapes in 1852 and makes his way to the United States. After a speaking tour of U.S. cities, he settles in New York City, studies law, and is admitted to the bar in 1855. He soon becomes a leader of the Irish in New York and, from 1856, edits the Irish News.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Meagher becomes a captain of New York volunteers and fights at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. He then organizes the Irish Brigade, and in February 1862 is elevated to the rank of brigadier general. After his brigade is decimated at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he resigns his commission, however in December he returns to command the military district of Etowah, with headquarters at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At the close of the war, Meagher is appointed secretary of Montana Territory where, in the absence of a territorial governor, he serves as acting governor.

In the summer of 1867, Meagher travels to Fort Benton, Montana, to receive a shipment of guns and ammunition sent by General William Tecumseh Sherman for use by the Montana Militia. On the way to Fort Benton, the Missouri River terminus for steamboat travel, he falls ill and stops for six days to recuperate. When he reaches Fort Benton, he is reportedly still ill.

Sometime in the early evening of July 1, 1867, Meagher falls overboard from the steamboat G. A. Thompson, into the Missouri River. His body is never recovered. Some believe his death to be suspicious and many theories circulate about his death. Early theories included a claim that he was murdered by a Confederate soldier from the war, or by Native Americans. In 1913 a man claims to have carried out the murder of Meagher for the price of $8,000, but then recants. In the same vein, American journalist and novelist Timothy Egan, who publishes a biography of Meagher in 2016, claims Meagher may have been murdered by Montana political enemies or powerful and still active vigilantes. On the frontier men are quick to kill rather than adjudicate. A similar theory shown on Death Valley Days (1960) has him survive the assassination attempt because his aide had been mistakenly murdered when he accepted one of his trademark cigars, and Meagher uses his apparent death as leverage over his political opponents.


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Birth of Brigadier General James Lawlor Kiernan

James Lawlor Kiernan, Irish-born Brigadier General in the American Civil War, is born in Mountbellew, County Galway, on October 26, 1837.

Kiernan’s father is a retired British navy surgeon. Kiernan attends Trinity College, Dublin, before emigrating to the United States around 1854. He studies medicine at New York University and practices law in New York until 1861. Upon the outbreak of American Civil War in 1861 he joins the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment as Assistant Surgeon and serves as such through the First Battle of Bull Run. When the 69th returns to Manhattan, he moves west and becomes the surgeon of the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Kiernan insists on joining the fighting ranks, and in that capacity is seemingly appointed a Major in the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. In May 1863 at Port Gibson, Mississippi, he is wounded in the left lung and left on the battlefield for dead. Recovered and imprisoned, he effects an escape back to Union forces and resigns his commission. On August 1, 1863 he is commissioned a Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers by President Abraham Lincoln, commanding a post at Miliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River. However, ill-health as a result of his battlefield wounds force him to resign on February 3, 1864.

In May 1865 Kiernan gains a U.S. consular post at Chinkiang, China. He manages to make the trip there but his health does not allow him to perform the duties. He returns to New York where he becomes an examining physician for the Bureau of Pensions, a position he holds until his death.

James Lawlor Kiernan dies on November 26, 1869. The official cause of death is “congestion of the lungs.” Perhaps he is killed by that Confederate ball that wounded him six years earlier. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.