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


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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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John Kennedy’s Address to Oireachtas

jfk-address-to-oireachtasUnited States President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin on June 28, 1963, on the third day of his Irish visit. It follows a visit earlier in the day to Cork where he is greeted like a rock star.

Kennedy makes a surprising mistake when speaking to a packed Dáil Éireann about one of the most momentous days for the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Somehow, Kennedy gets his dates and geography mixed up when he says, “The 13th day of September, 1862, will be a day long remembered in American history. At Fredericksburg, Maryland, thousands of men fought and died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War.” The date of the Battle of Fredericksburg where so many Irish are slaughtered is December 13 rather than September 13 as Kennedy states. Also, Fredericksburg is in Virginia and not Maryland.

Kennedy is accompanied on this European trip, which includes the famous Ich bin ein Berliner, speech by his counselor and speech writer Ted Sorensen, a master wordsmith and fastidious researcher who seems to have erred in the writing of the speech. It is unlikely that Kennedy mispronounced “December” as the transcript of the speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum includes the incorrect dates. No one in Dáil Éireann appears to notice Kennedy’s error.

Aside from this mistake, the speech is uplifting and motivating to an Irish nation that is still young. Kennedy says:

“This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were – and I say: ‘Why not?’” ”

The complete audio version of Kennedy’s speech can be heard on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.


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Battle at Marye’s Heights

battle-of-fredericksburgIrish fight Irish in one of the bloodiest days in Irish military history at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862 during the American Civil War. The Union Army’s Irish Brigade, the Fighting 69th, is decimated by the Confederate States Army during multiple efforts to take Marye’s Heights. In his official report Thomas Francis Meagher writes, “of the one thousand and two hundred I led into action, only two hundred and eighty appeared on parade next morning.”

The Battle of Fredericksburg, fought December 11-15, 1862, is one of the largest and deadliest of the war. It features the first major opposed river crossing in American military history. Union and Confederate troops fight in the streets of Fredericksburg, the war’s first urban combat. And with nearly 200,000 combatants, no other Civil War battle features a larger concentration of soldiers.

Major General Ambrose Burnside’s plan at Fredericksburg is to use the nearly 60,000 men in Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division to crush General Robert E. Lee’s southern flank on Prospect Hill while the rest of his army holds Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and the Confederate First Corps in position at Marye’s Heights.

The Union army’s main assault against Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson produces initial success and holds the promise of destroying the Confederate right, but lack of reinforcements and Jackson’s powerful counterattack stymies the effort. Both sides suffer heavy losses (totaling 9,000 in killed, wounded and missing) with no real change in the strategic situation.

In the meantime, Burnside’s “diversion” against veteran Confederate soldiers behind a stone wall produces a similar number of casualties but most of these are suffered by the Union troops. Wave after wave of Federal soldiers march forth to take the heights, but each is met with devastating rifle and artillery fire from the nearly impregnable Confederate positions.

As darkness falls on a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded, it is abundantly clear that a signal Confederate victory is at hand. The Army of the Potomac has suffered nearly 12,600 casualties, nearly two-thirds of them in front of Marye’s Heights. By comparison, Lee’s army has suffered some 5,300 losses. Lee, watching the great Confederate victory unfolding from his hilltop command post exclaims, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Roughly six weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln removes Burnside from command of the Army of the Potomac.