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


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Birth of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

patrick-ronayne-cleburnePatrick Ronayne Cleburne, called the “Stonewall of the West” and one of the finest generals produced by either side during the American Civil War is born on March 17, 1828 at Bride Park Cottage in Ovens, County Cork, just outside Cork City.

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, this native Irishman is nevertheless extremely loyal to his adopted country, saying, “if this [Confederacy] that is so dear to my heart is doomed to fail, I pray heaven may let me fall with it, while my face is toward the enemy and my arm battling for that which I know to be right.” Sadly, Cleburne ultimately receives his wish.

Cleburne begins his military career in an unlikely manner. When he fails the entrance exam at Trinity College, Dublin, he cannot face his family. He enlists in the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army. In 1849 he purchases his discharge and leaves for the United States, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas in June 1850 and earning his citizenship in 1855. He loves his new country, taking part in many community projects, and even being one of the few volunteers to care for the sick during a yellow fever outbreak.

In January 1861 Cleburne joins the local militia company, the Yell Rifles.  He leads the company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock in January 1861. When Arkansas left the Union, the Yell Rifles became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment. By fall of 1861 he has risen to command the 2nd Brigade, Hardee’s Division, in the Army of Central Kentucky. His first major battle is at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. At the Battle of Richmond (Kentucky) in August 1862, he is wounded in the mouth and loses several of his teeth. Still, he earns the thanks of the Confederate States Congress for his actions there. During the October 1862 Battle of Perryville he is wounded again – twice, yet stays in command during the battle. In December 1862 he is promoted to Major General.

At the December 1862 Battle of Stones River, Cleburne and his division earn the praise of General Braxton Bragg for their incredible skill and valor. Cleburne’s actions and character play a large role in his men’s determination during battle.

In 1863 Cleburne faces off against Union General George Henry Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga. His and General John C. Breckinridge’s assaults force General Thomas to call repeatedly for reinforcements. In November 1863 the Confederate army is forced to retreat after the Chattanooga Campaign. However, Cleburne has defeated every assault against his men eventually charging his attackers. After the battle, he and his men are charged with covering the retreat.

On January 2, 1864, Cleburne makes his most controversial decision ever. He gathers the corps and division commanders in the Army of Tennessee to present his proposal. The Confederacy is unable to fill its ranks due to a lack of manpower. He states that slavery is their “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.” His proposed solution is for the Confederacy to arm slaves to fight in the army. In time, these soldiers would receive their freedom. The proposal is not well received at all. In fact, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, directs that the proposal be suppressed.

In the spring of 1864 the Army of Tennessee moves towards Atlanta, Georgia. Cleburne and his men fight at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, Resaca, Pickett’s Mill, Ringgold and Kennesaw. The Atlanta Campaign begins in the summer and lasts until September, when General John Bell Hood evacuates Atlanta. Hood had taken command from General Joseph E. Johnston, which Cleburne felt to be a disaster for the Confederacy.

General Hood hopes to stop Union General John Schofield and his men before they can reach Nashville to reinforce General Thomas. Due to poor communications and nightfall, Schofield slips past the Army of Tennessee into Franklin.

The November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin is a tragic loss for the Confederacy. Hood throws his men into well-fortified Union troops. The results are disastrous. About 6,000 men are killed or wounded including six generals who are killed or mortally wounded. Cleburne is one of these six, killed while attacking Union breastworks. He is last seen advancing on foot toward the Union line with his sword raised, after his horse had been shot out from under him. Accounts later say that he is found just inside the Federal line and his body is carried back to an aid station along the Columbia Turnpike. Confederate war records indicate he died of a shot to the abdomen, or possibly a bullet that went through his heart. When Confederates find his body, he has been picked clean of any valuable items, including his sword, boots and pocket watch.

Cleburne’s remains are first laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. At the urging of Army Chaplain Biship Quintard, Judge Mangum, staff officer to Cleburne and his law partner in Helena, his remains are moved to St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, where they remain for six years. In 1870, he is disinterred and returned to his adopted hometown of Helena, Arkansas, with much fanfare, and buried in the Helena Confederate Cemetery located in the southwest corner of the Maple Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Several geographic features are named after Patrick Cleburne, including Cleburne County in Alabama and Arkansas, and the city of Cleburne, Texas. The Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery is a memorial cemetery in Jonesboro, Georgia that is named in honor of General Patrick Cleburne.

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Death of Confederate General Joseph Finegan

Joseph Finegan, Irish-born American businessman and brigadier general for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, dies on October 29, 1885, in Rutledge, Florida.

Finegan is born November 17, 1814 at Clones, County Monaghan. He comes to Florida in the 1830s, first establishing a sawmill at Jacksonville and later a law practice at Fernandina Beach. At the latter place, he becomes the business partner of David Levy Yulee and begins construction of the Florida Railroad to speed transportation of goods and people from the new state’s east coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Finegan has built his family a forty-room mansion in Fernandina Beach at the site of the modern Atlantic Elementary School. At Florida’s secession convention, Finegan represents Nassau County alongside James Graham Cooper.

In April 1862, Finegan assumes command of Middle and East Florida from Brigadier General James H. Trapier. Soon thereafter, he suffers some embarrassment surrounding the wreck of the blockade runner Kate at Mosquito Inlet. Her cargo of rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, blankets, and shoes is plundered by civilians. Eventually, most of the rifles are found, but the other supplies are never recovered.

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 Federal troops in the occupied city of Jacksonville. As Florida is a vital supply route and source of beef to the other southern states, they can not allow it to fall completely into Union hands.

On February 20, 1864, Finegan stops a Federal 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. However, his victory is one rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the dying Confederacy.

Finegan is relieved of his command over the state troops and replaced by Major General James Patton Anderson. 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 Beach 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 took some legal wrangling, but he is eventually able to recover the property. The untimely death of his son Rutledge on April 4, 1871, precipitates a move to Savannah, Georgia. There, Finegan 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 Times-Union, his death is the result of “severe cold, inducing chills, to which he succumbed after brief illness.” He is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville.


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Patrick Francis Healy Becomes President of Georgetown University

Patrick Francis Healy, Jesuit priest and educator, becomes the 29th President of Georgetown University on July 31, 1874. He is known for expanding the school following the American Civil War. Healy Hall is constructed during his tenure and is named after him. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark in the late 20th century.

Healy is born into slavery in 1834 in Macon, Georgia, the third son of Irish American plantation owner Michael Healy and his African American slave Mary Eliza, who is the multiracial daughter of a black slave and white slaveowner. The law establishes during colonial slavery in the United States that children are to take the legal status of the mother. By the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, Patrick and his siblings are legally considered slaves in Georgia, although their father is free and they are three-quarters or more European in ancestry.

Discriminatory laws in Georgia prohibit the education of slaves and require legislative approval for each act of manumission, making these essentially impossible to gain. Michael Healy arranges for all his children to leave Georgia and move to the North to obtain their educations and have opportunities in their lives. They are raised as Irish Catholics. Patrick’s brothers and sisters are nearly all educated in Catholic schools and colleges. Many achieve notable firsts for Americans of mixed-race ancestry during the second half of the 19th century, and the Healy family of Georgia is remarkably successful.

Healy sends his older sons first to a Quaker school in Flushing, New York. Despite the Quakers’ emphasis on equality, Patrick encounters some discrimination during his grade school years, chiefly because his father is a slaveholder, which by the late antebellum years the Quakers consider unforgivable. Patrick also meets resistance in the school as an Irish Catholic. When Michael Healy hears of a new Jesuit college, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he sends his four oldest sons, including Patrick, to study there in 1844. They are joined at Holy Cross by their younger brother Michael in 1849.

Following Patrick’s graduation in 1850, he enters the Jesuit order, the first African American to do so, and continues his studies. The order sends him to Europe to study in 1858. His mixed-race ancestry has become an issue in the United States, where tensions are rising over slavery. He attends the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, earning his doctorate, becoming the first American of openly acknowledged part-African descent to do so. During this period he is also ordained to the priesthood on September 3, 1864.

In 1866 Healy returns to the United States and teaches philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. On July 31, 1874, he is selected as the school’s twenty-ninth president. He is the first college president in the United States of African-American ancestry. At the time, he identifies as Irish Catholic and is accepted as such.

Patrick Healy’s influence on Georgetown is so far-reaching that he is often referred to as the school’s “second founder,” following Archbishop John Carroll. Healy helps transform the small nineteenth-century college into a major university for the twentieth century, likely influenced by his European education.

He modernizes the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He expands and upgrades the schools of law and medicine. The most visible result of Healy’s presidency is the construction of the university’s flagship building designed by Paul J. Pelz, begun in 1877 and first used in 1881. The building is named in his honor as Healy Hall.

Healy leaves the College in 1882 and travels extensively through the United States and Europe, often in the company of his brother James, a bishop in Maine. In 1908 he returns to the campus infirmary, where he dies on January 10, 1910. He is buried on the grounds of the university in the Jesuit cemetery.