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


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.

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Founding of the Irish Emigrant Society

An illustration from The Weekly Herald, 1845.The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in New York City on March 22, 1841.

The Irish and other emigrants face numerous abuses such as “illusive advertisements,” “crooked contractors,” “dishonest prospectuses” and “remittent sharpers” when they arrive in the United States. The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in 1841 by a group of New York Irish to combat issues such as these.

In December 1848 the Emigrant Society advises emigrants that as soon as their ship comes into harbour she will be boarded by an agent of the Society who will offer them sound and honest advice. In addition they warn that the ship will also be boarded by a large number of “runners” – conmen who will make it their business to attract them to the boarding houses that employ them. Emigrants are instructed be careful not to accept help from them as their ploy is to promise good quality board at low prices, but when they come to leave the house an exorbitant fee will be demanded. They will threaten not to hand over luggage unless this fee is paid and violent scenes might often ensue.

The Society warns that many persons, some of Irish birth, have set up offices in the city where they claim to be agents for railroad and steamboat enterprises. These crooks sell tickets which appear to entitle the holder to travel to specific destinations but which are worthless. To protect emigrants from such frauds, various measures are introduced in New York in 1848 including the construction of reception centres and the licensing of steam boats to take emigrants from the quarantine to the landing piers. Boarding houses are also required to display their prices in English, Dutch, German, Welsh and French.

Emigrants who survive the ordeal of the crossing are faced with the decision of where to settle in America. Newspapers carry advertisements singing the praises of the land and climate of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan but never mention the backbreaking work of clearing the land for farming. California also proves to be a very popular destination when news of the California Gold Rush breaks in 1849. It also provides opportunities on the lands that the Native Americans have deserted in search of gold.

(From: “1841 – The Irish Emigrant Society Is Founded In New York,” Stair na hÉireann, https://stairnaheireann.net


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Sullivan Brothers Perish in the Sinking of the USS Juneau

sullivan-brothersFive Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, die when their ship, the light cruiser USS Juneau, is torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13, 1942. Raised in an Irish Catholic family, the brothers great grandfather had emigrated from Ireland.

The five brothers, the sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, are George Thomas Sullivan (27), Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan (26), Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan (24), Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan (23), and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan (20).

The Sullivans enlist in the U.S. Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy has a policy of separating siblings but it is not strictly enforced. George and Frank have served in the Navy before, but their brothers have not. All five are assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

The Juneau participates in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early on the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau is struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, as it is leaving the Solomon Islands area for the Allied rear-area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving U.S. warships from battle, the Juneau is struck again, this time by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo apparently hits the thinly armored light cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship explodes and quickly sinks.

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena and senior officer present in the battle-damaged U.S. task force, is skeptical that anyone has survived the sinking of the Juneau and believes it would be reckless to look for survivors, thereby exposing his wounded ships to a still-lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he orders his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signals a nearby U.S. B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.

However, approximately 100 of Juneau‘s crew survive the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and are left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, does not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they land several hours later. The crew’s report of the location of possible survivors is mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and goes unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realize that a search has never been mounted and belatedly orders aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau‘s survivors, many of whom are seriously wounded, are exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors are found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors report that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days before, suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia, he goes over the side of the raft he occupies and is never seen or heard from again.

Security requires that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stop arriving at the home and the parents grow worried, which prompts Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943, citing rumors that survivors of the task force claim that all five brothers were killed in action.

The letter is answered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 13th, who acknowledges that the Sullivans are missing in action. By then, however, the parents have already been informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12, 1943. That morning, the boys’ father, Thomas, is preparing for work when three men in uniform approach his door. “I have some news for you about your boys,” one naval officer says. “Which one?” asks Thomas. “I’m sorry,” the officer replies. “All five.”

As a direct result of the Sullivans’ deaths, and the deaths of four of the Borgstrom brothers within a few months of each other two years later, the United States War Department adopts the Sole Survivor Policy.