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


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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.

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The Treaty of Limerick

treaty-stone-limerickThe Treaty of Limerick, which actually consists of two treaties, is signed on October 3, 1691 ending the Williamite War in Ireland between the Jacobites and the supporters of William III of England, widely known as William of Orange. Reputedly they are signed on the Treaty Stone, an irregular block of limestone which once served as a mounting block for horses. This stone is now displayed on a pedestal in Limerick, put there to prevent souvenir hunters from taking pieces of it. Because of the treaty, Limerick is sometimes known as the Treaty City.

After his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, William III issues the Declaration of Finglas which offers a pardon to Jacobite soldiers but excludes their senior officers from its provisions. This encourages the Jacobite leaders to continue fighting and they win a major victory during the 1691 Siege of Limerick. However, defeats the following year at the Battle of Aughrim and the second siege of Limerick leave the Williamites victorious. Nonetheless the terms they offer to Jacobite leaders at Limerick are considerably more generous than those a year earlier at Finglas.

One treaty, the Military Articles, deals with the treatment of the disbanded Jacobite army. This treaty contains twenty-nine articles. Under the treaty, Jacobite soldiers in formed regiments have the option to leave with their arms and flags for France to continue serving under James II of England in the Irish Brigade. Some 14,000 Jacobites choose this option. Individual soldiers wanting to join the French, Spanish or Austrian armies also emigrate in what becomes known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. The Jacobite soldiers also have the option of joining the Williamite army. One thousand soldiers chose this option. The Jacobite soldiers thirdly have the option of returning home which some 2,000 soldiers choose.

The second treaty, the Civil Articles, which contains thirteen articles, protects the rights of the defeated Jacobite landed gentry who choose to remain in Ireland, most of whom are Catholics. Their property is not to be confiscated so long as they swear allegiance to William III and Mary II, and Catholic noblemen are to be allowed to bear arms. William requires peace in Ireland and is allied to the Papacy in 1691 within the League of Augsburg.

It is often thought that the Treaty of Limerick is the only treaty between Jacobites and Williamites. A similar treaty had been signed on the surrender of Galway on July 22, 1691, but without the strict loyalty oath required under the Treaty of Limerick. The Galway garrison had been organised by the mostly-Catholic landed gentry of counties Galway and Mayo, who benefited from their property guarantees in the following century.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the Treaty of Limerick may have been signed)


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Death of Justin McCarthy, Jacobite General

justin-mccarthy-lord-mountcashelJustin MacCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel, a Jacobite general in the Williamite War in Ireland and a personal friend of James II of England, dies in France of complications from previous battle wounds on July 1, 1694.

McCarthy, born about 1643, is the younger son of Donough MacCarty, 1st Earl of Clancarty, head of the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty who holds extensive lands in the former Kingdom of Desmond. His mother is Lady Eleanor Butler, sister of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. The family has their property confiscated under Oliver Cromwell‘s regime, but it is restored to them at the Restoration of Charles II of England. McCarthy is made Viscount Mount Cashel with the subsidiary title of Baron Castleinch on May 1, 1689 and becomes a Lieutenant-General.

McCarthy becomes a professional soldier and shows great skill in his profession, but poor eyesight hampers his career. He enters the French army in 1671 and then transfers to James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth‘s regiment, then in French pay, and serves against the Dutch.

McCarthy comes to England in 1678 and is befriended by the future James II, who generally chooses soldiers, especially Irish soldiers, as his boon companions. Charles II decides to use his services in Ireland and makes him a colonel in Sir Thomas Dongan‘s regiment. On the outbreak of the Popish Plot, however, the discovery of McCarthy’s presence at Whitehall causes uproar. He flees the country and the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Sir Joseph Williamson, who had issued his commission, is sent to the Tower of London.

Under the Catholic King James II, McCarthy becomes both Major General and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He quarrels with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, and probably intrigues to secure his recall.

In 1689 McCarthy takes Castlemartyr and Bandon for James. At Bandon there is a massacre called “Black Monday,” but he persuades the King to issue a general pardon to his defeated opponents. He meets James at his landing at Kinsale, and is commanded to raise seven regiments. He sits in the Irish House of Lords in the Parliament of Ireland of 1689.

With 3,000 men McCarthy advances from Dublin towards Enniskillen, which with Derry is the remaining resistance to James II. He is met by 2,000 Protestant “Inniskillingers” at the Battle of Newtownbutler on July 31, 1689. His forces are routed, he is wounded and then captured. Allowed out on parole he breaks parole and escapes to Dublin. Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg, remarks that he had thought McCarthy was a man of honour, but on the other hand he expected no better from an Irishman.

McCarthy goes into exile in France and commands the first Irish Brigade of Louis XIV. His later career is hampered by his near-blindness. He dies at Barèges on July 1, 1694 and is buried there.


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Birth of Robert Nugent, Civil War and Indian Wars Officer

robert-nugentBrigadier General Robert Nugent, Irish-born American United States Army officer during the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars, is born on June 27, 1824 in Kilkeel, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Nugent serves with the Irish Brigade‘s 69th Infantry Regiment, from its days as a National Guard unit and into its incorporation into the Union Army at the start of the war. He 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, Colonel 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 Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill.

Nugent is 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 United States War Department. 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 encounters resistance from city officials wanting to remain uninvolved, however by mid-June reports to his superior officer and provost marshal general Colonel James Barnet 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 a painting of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran is reportedly left untouched.

On October 28, Nugent is relieved of his post and succeeded by General William Hays. Returning to active duty, he assumes command of the Irish Brigade in November 1864, shortly after the death of Corcoran. He is present at the battle of 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 remains in the regular U.S. Army for the next twenty years, a formidable “Indian fighter” during the American 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.


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Death of Writer Robert Tressell

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, dies in Liverpool, England on February 3, 1911. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is born in Dublin on April 18, 1870, the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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The Battle of Wandiwash

fort-vandavasiGeneral Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally‘s French army, including his regiment of the Irish Brigade, is defeated on January 22, 1760 in the Battle of Wandiwash, a decisive battle in India during the Seven Years’ War, by Irish-born Sir Eyre Coote‘s British army. Wandiwash is the Anglicised pronunciation of Vandavasi.

When Lally is selected as commander-in-chief of the French expedition to India in 1756, he is one of the greatest living soldiers of France. Lally’s force is delayed and does not leave France until May 1757. Further delays occur en route and he finally lands at Pondicherry, India, on April 28, 1758. In less than two months, Lally clears the English forces from a huge area around Pondicherry and captures almost 300 pieces of artillery. Lally next lays siege to Madras, but his naval support abandons him and, in January 1759, the English are reinforced, forcing Lally to retire toward Pondicherry. Forces away from India are conspiring against Lally now, as the merchant fleets of the French have been rendered useless by the English navy.

Lally’s army, burdened by a lack of naval support and funds resulting in his troops having not been paid in six months, attempts to regain the fort at Wandiwash, now in Tamil Nadu. He is attacked by Sir Eyre Coote’s forces and decisively defeated. The French general Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and the French are then restricted to Pondicherry where, facing starvation, they surrender on January 16, 1761.

This is the Third Carnatic War fought between the French and the British. Having made substantial gains in Bengal and Hyderabad, the British, after collecting huge amount of revenue, are fully equipped to face the French in Wandiwash, whom they defeat.

According to the 19th century book Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century by Author Eduard Cust, the French Army consists of 300 European Cavalry, 2,250 European infantry, 1,300 soldiers, 3,000 Marathas and 16 pieces of artillery while the English deploy about 80 European Horses, 250 Native horses, 1,900 European Infantry, 2,100 soldiers and 26 pieces of artillery. The Battle of Wandiwash involves the capture of Chettupattu, Thiruvannamalai, Tindivanam and Perumukkal.

(Pictured: The Vandavasi fort in Vandavasi, Tamil Nadu, India, where the decisive Battle of Wandiwash takes place.)