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


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Birth of William Francis Butler, Army Officer & Writer

william-francis-butlerWilliam Francis Butler, 19th-century British Army officer, writer, and adventurer, is born on October 31, 1838 at Ballyslatteen, Golden, County Tipperary.

Butler is the son of Richard and Ellen Butler. The great famine of 1847 and scenes of suffering and eviction are amongst his earliest recollections. He is educated chiefly by the Jesuits at Tullabeg College.

Butler enters the army as an ensign of the 69th Regiment of Foot at Fermoy Barracks in 1858, becoming captain in 1872 and major in 1874. He takes part with distinction in the Red River expedition (1870–71) and the Ashanti operations of 1873–1874 under Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley and receives the Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1874.

On June 11, 1877, Butler marries Elizabeth Thompson, an accomplished painter of battle scenes, notably The Roll Call (1874), Quatre Bras (1875), Rorke’s Drift (1881), The Camel Corps (1891), and The Dawn of Waterloo (1895). They have six children. His daughter, Elizabeth Butler, marries Lt.-Col. Randolph Albert Fitzhardinge Kingscote (1867-1940) on July 24, 1903.

Butler again serves with General Wolseley in the Anglo-Zulu War, the Battle of Tell El Kebir (after which he is made an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria) and the Sudan in 1884–1886, being employed as colonel on the staff in 1885 and brigadier general in 1885–1886. In the latter year, he is made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. He serves as brigadier general on the staff in Egypt until 1892 when he is promoted to major general and stationed at Aldershot, subsequent to which he is given command of the South-Eastern District in March 1896.

In 1898 Butler succeeds General William Howley Goodenough as commander-in-chief in South Africa, with the local rank of lieutenant general. For a short period (December 1898 – February 1899), during the absence of Sir Alfred Milner in England, he acts as high commissioner, and as such, and subsequently in his military capacity, he expresses views on the subject of the probabilities of war which are not approved by the home government. He is consequently ordered home to command the Western District, and holds this post until 1905. He also holds the Aldershot Command for a brief period from 1900 to 1901. He is promoted to lieutenant general in 1900 and continues to serve, finally leaving the King‘s service in 1905.

In October 1905, having reached the age limit of sixty-seven, Butler is placed on the retired list. The few years of life which remain to him he spends at Bansha Castle in Ireland, devoted chiefly to the cause of education. He is a frequent lecturer both in Dublin and the provinces on historical, social, and economic questions. He is known as a Home Ruler and an admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell. He is a member of the Senate of the National University of Ireland, and a commissioner of the Board of National Education. In June 1906, he is appointed Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and in 1909 he is made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland.

William Butler dies at Bansha Castle in Bansha, County Tipperary, on June 10, 1910 and is buried at the cemetery of Killaldriffe, a few miles distant and not far from his ancestral home.

Butler had long been known as a descriptive writer, since his publication of The Great Lone Land (1872) and other works and he was the biographer (1899) of Sir George Pomeroy Colley. He had started work on his autobiography a few years before his death but died before it was completed. His youngest daughter, Eileen, Viscountess Gormanston, completes the work and has it published in 1911.

(Pictured: William Francis Butler, Source: Archives of Manitoba, Personalities – Butler, W. F. 1, N10492)


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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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Pickett’s Charge

On July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as the sun rises behind the men of Colonel Dennis O’Kane’s Irish 69th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on Cemetery Ridge, the most famous assault of the American Civil War is being prepared across the mile of open field in front of them. The 69th Pennsylvania will be at the very vortex of that assault, now known to posterity as Pickett’s Charge.

Pickett’s Charge is an infantry assault ordered by Confederate General Robert E. Lee against Major General George G. Meade‘s Union positions on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Its futility is predicted by the charge’s commander, Lt. General James Longstreet, and it is arguably an avoidable mistake from which the Southern war effort never fully recovers militarily or psychologically. The farthest point reached by the attack has been referred to as the high-water mark of the Confederacy.  The charge is named after Maj. General George Pickett, one of three Confederate generals who lead the assault under Longstreet.

Pickett’s charge is part of Lee’s “general plan” to take Cemetery Hill and the network of roads it commands. On the night of July 2, Meade correctly predicts at a council of war that Lee will attack the center of his lines the following morning.

At 1:00 PM on July 3, a massive artillery bombardment by the Confederate guns sails mostly over the heads of the 69th. The bombardment is meant to soften up the Union defense and silence its artillery, but is largely ineffective. About 3:00 PM the barrage slackens and the rebel infantrymen begin their assault. “And let your work this day be for victory or to the death,” Colonel Dennis O’Kane tells his men as the furious rebel onslaught approaches. Approximately 12,500 men in nine infantry brigades advance over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire.

Soon the 69th is forced to refuse both flanks as the Confederate tide rolls up to them and laps around both sides. While many around them run, the 69th stands fast. Although some Confederates are able to breach the low stone wall that shields many of the Union defenders, they cannot maintain their hold and are repulsed with over 50% casualties. The regiment’s tenacious stand in front of the famous copse of trees is a pivotal part of the crucial Union victory and a decisive defeat for the Confederacy that ends the three-day battle and Lee’s campaign into Pennsylvania.

Good to his word, Colonel O’Kane is killed and, lying dead near the 69th’s position, wearing gray lay Pvt. Willie Mitchel of the 1st Virginia Infantry, son of Irish patriot John Mitchel. At the most crucial battle of America’s Civil War, Irish are killing Irish on a foreign field once again.

Years later, when asked why his charge at Gettysburg failed, Pickett replies, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”


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Birth of Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet FRS

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet FRS, scientist, archaeologist, physician and Member of Parliament (MP), is born in Dublin on April 14, 1661. Molyneux is the first to assert that the Giant’s Causeway, now a National Nature Reserve of Northern Ireland and a major tourist attraction, is a natural phenomenon. Legend has it that it is the remains of a crossing between two areas of land over an inlet of the sea that has been built by a giant.

Molyneux is the youngest son of Samuel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, Master Gunner of Ireland, and grandson of Daniel Molyneux, Ulster King of Arms. His great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Molyneux, who is originally from Calais, comes to Ireland about 1576, and becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland.

Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Molyneux becomes a doctor with an MA and MB in 1683, at the age of 22. He goes to Europe and continues his medical studies, resulting in gaining the MD degree in 1687. He is admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society on November 3, 1686.

Molyneux practises medicine in Chester sometime before 1690. He returns to Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne. He is elected a Fellow of the Irish College of Physicians 1692 under Cardinal Brandr Beekman-Ellner and becomes the first State Physician in Ireland and also Physician General to the Army in Ireland, with the rank of lieutenant general. Between 1695 and 1699, Molyneux represents Ratoath in the Irish House of Commons. He is Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College 1717–1733 and becomes a baronet in 1730. Both he and his brother William Molyneux are philosophically minded, and are friends of John Locke.

Molyneux marries twice, first to Margaret, sister of the first Earl of Wicklow, with issue of a son and daughter. It is believed that the son dies in childhood. In 1694 he marries Catherine Howard, daughter of Ralph Howard, at that time Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College. They have four sons and eight daughters, of whom Daniel and Capel both succeed to the baronetcy.

Thomas Molyneux dies on October 19, 1733 at the age of 72. He is believed to be buried in St. Audoen’s Church, Dublin, however there is a fine monument to him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, with an elaborate description of his honours and genealogy. His portrait is in Armagh County Museum.