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


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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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The Glasdrumman Ambush

glasdrumman-ambush-ni-mapThe Glasdrumman ambush, an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post, takes place on July 17, 1981 at a scrapyard in Glasdrumman, County Armagh, southwest of Crossmaglen.

The crisis, triggered by the 1981 Irish hunger strike of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners, leads to an increase in militant Irish republican activity in Northern Ireland. British intelligence reports unveil IRA intentions of mounting illegal checkpoints and hijacking vehicles on the IRA-controlled roads in South County Armagh, near the Irish border. To counter it, the British Army deploy the so-called COPs (close observation platoons), small infantry sections acting as undercover units, a tactic introduced by Major General Richard Trant in 1977.

On May 6, 1981, a day after the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands, one IRA member from a three-man unit is arrested while trying to set up a roadblock east of the main Belfast-Dublin road by twelve members of the Royal Green Jackets, divided in three teams. A second volunteer crosses the border, only to be arrested by the Irish Army. The third IRA man escapes, apparently injured. A total of 689 rounds are fired by the soldiers.

After this initial success, the British Army continues these tactics. On July 16, another operation is carried out by eighteen Royal Green Jackets soldiers. That night, four concealed positions – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – are inserted into the Glassdrumman area, around a scrapyard along the border. The plan is that another unit, called the triggering team, would ambush any IRA unit on sight, while the other four would block the expected escape routes. On July 17, the commanders in charge of Alpha and Delta teams, suspecting that the operation has been compromised by the presence of local civilians, orders the withdrawal of their men. Shortly thereafter, Bravo team is suddenly engaged by automatic fire from an M60 machine gun and AR-15 rifles fired by six or seven IRA members. The concealed position, emplaced inside a derelict van, is riddled by more than 250 bullets. The team’s leader, Lance Corporal Gavin Dean, is killed instantly and one of his men, Rifleman John Moore, is seriously wounded. Moore is later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fire their weapons from across the border, 160 yards away.

British army commanders conclude that “it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up.” The incident also exposes the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, whose sympathy with the IRA is manifest. Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.


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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 Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Death of Winston Dugan, 1st Baron Dugan of Victoria

Winston Joseph Dugan, 1st Baron Dugan of Victoria and known as Sir Winston Dugan between 1934 and 1949, dies in Marylebone, London, England, on August 17, 1951. He is a British administrator and a career British Army officer. He serves as Governor of South Australia from 1934 to 1939, then Governor of Victoria until 1949.

Dugan is the son of Charles Winston Dugan, of Oxmantown Mall, Birr, County Offaly, an inspector of schools, and Esther Elizabeth Rogers. He attends Lurgan College in Craigavon from 1887 to 1889, and Wimbledon College, Wimbledon, London.

Dugan is a sergeant in the Royal Sussex Regiment, but transfers to the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment as a second lieutenant on January 24, 1900. He fights with the 2nd battalion of his regiment in the Second Boer War, and receives the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps. Following the war he is appointed adjutant of his battalion on June 28, 1901, and is promoted to lieutenant on November 1, 1901. He later fights with distinction in World War I, where he is wounded and mentioned in despatches six times. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1915 and appointed a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in 1918. In 1929 he is made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and the following year is promoted to major general. From 1931 to 1934 he commands the 56th (1st London) Division, Territorial Army.

In 1934, Dugan is appointed Governor of South Australia. He is appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG), retires from the Army and moves to Adelaide with his wife. They become an extremely popular and glamorous vice-regal couple. Sir Winston and Lady Dugan are both excellent public speakers and travel widely in order to bring problems to the attention of the ministers of the day. Upon the expiration of his term, there is bipartisan parliamentary support for him to serve a second term, but he has already accepted an appointment to be Governor of Victoria.

Sir Winston and Lady Dugan arrive in Melbourne on July 17, 1939. They continue their active role in community affairs, promoting unemployment reduction and making the ballroom of Government House available for the Australian Red Cross.

Dugan has an active role stabilising state politics during the tumultuous 1940s. Upon the disintegration of Albert Dunstan‘s Country Party in 1943, he installs Australian Labor Party leader John Cain as Premier. Four days later, Dunstan forms a coalition with the United Australia Party. Following the collapse of that ministry in 1945, Dugan dissolves parliament and calls a general election for November, which results in the balance of power being held by independents. Dugan commissions Cain to form the ministry of a minority government.

Dugan’s term as Governor is extended five times. He returns to England in February 1949. On July 7, 1949 he is raised to the peerage as Baron Dugan of Victoria, of Lurgan in County Armagh.

Winston Dugan dies at Marylebone, London, on August 17, 1951, at the age of 74. As there are no children from his marriage, the barony becomes extinct.


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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 Major General Thomas Conway

thomas-conwayThomas Conway, a major general in the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is born in Cloghane, County Kerry, on February 27, 1735. He becomes involved with the alleged Conway Cabal with Horatio Gates and later serves with Émigré forces during the French Revolutionary War.

Conway is born to James Conway and his wife Julieanne Conway. As a child, he immigrates to France with his parents. At 14, he enrolls in the Irish Brigade of the French Army and rises rapidly to the rank of colonel by 1772.

Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War he volunteers to the Continental Congress for service with the American rebels in 1777. Based on an introduction from Silas Deane, the Congress appoints him a brigadier general on May 13, and sends him on to George Washington.

Conway commands the leading brigade on the American right flank at the Battle of Germantown, and is justly praised for his actions. However, Washington opposes his promotion to major general, believing that many American-born officers with longer and valuable service deserve the rank. This, and Conway’s condescending attitude, lead to continued friction between the men. Congress appoints Conway a major general anyway in December 1777, and makes him inspector general of the army.

When his name is used politically, it is used to describe the infighting known as the Conway Cabal. During the affair, he has written a letter to General Horatio Gates in which he refers to Washington as a “weak general.” The letter is intercepted by Washington and his backers after its delivery is botched by Brigadier General James Wilkinson, and is brought before the Congress for inquiry. When the contents of the letter are made public, Conway loses his command as a result. He tries a ploy that had worked before his promotion, and submits his resignation to Congress in March 1778. This time, however, it is accepted, so he is forced to leave the Continental Army. John Cadwalader shoots him in a duel on July 4, 1778. When he recovers, he writes an apology to Washington and returns to France.

Conway later returns to the French Army. In 1787 he receives promotion to Maréchal-de-camp (Major General) and an appointment as Governor of French colonies in India.

In 1793 he fights with royalist forces in opposition to French Revolution in southern France. Their loss forces him to become an exile from his adopted country.

During the French Revolution he is condemned to death. He is saved only by an appeal to Great Britain, against which he had fought in the American Revolution, but is compelled to flee from France for his life. He supposedly returns to Ireland and remains there until his death.

After that Conway disappears from history. He is believed to have died about 1800 in poverty and exile.