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


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Birth of Michael Kelly Lawler, United States Army Officer

Michael Kelly Lawler, a volunteer militia soldier in the Black Hawk War (1831–32), an officer in the United States Army in both the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War, is born on November 16, 1814, in Monasterevin, County Kildare. As a brigadier general in the American Civil War, he commands a brigade of infantry in the Western Theater and serves in several battles.

Born to John Lawler and Elizabeth Kelly, they move to the United States four years later and settle initially in Frederick County, Maryland. In 1819, they move to rural Gallatin County, Illinois. On December 20, 1837 Lawler marries Elizabeth Crenshaw. He receives an appointment as a captain in the Mexican-American War and commands two companies in separate deployments to Mexico. He first leads a company from Shawneetown, Illinois that guards the supply route from Veracruz to General Winfield Scott‘s army. After the fall of Veracruz his company is discharged. He makes a visit to Washington after which he is asked by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford to organize a company of riflemen. He serves in the campaign to take Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

Lawler then returns to his farm in Illinois, where he is residing at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He establishes a thriving mercantile business, dealing in hardware, dry goods, and shoes. He studies law, passes his bar exam, and uses his legal license to help the claims of Mexican War veterans.

In May 1861 Lawler recruits the 18th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and is appointed as its first colonel. His time in command of the regiment in Kentucky and Tennessee is controversial and an “ordeal.” He is wounded during the Battle of Fort Donelson. In November 1862 he is commissioned as a brigadier general, and commands a brigade in the Second Division of the XIII Corps. He fights with distinction in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863. He leads his men in the battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and the May 22, 1863 general assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, where troops under his command are the only Union forces to enter the Confederate works at the Railroad Redoubt where they plant the United States flag.

Following the surrender of Jackson, Mississippi, the XIII Corps is split up and divided among other operations in the Western Theater. For the rest of the war, Lawler serves as commander of the 1st Division, XIII Corps in Louisiana in the Department of the Gulf, taking command of the division during the disastrous Red River campaign and leading it on an expedition in June 1864 to secure a crossing of the Atchafalaya River used by Confederate forces.

In the omnibus promotions at the end of the American Civil War, Lawler receives a promotion for distinguished service to major general in the Union army backdated from March 13, 1865. After mustering out of the army in 1866, he returns home and resumes his legal practice and farming near Shawneetown, Illinois.

Lawler dies in Shawneetown on July 22, 1882 and is buried in the Lawler Family Cemetery near Equality, Illinois, at the rear of the Old Slave House property.

A memorial to Lawler stands in Equality, Illinois. He also is honored with a marble bust in Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Chicago renames a street to Lawler Avenue in his memory.


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Death of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States

Ulysses S. Grant, American military leader who serves as the 18th president of the United States (1869 to 1877), dies on July 23, 1883 after a long and painful battle with throat cancer.

Grant is born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822 to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and merchant, and Hannah Simpson Grant. His mother descends from Presbyterian immigrants from Ballygawley, County Tyrone.

Raised in Ohio, Grant possesses an exceptional ability with horses, which serves him well through his military career. He is admitted to West Point, graduates 21st in the class of 1843 and serves with distinction in the Mexican–American War. In 1848, he marries Julia Dent, and together they have four children. He abruptly resigns his army commission in 1854 and returns to his family, but lives in poverty for seven years.

Grant joins the Union Army after the American Civil War breaks out in 1861 and rises to prominence after winning several early Union victories on the Western Theater. In 1863 he leads the Vicksburg campaign, which gains control of the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln promotes him to lieutenant general after his victory at Chattanooga. For thirteen months, he fights Robert E. Lee during the high-casualty Overland Campaign and at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox. A week later, Lincoln is assassinated and is succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who promotes him to General of the Army in 1866. Later he openly breaks with Johnson over Reconstruction policies as he used the Reconstruction Acts, which had been passed over Johnson’s veto, to enforce civil rights for recently freed African Americans.

A war hero, drawn in by his sense of duty, Grant is unanimously nominated by the Republican Party and is elected president in 1868. As president, Grant stabilizes the post-war national economy, supports ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and crushes the Ku Klux Klan. He appoints African Americans and Jewish Americans to prominent federal offices. In 1871, to help reduce federal patronage, he creates the first Civil Service Commission. The Liberal Republicans and Democrats unite behind his opponent in the 1872 presidential election, but he is handily re-elected. His Native American policy is to assimilate Indians into the White culture. The Great Sioux War of 1876 is fought during his term. In his foreign policy, the Alabama claims against Great Britain are peacefully resolved, but his prized Caribbean Dominican Republic annexation is rejected by the United States Senate.

Grant’s responses to corruption charges, in his federal departments rife with scandal, are mixed, often naïvely defending the culprits, particularly his war-time comrade Orville E. Babcock. But he also appoints cabinet reformers, such as John Brooks Henderson, for the prosecution of the Whiskey Ring. The Panic of 1873 plunges the nation into a severe economic depression that allows the Democrats to win the House majority. In the intensely disputed 1876 presidential election, he facilitates the approval by Congress of a peaceful compromise.

In his retirement, Grant is the first president to circumnavigate the world on his tour, meeting with Queen Victoria and many prominent foreign leaders. In 1880, he is unsuccessful in obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for a third term. In the final year of his life, facing severe financial reversals and dying of throat cancer, he writes his memoirs, which prove to be a major critical and financial success.

After a year-long struggle with throat cancer, surrounded by his family, Grant dies at 8:08 AM at his Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Philip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, orders a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland orders a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning. After private services, the honor guard places Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which travels to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people view it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), march with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen black stallions to Riverside Park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. His pallbearers include Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR. Following the casket in the seven-mile-long procession are President Cleveland, the two living former presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur, all of the President’s Cabinet, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court.

Attendance at the New York funeral tops 1.5 million. Ceremonies are held in other major cities around the country, while Grant is eulogized in the press and likened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His body is laid to rest in a temporary tomb in Riverside Park. Twelve years later, on April 17, 1897, he is reinterred in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the largest mausoleum in North America.


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Birth of Walter P. Lane, Confederate General

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Walter Paye Lane, Confederate general during the American Civil War who also serves in the armies of the Republic of Texas and the United States of America, is born in County Cork on February 18, 1817.

The Lane family emigrates to Fairview in Guernsey County, Ohio, in 1821, and moves to Kentucky in 1825. In 1836 Lane moves to Texas to participate in its war for independence against Mexico. After Texas has gained its independence, he lives in San Augustine County in East Texas and then San Antonio, where he briefly serves as a Texas Ranger.

In 1846 Lane joins the First Regiment, Texas Mounted Riflemen, as a first lieutenant to fight in the Mexican–American War. He fights with honors at the Battle of Monterey and is later given the rank of major and command of his own battalion. After the Mexican–American War, he wanders about doing various things in Arizona, California, and Peru before opening a mercantile business in Marshall, Texas, in 1858.

When the American Civil War breaks out, Lane is among the first Texans to call for secession. His military reputation is so great that the first volunteer Confederate company raised in Harrison County is named for him, though he joins the 3rd Texas Cavalry. He participates in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the Battle of Chustenahlah, the Battle of Pea Ridge and both the Siege of Corinth and Second Battle of Corinth. He leads the 3rd Texas at the battle of Franklin, Mississippi, and is commended by General P. G. T. Beauregard for his efforts. He is severely wounded in the Battle of Mansfield in 1864, where Confederates forces rebuff a push to capture either or both Shreveport, Louisiana, or Marshall, Texas. Before the war ends, Lane is promoted to the rank of brigadier general in 1865, being confirmed on the last day the Confederate States Congress meets.

After the Civil War, Lane returns to Marshall where he helps to establish the Texas Veterans Association. After Reconstruction, he and his brother George, a local judge, found the first White Citizens Party in Texas and run Republicans and African Americans out of Marshall. With Democratic white hegemony brutally reestablished in Marshall and Harrison County, he declares the city and county “redeemed.”

Lane dies in Marshall, Texas on January 28, 1892 and is buried in the Marshall Cemetery near downtown Marshall. His memoirs, The Adventures and Recollections of General Walter P. Lane, are published posthumously in 1928.


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Death of Colonel James Hagan

james-haganJames Hagan, Irish American captain in the United States Army during the Mexican–American War and a Confederate States Army colonel during the American Civil War, dies in Mobile, Alabama on November 6, 1901.

Hagan is born in County Tyrone on June 17, 1822. His family moves to a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he is still at an early age and he is educated at Clermont Academy. He moves to Alabama in 1837. His prosperous uncle, John Hagen of New Orleans, Louisiana, takes him into the family business and sets him up in Mobile to manage the Hagan business there.

Hagan serves in John Coffee Hays‘s Texas Rangers, a cavalry unit in Major General Zachary Taylor‘s army during the Mexican–American War. He is recognized for his gallantry at the Battle of Monterrey. He is commissioned a captain in the 3rd U.S. Dragoons in 1848 and is discharged on July 31, 1848. After the war, he returns to Mobile where he purchases and subsequently manages a plantation rather than remaining in the family mercantile business. In 1854, he marries Bettie Oliver, daughter of Alabama’s attorney general.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Hagan organizes and is elected captain of a cavalry company for the Alabama Militia, the “Mobile Dragoons,” which serves on guard duty along the Gulf Coast. At the rank of major he transfers to the 1st Mississippi Cavalry Regiment on October 26, 1861. The regiment fights at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6–7, 1862. He leads his men in a mounted charge at the Battle of Perryville which is highly commended by his brigade commander, Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler.

Hagan is promoted to colonel of a new regiment, the 3rd Alabama Cavalry Regiment, on July 1, 1862. The regiment fights in all of the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee. In July 1863, He is assigned to command Brigade 1 of Brigadier General William T. Martin‘s Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Tennessee, which is Major General Joseph Wheeler’s old brigade. During the spring and summer of 1863, the brigade screens the left front of General Braxton Bragg‘s army. Wheeler recommends that Hagan be promoted to brigadier general but Bragg blocks the promotion because he says Hagan is in a state of “dissipation”, a reference to drunkenness or alcoholism. Hagan is wounded near Franklin, Tennessee in the winter of 1862 and again near Kingston, Tennessee in November 1863. In November 1863, he resigns and returns to Mobile to recover from his wounds and his disappointment from not being promoted.

After he had recuperates, Hagan asks that his resignation be revoked. The resignation is revoked and he returns to his regiment for the Atlanta campaign, where the regiment fights as infantry in the trenches. When Brigadier General William Wirt Adams is promoted to command of the Division, Hagan is assigned to permanent command of the brigade, consisting of five regiments and one battalion of Alabama cavalry. His brigade is part of Wheeler’s force which opposes Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‘s March to the Sea and Campaign of the Carolinas. He is wounded again at the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, near Kinston, North Carolina on March 10, 1865, and again at Fayetteville, North Carolina the next day.

Although Hagan is assigned as acting brigadier general in early 1865, he never receives an official appointment from Jefferson Davis or confirmation by the Confederate States Senate of an appointment as a general officer. Major General Wheeler later writes that he had been told unofficially by Confederate States War Department officials that brigadier general commissions had been issued for Hagan, Henry Marshall Ashby and Moses Wright Hannon near the end of the war, but no such commissions ever were delivered.

Hagan returns to Mobile after the war but is penniless since his fortune had been converted to Confederate money. He works as manager of a plantation on the Alabama River in the 1870s and early 1880s. President Grover Cleveland appoints him crier of the United States District Court in Alabama in 1885.

James Hagan dies on November 6, 1901 at Mobile, Alabama. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile.


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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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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)