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


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Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded, and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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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 John O’Mahony, Founder of the Fenian Brotherhood

john-omahonyJohn Francis O’Mahony, Gaelic scholar and the founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, sister organisation to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies in New York City on February 7, 1877.

O’Mahony is born in 1816 in Kilbeheny, County Limerick. His father and uncle were members of the Society of United Irishmen, and took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. On the death of an elder brother, he inherits a property which yields £300 per annum. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Irish. He becomes an accomplished Gaelic scholar, and later teaches Greek and Latin, and contributes articles to Irish and French journals. He leaves Trinity without getting a degree.

In 1843, O’Mahony joins Daniel O’Connell‘s movement for the Repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, but quickly becomes dissatisfied with the lack of progress and joins the Young Ireland movement which William Smith O’Brien leads and takes part in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. His participation in the rebellion obligates him to leave Ireland, and he settles for a time in Paris, where he lives in great poverty. In 1854, he joins John Mitchel in New York City, and takes part in the Emigrant Aid Association, the Emmet Monument Association, and other Irish organisations.

In 1857, O’Mahony publishes History of Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating, D. D., translated from the Original Gaelic, and Copiously Annotated (New York, 1857). O’Mahony’s notes are copied from John O’Donovan‘s translations of Annals of the Four Masters, and it is on this ground that Hodges & Smith procures an injunction against the sale of the book in the United Kingdom. The mental strain to which O’Mahony is subjected in the preparation of this work, which brings him no pecuniary gain, affects his reasoning and he is removed by his friends for a short time to a lunatic asylum.

In 1860, O’Mahony organises the Fenian Brotherhood, also known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The object of the association is to secure the freedom of Ireland. The name is probably derived from O’Mahony’s Gaelic studies, the Fenians having been a military body in pagan Ireland, celebrated in the songs of Ossian. The organisation of the new society is completed at conventions that are held in Chicago in 1864 and in Cincinnati in January 1865.

At the time of the Cincinnati convention, O’Mahony holds the rank of colonel of the 69th Regiment of New York State Militia, recruited mainly from the ranks of the Brotherhood, which has also furnished a large proportion of Thomas Francis Meagher‘s Irish Brigade, Michael Corcoran‘s legion, and Irish regiments engaged in the American Civil War. The rapid growth in membership of the Fenian Brotherhood renders it impossible for O’Mahony to retain the colonelcy of the 69th regiment, which he has held for some time. He resigns in order to give all his attention to the spread of Fenianism.

The close of the civil war in the spring of 1865 gives a great impetus to the Fenians, owing to the number of Irish American soldiers that are disbanded and anxious to see service elsewhere. Money pours into the Fenian exchequer. Many differences occur between O’Mahony and James Stephens and the Central Council relative to the policy to be pursued for the attainment of their object, but O’Mahony remains president of the organisation for several years. He does not take any part personally in the attempted insurrection in Ireland or in the raids on Canada, although his advice counts for much in these enterprises.

He devotes the last years of his life to literary pursuits, but suffers from ill health, and he has a hard struggle to secure the bare means for subsistence. However visionary may have been his objectives, he is honest, and although thousands have passed through his hands, he is often at a loss for a dollar. When his poverty is discovered, he declines to receive assistance in any form. He dies in New York City on February 7, 1877 and soon after his death his remains are returned to Ireland and interred with the honors of a public funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.