seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of General Philip Henry Sheridan

philip-sheridanIrish American General Philip Henry Sheridan, career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War, is born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831.

Sheridan is the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan. Fully grown, he reaches only 5 feet 5 inches in height, a stature that leads to the nickname “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln describes his appearance in a famous anecdote, “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan’s career is noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transfers Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeats Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, is one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursues General Robert E. Lee and is instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In later years, Sheridan fights in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Comanche Chief Tosahwi reputedly tells Sheridan in 1869, “Me, Tosahwi; me good Injun,” to which Sheridan supposedly replies, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan denies he had ever made the statement. Biographer Roy Morris Jr. states that, nevertheless, popular history credits Sheridan with saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” This variation “has been used by friends and enemies ever since to characterize and castigate his Indian-fighting career.” In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown attributes the quote to Sheridan but does not provide documentation to support his contention, so the quote may be more apocryphal than real.

Both as a soldier and private citizen, Sheridan is instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The protection of the Yellowstone area is Sheridan’s personal crusade. He authorizes Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. Barlow names Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promotes military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.

In 1883, Sheridan is appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he is promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan serves as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.

Sheridan suffers a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passes legislation to promote him to general and he receives the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moves him from the heat of Washington, D.C. and he dies of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts on August 5, 1888.

His body is returned to Washington and he is buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The burial helps elevate Arlington to national prominence.


Leave a comment

Birth of Brigadier General Thomas Alfred Smyth

thomas-alfred-smythThomas Alfred Smyth, brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is born in Ballyhooly, County Cork on December 25, 1832. He is the last Union general killed in the war. In March 1867, he is nominated and confirmed a brevet major general of volunteers posthumously to rank from April 7, 1865.

Smyth works on his father’s farm in Ireland as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1861 Smyth enlists in the Union army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and is quickly made a captain. He is later commissioned as a major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Colonel Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. In April 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebra and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, concurrent with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Confederate States Army at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. He is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.


Leave a comment

The Battle of Malvern Hill

battle-of-malvern-hillIrish take up arms against each other in the American Civil War as the Irish Brigade of the Union Army and the Confederate 6th Regiment, Louisiana Infantry take part in the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.

Also known as the Battle of Poindexter’s Farm, the Battle of Malvern Hill is fought between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, and the Union Army of the Potomac under Major General George B. McClellan. It is the final battle of the Seven Days Battles, taking place on a 130-foot elevation of land known as Malvern Hill, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and just one mile from the James River. Including inactive reserves, more than fifty thousand soldiers from each side take part, using more than two hundred pieces of artillery and three warships.

The Seven Days Battles are the climax of the Peninsula Campaign, during which McClellan’s Army of the Potomac sails around the Confederate lines, lands at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, southeast of Richmond, and strikes inland towards the Confederate capital. Confederate commander-in-chief Joseph E. Johnston fends off McClellan’s repeated attempts to take the city, slowing Union progress on the peninsula to a crawl. When Johnston is wounded, Lee takes command and launches a series of counterattacks, collectively called the Seven Days Battles. These attacks culminate in the action on Malvern Hill.

The Union’s V Corps, commanded by Brigadier General Fitz John Porter, takes up positions on the hill on June 30. McClellan is not present for the initial exchanges of the battle, having boarded the ironclad USS Galena and sailed down the James River to inspect Harrison’s Landing, where he intends to locate the base for his army. Confederate preparations are hindered by several mishaps. Bad maps and faulty guides cause Confederate Major General John B. Magruder to be late for the battle, an excess of caution delays Major General Benjamin Huger, and Major General Stonewall Jackson has problems collecting the Confederate artillery.

The battle occurs in stages: an initial exchange of artillery fire, a minor charge by Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, and three successive waves of Confederate infantry charges triggered by unclear orders from Lee and the actions of Major Generals Magruder and Daniel Harvey Hill, respectively. In each phase, the effectiveness of the Federal artillery is the deciding factor, repulsing attack after attack, resulting in a tactical Union victory.

After the battle, McClellan and his forces withdraw from Malvern Hill to Harrison’s Landing, where he remains until August 16. His plan to capture Richmond has been thwarted. In the course of four hours, a series of blunders in planning and communication had caused Lee’s forces to launch three failed frontal infantry assaults across hundreds of yards of open ground, unsupported by Confederate artillery, charging toward firmly entrenched Union infantry and artillery defenses. These errors provide Union forces with an opportunity to inflict heavy casualties.

The human toll of the Battle of Malvern Hill and the Seven Days Battles is shown clearly as both capitals, Washington and Richmond, set up numerous provisional hospitals to care for the dead and wounded. Ships sails from the Peninsula to Washington carrying the wounded. Richmond is nearest to the battlefields of the Seven Days, and the immense number of casualties overwhelms hospitals and doctors. People from about the Confederacy descend upon Richmond to care for the conflict’s casualties. Graves cannot be dug quickly enough. In total, the Confederacy counts some 5,650 casualties while the Union Army estimates approximately 3,000 casualties.

In the aftermath of the battle the Confederate press heralds Lee as the savior of Richmond. In stark contrast, McClellan is accused of being absent from the battlefield, a harsh criticism that haunts him when he runs for president in 1864.

(Pictured: A watercolor painting of the Battle of Malvern Hill, made by Robert Sneden during the American Civil War at Malvern Hill in Henrico County, Virginia. Sneden was the mapmaker for Samuel P. Heintzelman’s III Corps.)


Leave a comment

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.


2 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

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.”


Leave a comment

Death of General Philip Henry Sheridan

philip-sheridanIrish American General Philip Henry Sheridan, career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War, dies of heart disease in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, on August 5, 1888.

Sheridan is born in Albany, New York, the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan. Fully grown, he reaches only 5 feet 5 inches in height, a stature that leads to the nickname “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln describes his appearance in a famous anecdote, “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan’s career is noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transfers Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeats Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, is one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursues General Robert E. Lee and is instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In later years, Sheridan fights in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Comanche Chief Tosahwi reputedly tells Sheridan in 1869, “Me, Tosahwi; me good Injun,” to which Sheridan supposedly replies, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan denies he had ever made the statement. Biographer Roy Morris Jr. states that, nevertheless, popular history credits Sheridan with saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” This variation “has been used by friends and enemies ever since to characterize and castigate his Indian-fighting career.” In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown attributes the quote to Sheridan but does not provide documentation to support his contention, so the quote may be more apocryphal than real.

Both as a soldier and private citizen, Sheridan is instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The protection of the Yellowstone area is Sheridan’s personal crusade. He authorizes Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. Barlow names Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promotes military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.

In 1883, Sheridan is appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he is promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan serves as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.

Sheridan suffers a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passes legislation to promote him to general and he receives the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moves him from the heat of Washington, D.C. and he dies of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

His body is returned to Washington and he is buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The burial helps elevate Arlington to national prominence.