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


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The Second Battle of Fredericksburg

The 6th Louisiana Infantry, a largely Irish Confederate regiment, fights at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, also known as the Second Battle of Marye’s Heights, on May 3, 1863, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign of the American Civil War. With its ranks filled with Irishmen from New Orleans and roundabouts, the 6th fights in nearly every major battle of the Eastern Theater, from First Battle of Bull Run to the Battle of Appomattox Court House.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee leaves Major General Jubal Anderson Early to hold Fredericksburg on May 1, while he marches west with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia to deal with Union Army Major General Joseph Hooker‘s main thrust at Chancellorsville with four corps of the Army of the Potomac. Early has his own division, along with William Barksdale‘s brigade from McLaws’ division and cannons from the artillery reserve. Early is assisted by Brigadier General William Pendleton of the artillery reserve. Cadmus Wilcox‘s brigade arrives on May 3, increasing Early’s strength to 12,000 men and 45 cannons. Most of the Confederate force is deployed south of Fredericksburg.

Early is ordered by Lee to watch the remaining Union force near Fredericksburg. If he is attacked and defeated, he is to retreat southward to protect the Confederate supply lines. If the Union force moves to reinforce Hooker, then Early is to leave a covering force and rejoin Lee with the remainder of his troops. On May 2, misunderstanding his orders, Early leaves one brigade at Fredericksburg and starts the rest of his force towards Chancellorsville. Lee corrects the misunderstanding and Early then returns to his positions that night before Major General John Sedgwick of the Union Army discovers the Confederate retreat.

Sedgwick is left near Fredericksburg with the VI Corps, the I Corps, and the II Corps division of Brigadier General John Gibbon. Hooker’s plan calls for Sedgwick to demonstrate near the city in order to deceive Lee about the Union plan. The VI and II Corps seize control of several crossings on April 29, laying down pontoon bridges in the early morning hours, and the divisions of William T. H. Brooks and James S. Wadsworth cross the river. The I Corps is ordered to reinforce the main army at Chancellorsville during the night of May 1. During the evening of May 2, Sedgwick receives orders to attack Early with his remaining forces.

Sedgwick moves his forces into Fredericksburg during dawn on May 3, uniting with Gibbon’s division which had crossed the river just before dawn. Sedgwick originally plans to attack the ends of Marye’s Heights but a canal and a stream block the Union forces. He then decides to launch an attack on the Confederate center on the heights, which is manned by Barksdale’s brigade, with John Newton’s division. This attack is defeated. Colonel Thomas M. Griffin of the 18th Mississippi Infantry grants the Union forces a truce in order to gather in their wounded. During this truce, the Union commanders notice that the flank of Barksdale’s left regiment is unprotected.

Sedgwick launches another attack against this flank and Barksdale’s front using elements from all three VI Corps divisions, which pushes the Confederate forces off the ridge, capturing some artillery. The first men to mount the stone wall are from the 5th Wisconsin and the 6th Maine Infantry regiments. Barksdale retreats to Lee’s Hill, where he attempts to make another stand but is again forced to retreat southward.

Confederate casualties total 700 men and four cannons. Early withdraws with his division two miles to the south, while Wilcox withdraws westward, slowing Sedgwick’s advance. When he learns of the Confederate defeat, Lee starts moving two divisions east to stop Sedgwick. Following the campaign, Early becomes embroiled in an argument with Barksdale over what Barksdale considered a slight to his brigade in a newspaper letter that Early had written. The exchange continues until Lee orders the two generals to cease.

Sedgwick loses 1,100 men during the engagement. At first he starts to pursue Early’s division but then follows the orders he received the previous day and starts west along the Plank Road towards Hooker’s army at Chancellorsville. Gibbon’s division is left in Fredericksburg to guard the city.

(Pictured: Three men in a tree on Stafford Heights watching distant fighting on Marye’s Heights during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, 1863. Smoke from the battle is possibly visible in the distance which would make it one of the earliest combat photographs of a land battle. The destroyed railroad bridge over the Rappahannock River is in the middle ground of the photo. Source: National Park Service via the Western Reserve Historical Society)


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The Second Battle of Rappahannock Station

The Irish 6th Louisiana fights at the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station on November 7, 1863, near the village of Rappahannock Station (now Remington, Virginia), on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. The battle is between Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Jubal Early and Union forces under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick as part of the Bristoe campaign of the American Civil War. The battle results in a victory for the Union.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the Union and Confederate armies drift south and for three months spar with one another on the rolling plains of northern Virginia. In late October, General Robert E. Lee withdraws his Confederate army behind the Rappahannock River, a line he hopes to maintain throughout the winter. A single pontoon bridge at the town of Rappahannock Station is the only connection Lee retains with the northern bank of the river.

The Union Army of the Potomac‘s commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, divides his forces just as Lee expects. He orders Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick to attack the Confederate position at Rappahannock Station while Maj. Gen. William H. French forces a crossing five miles downstream at Kelly’s Ford. Once both Sedgwick and French are safely across the river, the reunited army is to proceed to Brandy Station.

The operation goes according to plan. Shortly after noon on November 7, French drives back Confederate defenders at Kelly’s Ford and crosses the river. As he does so, Sedgwick advances toward Rappahannock Station. Lee learns of these developments sometime after noon and immediately puts his troops in motion to meet the enemy. His plan is to resist Sedgwick with a small force at Rappahannock Station while attacking French at Kelly’s Ford with the larger part of his army. The success of the plan depends on his ability to maintain the Rappahannock Station bridgehead until French is defeated.

Sedgwick first engages the Confederates at 3:00 PM when Maj. Gen. Albion P. Howe‘s division of the VI Corps drives in Confederate skirmishers and seizes a range of high ground three-quarters of a mile from the river. Howe places Union batteries on these hills that pound the enemy earthworks with a “rapid and vigorous” fire. Confederate guns across the river return the fire, but with little effect.

Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division occupies the bridgehead defenses that day. Early posts Brig. Gen. Harry T. Hays‘s Louisiana brigade and Captain Charles A. Green’s four gun Louisiana Guard Artillery in the works and at 4:30 PM reinforces them with three North Carolina regiments led by Colonel Archibald C. Godwin. The addition of Godwin’s troops increases the number of Confederate defenders at the bridgehead to nearly 2,000.

Sedgwick continues shelling the Confederates throughout the late afternoon, but otherwise he shows no disposition to attack. As the day draws to a close, Lee becomes convinced that the movement against the bridgehead is merely a feint to cover French’s crossing farther downstream. He is mistaken. At dusk the shelling stops, and Sedgwick’s infantry rushes suddenly upon the works. Col. Peter Ellmaker’s brigade advances adjacent to the railroad, precedes by skirmishers of the 6th Maine Volunteer Infantry. At the command “Forward, double-quick!” they surge over the Confederate works and engage Hays’s men in hand-to-hand combat. Without assistance, the 6th Maine breaches the Confederate line and plants its flags on the parapet of the easternmost redoubt. Moments later the 5th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment swarms over the walls of the western redoubt, likewise wresting it from Confederate control.

On the right, Union forces achieve comparable success. Just minutes after Ellmaker’s brigade penetrates Hays’s line, Col. Emory Upton‘s brigade overruns Godwin’s position. Upton reforms his lines inside the Confederate works and sends a portion of the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry to seize the pontoon bridge, while the rest of his command wheels right to attack the confused Confederate horde now massed at the lower end of the bridgehead.

Confederate resistance dissolves as hundreds of soldiers throw down their arms and surrender. Others seek to gain the opposite shore by swimming the icy river or by running the gauntlet of Union rifle fire at the bridge. Confederate troops south of the Rappahannock look on hopelessly as Union soldiers herd their comrades to the rear as prisoners of war.

In all, 1,670 Confederates are killed, wounded, or captured in the brief struggle, more than eighty percent of those engaged. Union casualty figures, by contrast, are small: 419 in all. The battle is as humiliating for the South as it is glorious for the North. Two of the Confederacy’s finest brigades, sheltered behind entrenchments and well supported by artillery, are routed and captured by an enemy force of equal size.

The Civil War Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved 856 acres of the battlefield where the First and Second Battles of Rappahannock Station were fought. The battleground for both battles is located along the Rappahannock River at Remington, VA and features visible earthworks as well as bridge and mill ruins. The earthworks at Remington are no longer there and more than 75% of the battlefield has been developed over.


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The Battle of Port Republic

battle-of-port-republicAs part of Confederate States Army Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson‘s campaign through the Shenandoah Valley, the Irish 6th Louisiana fight in the Battle of Port Republic in Rockingham County, Virginia on June 9, 1862 during the American Civil War. The battle is a fierce contest between two equally determined foes and is the most costly battle fought by Jackson’s Army of the Valley during its campaign.

During the night of June 8–9, 1862, Brig. Gen. Charles S. Winder‘s Stonewall Brigade is withdrawn from its forward position near Bogota, a large house owned by Gabriel Jones, and rejoins Jackson’s division at Port Republic. Winder’s brigade is assigned the task of spearheading the assault against Union Army forces east of the river. Brig. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble‘s brigade and elements of Col. John M. Patton, Jr.’s, are left to delay Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont‘s Union forces at Cross Keys, while the rest of Maj. Gen. Richard S. Ewell‘s division march to Port Republic to be in position to support Winder’s attack.

Brig. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler‘s brigade joins Col. Samuel S. Carroll‘s brigade north of Lewiston on the Luray Road. The rest of Brig. Gen. James Shields‘s (a native of County Tyrone) division is strung out along the muddy roads back to Luray. General Tyler, in command on the field, advances at dawn on June 9 to the vicinity of Lewiston. He anchors the left of his line on a battery positioned on the Lewiston Coaling, extending his infantry west along Lewiston Lane to the South Fork near the site of Lewis’s Mill. The right and center are supported by artillery, 16 guns in all.

Winder’s brigade crosses the river by 5:00 AM and deploys to attack east across the bottomland. He sends two regiments, the 2nd Virginia Infantry and 4th Virginia Infantry, into the woods to flank the Union line and assault the Coaling. When the main Confederate battle line advances, it comes under heavy fire from the Union artillery and is soon pinned down. Confederate batteries are brought forward onto the plain but are outgunned and forced to seek safer positions. Ewell’s brigades are hurried forward to cross the river. Seeing the strength of the Union artillery at the Coaling, Jackson sends Richard Taylor‘s brigade, including the famed Louisiana Tigers, to the right into the woods to support the flanking column that is attempting to advance through the thick underbrush.

Winder’s brigade renews its assault on the Union right and center, taking heavy casualties. General Tyler moves two regiments from the Coaling to his right and launches a counterattack, driving Confederate forces back nearly half a mile. While this is occurring, the first Confederate regiments probe the defenses of the Coaling, but are repulsed.

Finding resistance fiercer than anticipated, Jackson orders the last of Ewell’s forces still north of Port Republic to cross the rivers and burn the North Fork bridge. These reinforcements begin to reach Winder, strengthening his line and stopping the Union counterattack. Taylor’s brigade reaches a position in the woods across from the Coaling and launches a fierce attack, which carries the hill, capturing five guns. Tyler immediately responds with a counterattack, using his reserves. These regiments, in hand-to-hand fighting, retake the position. Taylor shifts a regiment to the far right to outflank the Union battle line. The Confederate attack again surges forward to capture the Coaling. Five captured guns are turned against the rest of the Union line. With the loss of the Coaling, the Union position along Lewiston Lane becomes untenable, and Tyler orders a withdrawal about 10:30 AM. Jackson orders a general advance.

William B. Taliaferro‘s fresh Confederate brigade arrives from Port Republic and presses the retreating Federals for several miles north along the Luray Road, taking several hundred prisoners. The Confederate army is left in possession of the field. Shortly after noon, Frémont’s army begins to deploy on the west bank of the South Fork, too late to aid Tyler’s defeated command, and watches helplessly from across the rain-swollen river. Frémont deploys artillery on the high bluffs to harass the Confederate forces. Jackson gradually withdraws along a narrow road through the woods and concentrates his army in the vicinity of Mt. Vernon Furnace. Jackson expects Frémont to cross the river and attack him on the following day, but during the night Frémont withdraws toward Harrisonburg.

Together, the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic are the decisive victories in Jackson’s Valley campaign, forcing the Union armies to retreat and leaving Jackson in control of the upper and middle Shenandoah Valley and free to reinforce Gen. Robert E. Lee for the Seven Days Battles outside Richmond, Virginia.

The Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust, and its partners have acquired and preserved 947 acres of the Port Republic battlefield in seven transactions since 1988. The battlefield is located about three miles east of Port Republic at U.S. Route 340 and Ore Bank Road. It retains its wartime agrarian appearance. The Port Republic Battle Monument is on Ore Bank Road beside the site of The Coaling, a key battlefield feature. The Coaling is the first land acquisition of the modern Civil War battlefield preservation movement. The 8.55-acre site is donated to the Trust’s forerunner, the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites by the Lee-Jackson Foundation in 1988.


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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.


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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.


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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.)


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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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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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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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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.