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


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Birth of Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish Nationalist

thomas-francis-meagherThomas Francis Meagher, Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848, is born on August 3, 1823 at Waterford, County Waterford, in what is now the Granville Hotel on the Quay.

Meagher is educated at Roman Catholic boarding schools. When he is eleven, his family sends him to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. It is at Clongowes that he develops his skill of oratory, becoming at age 15 the youngest medalist of the Debating Society. After six years, he leaves Ireland for the first time, to study in Lancashire, England, at Stonyhurst College, also a Jesuit institution. He returns to Ireland in 1843, with undecided plans for a career in the Austrian army, a tradition among a number of Irish families.

Meagher becomes a member of the Young Ireland Party in 1845 and in 1847 is one of the founders of the Irish Confederation, dedicated to Irish independence. In 1848 he is involved, along with William Smith O’Brien, in an abortive attempt to mount an insurrection against English rule. Arrested for high treason, he is condemned to death, but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania.

Meagher escapes in 1852 and makes his way to the United States. After a speaking tour of U.S. cities, he settles in New York City, studies law, and is admitted to the bar in 1855. He soon becomes a leader of the Irish in New York and, from 1856, edits the Irish News.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Meagher becomes a captain of New York volunteers and fights at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. He then organizes the Irish Brigade, and in February 1862 is elevated to the rank of brigadier general. After his brigade is decimated at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he resigns his commission, however in December he returns to command the military district of Etowah, with headquarters at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At the close of the war, Meagher is appointed secretary of Montana Territory where, in the absence of a territorial governor, he serves as acting governor.

In the summer of 1867, Meagher travels to Fort Benton, Montana, to receive a shipment of guns and ammunition sent by General William Tecumseh Sherman for use by the Montana Militia. On the way to Fort Benton, the Missouri River terminus for steamboat travel, he falls ill and stops for six days to recuperate. When he reaches Fort Benton, he is reportedly still ill.

Sometime in the early evening of July 1, 1867, Meagher falls overboard from the steamboat G. A. Thompson, into the Missouri River. His body is never recovered. Some believe his death to be suspicious and many theories circulate about his death. Early theories included a claim that he was murdered by a Confederate soldier from the war, or by Native Americans. In 1913 a man claims to have carried out the murder of Meagher for the price of $8,000, but then recants. In the same vein, American journalist and novelist Timothy Egan, who publishes a biography of Meagher in 2016, claims Meagher may have been murdered by Montana political enemies or powerful and still active vigilantes. On the frontier men are quick to kill rather than adjudicate. A similar theory shown on Death Valley Days (1960) has him survive the assassination attempt because his aide had been mistakenly murdered when he accepted one of his trademark cigars, and Meagher uses his apparent death as leverage over his political opponents.


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)


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Birth of St. Clair Mulholland, Union Army Colonel

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Clair_Mulholland.jpgSt. Clair Augustine Mulholland, colonel in the Union Army in the American Civil War and Medal of Honor winner, is born in Lisburn, County Antrim on April 1, 1839.

Mulholland emigrates to Philadelphia with his parents while a boy. His youthful tastes incline him to military affairs and he becomes active in the ranks of the militia. At the outbreak of the Civil War he is commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, which is attached to Thomas Francis Meagher‘s Irish Brigade. When the regiment‘s size is reduced to a battalion, he accepts a reduction in rank to major.

Mulholland is wounded during the famous charge of the Irish Brigade up Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. At the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3 and 4, 1863, he leads his regiment and distinguishes himself by saving the guns of the 5th Maine Battery that had been abandoned to the enemy. For this he is complimented in general orders and later receives the Medal of Honor from the United States Congress. In this campaign he is given the command of the picket line by Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and covers the retreat of the Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock River.

Although Mulholland later claims that at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 he personally took command of the 140th Pennsylvania Infantry and led it into action, this fact is mentioned in neither his own official report of the battle, nor that of the lieutenant colonel commanding the 140th. When the 116th is returned to full strength in early 1864, he is promoted to colonel. He is wounded a second time at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House he is wounded a third time, but remains in the hospital only ten days. Resuming his command, he is dangerously wounded again at the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek. He recovers rapidly and commands his brigade in all the actions around the Siege of Petersburg, particularly distinguishing himself by storming a fort on the Boydton Plank Road. He is mustered out of the volunteer service on June 3, 1865.

On May 4, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominates Mulholland for the brevet grade of brigadier general of volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865 for his conduct at the Battle of the Wilderness and the U.S. Senate confirms the appointment on May 18, 1866. On January 13, 1869, President Johnson nominates Mulholland for appointment to the brevet grade of major general of volunteers, to rank from March 13, 1865 for his actions on the Boydton Plank Road and the Senate confirms the appointment on February 16, 1869. The brevet is issued February 20, 1869. It is the last brevet of major general issued for service during the Civil War.

Returning to civilian life after the war, Mulholland is appointed Chief of Police in Philadelphia in 1868, and signalizes his administration by the good order in which he keeps both the force and the city. President Grover Cleveland appoints him United States Pension Agent, in which office he is continued by Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He is considered an authority on the science of penology, and also devotes much of his leisure time to art studies, and as a lecturer and writer on the Civil War and its records. He compiles a history of the 116th Regiment, and another of those to whom Congress voted the Medal of Honor. In the Catholic affairs of Philadelphia, he is always active and a leader among the best known laymen.

St. Clair Augustin Mulholland dies on February 17, 1910 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Old Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia.


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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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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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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 William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.