seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Birth of Mike Donovan, Middleweight Boxer

professor-mike-donovanMike Donovan, middleweight boxer of the bare-knuckle era also known as Professor Mike Donovan and Mike O’Donovan, is born in Chicago, Illinois on September 27, 1847 to Irish-born parents. He later becomes one of the foremost teachers of the sport.

The first of many memorable events in Donovan’s life comes when he fights for the Union Army in the American Civil War, serving in William Tecumseh Sherman‘s army in its march through Georgia. After the war, he begins a boxing career that associates him with some of the best-known people of his age, in and out of the ring.

In 1868, Donovan defeats John Shanssey in a bout in Cheyenne, Wyoming, refereed by famous Western lawman Wyatt Earp. He wins the middleweight title in 1887 in San Francisco. He also fights the most famous Irish boxing champion in history, John L. Sullivan, fighting two four-round fights with him in 1880 and 1881.

After his active boxing career ends, Donovan becomes a boxing instructor at the New York Athletic Club and works with several famous Irish fighters. He is in Jake Kilrain‘s corner when he loses to John L. Sullivan in the last bare-knuckle heavyweight championship fight, and also helps James Corbett when he defeats Sullivan for the title in 1892.

Donovan spars with President Theodore Roosevelt, who loves boxing, on several occasions. He earns the sobriquet “Professor” for his scientific approach to his own career and in his later teaching of the sport. The “Professor” leaves a legacy, as well. His son Arthur is a famous boxing referee in the 1930s and 1940s and is enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame along with the “Professor,” the only father-son combination so honored. His grandson, also Art, plays for the Baltimore Colts in the National Football League and is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Donovan dies on March 24, 1918 at St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx, New York from complications from a bout with pneumonia he develops while teaching a boxing class. He is survived by his wife, Cecilia, and eight children, all who are at his bedside when he dies. After his death, his will indicates that his last name is actually O’Donovan.

Donovan’s silver championship belt is bequeathed to his son, Arthur, who at the time is serving in the United States Army, in the 105th Field Artillery at Spartanburg, South Carolina, during World War I.

Donovan is elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York in 1998.


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.


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General Patrick Cleburne Wounded at Battle of Richmond

Major General Patrick Cleburne, by Louis GuillaumeIrish-born Confederate Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne commands a division at the Battle of Richmond in Kentucky on August 29-30, 1862, where he is wounded.

The battle is a stunning Confederate victory by Major General Edmund Kirby Smith against Union Major General William “Bull” Nelson‘s forces. It is the first major battle in the Confederate Heartland Offensive. The battle takes place on and around what is now the grounds of the Blue Grass Army Depot, outside Richmond, Kentucky.

In the fall of 1862, two Confederate armies move on separate paths into Kentucky, hoping to put the shadow Confederate government of Kentucky of that state into power, threaten Union cities along the Ohio River, and recruit men to join the army. First to move is Kirby Smith, departing Knoxville on August 13, leading the Confederate Army of Kentucky, whose ideas provide the initiative for the offensive. General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Mississippi, leaves Chattanooga on August 27 and moves on a roughly parallel track to the west.

Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne leads Smith’s advance with Colonel John S. Scott’s cavalry out in front. The Confederate cavalry, while moving north from Big Hill on the road to Richmond, Kentucky, on August 29, encounters Union troopers and begin skirmishing. After noon, Union artillery and infantry join the fray, forcing the Confederate cavalry to retreat to Big Hill.

At that time, Brigadier General Mahlon Dickerson Manson, who commands Union forces in the area, orders a brigade to march to Rogersville, toward the rebels. Fighting for the day stops after pursuing Union forces briefly skirmish with Cleburne’s men in the late afternoon. That night, Manson informs his superior, Bull Nelson, of his situation, and he orders another brigade to be ready to march in support, when required.

Kirby Smith orders Cleburne to attack in the morning and promises to hurry reinforcements. Cleburne starts early, marching north, passes through Kingston, disperses Union skirmishers, and approaches Manson’s battle line near Zion Church. As the day progresses, additional troops join both sides. Following an artillery duel, the battle begins, and after a concerted Confederate attack on the Union right, the Union troops give way. Retreating into Rogersville, they make another futile stand at their old bivouac.

By this time, Smith and Nelson arrive and take command of their respective armies. Nelson rallies some troops in the cemetery outside Richmond, but they are routed.

Nelson and some of his men escape, but the Confederates capture over 4,300 Union troops. Total casualties are 5,353 (206 killed, 844 wounded, and 4,303 captured or missing) on the Union side, 451 (78 killed, 372 wounded, and one missing) for the Confederates. The way north towards Lexington and Frankfort is open.

During the battle Cleburne is wounded in the face when a Minié ball pierces his left cheek, smashes several teeth, and exits through his mouth. He recovers in time to re-join Bragg and William Joseph Hardee and participate in the Battle of Perryville.

The Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust, and its partners have acquired and preserved 365 acres of the Richmond Battlefield. The Mt. Zion Christian Church, which served as a hospital during the battle and has cannonballs embedded in its brick walls, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two discontinuous areas totaling 214 acres are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Battle of Richmond Historic Areas in 1996.

(Pictured: Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, courtesy of Library of Congress)


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Death of Colonel Dennis O’Kane

dennis-o-kaneColonel Dennis O’Kane, officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 4, 1863 of wounds sustained the previous day when fighting with the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born in Coleraine, County Londonderry, O’Kane is a tavern owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia regiment prior to the Civil War. When the conflict starts, he helps recruit the 24th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a unit that has the 2nd Pennsylvania Militia as its nucleus. Commissioned Major, Field and Staff, on May 1, 1861, he is with his regiment as it serves first in Maryland and then Virginia before their enlistment expires in July 1861.

In August 1861 O’Kane joins with many of the men from the 24th Pennsylvania in re-enlisting to continue the war effort, and they form the basis of what becomes the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. Commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, Field and Staff on August 19, 1861, his new regiment is composed largely of Irish immigrants like himself, and they emblazon the Irish harp on their flag. The unit eventually is joined with the 71st, 72nd and 106th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments to form the famous Philadelphia Brigade.

O’ Kane serves as second-in-command through 1862, participating in the Peninsular Campaign of May and June, the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, and the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, where his brigade is caught in the West Woods area and takes heavy losses. In November 1862, the 69th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, is promoted to Brigadier General, US Volunteers. O’Kane is advanced to Colonel on December 1, 1862 to fill the vacancy.

At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 14, 1862, O’Kane leads his men in the third of four waves of futile Union charges on strong Confederate positions at Marye’s Heights south of the town, and sees his regiment sustain fifty-one casualties. In May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville, his brigade is held in reserve and sees limited action.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, O’Kane finds the 69th Pennsylvania positioned along a rock fencing in the middle of the Union lines that becomes famous as “The Angle.” That position becomes the epicenter of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, the third day of the battle, as the remnants of the Confederate forces, having been much devastated from Union artillery fire, crash over the rock walls and engage the Philadelphia Brigade in brutal hand-to-hand fighting.

O’Kane is shot in the head at the wall and dies the following day. His regiment again takes high casualties but succeeds in helping to repulse the rebels and defeat the charge. The monument for the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry in Gettysburg National Military Park stands on the spot where O’Kane was mortally wounded.


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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.)