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


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Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Battle of Utoy Creek

*The 10th Tennessee Infantry (Irish) fights at the Battle of Utoy Creek on August 6, 1864 during the American Civil War. Known as the “Bloody Tinth,” it is one of only two Irish Catholic regiments in the Confederate States Army, although their elected officers are mostly Ulster Scots Protestants. They are deployed as sharpshooters through the tough campaigns at Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta.

The Battle of Utoy Creek is fought August 4–7, 1864, during the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‘s Union armies have partially encircled the city of Atlanta, Georgia, which is being held by Confederate forces under the command of General John Bell Hood. Sherman has at this point adopted a strategy of attacking the railroad lines into Atlanta, hoping to cut off his enemies’ supplies. This is the third direct attack on Confederate positions during the campaign and the effect of success would have ended the siege and won Atlanta on August 6, 1864.

After failing to envelop Hood’s left flank at the Battle of Ezra Church, Sherman still wants to extend his right flank to hit the railroad between East Point and Atlanta. He transfers Maj. Gen. John McAllister Schofield‘s XXIII Corps of the U.S. Army of the Ohio from his left to his right flank and sends him to the north bank of Utoy Creek.

Although Schofield’s troops are at Utoy Creek on August 2, they, along with the XIV Corps, Army of the Cumberland, do not cross until August 4. An initial attack by the Regular Brigade against James Patton Anderson‘s Division CSA of Stephen Dill Lee‘s Corps is unsuccessful. In addition the Confederates dismount a brigade of cavalry, Armstrong’s, in the front of the federals in a deception plan, a feinted attack that is successful in delaying the combined force of the XXIII and XIV Corps USA.

Schofield makes an additional movement to exploit this situation on the morning of August 5. Although initially successful, Schofield has to regroup his forces, which takes the rest of the day. The delay allows the Confederates to strengthen their defenses with an abatis, which slows the Union attack when it restarts on the morning of August 6. The Federals are repulsed with heavy losses by William Brimage Bate‘s division and fail in an attempt to break the main defenses to gain the railroad.

On August 7, the Union troops move toward the Confederate main line skirmishing and extending to their right and entrench. Several attacks are made at Sandtown Road (Campbellton at Adams Park) on August 10 and East Point on August 18. Here US Forces remain, as far south as the Atlanta Christian College, until late August 1864 when the failure of Schofield’s offensive operations convince Sherman to move on the Confederate lines of communication and supply.


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Death of U.S. Union Army Colonel Patrick Kelly

colonel-patrick-kellyColonel Patrick Kelly of the Union Army‘s Irish Brigade (The Fighting Irish) dies on June 16, 1864 at the Siege of Petersburg during the American Civil War while leading the Irish Brigade forward against a Confederate position.

Kelly is born in Castlehacket, Tuam, County Galway and emigrates to the United States, landing in New York City. His wife Elizabeth is also from Tuam.

At the outset of the American Civil War, Kelly enlists in the Union Army and sees action as captain of Company E of the 69th New York Infantry at the First Battle of Bull Run. He briefly is a captain in the 16th U.S. Infantry. On September 14, 1861, he is named lieutenant colonel of the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fights in the Irish Brigade’s major battles in 1862. He commands the regiment at the Battle of Antietam. While stationed at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia following the Maryland campaign, he is promoted to colonel on October 20, 1862. He leads the regiment in the ill-fated attacks in front of Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He is acting commander of the Irish Brigade at the end of 1862.

After the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, Kelly is promoted to command the Irish Brigade following the resignation of Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher. He leads the heavily depleted brigade of fewer than 600 men in an attack at the Wheatfield during the Battle of Gettysburg. The brigade loses 198 of 532 troops engaged, approximately 37%.

Kelly resumes his role as colonel of his regiment as more senior officers return to the brigade. However, with the death of Colonel Richard Byrnes at the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864, he again commands the brigade. At the age of 42, he dies during the Siege of Petersburg on June 16, 1864 when he is shot through the head while leading the Irish Brigade forward against Confederate earthworks. His body is recovered and sent back to New York for his funeral. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York.


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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 John Lonergan, American Civil War Captain

john-lonerganJohn Lonergan, American Civil War captain and Medal of Honor winner, is born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary on April 7, 1839. Hailed as a hero in the American Civil War, he wins the award for his bravery during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lonergan immigrates to the United States with his family in 1848. It is said that the Lonergans were on the run from the Great Famine, as well as British oppression. Settling in Vermont, he works alongside his father as a cooper.

In 1862, Lonergan forms a company of fellow Vermont Irishmen to volunteer to fight the Confederates. He does so with the mindset to gain more military skill to help the cause of Irish freedom. He is also leader of the Vermont branch of the Fenian Brotherhood, a forerunner to the Irish Republican Army.

Lonergan serves for the Union Army in two stages, 1862-1863 and 1865. Serving as the captain of Company A, 13th Vermont Infantry, his efforts on July 2, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg earn him the Medal of Honor, which cites him for “Gallantry in the recapture of four guns and the capture of two additional guns from the enemy; also the capture of a number of prisoners.”

Following his services in the Civil War, Lonergan helps organize a pair of failed raids into Canada from staging areas in St. Albans. The Fenians’ quixotic aim is to pressure Britain, which rules Canada as a colony, to surrender control of Ireland.

Lonergan dies in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on August 6, 1902. In 2013, a memorial is erected to him in Burlington, Vermont.


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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)