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


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.

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William J. Brennan Appointed to U.S. Supreme Court

william-brennanWilliam Joseph Brennan, Jr., American judge, is named an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States through a recess appointment by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 15, 1956, shortly before the 1956 presidential election. He serves from 1956 until July 20, 1990. As the seventh longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, he is known for being a leader of the Court’s liberal wing.

Brennan is born in Newark, New Jersey to Irish immigrants, originally from County Roscommon, on April 25, 1906. He attends public schools in Newark, graduating from Barringer High School in 1924. He then attends the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduates cum laude with a degree in economics in 1928. He graduates from Harvard Law School near the top of his class in 1931 and is a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Brennan enters private practice in New Jersey and serves in the United States Army during World War II. He is appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1951. After his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by Eisenhower in 1956, he wins Senate confirmation the following year.

On the Supreme Court, Brennan is known for his outspoken progressive views, including opposition to the death penalty and support for abortion rights. He authors several landmark case opinions, including Baker v. Carr, establishing the “one person, one vote” principle, and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which requires “actual malice” in libel suits brought by public officials. Due to his ability to shape a wide variety of opinions and “bargain” for votes in many cases, he is considered to be among the Court’s most influential members. Justice Antonin Scalia calls Brennan “probably the most influential Justice of the [20th] century.”

Brennan holds the post on the Court until his retirement on July 20, 1990 after suffering a stroke. He is succeeded by Justice David Souter. Brennan then teaches at Georgetown University Law Center until 1994. He dies in Arlington County, Virginia on July 24, 1997 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

With 1,360 opinions, he is second only to William O. Douglas in number of opinions written while a Supreme Court justice. On November 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton presents Brennan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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Death of U.S. President William McKinley

william-mckinleyWilliam McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, dies on September 14, 1901, eight days after being shot by anarchist Leon Czolgozc and six months into his second term. McKinley leads the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raises protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintains the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver.

McKinley is born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, the seventh child of William McKinley Sr. and Nancy (née Allison) McKinley. The McKinleys are of English and Scots-Irish descent and settled in western Pennsylvania in the 18th century, tracing back to a David McKinley who is born in Dervock, County Antrim, in present-day Northern Ireland.

McKinley is the last president to serve in the American Civil War and the only one to start the war as an enlisted soldier, beginning as a private in the Union Army and ending as a brevet major. After the war, he settles in Canton, Ohio, where he practices law and marries Ida Saxton. In 1876, he is elected to the United States Congress, where he becomes the Republican Party‘s expert on the protective tariff, which he promises will bring prosperity. His 1890 McKinley Tariff is highly controversial which, together with a Democratic redistricting aimed at gerrymandering him out of office, leads to his defeat in the Democratic landslide of 1890.

McKinley is elected Ohio’s governor in 1891 and 1893, steering a moderate course between capital and labor interests. With the aid of his close adviser Mark Hanna, he secures the Republican nomination for president in 1896, amid a deep economic depression. He defeats his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, after a front porch campaign in which he advocates “sound money” and promises that high tariffs will restore prosperity.

Rapid economic growth marks McKinley’s presidency. He promotes the 1897 Dingley Act to protect manufacturers and factory workers from foreign competition, and in 1900, he secures the passage of the Gold Standard Act. He hopes to persuade Spain to grant independence to rebellious Cuba without conflict, but when negotiation fails, he leads the nation into the Spanish–American War of 1898. The U.S. victory is quick and decisive. As part of the Treaty of Paris, Spain turns over to the United States its main overseas colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Cuba is promised independence, but at that time remains under the control of the U.S. Army. The United States annexes the independent Republic of Hawaii in 1898 and it became a U.S. territory.

Historians regard McKinley’s 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post–Civil War era gives way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which begins with the Progressive Era.

McKinley defeats Bryan again in the 1900 presidential election, in a campaign focused on imperialism, protectionism, and free silver. However, his legacy is suddenly cut short when he is shot on September 6, 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, a second-generation Polish American with anarchist leanings. McKinley dies eight days later on September 14, 1901, and is succeeded by his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt. He is buried at the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio.

As an innovator of American interventionism and pro-business sentiment, McKinley’s presidency is generally considered above average, though his highly positive public perception is soon overshadowed by Roosevelt.


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Birth of William O’Dwyer, 100th Mayor of New York City

william-o-dwyerWilliam O’Dwyer, Irish American politician and diplomat who serves as the 100th Mayor of New York City, holding that office from 1946 to 1950, is born in Bohola, County Mayo on July 11, 1890.

O’Dwyer studies at St. Nathys College, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. He emigrates to the United States in 1910, after abandoning studies for the priesthood. He sails to New York City as a steerage passenger on board the liner Philadelphia and is inspected at Ellis Island on June 27, 1910. He first works as a laborer, then as a New York City police officer, while studying law at night at Fordham University Law School. He receives his degree in 1923 and then builds a successful practice before serving as a Kings County (Brooklyn) Court judge. He wins election as the Kings County District Attorney in November 1939 and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate known as Murder, Inc. makes him a national celebrity.

After losing the mayoral election to Fiorello La Guardia in 1941, O’Dwyer joins the United States Army for World War II, achieving the rank of brigadier general as a member of the Allied Commission for Italy and executive director of the War Refugee Board, for which he receives the Legion of Merit. During that time, he is on leave from his elected position as district attorney and replaced by his chief assistant, Thomas Cradock Hughes, and is re-elected in November 1943.

In 1945, O’Dwyer receives the support of Tammany Hall leader Edward V. Loughlin, wins the Democratic nomination, and then easily wins the mayoral election. He establishes the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Park Commissioner Robert Moses to the post, works to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presides over the first billion-dollar New York City budget, creates a traffic department and raises the subway fare from five cents to ten cents. In 1948, he receives The Hundred Year Association of New York‘s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.” In 1948, he receives the epithets “Whirling Willie” and “Flip-Flop Willie” from U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio of the opposition American Labor Party while the latter is campaigning for Henry A. Wallace.

Shortly after his re-election to the mayoralty in 1949, O’Dwyer is confronted with a police corruption scandal uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. O’Dwyer resigns from office on August 31, 1950. Upon his resignation, he is given a ticker tape parade up Broadway‘s Canyon of Heroes in the borough of Manhattan. President Harry Truman appoints him U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He returns to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures and the accusations follow him for the rest of his life. He resigns as ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remains in Mexico until 1960.

O’Dwyer visits Israel for 34 days in 1951 on behalf of his Jewish constituents. Along with New York’s Jewish community, he helps organize the first Israel Day Parade.

William O’Dwyer dies in New York City on November 24, 1964, in Beth Israel Hospital, aged 74, from heart failure. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, Grave 889-A-RH.


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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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Birth of Audie Murphy, Decorated Soldier & Actor

audie-leon-murphyAudie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, is born to sharecropping parents of Irish descent in Kingston, Texas on June 20, 1925.

As a child, Murphy is a loner with mood swings and an explosive temper. He grows up in Texas, around Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, where he attends elementary school. His father drifts in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserts them. He drops out of school in fifth grade and gets a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support his family. After his mother dies of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, he works at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy’s older sister helps him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military. Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlists in the Army. He first sees action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944, he participates in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. He fights at Montélimar and leads his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.

Murphy receives every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He receives the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrates at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, Murphy embarks on a 21-year acting career. He plays himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his roles are in westerns. He makes guest appearances on celebrity television shows and stars in the series Whispering Smith. He is a fairly accomplished songwriter. He breeds American Quarter Horses in California and Arizona and becomes a regular participant in horse racing.

Suffering from what would today be described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Murphy sleeps with a loaded handgun under his pillow. He looks for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In his last few years, he is plagued by money problems but refuses offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he does not want to set a bad example.

Audie Murphy is killed on May 28, 1971 when the private plane in which he is a passenger crashes into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, twenty miles west of Roanoke in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers are also killed. On June 7, 1971, he is buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In attendance are United States Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff of the United States Army William Westmoreland, and many of the 3rd Infantry Division. His gravesite is the cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

(Pictured: Audie Murphy as Tom Smith in the television series Whispering Smith, 1961)


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Sinking of the SS Tuscania

ss-tuscaniaThe SS Tuscania, a luxury liner of the Cunard Line subsidiary Anchor Line converted for troop use, is torpedoed and sunk on February 5, 1918 off Rathlin Island, north of Ireland by the German U-boat UB-77. The ship is transporting over 2,000 American troops to the war in Europe. Over 200 people lose their lives.

SS Tuscania carries passengers between New York City and Glasgow while in service with the Anchor Line, on a route that had previously been assigned to her sister ship SS Transylvania. She continues to run this route even as World War I breaks out in Europe in August 1914 and Germany initiates a submarine campaign against merchant shipping in waters near the United Kingdom.

SS Tuscania makes international headlines for rescuing passengers and crew from the burning Greek steamer SS Athinai on September 20, 1915. In 1916, SS Tuscania is refitted and pressed into service as a troopship. She makes the news again in March 1917 by evading a submarine and a suspected Imperial German Navy armed merchant cruiser.

On January 24, 1918, SS Tuscania departs Hoboken, New Jersey, with 384 crew members and 2,013 United States Army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, 1918, she turns south for the North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 sights SS Tuscania′s convoy during the day and stalks it until early evening. Under the cover of darkness at about 6:40 PM, the submarine′s commanding officer, Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Meyer, orders two torpedoes fired at SS Tuscania. The second of these strikes home, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. SS Tuscania sinks nearly three years to the day after her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. Approximately 210 of the troops and crew are lost, while many others are rescued by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon.

Three notable passengers who survive the sinking are British critic Sydney Brooks, Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and Harry Randall Truman who later dies in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The wreck of SS Tuscania lies between Scotland‘s Islay and Northern Ireland′s Rathlin Island, about 7 nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, at roughly 55.41°N 06.185°W in 328 feet of water.