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


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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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Sullivan Brothers Perish in the Sinking of the USS Juneau

sullivan-brothersFive Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, die when their ship, the light cruiser USS Juneau, is torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13, 1942. Raised in an Irish Catholic family, the brothers great grandfather had emigrated from Ireland.

The five brothers, the sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, are George Thomas Sullivan (27), Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan (26), Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan (24), Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan (23), and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan (20).

The Sullivans enlist in the U.S. Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy has a policy of separating siblings but it is not strictly enforced. George and Frank have served in the Navy before, but their brothers have not. All five are assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

The Juneau participates in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early on the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau is struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, as it is leaving the Solomon Islands area for the Allied rear-area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving U.S. warships from battle, the Juneau is struck again, this time by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo apparently hits the thinly armored light cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship explodes and quickly sinks.

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena and senior officer present in the battle-damaged U.S. task force, is skeptical that anyone has survived the sinking of the Juneau and believes it would be reckless to look for survivors, thereby exposing his wounded ships to a still-lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he orders his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signals a nearby U.S. B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.

However, approximately 100 of Juneau‘s crew survive the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and are left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, does not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they land several hours later. The crew’s report of the location of possible survivors is mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and goes unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realize that a search has never been mounted and belatedly orders aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau‘s survivors, many of whom are seriously wounded, are exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors are found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors report that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days before, suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia, he goes over the side of the raft he occupies and is never seen or heard from again.

Security requires that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stop arriving at the home and the parents grow worried, which prompts Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943, citing rumors that survivors of the task force claim that all five brothers were killed in action.

The letter is answered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 13th, who acknowledges that the Sullivans are missing in action. By then, however, the parents have already been informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12, 1943. That morning, the boys’ father, Thomas, is preparing for work when three men in uniform approach his door. “I have some news for you about your boys,” one naval officer says. “Which one?” asks Thomas. “I’m sorry,” the officer replies. “All five.”

As a direct result of the Sullivans’ deaths, and the deaths of four of the Borgstrom brothers within a few months of each other two years later, the United States War Department adopts the Sole Survivor Policy.