Irish-born soldier served the late Mike Flannery, George Washington and his adopted nation well

By 'Brigadier'

Reproduced by Anna Frances
Edward Hand, colonel and adjutant general, Continental Army

The career of Colonel Edward Hand, a Revolutionary War regimental commander who figured prominently in the Battle of Brooklyn (27 August 1776), was profiled in an IRA arms trial in Brooklyn Federal Court when the "Brooklyn IRA Five" were acquitted on all counts brought 206 years later by the U.S. government. Michael Flannery, leader of the Five, took pains in cross examination in 1982 to lecture the federal prosecutor about his admiration for Hand and Washington's revolutionary army since the colonel was born just "just up the road" from Mike's own north Tipperary birthplace. The jury, of course, was impressed, so that by the end of the ordeal for the federal prosecutor, the Brooklynites were in the palm of Michael's hand.

From the parish of Clyduff, which straddles the borders of Tipp and Offaly (then named Kings County), Hand appears to have entered the British army at about age 23 and soon obtained a medical certificate at Trinity College, Dublin, enabling him to qualify as a surgeon's mate in an infantry regiment that soon shipped out for America, but not on time, in 1767, to participate in the French and Indian War.

Hand was soon attracted to the American experiment in self-government, so that by 1774 the land around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, beckoned in part because it swarmed with many of his fellow Irish who bristled at the role of London in their affairs. They were also growing prosperous - people who could use his medical skills, but not to the exclusion of an interest in service with the local county militia, which was called out on occasion to confront displaced native Americans on the edges of the white man's frontier (then, Western New York, Western Pennsylvania and points southward). Soon, however, the entire region from the Carolinas to the border with Canada had a more pressing issue to confront - the looming threat of war with the crown over taxation and representation.

Rising concern soon led to the formation of a rifle battalion of about eight companies composed of young men from the counties adjacent to Lancaster. It was named for its commander, Colonel William Thompson from County Meath, just north of Dublin, not far from Clyduff. Edward Hand was immediately appointed Lieutenant Colonel (second in command) of Thompson's Rifle Battalion. It was a fateful choice, for the unit, which in effect was of regimental strength, would shortly be activated for a forced march, destination Boston, where they would face the British at Bunker Hill as the 1st Continental Regiment. It was the very first combat unit sponsored by the Congress in the Continental Army of George Washington; the very first regiment of the people's new army. Thus Colonel Thompson was the U.S. Army's very first colonel and Edward its first Lieutenant Colonel.

You can learn more about Edward Hand and hundreds of other people and events of the War if you buy the Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. (A portion of your purchase price will help support "The Wild Geese.")

The Boston campaign ended in driving the English army and navy from Beantown on St. Patrick's Day, 1776, setting the stage for a fateful, meaningless and disastrous campaign of a sizeable part of the Northern Army into Canada. There, William Thompson was captured, opening the way for Edward Hand to lead what was becoming the rebel army's best fighting unit. And one that would serve all the way through to the British surrender at Yorktown.

[By coincidence, it was Cornwallis, who surrendered British forces in Yorktown, who would by 1798 command all English forces in Ireland and thus bear the ultimate responsibility for the atrocities inflicted on the surrendered troops of the Irish republican forces. This while their French allies (in "The Year of the French") would be treated correctly as prisoners of war. Cornwallis differentiated between "mere rebels" and the formal troops of a powerful enemy, the point being that if the French were punished like the Irish, the day would surely come for the French to treat their English prisoners (on the continent, at sea or elsewhere) as the English treated theirs.]

By war's end, Hand was elevated to Major General and made Adjutant General of the entire U.S. Army, one of 16 (possibly 17) Irish-born generals under Washington's overall command. Here we include the Continental Navy's sole Irish-born "flag officer," Captain (later Commodore) "Saucy" John Barry of Wexford. These impressive numbers for a tiny nation compare with only two revolutionary generals born in Scotland and two each from England, France and Poland, and perhaps three from Germany. But Edward Hand's reputation as a front-line troop commander was his indelible claim to fame in Washington's service.

With great skill in his very first major engagement on Long Island (the Battle of Brooklyn), Hand was able to provide Washington with most of his intelligence needs while also managing the immediate affairs of his own musketmen. During the battle, he was among the most active in harassing the British, and he and his regiment, the First Continental (Pennsylvania), under William Alexander, Lord Stirling, held the British advance up the Shore Road.

But his undying contribution to American arms came in the days following the brilliant envelopment by Washington of the crown forces at Trenton ("Washington's Crossing of the Delaware").

After the Revolution, Hand served a term in the Continental Congress, in 1783-'4, became a signer of the Pennsylvania constitution of 1790, and occupied many local offices of public trust. In 1798, a year of general insurrection in Ireland, in anticipation of a war with France, General Washington recommended General Hand's appointment as adjutant-general. Hand died in Rockford, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, September 3, 1802, and is interred there in St. James's Episcopal Cemetery.

-- C.A.L.

For additional information on Edward Hand, visit:>

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Tags: Battle of Brooklyn, Diaspora History, Edward Hand, Military History, Pennsylvania, Revolutionary War, Thompson's Rifle Battalion, United States


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