This Week in the History of the Irish: December 8 - December 14

Smithsonian Institute
James Hoban and George Washington inspect the unfinished White House in 1798. Washington would never live in it.

DEARDAOIN -- On December 8, 1831, James Hoban, the architect of the White House, died in Washington, D.C. Hoban, a native of County Kilkenny, was educated as an artist by Thomas Ivory in Dublin. He worked as one of the architects on a number of buildings in Ireland, including the Customs House, before emigrating to the United States in 1785. In 1792, Hoban won a competition for the design of the President's house in the new national capital. One of the men he beat out for this prestigious assignment may very well have been none other than Thomas Jefferson, who is thought to have competed under a pseudonym. If so, Jefferson would have to be content with one day being the second president to live in the White House designed and built by Hoban, rather than being its architect. (Jefferson would make a few changes to the design when he moved in; whether out of practicality or jealousy, history does not record.) The cornerstone was laid in October 1793, and Hoban was also given the job of supervising the construction. Though it was not quite finished when President Adams arrived in 1800, he and Abigail moved in as its first residents. Hoban's finished product bore a striking resemblance to Leinster House in Dublin. Hoban continued to have a successful career as an architect around Washington, and when the British burned the White House in 1814, near the end of the War of 1812, Hoban was brought in to restore the gutted structure. It took him three years, but Hoban fully restored the building. James Hoban found great success in his adopted homeland. He and his wife Susannah lived out their days in Washington, raising ten children. James was a wealthy man when he died there in 1831.

Courtesy of Warflag.com
A flag similar to those carried by the Irish regiments in Spanish service.

MÁIRT -- On December 10, 1710, the Irish regiments in the service of Spain fought the battle of Villaviciosa during the War of Spanish Succession. France and Spain had fought since 1701 to have Louis XIV's grandson, Philip of Anjou, placed on the Spanish throne. They were opposed, however, by the forces of England, Holland, Austria, Portugal and Prussia, who were attempting to place the crown on the head of Archduke Charles, son of Hapsburg (Austrian) Emperor Leopold I. The war had been raging across Europe; Italy, Spain and Holland, among other countries, had seen numerous battles. Archduke Charles landed in Spain in February 1704. The battle of Villaviciosa took place as Charles and his allied army retreated from Madrid, which they had managed to hold for several months. Three Irish regiments fought with the Spanish army in this battle, commanded by Col. Don Demetrio MacAuliffe, Col. Don John de Comerford and Col. Don Reynaldo Mac Donnell. This last became known as the Hibernia Regiment. Though all three regiments had fought well, it was later said that the dragoons of Count Daniel O'Mahony, a cavalry commander in Philip's army, as well as those of Marquis de Val-de-Canas saved the battle for Philip by flanking the allies' left and getting into their rear just as it appeared Philip's army had lost the battle. O'Mahony also damaged the allies on their retreat by capturing 700 of their pack mules, laden "with all the plunder of Castile."

Courtesy of Historical Art Prints
Don Troiani's "Clear the Way," showing the 28th Massachusetts advancing its colors against Confederate fire at Fredericksburg.

AOINE -- On Dec. 13, 1862, the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac suffered horrendous casualties as they assaulted massed Confederates firing from within a sunken road beneath Marye's Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The attack, ordered by the new commander of the Army, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, was undoubtedly one of the most ill conceived of the entire war by an army whose staff was famous for ineptitude during the war's first half. Just 3 months earlier, the Irish Brigade had been similarly mauled as it assaulted another Confederate position within a sunken road during the Battle of Antietam. Now, reinforced by the Irish 28th Massachusetts, which had replaced the 'Yankee' 29th Massachusetts, and the 116th Pennsylvania, the Brigade would advance with only one of its signature green banners. After Antietam, the bullet-torn flags of the New York regiments were no longer fit for use and had been returned to the city. Replacements were on the way but did not arrive in time to be carried that day. Only the 28th Massachusetts would carry a green banner up Marye's Heights that day; but that would not be the only green to go into the fight with the Brigade. As they stood in formation in Fredericksburg, with a few Confederate shells falling around them, Brigade commander Thomas Francis Meagher and his staff distributed sprigs of boxwood that the men placed in their caps. Only about 1,200 men began the Irish Brigade's advance toward one of the finest natural defensive positions that either side ever occupied during the war. The Confederate infantry not only had the sunken Telegraph Road at the base of the heights in their favor, but also a stone wall on the side facing the Federals. And the rebel artillery had the heights behind them to fire over their own men and down on the Federal advance. Gen. French's division had already assaulted the position and failed, as had Zook's brigade of Winfield Hancock's division. The Irish Brigade, also in Hancock's division, was next, going in at the double quick, rifles at 'right shoulder shift.' It was more like murder than war, but on the Brigade went, through a maelstrom of shot and shell. The Georgians in the sunken road, many of them also Irish, cut down the Brigade by tens and twenties; great gaps appeared in their ranks until finally they had done all humans could do and they lay down to try to hold their position. The National flag of the 69th would be saved by the color sergeant., who wrapped it around his body under his great coat before he died. One flag would be lost -- a guidon or camp color of the 69th. It was the only flag of any kind that the regiment would ever lose. The Brigade losses would total over 540, about 45%. With some stragglers still making their way back, the entire Brigade numbered barely over 260 men present for duty the next day. When that sad remnant of the Irish Brigade fell in for morning formation on the 14th, Gen. Hancock noticed three privates of the Brigade, standing off by themselves, slow to fall in. 'Damn it, you there," shouted Hancock, "close up on your company!" One of the privates saluted and answered, "Sir, we are a company." "The hell you say," replied Hancock, no doubt saddened and impressed. He straightened up and returned the salute smartly, "As you were."

VOICES

'The Comte de Mahoni (sic) acquired a great deal of glory on the battle-day of Villaviciosa, at the head of the dragoons. The King was so satisfied with him, that he conferred upon him a Commandership of the Order of St. Jacques.'
        -- From the report of the battle of Villaviciosa by a British historian

Battles and Leaders of the Civil War
An illustration of the stone wall that protected Confederate riflemen firing upon the Irish Brigade.

'It will be a sad, sad Christmas around many an Irish hearthstone in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.'
        -- An unidentified officer in the Irish Brigade's 88th New York Infantry quoted in The Irish American newspaper after the battle of Fredericksburg.

December - Nollaig

BIRTHS

10, 1822 - Thomas Devin (Union General, son of Irish immigrants - New York City.)
10, 1960 - Kenneth Branagh (Actor and director.)
13, 1905 - Críostóir Mac Aonghusa (writer and promoter of the Irish language - Blackwater, Co. Offaly)
14, 1791 - Charles Wolfe (poet and clergyman - Blackhall, Co. Kildare)

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

8, 1831 - James Hoban, architect of the White House, dies in Washington D.C.
9, 1710 - The Irish "Hibernia" regiment and other Irish units of Spain fights at the battle of Brihuega.
10, 1605 – John Lee founds the Irish College in Paris.
10, 1710 - Irish in Spanish service fight at the battle of Villaviciosa.
11, 1809 - The Spanish garrison at Gerona, including the Irish Ultonia regiment, surrender to Napoleon's troops.
11, 1799 - Charles Edward Kilmaine, Gen. in the French army, dies in Paris.
11, 1920 - Black and Tans and Auxiliaries go on a rampage of burning and looting in Cork, following ambush.
12, 1714 - Thadeo O Daly, is appointed a colonel in the Portuguese Army by King Dom Joao V.
13, 1867 - Fenian explosion of Clerkenwell gaol.
13, 1862 - Battle of Fredericksburg (VA) - Irish Brigade attack on the "Sunken Road."
14, 1715 - Irish-born Thomas Dongan, soldier and colonial governor of New York, dies in Ireland.
14, 1918 - Sinn Fein, pledged to an Irish Republic, wins 73 of 105 Irish MP seats.
14, 1921 - Dial Eireann begins Anglo-Irish treaty debate.

Views: 521

Tags: American Civil War, Battle of Fredericksburg, Diaspora History, Europe, Irish Brigade, James Hoban, On This Day, Thomas Jefferson, United States, War of Spanish Succession, More…White House, battle of Villaviciosa


Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on December 7, 2013 at 9:23pm

  Construction of the White House began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792.  It seems that no one has been able to locate the cornerstone of the White House and numerous conspiracy theories abound with most involving ‘The Freemasons’ of which James Hoban was a member.  Although not yet completed, the White House was ready for occupancy on or circa November 1, 1800.

Here is a video of Brad Meltzer’s theories on the missing cornerstonehttp://www.history.com/shows/brad-meltzers-decoded/videos/brad-melt...  What do you think?

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