This Week in the History of the Irish: February 28 - March 6

LUAIN -- On March 1, 1776, Irish-born Andrew Lewis was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Andrew's father's reportedly fled to the colonies after killing his landlord in self-defense. The family settled in Virginia. Given their father's history in Ireland, it is not surprising that two of the Lewis brothers would fight in the revolutionary army. Andrew's brother William would rise from lieutenant to major before being captured in 1780. Andrew's military career predated the Revolution.

(Left: From Wikipedia: Statue of Andrew Lewis, Point Pleasant, West Virginia.)

He served with Washington during the French and Indian War, seeing extensive action after that with Braddock. Andrew was captured by the French in 1758 and sent to Montreal. After the war, he saw action against the Indians on the Virginia frontier during Dunmore's War. Another brother, Charles, was killed under Andrew's command during that war. Lewis's military experience led to his promotion to brigadier general in 1776. In July of that year, he helped drive British Governor Dunmore from Virginia. Ironically, this was the same man who gave his name to the war in which Lewis had earlier fought. Lewis took umbrage at his passing over for promotion in the years that followed. His old friend from the French and Indian War, George Washington, tried to console him, but Lewis resigned April 15, 1777, citing "ill health." Lewis remained in the Virginia militia and died in 1781.

DEARDAOIN -- On March 4, 1804, in Australia, former United Irishmen stage a small insurrection that ended with a short fight at Castle Hill. Starting in 1799 the British had been shipping many of the leaders and participants of the Rising 1798 Rising to “Van Diemen’s Land” (Australia). Once there they did not change their anti-government mindsets. Some saw their fight against the same foe as merely transferred from Ireland to Australia.

(Left: Convict uprising at Castle Hill 1804, unknown artist. National Library of Australia.)

As evening fell in the 4th, Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the 1798 rebellion, led about 300 Irish convicts in a rising at Castle Hill. They lit a fire as a signal to a much larger group of convicts, over 1,000, in the Green’s Hill area to join them in the revolt. It was not seen, however, leaving the Castle Hill rebels on their own. They overpowered the constables guarding them, seizing a small number of firearms. The plan was to meet up with the Green’s Hill group at Constitution Hill and then march on Parramatta, where they hoped to raid an arsenal. They would then march on Sydney with enough numbers to overwhelm government forces there, hoping to seize a ship to sail home. They split into small groups hoping to raid local farms for arms before reforming on Constitution Hill, but many got lost and never got there.

As it was the militia were alerted before the rebels could reach Parramatta and stopped them there. Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps arrived on the scene, and along with a number of armed civilians, confronted the rebel force. When asked to surrender the rebels replied “death or liberty, and a ship to take us home.” The far better-armed government forces routed the rebels. Fifteen were killed there and fifteen more as the scattered remnants were pursued. Seven of the returned prisoners were given 200 to 500 lashes as punishment. Nine were executed, including Cunningham. Two, William Johnston and Samuel Humes, had their bodies cold-bloodedly left hanging over the road at Parramatta. The whip and gallows “justice” system of Ireland had been directly transferred to Australia.

AOINE -- On March 5, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence, an ambush by the Irish Volunteers at Clonbanin, Co. Cork killed British General Hanway Cumming and twelve other British soldiers. Seán Moylan, commander of the North Cork Flying Column, had information that General Peter Strickland, the British commander in Munster province, was on an inspection tour in Kerry.

(Right: Three members of a Cork Flying column.)

Knowing Strickland would have a large number of soldiers guarding his column, Moylan called in the Volunteers from the Millstreet, Charleville, and Newmarket battalions and also from the Kerry No. 2 Brigade.

Moylan selected the spot where he expected Strickland’s column to pass through at Clonbanin, Co. Cork, five miles east of Rathmore on the road from Killarney to Buttevant in Co. Cork and set up the ambush on the morning of the 5th. They were well-armed in comparison to most Flying Column ambushes during the war, with a Hotchkiss gun that been captured from the British at Mallow, and mines and perhaps as many as 100 armed troops. They set up two mines, planning to blow up one at the front and back of the British convoy. The plan was for Moylan to blow up a mine as a signal to open fire. At 10 am they saw three British trucks approaching from the east, rather than the west. Clearly this wasn’t Strickland’s convoy. Fortunately for the men in those trucks, but not for General Cumming and the other victims of the later attack, Moylan decided to let them pass hoping for the bigger prize. The Volunteers were so close they heard an accordion being played in one of the trucks.

A little after 2 pm a larger convoy approached from the west. There were two trucks, then a staff car, an armored car, and another truck. This appeared to be the Strickland convoy they were waiting for, but in fact was the convoy of General Cumming, who was in the staff car. Moylan triggered the mine as the first truck reached it, but failed to explode. But the Hotchkiss gun opened fire to signal the attack and the first truck the convoy went off the road into the roadside ditch. The armored car went off the road as well. As Cumming excited his car he was hit in the head and killed. The fighting went on for about two hours, but the Vickers gun in the armored car remained in action and kept the IRA at bay. With their ammo running low, and always aware that British reinforcements could arrive at any moment, the Volunteers withdrew. British casualties were said to be 13 dead and 15 wounded. Some estimates were lower, but the British had definitely lost a general and the Volunteers had suffered no casualties at all. It was one of the IRA more lopsided victories of the war. 

Read more about the ambush HERE.

SATHAIRN -- On March 6, 1831, Philip Sheridan, one of the greatest Union generals in the American Civil War, was born. We know he was the son of Irish immigrants, but his place of birth is uncertain, with Albany, New York; somewhere in Ohio; at sea; and County Cavan, Ireland, all rumored as his birthplace. Less uncertain is his place among Union generals; he was one of the finest of the war. Sheridan had an undistinguished pre-war Army career, which came on the heels of a stormy career at West Point, from which he was nearly expelled for fighting with a fellow cadet.

(Left: Library of Congress: Phil Sheridan and his staff in the field.)

After eight years in the Army, the diminutive Sheridan -- 5'5" -- was only a 2nd lieutenant when the Civil War began. He languished as a supply officer for the first year of the war. It seemed Phil Sheridan was destined for obscurity, but suddenly that destiny took a turn. On May 25, 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. By September Sheridan was a brigadier general; in March '63 he made a major general. The brilliant assault of his command on Missionary Ridge brought him to the attention of U.S. Grant. In spring 1864, Grant brought Sheridan to Washington and put him in charge of all the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. In the East he showed the same aggressiveness he had in the West, seeking confrontations with Stuart's cavalry. His troopers killed Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Ford in May. Later that year Grant gave the 33-year-old Sheridan an independent command in the Shenandoah Valley. There Sheridan made his famous ride to the battlefield of Cedar Creek, saving his imperiled army. Returning to Grant's army, Sheridan was instrumental in the victory at Five Forks, which sealed the fate of Richmond, and later he cut off Lee's retreat at Appomattox. After the war, he rose to full general and commanded the entire army. Philip Sheridan died on August 5, 1888, in Nonquitt, Massachusetts, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Read more about the life of Sheridan: Scrappy Phil Sheridan - The U.S. Army's Little Big Man


"Our servant burst into the Parlour pale and violent in agitation … he told us that the croppies had risen … we then learnt that Castle Hill was in flames. The fire was discernible from Parramatta."
-- Elizabeth Macarthur, Australian settler, 1804

"The revolutionaries set out to make British Government impossible in Ireland and prepared to take over governmental control wherever the British had been ousted or where the allegiance of the people had been weaned therefrom."
-- Seán Moylan (left)

"You will find him big enough for the purpose before we get through with him."
-- Ulysses Grant to a staff officer who thought Phil Sheridan was too small to lead the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac.

"Did Sherican say that? He usually knows what he is talking about. Let him go ahead and do it."
-- Ulysses Grant to Gen. George Meade, after Meade said Sheridan had insisted his troopers could beat Jeb Stuart if given a chance.

February - Feabhra


28, 1884 - Seán Mac Diarmada (Revolutionary - Kiltycolgher, Co. Leitrim.)
28, 1951 - Barry McGuigan (WBA Welterweight champion.)

March - Márta

1, 1848 - Augustus St. Gaudens (Sculptor - Dublin)
4, 1778 - Robert Emmet (Revolutionary - Dublin)
4, 1898 - General Emmet Dalton (Revolutionary, aide to Michael Collins.)
6, 1751 - Edward Marcus Despard (Colonel in the British army and revolutionary, Mountrath, Co. Laois)
6, 1791 - John MacHale (Archbishop of Tuam - Tirawley, Co. Mayo.)
6, 1831 - Philip Sheridan (Union General - son of Irish immigrants rumored to have been born in Ireland.)


28, 1587 - Queen Elizabeth I grants Sir Walter Raleigh 40,000 acres in counties Cork and Waterford.

March - Márta

1, 1776 - Irish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army
1, 1586 - Clanowen Castle, Co. Clare, is captured from Mahon O'Brien by Sir Richard Bingham.
1, 1776 - Irish-born John Armstrong is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
1, 1776 - Irish-born William Thompson is appointed a Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
1, 1794 - Statutes of Dublin University amended to allow Catholics to take degrees.
1, 1965 - Roger Casement's body re-interred in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.
1, 1981 - Bobby Sands begins his hunger strike at Long Kesh prison.
3, 1921 - During the Irish War of Independence, the West Waterford column of the Irish Volunteers under George Lennon ambush a train at Durrow Station, Co. Waterford
4, 1704 - Penal Laws passed in 1695 restricting Catholic civil rights strengthened
4, 1804 - In Australia former United Irishmen stage a small insurrection that ends with a short fight at Castle Hill.
4, 1902 - Ancient Order of Hibernians in Ireland revived at unity council.
4, 1919 – The US House of Representatives passes a resolution asking the Paris Peace Conference to “favorably consider the claims of Ireland to self-determination.”
5, 1779 - Boston Massacre, 5 killed, including Irish immigrant Patrick Carr.
5, 1867 - Fenian Rising in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary Counties.
5, 1921 - During the Irish War of Independence an IRA ambush at Clonbanin, Co. Cork killed British general Hanway Cumming and three other soldiers.
6, 1794 - James O’Moran, general in the French army is guillotined in Place du Trône renversé, France.
6, 1836Derryman Major Robert Evans dies at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
6-19, 1924 - Reduction of the Irish Army by 20,000 at the end of the Civil War nearly causes a mutiny.

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Tags: American Civil War, Australia, History of Ireland, Irish Freedom Struggle, On This Day, United States


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