This Week in the History of the Irish: March 22 - March 28

LUAIN -- On March 23, 1862, Irish-born Union General James Shields (left: pictured during the Mexican war) defeated Stonewall Jackson's  Confederates at the battle of Kernstown, Virginia, during the American Civil War. Just a few miles south of Winchester, in the Shenandoah Valley, a thunderous exchange of artillery fire around midday signaled the battle's start. At first, Jackson's men drove in the Federal line. Jackson had received a false report about the strength of the Federal forces around Kernstown, and he believed he was only facing a rear guard. In fact, Shields had 9,000 men there, outnumbering Jackson's 4,000 by better than two to one. About 3 o'clock, Shields' Federal forces counterattacked. When Confederate Brigadier General Richard Garnett's brigade ran out of ammunition, Jackson ordered a retreat, which precipitated a general retreat of the Confederate line. Jackson lost 455 men killed or wounded and several hundred captured. The Federals lost 553 killed or wounded and 23 missing. Although Jackson had lost this first major battle of what would come to be known as his Valley Campaign , his actions had already alarmed authorities in Washington enough for them to reduce the number of troops that they would send to Major General George B. McClellan on the Virginia peninsula. In the coming weeks, Jackson will exacerbate those fears. For Tyrone-born James Shields, Kernstown would be the pinnacle of a rather lackluster performance during the Civil War. Still, Shields would go on to become the only man to serve in the U.S. Senate from three different states, and how many of his colleagues in the Senate, or anywhere else, could boast of having once bested the great Stonewall Jackson in independent command?

CÉADAOIN -- On March 25, 1846, Michael Davitt, revolutionary and agrarian agitator, was born in Straide, Co. Mayo. Davitt's family was evicted from their small farm when he was just a boy. After they emigrated to England, Davitt lost his right arm while working in a cotton mill at the age of 11. He joined the Fenians in the 1860s and served a typically brutal jail sentence. Released after seven years, he began what would be his life's work: agrarian agitation. Using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, and allied with Charles Stewart Parnell, Davitt formed the Land League in 1879. This organization forced many reforms in the corrupt Irish landlord system. Davitt was a member of Parliament for a time in the 1890s, but resigned in protest against the Boer War. Michael Davitt died in Dublin on May 31, 1906.

National Library of Ireland
Mary MacSwiney, in her later years.

AOINE -- On March 27, 1872, Mary MacSwiney (Maire Nic Shuibhne), republican activist, was born in Surrey, England, of an Irish father and an English mother. Mary grew up in Cork and was educated as a teacher, like her mother and father. Influenced by her revolutionary brother, Terence, she became involved with the Irish nationalist movement. She was arrested in her classroom during the 1916 Easter Rising. After her brother's death on hunger strike, she toured the United States in support of the republican cause. She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, calling it, "the grossest act of betrayal that Ireland ever endured." When de Valera compromised in 1926 in order to enter the Dáil, MacSwiney, much like her brother before her, held fast to her strict republican ideals, refusing to take the required oath to the Crown. Mary MacSwiney died at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942.

SATHAIRN -- On March 28, 1820, William Howard Russell , among the best known journalists of his day and a pioneering war correspondent, was born at Lily Vale, Tallaght, County Dublin.

William Howard Russell

Educated as a lawyer, Russell instead joined The Times of London as a reporter. He went to the Crimea in 1854, sending back many reports critical of the army's logistical planning there. A phrase used by him to describe the English army there became part of the English vernacular as The Thin Red Line. Russell reported from India during the India Mutiny and then went to the United States to report on the American Civil War in 1861. His frankness in reporting the Federal Army's rout at 1st Bull Run earned him the lasting resentment of the Army and the Northern populus, along with the sobriquet "Bull Run" Russell. The tide of hostility made it nearly impossible for him to report from the North, inspiring him to return to England. He covered the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Zulu War in 1879. Russell died in Kensington, England, in 1907.





National Museum of Ireland
Michael Davitt, one of the founders of the Irish National Land League.

'If the nationalists want me [the Irish farmer] to believe in and labor a little for independence, they must first show themselves willing and strong enough to stand between me and the power which a single Englishman, a landlord, wields over me.'
        -- Michael Davitt, giving voice to the attitude of the small Irish farmer toward Irish independence. December 1878.

'If [England] exterminates the men, the women will take their places, and if she exterminates the women, the children are rising fast.'
         -- The indomitable Mary MacSwiney

'The miserable parent of a luckless tribe.'
         -- William Russell's thoughts on being known as 'the first and greatest' war correspondent.

March - Márta


22, 1848 - Sarah Purser (Artist - Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin)
24, 1866
- Jack McAuliffe (Light-Heavyweight boxing champion - Ireland.)
25, 1840Myles Keogh (Capt. US 7th Cav., later killed at Little Big Horn - Orchard, Co Carlow.)
25, 1846 - Michael Davitt (Revolutionary - Straide, Co. Mayo)
26, 1838 - William Edward Hartpole Lecky (Historian - Newtown Park, Co. Dublin.)
26, 1856 - William Ferguson Massey (Prime Minister of New Zealand - Limavady, Co. Derry.)
27, 1872 - Mary MacSwiney (Maire Nic Shuibhne) (Republican - Surry, England.)
28, 1820 - William Howard Russell (London Times correspondent in American Civil War.)
28, 1836 - Patrick Henry O'Rorke (Union colonel killed at Gettysburg - Drumbess, Cornafean, Co. Cavan.)


22, 1841 - Formation of the Irish Emigrant Society in New York.
23, 1535
- Sir William Skeffington captures Maynooth Castle, stronghold of "Silken" Thomas Fitzgerald in one of the first recorded uses of siege artillery.
23, 1847 - Choctaw Indians collect money to donate to starving Irish Hunger victims.
23, 1862Irish-born Union General James Shields defeats Stonewall Jackson at the battle of Kernstown, Virginia, during the American Civil War.
24, 1922 - Owen MacMahon, a Catholic publican, his 6 sons and a barman murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge for IRA ambush that killed 2 RIC officers.
25, 1634 - First Catholic Mass in English North American colonies celebrated in Maryland.
25, 1738 - Famous Irish Harper, Turlogh O'Carolan, dies in Aldeford, Co. Roscommon.
26, 1920 - Infamous Black and Tans, special constables, arrive in Ireland.
26, 1922 - An IRA anti-treaty army convention announces it will no longer accept the authority of Free State Minister for Defense Richard Mulcahy.

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Tags: American Civil War, Irish Freedom Struggle, On This Day


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