This Week in the History of the Irish: September 11 - September 17

MÁIRT -- On September 13, 1803, John Barry (left), of Ballysampson, Co.Wexford, considered by many to be the 'Father of the U.S. Navy,' died in Philadelphia. At a young age, Barry went to sea as a fisherman; by age 20, he had a master's licensee. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1760 and worked his way up to ownership of a merchant vessel. In 1775, he offered his services when the Continental Congress first formed the Navy. Given command of the sloop Lexington, Barry engaged and captured the British sloop Edward on April 7, 1776. It was the first capture of a British warship by a commissioned U.S. ship. Later, commanding the frigate Alliance, he would capture two more British ships, but he was severely wounded during those actions. After the war, Barry oversaw much of the building and improvement of the Navy and was promoted to commodore in 1794. Statues commemorate John Barry's life in his adopted home of Philadelphia and near his birthplace in County Wexford.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
John McCausland

MÁIRT -- On September 13, 1836 John McCausland, Confederate General and son of an Irish immigrant, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. McCausland grew up in the western part of Virginia and graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1857. He taught there following graduation and served in the cadet detachment that was on guard during the hanging of John Brown. Though many people in western Virginia remained loyal to the Union when the Civil War began, McCausland did not. He recruited a Confederate regiment, the 36th Virginia,and commanded it as it's first colonel.

McCausland and his regiment were transferred to Albert Johnston's western army in early 1862 and narrowly escaped capture at Fort Donelson. They were sent back to western Virginia later that year and fought there through 1863. In May 1864 McCausland was promoted to brigadier general and given a cavalry command. McCausland fought well through to the end of the war, but unfortunately he is best remembered as the man who burned Chambersburg, PA under orders from General Jubal Early in July 1864. In April 1865 he had his cavalry brigade cut it's way through the Federal lines rather than surrender, but he disbanded them several days later. Returning to the area where he grew up, now the state of West Virginia, McCausland would be dogged by memory of his burning of Chambersburg for the rest of his life. He was even charged with it in PA later, but President Grant used his influence to have the charge dropped. McCauland would spend two years in Europe and Mexico to escape the problems associated with the Chambersburg incident. He later bought a large tract of land in Macon County, West Virginia and lived there over 60 years as a recluse. When he died on January 22, 1927 he was the next to last surviving Confederate general of the war.

SATHAIRN -- On Sept. 17, 1860, units of the Irish Battalion of St. Patrick of the Papal army fought a Piedmontese army allied with Garibaldi at Spoleto. Spoleto was a walled city south of Florence with the fortress of Rocca on the side of a hill. Maj. Miles O'Reilly commanded the Irish, and with his men awaited the Piedmontese army in the fortress. The Piedmontese arrived on the 16th under the command of Brignone and the next day demanded that O'Reilly surrender. O'Reilly rejected that offer and the assault commenced soon afterward. In spite of a long, heavy bombardment, when the famed Bersaglieri advanced, they were met with a withering fire by the Irish on the walls that stopped them in their tracks. The outcome was in doubt, but the bishop of Spoleto, distraught at the destruction of his city, arranged a cease-fire. O'Reilly was nearly out of ammunition at that point; he sent a Papal representative to Brignone and surrender terms were arranged. Brignone described O'Reilly as "both honorable and brave" and allowed the Irish to march out as prisoners with officers retaining their swords.

Library of Congress
In this photo by Alexander Gardner, the Sunken Road is seen filled with Confederate dead.

SATHAIRN -- On Sept. 17, 1862, the Irish Brigade of the Federal Army fought in one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War: Antietam. As Gen. George McClellan attempted to push back the Southern arrny of Robert E. Lee across the Potomac, the Irish Brigade and the rest of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac attacked near the center of Lee's line along the banks of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. There the rebels had found a sunken roadbed to serve as a ready-made trench, a formidable defensive position. As the Irish Brigade came over the crest of a rise in front of the road, it was met full in the face by the volleys of thousands of Confederates. Unable to move forward, the Brigade's men lay on the ground and returned fire, taking horrendous casualties as they did. Irish Brigade commander Thomas Francis Meagher's horse was shot from under him -- the 69th New York would lose eight color bearers, the 63rd five. But the buck and ball ammunition in their smooth-bore muskets was also taking a toll on the enemy. Eventually the position would be taken by the Federals, but at a terrible cost to the Irish Brigade. That sunken road is now known as "Bloody Lane." In October 1997, the Irish Cultural Foundation unveiled a monument commemorating the sacrifice of the Irish Brigade near the site of "Bloody Lane."


'French and Italian witnesses on both sides are unanimous as to the valour of the Irish [at Spoleto] …. Almost all the column of assault were killed or wounded. … The assault was repulsed that day.'  -- Historian G.M. Trevelyan reporting on the battle of Spoleto

T. F. Meagher

'How sad it is, General, that we are not marching against a line of redcoats to free our own country.'  -- Called out to Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher by a man in the ranks of the Irish Brigade at Antietam, September 17, 1862


September -- Meán Fomhair

11, 1862 - Patrick Henry Morrissey (Labor leader, son of Irish immigrants - Bloomington, IL)
13, 1836 - John McCausland (Confederate General, son of Irish immigrants - St. Louis, MO)
17, 1711 - John Holwell, (surgeon and survivor of 'Black Hole of Calcutta' - Dublin
17, 1859 - William H. "Billy the Kid " Bonney (Outlaw - New York City)
17, 1903 - Frank O'Connor (Author - Cork)
17, 1920 - Chaim Herzog (President of Israel - Belfast)


11, 1649 - Massacre at Drogheda. Cromwell captures the town and slaughters the garrison.
12, 1850 - Presley O'Bannon, U.S. Marine hero of the capture of Derna, Libya (on 'The Shores of Tripoli) dies and is buried in Henry County KY - later reinterred in Frankfort Cemetery.
12, 1912 - "Ulster Day," Edward Carson and other Unionists pledge to resist Home Rule "to the end."
12, 1919 - Dail Eireann declared illegal.
13, 1803 - John Barry, of Wexford, US Navy commodore, father of US Navy, dies.
15, 1866 - John Blake Dillon, Young Irelander, co-founder of "The Nation," dies in Killarney.
15, 1997 - Sinn Fein joins multiparty peace talks in Northern Ireland.
16, 1701 - King James II dies in France.
16, 1798 - Small French force under James Napper Tandy makes brief landing on Rutland Island, Co Donegal.
16, 1798 - Belfast United Irish leaders arrested.
16, 1845 - Young Ireland poet Thomas Davis dies of fever.
17, 1860 - Irish Papal Brigade fights Garibaldi's army at Spoleto, Italy.
17, 1862 - Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg, MD) - Irish Brigade assault on "Bloody Lane." 6th Louisiana fights on Confederate side.

Views: 303

Tags: American Civil War, Europe, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, On This Day, United States

Comment by michael dunne on September 11, 2016 at 7:51am

An interesting article on John Barry Ballysampson Co. Wexford. It would not be far from the birthplace of JFK' s ancestors, another Irish connection who started his career with distinction in the US Navy.  From such humble beginnings John Barry rose through the ranks leading by courage and fairness. What I once learned many years ago is that St. Brendan "The Navigator" was thought to have been the Patron saint of the US Navy acknowledged in Annapolis. I am not sure of this assertion. He was a 6th Century monk and travelled extensively, perhaps even to America according to many including Tim Severin who wrote an entertaining adventure called "The Brendan Voyage" Many Irishmen who emigrated to the US fared less well than their womenfolk who adapted seamlessly into societal houses in New York and Boston as domestic servants. The men were clumsier in their assimilation, but done well if succeeding to obtain work at sea as fishermen or other seafaring skills.  

Comment by James Francis Smith on September 15, 2016 at 5:13pm

Comment by James Francis Smith, Historian and Author

Irish Americans are...and should be...proud of the NY 69th at Antietam. As the author of The Civil War's Valiant Irish, I'm often disappointed by the lack of recognition given to Pennsylvania's 69th.  Not only for their participation at Antietam, but for their vital stand at Gettysburg, where that Philadelphia regiment stopped Pickett's Charge at the "High Mark of the Confederacy.'

Comment by michael dunne on September 16, 2016 at 1:57pm


You are correct in your view that the 69th's achievement is not give the recognition it deserves. You will be pleased to know that their deeds are recorded in part in the wonderful exhibition 'Soldiers and Chiefs' in the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks Benburb Street. There are other significant exhibits and artifacts of international military history in the rooms there. One such relates the history of the San Patricios and how the Catholic soldiers defected to the Mexican side in this war of 1847, because the policy of the certain elements within the US army was the unfair persecution of the Mexican Catholics. When the war ended the Irish soldiers were rightly hanged for desertion.

It is the task of Museums to maintain public interest and for those reasons a wide net is spun to include the spectacular and the interesting particularly of the less known aspects of history. If you are visiting Ireland, this should be on your to do list as its free and open every day except Mondays. Best Wishes...


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