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 its 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 its 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 the 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. McCausland 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 for 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.

CÉADAOIN -- On September 14, 1908, Montana and Alaska pioneer John J. Healy (left) died in San Francisco. Many men and women with Irish roots participated in the “winning” of the West for the new nation that was growing into a world power in 19th century North America. Some are well known, but many are not. Among the latter is John J. Healy, of whom William Buck, publisher of the Benton (Montana) Record wrote in the late 19th century: “If a correct history of Montana is ever written … Mr. Healy will figure … as one of the most prominent and heroic characters of our early civilization.” Though John Healy made and lost a fortune a few times, he always seemed more motivated for a new adventure than the mere making of money. In his life he would be a soldier, gold prospector, trader, Indian fighter, law man, capitalist and more. He began that life by surviving An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, one of the greatest disasters to ever occur in his native country. John was born in in 1840 in Donoughmore, County Cork, one of the hardest-hit counties during those tragic years. In 1853 his family lost their grist mill business and immigrated to New York City. Though some Irish immigrants adapted well to city life, John was not among them. Tales of the beautiful open spaces of the American West may have been inspired him to move on. He would end up in Montana and have enough adventures there and later in Alaska for ten men before he died in San Francisco. 

Read more about John J. Healy.

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 army 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."


“No Sir, the thunder! If this ship cannot be fought without me, I will be brought on deck; to your duty, Sir.” -- John Barry to a junior officer while wounded below decks when it was suggested they surrender. 

'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

'... let him rest in the soil that is sacred to liberty, under the starry arch of the Republic he so nobly served, and within sight of that city which honored him when dead as she honored him when living, and where his name will never sound strange …  -- From Thomas Francis Meagher's oration in honor of Michael Corcoran at a memorial service for him in Manhattan, January 22, 1864


September -- Meán Fomhair

11, 1862 - Patrick Henry Morrissey (Labor leader, son of Irish immigrants - Bloomington, IL)
12, 1901 - Phyllis Clinch (Botanist potato blight researcher - Rathmines, Dublin.)
13, 1813 - Isaac Butt (Q.C. M.P, Founder of the Home Rule Party - Cloghan, County Donegal)
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 in Philadelphia.
13 – 17, 1961 – "A" Company of the Irish Army’s 35th Battalion, serving with the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces in the Congo, hold out for three days against overwhelming rebel forces.
14, 1908 - Montana and Alaska pioneer John J. Healy dies in San Francisco.
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.

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Tags: American Civil War, Europe, Military History, United States


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