This Week in the History of the Irish: September 14 - September 20

CÉADAOIN -- 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.

CÉADAOIN -- 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."

SATHAIRN - On September 20, 1920 Kevin Barry was captured after an IRA attack on a British van. Kevin Barry was born at 8 Fleet Street, Dublin, on January 20th, 1902, the fourth of a family of two boys and five girls. He was only 15 years old when he joined the Irish Volunteers in October 1917 and was assigned to "C" Company, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, later transferring to "H" Company, which was commanded by Seamus Kavanagh. During this period of his life, Kevin was a member of Belvedere College, where he proved to be a gifted student, winning a Dublin University scholarship to University College Dublin to study medicine. Among Kevin's friends at the National University were Frank Flood, Tom Kissane and Mick Robinson, who were fellow members of "H" Company and who were to participate with Kevin in a growing number of IRA activities. Read more about Barry HERE.


'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

17, 1711 - John Holwell, (surgeon and survivor of 'Black Hole of Calcutta' - Dublin
17, 1903 - Frank O'Connor (Author - Cork)
17, 1920 - Chaim Herzog (President of Israel - Belfast)
19, 1737 - Charles Carroll (Only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence - Annapolis, MD)
20, 1847- Michael Cusack (GAA founder - Carron, Co. Clare) 


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.
18, 1851 - Anne Devilin, friend and comrade of Robert Emmet, dies in Dublin.
18, 1860 - Elements of the St. Patrick's battalion of the Papal army fight in the battle of Castlefidardo.
18, 1867 - "Smashing of the van." Fenian rescue of Kelly and Deasy in Manchester, England.
19-20, 1863 - The 10th Tenn. (Confederate-Irish) fights at battle of Chickamauga, GA.
19-20, 1864 - 25, 1864 - Irish-born Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne commands a division at battle of Chickamauga, GA.
20, 1803 - Robert Emmet hung drawn and quartered in Dublin.
20, 1920 - Kevin Barry captured after an IRA attack on British van.

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


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