This Week in the History of the Irish: September 17 - September 23

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."

CÉADAOIN -- On Sept. 21, 1827, Michael Corcoran (left), a brigadier general in the Federal Army during America's Civil War, was born in Carrowkeel, County Sligo. Corcoran served as a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary but resigned during the Great Hunger, no longer able to condone the repressive actions of that police force against the starving Irish. He emigrated to New York and found work in the city's employ while also joining the 69th New York State Militia as a private. He rose through the ranks to colonel commanding the regiment and won the hearts of the city's Irish population when he refused to parade the 69th for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860. The state intended to court-martial him for this but the start of the Civil War led officials to dismiss the charges, and Corcoran led the regiment to Washington. At the Battle of 1st Bull Run, Corcoran was wounded and captured and spent the next 13 months in various Confederate prisons before he was finally exchanged. His health would never recover from that time in Southern prison camps. Promoted to brigadier general on his return, he recruited a brigade of volunteers from Irish enclaves in New York state that became known as Corcoran's Legion. He led the legion and then a division during the Suffolk (Virginia) campaign in April 1863. While there he was involved with a regrettable incident. While riding with fellow Fenian leader John O'Mahoney, Corcoran shot and killed Lt. Col. Edgar Kimball of the 9th New York Infantry. Corcoran was ordered to face a court-martial in the case, but it was never convened. On December 22, 1863, Corcoran was riding with Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Meagher and others when he suddenly fell from his horse and died shortly afterwards. Many articles on Corcoran say he was killed when his horse fell on him, but recent research points toward a stroke as the most likely cause of death. On December 27, he was interred at Calvary Cemetery in the borough of Queens, today within New York City.

CÉADAOIN -- On Sept. 21, 1881, revolutionary Éamonn Ceannt (Kent) (right) was born in Ballymoe, County Galway. He was educated at University College, Dublin, and worked on the clerical staff of the Dublin city council. Éamonn joined the Gaelic League in 1900 and later taught classes in Irish. Ceannt was a pipe player, once playing the uileann pipes for the Pope in Rome. He was said to love the language, music and dance of his native country and to have an unshakeable commitment to Irish freedom. Ceannt joined Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1908. He was also one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and was elected to its Provisional Committee. The day before the Easter Rising in 1916, Ceannt was one of the seven signatories to the Proclamation, in effect, signing their death warrants. During the Rising, he commanded the area of the South Dublin Union. The plan called for him to hold the area with 1,000 men; he had only 130, but his small command, especially Cathal Brugha, resisted the British until Patrick Pearse surrendered the entire rebel force. Like the other leaders of the Rising, Éamonn Ceannt faced the kangaroo court that condemned him with his head held high. On May 7, he wrote his wife a note, telling her, "I shall die, like a man for Ireland's sake." On May 8, he was put up against a wall in Kilmainham Jail and shot.


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

National Library of Ireland
Éamonn Ceannt

'To my dear poor little son, Ronan, from his father who is on the point of dying tomorrow for Ireland. Goodbye, E.K.
P.S. Take good care of your dear mother. May God help the two of you and may He give you both long life and happineess. God free Ireland.'  
-- Éamonn Ceannt (Kent) in a note to his son the night before his execution, May 7, 1916

'Fellow-citizens, I leave you with the heartfelt satisfaction of having kept my oath as a United Irishman, and also with the glorious prospect of the success of the cause in which we have been engaged. Persevere, my beloved countrymen. Your cause is the cause of Truth. It must and will ultimately triumph.' 
         -- From Bartholomew Teeling's gallow's statement, which he was not allowed to read.


September -- Meán Fomhair

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)
19, 1737
 - Charles Carroll (Only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence - Annapolis, MD)
20, 1847Michael Cusack (GAA founder - Carron, Co. Clare)
21, 1827 - Michael Corcoran (Union General - Carrowkeel, County Sligo)
21, 1881 - Èamonn Ceannt (Revolutionary - Ballymoe, County Galway.)
22, 1821
 - Patrick Moore (Confederate General - Galway)


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, 1920Kevin Barry captured after IRA attack on British van.
21, 1601 - Spanish force lands at Kinsale.
21, 1795 - 'Battle of the Diamond' near Loughgall, Co Armagh, between Peep O' Day Boys and Defenders, leading to foundation of Orange Order.
21-23, 1798 - British Gen. Trench attacks the French and Irish left behind by Humbert to hold Killala. About 300 Irish rebels are killed, some while trying to surrender.
22, 1587 – Red Hugh O’Donnell is kidnapped on a ship at Rathmullan, Co. Donegal.
22, 1690 – Cork surrenders to the Duke of Marlborough’s Williamite army.
22, 1864 - Col. James Mulligan, who commanded the western Irish Brigade, dies of wounds sustained at the 3rd Battle of Winchester three days earlier.
22, 1920 - Mid-Clare Brigade Irish Volunteers kill six RIC and Black & Tans in an ambush at Rineen near Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare. Crown forces reprisals kill 6 that night.
23, 1779Irish Brigade of France Marines on the Bonhomme Richard help John Paul Jones defeat the two British ships off Flamborough Head on the coast of England.
23, 1867 - Dick Dowling, the Irish-born Confederate hero of Sabine Pass, dies of Yellow Fever in Houston.

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


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