THE FIGHTING RACE
By JOSEPH I.C. CLARKE,
President, American Irish Historical Society.
I.–THE FIGHTING RACE AT HOME.
“War was the ruling passion of this people,” says MacGeoghegan, meaning the Milesians who were the latest of the peoples that overran ancient Ireland up to the coming of Christ. How many races had preceded them remains an enigma of history not profitable to examine here, but whoever they were, or in what succession they arrived, they must, like all migrating people, have been prepared to establish themselves at the point of the spear and the edge of the sword. Two races certainly were mingled in the ancient Irish, the fair or auburn haired with blue eyes, and the dark haired with eyes of gray or brown. The Milesians appear to have reached Ireland through Spain. They came swiftly to power, more than a thousand years before our Lord, and divided the country into four provinces or kingdoms, with an ard-ri, or high-king, ruling all in a loose way as to service, taxes, and allegiance. The economic life was almost entirely pastoral. Riches were counted in herds of cattle. “Robustness of frame, vehemence of passion, elevated imagination,” Dr. Leland says, signalized this people. Robust, they became athletic and vigorous and excelled in the use of deadly weapons; passionate, they easily went from litigation to blows; imaginative, they leaned toward poetry and song and were strong for whatever religion they practised. The latter was a polytheism brought close to the people through the Druids. Some stone weapons were doubtless still used; they had also brazen or bronze swords, and spears, axes, and maces of various alloys of copper and tin. Socially they remained tribal. Heads of tribes were petty kings, each with his stronghold of a primitive character, each with his tribal warriors, bards, harpers, and druids, and the whole male population more or less ready to take part in war.
The great heroes whose names have come down to us, such as Finn, son of Cumhal, and Cuchulainn, were reared in a school of arms. Bravery was the sign of true manhood. A law of chivalry moderated the excess of combat. A trained militia, the Fianna, gave character to an era; the Knights of the Red Branch were the distinguishing order of chevaliers. The songs of the bards were songs of battle; the great Irish epic of antiquity was the Táin Bó Cúalnge, or Cooley Cattle-raid, and it is full of combats and feats of strength and prowess. High character meant high pride, always ready to give account of itself and strike for its ideals: “Irritable and bold”, as one historian has it. They were jealous and quick to anger, but light-hearted laughter came easily to the lips of the ancient Irish. They worked cheerfully, prayed fervently to their gods, loved their women and children devotedly, clung passionately to their clan, and fought at the call with alacrity.
Nothing, it will be seen, could be further from the minds of such a people than submission to what they deemed injustice. The habit of a proud freedom was ingrained. Their little island of 32,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean, the outpost of Europe, lay isolated save for occasional forays to and from the coasts of Scotland and England. The Roman invasions of western Europe never reached it. England the Romans overran, but never Scotland or Ireland. Self-contained, Ireland developed a civilization peculiarly its own, the product of an intense, imaginative, fighting race. War was not constant among them by any means, and occupied only small portions of the island at a time, but, since the bards’ best work was war songs and war histories, with much braggadocio doubtless intermixed, a different impression might prevail. Half of their kings may have been killed in broil or battle, and yet great wars were few. If is undoubted that Scotic, that is, Irish, invasion and immigration peopled the western shores of Scotland and gave a name to the country. In the first centuries of the Christian era they were the men who with the Picts fought the Romans at the wall of Severus. The Britons, it will be remembered, enervated by Roman dominance, had failed to defend their “border” when Rome first withdrew her legions.
At this time, too, began the first appearance of Ireland as a power on the sea. In the fourth century the high-king, Niall of the Hostages, commanding a large fleet of war galleys, invaded Scotland, ravaged the English coasts, and conquered Armorica (Brittany), penetrating as far as the banks of the Loire, where, according to the legend, he was slain by an arrow shot by one of his own men. One of the captives he brought from abroad on one of his early expeditions was a youth named Patrick, afterwards to be the Apostle of Ireland. Niall’s nephew, Dathi, also ard-ri, was a great sea king. He invaded England, crossed to Gaul, and marched as far as the Alps, where he was killed by lightning. He was the last pagan king of Ireland. In perhaps a score of years after the death of Dathi, all Ireland had been converted to Christianity, and its old religion of a thousand years buried so deep that scholars find the greatest difficulty in recovering anything about it. This conservative, obstinate, jealous people overturned its pagan altars in a night, and, ever since, has never put into anything else the devotion, soul and body, of its sacrifices for religion. Christianity profoundly modified Irish life, softened manners, and stimulated learning. Not that the fighting propensities were obliterated. There were indeed many long and peaceful reigns, but the historians record neat little wars, seductive forays and “hostings”, to use the new-old word, to the heart’s content. The Irish character remained fixed in its essentials, but, under the influence of religious enthusiasm, Ireland progressed and prospered in the arts of peace. It would undoubtedly have shared the full progress of western Europe from this time on, but for its insularity. Hitherto its protection, it was now to be its downfall. A hostile power was growing of which it knew nothing.
The Norsemen–the hardy vikings of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark–had become a nation of pirates. Undaunted fighters and able mariners, they built their shapely long ships and galleys of the northern pine and oak, and swept hardily down on the coasts of England, Ireland, France, Spain, and Italy, and the lands of the Levant, surprising, massacring, plundering. In France (Normandy), in England, and lastly in Ireland they planted colonies. Their greatest success was in England, which they conquered, Canute becoming king. Their greatest battles and final defeat were in Ireland. From the end of the eighth century to the beginning of the eleventh the four shores of Erin were attacked in turn, and sometimes all together, by successive fleets of the Norsemen. The waters that had been Ireland’s protection now became the high roads of the invaders. By the river Shannon they pushed their conquests into the heart of the country. Dublin Bay, Waterford Harbor, Belfast Lough, and the Cove of Cork offered shelter to their vessels. They established themselves in Dublin and raided the country around. Churches and monasteries were sacked and burned. To the end these Norsemen were robbers rather than settlers. To these onslaughts by the myriad wasps of the northern seas, again and again renewed, the Irish responded manfully. In 812 they drove off the invaders with great slaughter, only to find fresh hordes descending a year or two later. In the tenth century, Turgesius, the Danish leader, called himself monarch of Ireland, but he was driven out by the Irish king, Malachi. The great effort which really broke the Danish power forever in Ireland was at the battle of Clontarf, on Dublin Bay, Good Friday, 1014, when King Brian Boru, at the head of 30,000 men, utterly defeated the Danes of Dublin and the Danes of oversea. Fragments of the Northmen remained all over Ireland, but henceforth they gradually merged with the Irish people, adding a notable element to it’s blood. One of the most grievous chapters of Irish history, the period of Norse invasion, literally shines with Irish valor and tenacity, undimmed through six fighting generations. As Plowden says:
“Ireland stands conspicuous among the nations of the universe, a solitary instance in which neither the destructive hand of time, nor the devastating arm of oppression, nor the widest variety of changes in the political system of government could alter or subdue, much less wholly extinguish, the national genius, spirit, and character of its inhabitants.” This is true not only of the Danish wars which ended nine hundred years ago, but of many a dreadful century since and to this very day.
Now followed a troubled period, Ireland weakened by loss of blood and treasure, its government failing of authority through the defects of its virtues. It was inevitable, sooner or later, that England, as it became consolidated after its conquest by William the Norman, should turn greedy eyes on the fair land across the Irish sea. It was in 1169 that “Strongbow”–Richard, earl of Pembroke–came from England at the invitation of a discontented Irish chieftain and began the conquest of Ireland. Three years later came Henry II. with more troops and a Papal bull. After a campaign in Leinster, he set himself up as overlord of Ireland, and then returned to London. It was the beginning only. An English Lord Deputy ruled the “Pale”, or portion of Ireland that England held more or less securely, and from that vantage ground made spasmodic war upon the rest of Ireland, and was forever warred on, in large attacks and small, by Irish chieftains.
The Irish were the fighting race now if ever. Without hope of outside assistance, facing a foe ever reinforced from a stronger, richer, more fully organized country, nothing but their stubborn character and their fighting genius kept them in the field. And century out and century in, they stayed, holding back the foreign foe four hundred years. It is worthy of note that it was the Norman English, racial cousins, as it were, of the Norsemen, who first wrought at the English conquest of Ireland. When some of these were seated in Irish places of pride, when a Butler was made Earl of Ormond and a Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, it was soon seen that they were merging rapidly in the Irish mass, becoming, as it was said, “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” Many were the individual heroic efforts to strike down the English power. Here and there small Irish chiefs accepted the English rule, offsetting the Norman Irish families who at times were “loyal” and at times “rebel.” The state of war became continuous and internecine, but three-fourths of Ireland remained unconquered. The idea of a united Ireland against England had, however, been lost except in a few exalted and a few desperate breasts. A gleam of hope came in 1316, when, two years after the great defeat of England by the Scotch under Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, Edward, the victor-king’s brother, came at the invitation of the northern Irish to Ireland with 6,000 Scots, landing near Carrickfergus. He was proclaimed king of Ireland by the Irish who joined him. Battle after battle was won by the allies. Edward was a brilliant soldier, lacking, however, the prudence of his great brother, Robert. The story of his two years of fighting, ravaging, and slaying, is hard at this distance to reconcile with intelligible strategy. In the end, in 1318, the gallant Scot fell in battle near Dundalk, losing at the same time two-thirds of his army. For two years Scot and Irish had fought victoriously side by side. That is the fact of moment that comes out of this dark period.
The following century, like that which had gone before, was full of fighting. In 1399, on Richard II.’s second visit to Ireland, he met fierce opposition from the Irish septs. MacMorrough, fighting, harassing the king’s army from the shelter of the Wicklow woods, fairly drove the king to Dublin. The sanguinary “Wars of the Roses”–that thirty years’ struggle for the crown of England between the royal houses of York and Lancaster, 1455 to 1485–gave Ireland a long opportunity, which, however, she was too weak to turn to advantage; but fighting between Irish and English went on just the same, now in one province, now in another.
In the reign of Henry VIII. a revolt against England started within the Pale itself, when Lord Thomas Fitzgerald, known as Silken Thomas, went before the Council in Dublin and publicly renounced his allegiance. He took the field–a brave, striking figure–in protest against the king’s bad faith in dealing with his father, the Earl of Kildare. At one time it looked as if the rebellion (it was the first real Irish rebellion) would prosper. Lord Thomas made combinations with Irish chieftains in the north and west, and was victor in several engagements. He finally surrendered with assurances of pardon, but, as in many similar cases, was treacherously sent a prisoner to London, where he was executed.
Queen Mary’s reign was one of comparative quiet in Ireland. Her policy towards the Catholics was held to be of good augury for Ireland. The English garrison was reduced with impunity to 500 foot and a few horse: but another and darker day came with Elizabeth. Her coming to the throne, together with her fanatic devotion to the Reformation and an equal hatred of the old religion and all who clung to it, ushered in for Ireland two and a half centuries of almost unbroken misfortune. You cannot make people over. Some may take their opinions with their interest; others prefer to die rather than surrender theirs, and glory in the sacrifice. The proclamations of Elizabeth had no persuasion in them for the Irish. Her proscriptions were only another English sword at Ireland’s throat. The disdain of the Irish maddened her. During her long reign one campaign after another was launched against them. Always fresh soldier hordes came pouring in under able commanders and marched forth from the Pale, generally to return shattered and worn down by constant harrying, sometimes utterly defeated with great slaughter. So of Henry Sidney’s campaign, and so of the ill-fated Essex. Ulster, the stronghold of the O’Neills and the O’Donnells, remained unconquered down to the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, although most of the greater battles were fought there. In Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and “Red” Hugh O’Donnell, prince of Tyrconnell, Ireland had two really great soldiers on her side. The bravery, generalship, prudence, and strategy of O’Neill were worthy of all praise, and Red Hugh fell little short of his great compatriot. In battle after battle for twenty years they defeated the English with slaughter. Ireland, if more and more devastated by campaigns and forays, became the grave of tens of thousands of English soldiers and scores of high reputations. Writing from Cork, the Earl of Essex, after a disastrous march through Leinster and Munster, says:
“I am confined in Cork … but still I have been unsuccessful; my undertakings have been attended with misfortune…. The Irish are stronger and handle their arms with more skill than our people; they differ from us also in point of discipline. They likewise avoid pitched battles where order must be observed, and prefer skirmishes and petty warfare … and are obstinately opposed to the English government.”
They did not like attacking or defending fortified places, he also believed. It was only his experience. The campaigns of Shane O’Neill, a bold but ill-balanced warrior, were full of such attacks, but one potent cause for Irish reluctance to make sieges a strong point of their strategy was that the strongest fortresses were on the sea. An inexhaustible, powerful enemy who held the sea was not in the end to be denied on sea or land, but the Irish in stubborn despair or supreme indifference to fate fought on. Religious rancor was added to racial hate. Most of the English settlers, or “garrison,” as they came to be called, had become Protestants at the royal order. Ruin perched upon Ireland’s hills and made a wilderness of her fertile valleys. The Irish chieftains with their faithful followers moved from place to place in woods and hollows of the hills. English colonists were settled on confiscated lands, and were harried by those who had been driven from their homes. It was war among graves. At last O’Neill made composition with the government when all was lost in the field, but the passionate Irish resolve never to submit still stalked like a ghost, as if it could not perish.
When Elizabeth died it was thought that better things were coming to Ireland with James I., the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. Nothing of the kind. That curiously minded creature at once made an ingenuous proclamation:
“Whereas his Majesty was informed that his subjects of Ireland had been deceived by a false report that his Majesty was disposed to allow them liberty of conscience and the free choice of religion, now, etc.” Fresh “transplanting” of English and Scotch settlers on the lands of the Irish was the gist of his answer to the “false reports.” So again the war of surprise, ambush, raid, and foray went on in a hundred places at once, but the result was that the English power was even more firmly seated than before.
In the time of Charles I. there were terrible slaughters both of Protestants and Catholics. Patriotism and loyalty as moving causes had disappeared, but religion fiercely took their place. With Cromwell, the religious persecution took on an apocalyptic note of massacre, but the Irish were still showing that they were there with arms in their hands. The names of Owen Roe O’Neill and his splendid victory, in 1646, at Benburb over the English and Scotch, where he slew more than 3,000 men, and of another Hugh O’Neill, who made such a brilliant defense at Clonmel against Cromwell, shine brightly out of the darkness. But Ireland, parcelled out among the victors, was always the weaker after every campaign. Waves of war swept over her. She became mixed up in the rivalries of the English royal families, religion playing the most important part in the differences. It had armed Henry and Elizabeth, James and Charles against her. It gave edge to Cromwell’s sword, and it led her into a great effort on behalf of James II. When William of Orange crossed the Boyne, all that followed for a century was symbolized. Athlone, Aughrim, Limerick, all places of great and fierce contests, were decided against her. French support of a kind had James, but not enough. Bravery and enthusiasm may win battles, but they do not carry through great campaigns. Once again God marched with the heaviest, best-fed, best-armed battalions. The great Tyrone dying in exile at Rome, Red Hugh O’Donnell perishing in Spain in the early days of the seventeenth century, were to prefigure the fighting and dying of half a million Irish warriors on continental soil for a hundred years after the fall of Limerick as the seventeenth century neared its close.
During that period the scattered bands of the Rapparees, half patriots, half robbers, hiding in mountain fastnesses, dispersing, reassembling, descending on the English estates for rapine or the killing of “objectionables,” represented the only armed resistance of the Irish. It was generally futile although picturesque.
After the close of the Revolutionary War in America, Ireland received a new stimulation. The success of the patriots of the Irish parliament under Grattan, backed as they were by 100,000 volunteers and 130 pieces of cannon, in freeing Irish industry and commerce from their trammels, evoked the utmost malignity in England. Ireland almost at once sprang to prosperity, but it was destined to be short lived. A great conspiracy, which did not at first show above the surface, was set on foot to destroy the Irish parliament. This is not the place to follow the sinister machinations of the English, save to note that they forced both the Presbyterians and the Catholics of the north into preparations for revolt. The Society of United Irishmen was formed, and drew many of the brightest and most cultivated men in Ireland into its councils. It numbered over 70,000 adherents in Ulster alone. The government was alarmed, and began a systematic persecution of the peasantry all over Ireland. English regiments were put at “free quarters,” that is, they forced themselves under order into the houses and cabins of the people with demands for bed and board. The hapless people were driven to fury. Brutal murders and barbarous tortures of men and women by the soldiers, savage revenges by the peasantry, and every form of violent crime all at once prevailed in the lately peaceful valleys. Prosecutions of United Irishmen and executions were many. It was all done deliberately to provoke revolt. In 1798 the revolt came. In the greater part of Ulster and Munster the uprising failed, but a great insurrection of the peasantry of Wexford shocked the country. Poorly armed, utterly undisciplined, without munitions of war, but 40,000 strong, they literally flung themselves pike in hand on the English regiments, sweeping everything before them for a time. Father John Murphy, a priest and patriot, was one of their leaders, but Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey was soon their commander-in-chief. At one time the “rebels” dominated the entire county save for a fort in the harbor and a small town or two, but it was natural that the commissariat should soon be in difficulties and their ammunition give out. The British general, Lake, with an army of 20,000 men and a moving column of 13,000, attacked the rebels on Vinegar Hill, and although the fight was heroic and bloody while it lasted, it was soon over and the British army was victorious. The rest was retreat, dispersal, and widespread cruelties and burnings and a long succession of murders. The “Boys of Wexford” funder great difficulties had given a great account of themselves. Dark as was that page of history, it has been a glowing lamp to Irish disaffection ever since. It is the soul of the effort that counts, and the disasters do not discredit ’98 in Irish eyes.
Voltaire, in his Century of Louis XIV., made his reflection on the Irish soldier out of his limited knowledge of the Williamite war in Ireland. He says, “The Irish, whom we have seen such good soldiers in France and Spain, have always fought poorly at home”! They had not fought poorly at home. It took four hundred years of English effort to complete, merely on its face, the conquest of Ireland, and all of that long sweep of the sword of Time was a time of battle. The Irish were fought with every appliance of war, backed by the riches of a prospering, strongly organized country, and impelled persistently by the greed of land and love of mastery; but there was not a mountain pass in Ireland, not a square mile of plain, not a river-ford, scarce a hill that had not been piled high with English dead in that four hundred years at the hands of the Irish wielders of sword and spear and pike.
The Irish had not made their environment or their natures, and no power on earth could change them. Over greater England had swept the Romans, the Jutes, the Saxons, the Angles, the Norsemen, and the Normans. All found lodgment and all went to the making of England. Well, one might say, it had been for Ireland if she had developed that assimilating power which made her successive conquerors in process of time the feeders of her greatness, but the Irish would not and could not. Instead, they developed the pride of race that no momentary defeat could down. They became inured to battle and dreamt of battle when the peace of an hour was given them. When the four kings of Ireland were feasted in Dublin by King Richard II. of England, an English chronicler remarked, “Never were men of ruder manners”; but neither the silken array and golden glitter of Richard’s peripatetic court nor the brave display of his thousand knights and thirty thousand archers filled them with longing for the one or fear of the other. They went back to their Irish hills and plains and fastnesses as obstinately Irish as ever.
They fought well at home, if unfortunately, the wonder being that they continued to fight. The heavens and the earth seemed combined against them.
II.–THE FIGHTING RACE ABROAD.
We next see Irish soldiers fighting abroad. The blood they had shed so freely for the Stuarts at the Boyne, at Athlone, at Aughrim, at Limerick was in vain. The king of France, if he sent armies to Ireland, demanded Irish troops in return. The transports that brought the French regiments over in May, 1690, took back over five thousand officers and men from Ireland, who formed the first Irish Brigade in the service of France. This, remember, was before the battle of the Boyne. The men were formed on their arrival in France into three regiments, those of Mountcashel, O’Brien, and Dillon, named after their commanders, and were sent to Savoy. The French aid to James in Ireland helped best in giving confidence to the raw Irish levies, but it was more than offset by the German troops brought over by William. The weakness, indecision, or worse, of James before Derry, his chicken-hearted failure to overwhelm Schomberg when he lay at his mercy before the arrival of William, ruined his chances. Remember that the Irish army, if defeated at the Boyne, was not broken, and was strong enough, when pursued by William, to repulse him with 500 killed and 1,000 wounded and to compel him to raise the siege of Limerick. The dash and skill of Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, backed by Irish desperation, won the day. The French troops sailed home after William’s retreat. In the next year’s campaign occurred the crowning disasters of the war, but in any other country or with any other people than the English the terms of capitulation at Limerick, which were formulated by Ginkel and showed a soldier’s respect for a brave and still powerful foe, would have ushered in an era of peace.
The Irish soldiers’ distrust of the conquerors was shown in the fact that, since the stipulations allowed the free departure of the garrison with honors of war, 19,059 officers and men took service with France, and sailed in October, 1691, on the French fleet, which by the irony of fate had arrived in the Shannon too late, on the very day after the signing of the treaty of Limerick. Never in the whole course of the history of nations has more hideous treachery been shown than in the immediate breaking of that treaty; and dearly has England paid for it ever since, although, for the hundred years that followed, Ireland sank to the very depths under the penal laws, with her trade ruined, her lands stolen, her religion persecuted, and all education and enlightenment forbidden by abominable, drastic laws.
If, as has been computed, 450,000 Irish fought and died in the service of France between 1690 and 1745, a further 30,000 are to be added down to 1793. A French writer estimates the whole Irish contingent at 750,000, but, for a roster of seekers of glory from an impoverished people, the more reasonable half-million should surely suffice.
Long would be the story to follow the fighting fortunes of the Irish Brigades. Officered by Irish gentlemen and drilled to perfection, they soon came to hold in the French service the esteem that later was given to Irish regiments in the service of England. King Louis welcomed them heartily and paid them a higher wage than his native soldiers. No duty was too arduous or too dangerous for the Irish Brigades. Seldom were they left to rust in idleness. Europe was a caldron of wars of high ambitions.
The Irish regiments fought through the war in Flanders. At Landen, July 29, 1693, the French under the duke of Luxembourg defeated the English under William III. with a slaughter of 10,473 men, losing 8,000 men themselves. In the retreat, Ginkel, William’s general in the Irish campaign, was almost drowned in the river Greete. The Irish Royal Regiment of Footguards, that of Dorrington, was the first corps to break through the English intrenchments, its gallant leader, Colonel Barrett, falling as he headed the charge. Here also was stricken Lieutenant-Colonel Nugent of Sheldon’s Irish Regiment. Here also fell–saddest loss of all–Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, brave, resourceful, a true unfaltering-soldier and lover of his country. The legend of his life blood flowing before his eyes and his utterance, “Would it had been shed for Ireland”, may and should be true, although he lived three days after the battle. Would, indeed, it had been shed for Ireland–after such a day!
It was in 1703 that the celebrated defence of Cremona lifted Irish renown to great heights throughout Europe. There were but 600 Irish troopers all told in that long day’s work, and from the break of day till nightfall they held at bay Prince Eugene’s army of 10,000 men. The two battalions of Bourke and Dillon were surprised at early morn to learn that the Austrians–and there were Irish officers among them–were in the town. Major O’Mahony and his men ran from their beds to the gates, and neither the foes without nor the foes within could make them budge. Terribly they suffered under concentrated attacks, but a withering fire from the Irish met every assault. It was nightfall before relief came, and then the sons of Ireland who had held Cremona for the French were acclaimed by all, but of their 600 they had lost nearly 350. Small wonder that the honor list that day was long. In Bourke’s battalion the specially distinguished were Captains Wauchop, Plunkett, Donnellan, MacAuliffe, Carrin, Power, Nugent, and Ivers; in Dillon’s, Major O’Mahony, Captains Dillon, Lynch, MacDonough, and Magee, and Lieutenants Dillon and Gibbon, John Bourke and Thomas Dillon. Major O’Mahony was sent to Paris to carry the news of the victory to the king, who presented him with a purse of 1,000 louis d’or, a pension of 1,000 livres, and the brevet of colonel.
So the history proceeds, the Irish regiments lost in the array of the French forces, but showing here and there a glint of charging bayonets, captured trenches, and gushes of Irish blood. In 1703 the brigade regiments fought in Italy and Germany under the Duc de Vendome. We hear of the regiments of Berwick, Bourke, Dillon, Galmoy, and Fitzgerald vigorously engaged. In Germany the story is of Sheldon’s Horse and two battalions of the regiments of Dorrington and Clare. At the first battle of Blenheim, September 20, 1703, the regiment of Clare lost one of its colors, rallied, charged with the bayonet and recovered it, taking two colors from the enemy. This was a French victory. Not so the great battle of Blenheim, August, 1704, when Marlborough and Prince Eugene severely defeated the French and Bavarians. Three Irish battalions shared in the disaster. In 1705 at Cassano in Italy an Irish regiment, finding itself badly galled by artillery fire from the opposite bank of the Adda, declared they could stand it no longer, and thereupon jumped in, swam the river, and captured the battery. In 1705 Colonel O’Mahony of Cremona fame distinguished himself in Spain. In the next year at the battle of Ramillies, in which Marlborough with the Dutch defeated the French under Villeroi, Lord Clare’s regiment captured the colors of the English Churchill regiment and of the Scottish regiment in the Dutch service. In the same year and the next, the Irish Brigade fought many battles in Spain. One cannot pursue the details of the engagements. Regiments ever decimated were ever recruited by the “Wild Geese” from Ireland–the adventurous Catholic youth of the country who sought congenial outlet for their love of adventure and glory. Many Irish also joined the French army after deserting from the English forces in Flanders.
It was, however, at Fontenoy, May 11, 1745, that the Irish Brigade rendered their most signal service to France. The English under the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II., with 55,000 men including a large German and Dutch auxiliary, met the French under Marshal Saxe, and in the presence of the French king Louis XV., near Tournai in Belgium. Saxe had 40,000 men in action and 24,000 around Tournai, which town was the objective of the English advance. Among the troops on the field were the six Irish regiments of Clare, Dillon, Bulkeley, Roth, Berwick, and Lally, all under Charles O’Brien, Viscount Clare, afterwards Marshal Thomond of France. After fierce cannonading on both sides and a check to the allies on their right and left, a great column of English veterans advanced on the French centre, breaking through with sheer force. They had thus reached high ground when some cannonading halted them. It was at this moment of gravest peril to the French that the Irish regiments with unshotted guns charged headlong up the slope on their ancient enemies, crying, “Remember Limerick and British Faith!” The great English column, already roughly handled by the cannon, broke and fled in wild disorder before that irresistible onslaught, and France had won a priceless victory, but the six Irish regiments lost one-third of their gallant men by a single volley as they followed their steel into the English lines.
When Charles Edward, the Stuart Pretender, landed in Scotland in 1745, he was followed by a small French force, including 500 Irishmen from the Brigade. Colonel John O’Sullivan was much relied on by the prince in his extraordinary campaign. Sir Thomas Sheridan also distinguished himself. There were 475 Irish at the battle of Culloden, that foredoomed defeat of the Stuart cause, and two days later a score of Irish officers were among those who surrendered at Inverness.
In Spain at the beginning of the 18th century there were hundreds of Irish officers in the military service, and eight Irish regiments. Among the officers were thirteen Kellys, thirteen Burkes, and four Sheas. It seemed that Ireland had soldiers for the world. Don Patricio, Don Miguel, Don Carlos, Don Tadeo took the place of Patrick, Michael, Charles, and Thadeus. O’Hart gives a list of sixty descendants of the “Wild Geese” in places of honor in Spain. General Prim was a descendant of the Princes of Inisnage in Kilkenny. An O’Donnell was Duke of Tetuan and field marshal of Spain. Ambrose O’Higgins, born in county Meath, Ireland, was the foremost Spanish soldier in Chile and Peru; Admiral Patricio Lynch was one of its most distinguished sailors; and James McKenna its greatest military engineer. The son of O’Higgins was foremost among those who fought for Chilean independence and gained it, and one of his ablest lieutenants was Colonel Charles Patrick O’Madden of Maryland.
In Austria the Irish soldiers were particularly welcome. They count forty-one field-marshals, major-generals, generals of cavalry, and masters of ordnance of Irish birth in the Austrian service. O’Callaghan relates that on March 17, 1766, His Excellency Count Mahony (son of the O’Mahony of Cremona), ambassador from Spain to the court of Vienna, gave a grand entertainment in honor of St. Patrick, to which he invited all persons of condition who were of Irish descent. Among many others, there were present Count Lacy, President of the Council at War, the generals O’Donnell, McGuire, O’Kelly, Browne, Plunkett, and MacElligot, four chiefs of the Grand Cross, two governors, several knights military, six staff officers, and four privy councillors, with the principal officers of State. All wore Patrick’s crosses in honor of the Irish nation, as did the whole court that day. Emperor Francis I. said: “The more Irish officers in the Austrian service the better; bravery will not be wanting; our troops will always be well disciplined.” The Austrian O’Reillys and Taaffes were famous. It was the dragoon regiment of Count O’Reilly that by a splendid charge saved the remnant of the Austrian army at Austerlitz.
In the American war of the Revolution, General Charles Geoghegan of the Irish Brigade made the campaigns of Rochambeau and Lafayette. He received the order of the Cincinnati from Washington and was ever proud of it. Lieutenant General O’Moran also served in America. He was afterwards executed in the French Revolution, for the “Brigade” remained royalist to the end. General Arthur Dillon, who served in the Brigade, was also guillotined in 1794, crying, “Vive le roi!” At the foot of the scaffold a woman, probably Mme. Hébert, also condemned, stood beside him. The executioner told her to mount the steps. “Oh, Monsieur Dillon,” she said, “pray go first.” “Anything to oblige a lady,” he answered gaily, and so faced his God.
Lord Macaulay, commenting upon these things and deploring the policies that brought them about, says with great significance:
“There were Irish Catholics of great ability, but they were to be found everywhere except in Ireland–at Versailles, at St. Ildefonso, in the armies of Frederic, in the armies of Maria Theresa. One exile (Lord Clare) became a marshal of France, another (General Wall) became Prime Minister of Spain…. Scattered all over Europe were to be found brave Irish generals, dexterous Irish diplomatists, Irish counts, Irish barons, Irish knights of St. Louis and St. Leopold, of the White Eagle, and of the Golden Fleece, who if they remained in the house of bondage, could not have been ensigns of marching regiments or freemen of petty corporations.”
The old Irish brigades ended with the French monarchy. Battalions of the regiments of Dillon and Walsh were with the French fleet in the West Indies at Grenada and St. Eustache, also at Savannah, and under Rochambeau at Yorktown, but, except as to the officers, the surviving regiments of Berwick, Dillon, and Walsh were largely French. With the better times under Grattan’s Parliament in Ireland, the soldier emigration to France had all but ceased. The Irish Volunteers of 1782 numbered 100,000 men, of whom an appreciable proportion were Catholics. Many Irish went into the English army and navy, but there was another stream of fighting emigrants, that which flocked to the standard of revolt against England in America, of which much was to be heard thereafter.
In the American colonies before the Revolution there were thousands of descendants of the Catholic Irish who had settled in Maryland and Pennsylvania during the seventeenth century, as well as hardy Irish Presbyterians from Ulster, who came in great multitudes during the first half of the eighteenth century. They had suffered persecution in Ireland for conscience sake from their fellow-Protestants. In Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas they constituted entire communities. The emigration of the Catholic or purely Celtic Irish to America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was often compulsory. At any rate, after the middle of the eighteenth century it was large and became continuous–a true drift. Catholics and Presbyterians alike brought hostility to the English government with them, and their voices fed the storm of discontent. The Irish schoolmasters, of whom there were hundreds, were especially efficient in this. They came in every ship to the colonies. They had no love for England, for they had experienced in Ireland the tyranny of English law, and they would be more than human if they did not imbue the minds of the American children under their care with their own hatred of oppression and wrong and English domination. The log schoolhouse of the Irish teacher became the nursery of revolution. They were a very important factor, therefore, in the making of the Revolution, and many of them took an active part as soldiers in the field.
The Irish, both Catholics and Protestants, poured into the patriot ranks once the standard of revolt was raised in 1775. The Pennsylvania line, which General Lee called “the line of Ireland,” was almost entirely Irish, and the rosters of several of the Maryland and Virginia regiments contain a remarkably large proportion of Irish names, in some cases running as high as 60 per cent. It is computed that the Irish furnished not less than a third of the whole American forces. A common cause blotted out all old religious prejudices between Irishmen in the American service. It was John Sullivan, of New Hampshire, son of a Limerick schoolmaster, who began the revolt by seizing the fort of William and Mary and its storehouses filled with that powder which charged the guns at Bunker Hill in the following year. It was Captain Jeremiah O’Brien, with his brothers, who made the first sea attack on the British off Machias, Maine, in May, 1775, an engagement which Fenimore Cooper calls “the Lexington of the Seas.” There were fifteen Celtic Irish names among the Minute Men at the Battle of Lexington. Colonel Barrett, who commanded at Concord, was Irish. There were 258 Celtic Irish names on the rosters of the American forces at the battle of Bunker Hill. John Sullivan had been made a major-general, thereafter to be a notable figure in the war at Princeton, Trenton, Newport, and in his Indian campaign. The Connecticut line was thick with Irish names. Around Washington himself was a circle of brilliant Irishmen: Adjutant-General Edward Hand leading his rifles, Stephen Moylan his dragoons, General Henry Knox and Colonel Proctor at the head of his artillery, John Dunlop his body-guard, Andrew Lewis his brigadier-general, Ephraim Elaine his quartermaster, all of Irish birth or ancestry. Commodore John Barry, born in Wexford in 1739 and bred to the sea, was a ship captain in his early twenties, trading from Philadelphia. When the Continental Congress met, he at once volunteered, and was given command of the Lexington, the first American ship to capture a British war vessel. Later, after gallant fighting on sea and land, he was given command of the U.S. frigate Alliance, in which he crossed the Atlantic to France, and fought and captured in a rattling battle two British warships, the Atlanta and the Trepasay. He was the Father of the American navy, holding captain’s certificate No. 1, signed by Washington himself–the highest rank then issued.
General Richard Montgomery, the brave and able soldier who fell at Quebec as he charged the heights, was an Irishman. General George Clinton, son of an Irishman, was a brigadier-general, governor of New York and twice Vice-President of the United States. Fifty-seven officers of New York regiments in the Revolution were Irish, and a large number of the officers in the Southern regiments of the line, as well as of the militia, were native Irish or of Irish descent. The rosters of the enlisted Irishmen of the New York regiments run into the thousands. Hundreds of Irish soldiers suffered in the prison ships of New York, the horrors of which served so conspicuously to stimulate American determination to carry the war to the only rightful conclusion. Washington always recognized America’s debt to the Irish. “St. Patrick” he made the watchword in the patriot lines the night before the English evacuated Boston forever on the memorable 17th of March, 1776. After the war he was made, with his own consent, an honorary member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. Major-General Richard Butler and his four brothers, all officers, and Brigadier-Generals John Armstrong, William Irvine, William Thompson, James Smith, and Griffith Rutherford all fought with distinction. All of these officers were Irish-born. It was in truth an Irish war, so far as Irish sentiment and whole-hearted service could make it. The record of Irish soldiers’ names alone would fill volumes.
The thirst of the Irish race for the glory of war is shown in the large enlistments in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and since, in the English army and navy. Grattan, in pleading for Ireland, claimed that a large percentage of the British forces were Irish. Wolfe Tone avers that there were 210 Irishmen out of 220 in the crew of a British frigate that overhauled his ship on its way to America. Bonaparte had in his armies an Irish Legion that did good service in Holland, Spain, Portugal, and Germany. Marshal Clarke, Duke of Feltre, French Minister of War in 1809, was Irish. Up and down the Spanish Peninsula, Irish blood was shed in abundance in the armies of Wellington. Never was more brilliant fighting done than that which stands to Irish credit from the lines of Torres Vedras to Badajos and Toulouse. Of the Waterloo campaign volumes have been written in praise of Irish valor. As Maxwell says in his Tales of Waterloo:–“The victors of Marengo and Austerlitz reeled before the charge of the Connaught Rangers.” Wellington himself was Irish, as in the later wars of England Lord Gough, Lord Wolseley, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, and General French came from Ireland. The Irish soldiers in the English service by a pitiful irony of fate helped materially to fasten the chains of English domination on the peoples of India in a long series of wars.
In America, the War of 1812 once more gave opportunity to the Fighting Race. The commanding figure of the war, which opened so inauspiciously for the United States, was General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the battle of New Orleans, and afterwards twice elected President of the United States. “Old Hickory”, as he came to be lovingly called, was proud of his Irish father, and sympathized with the national longings of the Irish people. He was a splendid soldier, and his defeat of the English general, Pakenham, on January 8, 1815, which meant the control of the mouths of the Mississippi, as well as safeguarding the city of New Orleans, reflected the highest credit on his skill and unflagging energy. The English had superior numbers, between 8,000 and 9,000 men, against a scant 6,000 under Jackson, and their force was made up of veterans of the European wars. In command of the left of his line Jackson placed the gallant general William Carroll, born in Philadelphia, but of Irish blood, who was afterwards twice governor of Tennessee. The British general made the mistake of despising the soldier value of his enemy, yet before evening of that day he saw his artillery silenced and his lines broken, as he died of a wound on the field. The battle was actually fought after the signing of the treaty of peace at Ghent; it annihilated British pretensions in this part of the world, anyway.
After Commodore Perry, the victor in the battle of Lake Erie, and himself the son of an Irish mother, the northern naval glory of the War of 1812 falls to Lieutenant Thomas MacDonough, of Irish descent, whose victory on Lake Champlain over the British squadron was almost as important as Perry’s. Admiral Charles L. Stewart (“Old Ironsides”), who commanded the frigate Constitution when she captured the Cyane and the Levant, fighting them by moonlight, was a great and renowned figure. His parents came from Ireland, and Charles Stewart Parnell’s mother was the great sea-fighter’s daughter. Lieutenant Stephen Cassin commanded the Ticonderoga and fought her well. Captain Johnston Blakely, who was born in Ireland, captured in the Wasp of 18 guns the much larger British Reindeer of 20 guns and 175 men in a splendid fight, and later sank the Avon, an 18-gun brig. After capturing a great prize, which he sent to Savannah, he sailed for the Spanish main and was never heard of more. Captain Boyle, in the privateer Comet of Baltimore, fought the Hibernia, of 18 guns, and later in the Chasseur, known as the phantom ship, so fast she sailed, took eighty prizes on the high seas. General A.E. Maccomb, who commanded victoriously at Plattsburg, was of Irish descent, and Colonel Robert Carr, who distinguished himself in the same campaign, was born in Ireland. Major George Croghan of Kentucky, the hero of Fort Stephenson, was the son of an Irish father who had been a soldier in the Revolution. Colonel Hugh Brady, of the 22nd Infantry, commanded at Niagara. He remained in the army and fought in Mexico. William McRee, of Irish descent, was General Browne’s chief engineer in laying out the military works of the American army at Niagara.
Let it not be forgotten that in this memorable company brave Mrs. Doyle has a place. Her husband, Patrick Doyle, an Irish artilleryman, had been taken prisoner by the British in the affair at Queenston and had been refused a parole. Accordingly, when the guns were trained on the English lines before Fort Niagara, Mary, emulating the example of her countrywoman, “Molly” Pitcher, at Monmouth, determined to take her husband’s place, and, regardless of flying British balls, tended a blacksmith’s bellows all day, providing red-hot shot for the American gun battery, and sending a prayer with every shot into the British lines.
After the Queenston affair, it is well to note, the English doctrine of perpetual allegiance was abated. Twenty-three Irish-born men were among the captives of the English in that engagement. They were manacled to be sent to Ireland to be tried for treason, not as enemies taken in the field. Winfield Scott, then lieutenant-colonel, was also a prisoner with them. He protested loudly against this infamous course. Upon his release he laid aside twenty-three British prisoners to be treated like the Irishmen, eye for eye and tooth for tooth. As a result, the Irish prisoners were exchanged.
Colonel John Allen, who fell at the head of the First Regiment of Kentucky Riflemen at the battle of the river Raisin on January 21, 1813, was one of the Irish Allens of Kentucky. His father and mother were natives of Ireland.
The Mexican War (1846-48) again showed Irish valor at the front. It was not a great war, though brilliantly fought and rich in territorial accessions. The campaigning comprised the work of two main expeditions and a subsidiary movement in California. One column, under General Zachary Taylor, penetrated northern Mexico and fought the battles of Matamoras, Palo Alto, and Resaca de la Palma, in May, 1846, with a force of 2,200 men; forced the evacuation of Monterey in September, his army swelled to 5,000; and defeated Santa Anna at Buena Vista in February, 1847. General Winfield Scott, with a naval expediton, attacked Vera Cruz from the sea in March, 1847, and took up the march, 13,000 strong, to Mexico City, fighting the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec, and entered Mexico City on September 14. General James Shields, born in Tyrone, Ireland, in 1810, was in command with his brigade under Scott. A brilliant soldier, he was severely wounded at Cerro Gordo and again at Chapultepec. He served as United States Senator after the war and again took the field in the Civil War, his forces defeating Stonewall Jackson at the first battle of Winchester in 1862. The glamour of chivalry lights the name of Phil Kearney. Here was a born soldier. He was a volunteer with the French in Algiers in 1839-40. He also commanded under Scott with brilliant bravery, and was brevetted major on the field for “gallant and meritorious conduct” at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. In the French war with Austria in 1859-60, Kearney fought with the French, distinguishing himself at the decisive and bloody battle of Solferino. In the Civil War he was brigadier-general of New Jersey troops in 1861 and major-general in 1863, taking distinguished part in the battles of the Peninsula and second Bull Run, and was killed while reconnoitring at Chantilly. General Stephen W. Kearney, with the Army of the West, by dint of long marches, secured California among the fruits of the war. General Bennet Riley, born in Maryland of Irish ancestry, commanded a brigade at Contreras, making a wonderful charge, and also fought brilliantly at Cerro Gordo and Churubusco, and was brevetted brigadier-general. He attained the army rank in 1858. Major-General William O. Butler, under Zachary Taylor, was one of the heroes of Monterey. Born in Kentucky, son of Percival Butler of Kilkenny, who was one of the famous five Butler brothers of the Revolutionary War whom Washington once toasted as “The Butlers and their five sons,” General Butler succeeded General Scott in command of the entire American army in Mexico in February, 1848. Another of clear Irish descent who fought under Zachary Taylor was Major-General George Croghan, whose father, born in Sligo, Ireland, had fought in the Revolution. He himself took part, as we have seen, in the War of 1812, and now was at the front before Monterey. Once, when a Tennessee regiment wavered under a hot converging fire, Croghan rushed to the front and, taking off his hat, shouted, “Men of Tennessee, your fathers conquered with Jackson at New Orleans. Come, follow me!” and they followed in a successful assault. Major-General Robert Paterson, who was born at Strabane, Ireland, and was the son of a ’98 man, saw service in 1812, and became major-general of militia in Pennsylvania, whence he went to the Mexican War. He also lived to serve in the War of the States.
Among Irish-named officers mentioned honorably in official despatches are Major Edward H. Fitzgerald, Major Patrick J. O’Brien; Captain Casey, chosen to lead the first storming party at Chapultepec; Captains Hogan, Byrne, Kane, McElvin, McGill, Burke, Barny, O’Sullivan, McCarthy, McGarry, and McKeon. Captain Mayne Reid, the novelist, a native of Ireland, was in the storming of Chapultepec. Theodore O’Hara, the poet, served with the Kentucky troops and was brevetted major for gallantry at Contreras and Churubusco, while on the staff of General Franklin Pierce (afterwards President of the United States). O’Hara’s magnificent poem, “The Bivouac of the Dead,” has made his name immortal. It was written on the occasion of the interment at Frankfort, Ky., of the Kentucky dead of the Mexican War, where
“Glory guards with solemn round The bivouac of the dead.”
Irwin C. McDowell, who was brevetted captain at Buena Vista, commanded a corps in the Civil War. George A. McCall, brevetted lieutenant-colonel at Palo Alto, was a major-general in the Civil War. Francis T. Bryan was a hero of Buena Vista. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas P. Moore and Captain James Hogan both won fame in the 3rd Dragoons. Lieutenant Thomas Claiborn of the Mounted Rifles became a colonel in the Confederate Army. Lieutenant-Colonel J.W. Geary fought brilliantly and was to be heard from later with renown.
Colonel John F. Reynolds of the 3rd Artillery lived to be major-general in the Civil War, and to fall gloriously at Gettysburg. Nor must we forget Major Folliot Lally’s bravery at Cerro Gordo; Second Lieutenant Thomas W. Sweeny, a brigadier-general of the Civil War and the planner of the Fenian invasion of Canada in 1866; Lieutenant Henry B. Kelly of the 2nd Infantry, afterwards a Confederate colonel; Captain Martin Burke of the 1st Artillery, killed at Churubusco; nor Lieutenant William F. Barry of the 2nd Artillery, a brigadier-general in the Civil War. There were scores of other Irish named officers. In the whole American force of 30,000 engaged, the Irish born and Irish descended troops of all arms were numbered by thousands.
It was, however, in the Civil War that the flood of Irish valor and loyalty to the American Republic was at its height. The 2,800,000 enlistments on the Northern side stood probably for 1,800,000 individual soldiers serving during the four years of the war. Not less than 40 per cent, of these were Irish born or of Irish descent. Of the 337,800 men furnished by the State of New York, 51,206 were natives of Ireland out of the total of 134,178 foreign born, or 38 per cent, of the latter, while not less than 80,000 of Irish descent figured among the 203,600 native born soldiers. Of the 2,261 engagements in the war, few there were that saw no Irishmen in arms, and certainly, in every one of the 519 engagements that made Virginia a great graveyard, the Irish figured largely. Of the 1,000,516 mustered out in 1865, not less than 150,000 were natives of Ireland, while those of Irish descent numbered hundreds of thousands. They fought well everywhere, and it would require volumes to give the names and deeds of those who distinguished themselves more than their fellows.
One name, however, shines with a great blaze above them all, the name of Philip H. Sheridan, one of the three supreme soldiers of the Union, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman being the others. Had Ireland furnished only Sheridan to the Union cause, her service would be beyond reward. He was born in Albany, N.Y., in March, 1831, the year after his parents, John and Mary Sheridan, arrived there from the Co. Cavan, in Ireland. The family moved to Somerset, Perry Co., Ohio, the following year. There Philip began village life. How he gained the beginning of an education; worked in a grocery store; became a bookkeeper; longed for a West Point nomination and got it; how he worked through the Academy in 1853; served as lieutenant on the frontier, in Texas, California, and Oregon, until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he was promoted captain and ordered east, can be quickly told. His history until the fall of the Confederacy would need many long chapters. His military genius included all the requirements of a great captain, and his opportunties of exhibiting all his qualities in action came in rapid succession. In every service from quartermaster to army commander his talents shone. His tremendous vigor, incredible mental alertness, and genius for detail, added to his skill and outreach, continually set him forward. He stood 5 feet 5 inches high, but somehow looked taller, owing to his erect, splendid bearing. There was something in the full chest, the thick muscular neck, the heavy head, the dark blazing eyes, and the quick bodily movements that arrested attention. His name has come down to this generation mainly as a great cavalry leader, but he was a natural commander of all arms, a great tactician, a born strategist. His campaign of the Shenandoah Valley was a whirlwind of success. His great battles around Richmond were wonderful. General Grant’s opinion of Sheridan, given thirteen years after the war, sums up the man. It is here quoted from J.R. Young’s book, Around the World with General Grant. It runs, in part, as follows:
“As a soldier, as a commander of troops, as a man capable of doing all that is possible with any number of men, there is no man living greater than Sheridan. He belongs to the very first rank of soldiers, not only of our country but of the world. I rank Sheridan with Napoleon and Frederick and the great commanders in history. No man ever had such a faculty of finding things out as Sheridan, of knowing all about the enemy. He was always the best informed of his command as to the enemy. Then he had that magnetic quality of swaying men, which I wish I had, a rare quality in a general. I don’t think anyone can give Sheridan too high praise.”
Praise from U.S. Grant is praise indeed. A peculiar feature of the Civil War was the growth of the generals: Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, Meade, all conspicuously experienced it. With Sheridan, however, one point is notable, namely, that He triumphed in every branch in each successive extension of the field of his duties, and he went from captain to major-general in three years of the regular army. His care for his men was constant. His troops were always the best fed, best clothed, best rested in the armies en either side, but on no troops was there more constant call for endeavor, and they were never found to fail him. In action he is described as severe, peremptory, dominating, but his determinations were mighty things, not to be interfered with. He wanted things done and done at once. His men of all grades soon conceded that he knew best what to do, and set about doing it accordingly. Out of action he was joyous of spirit, but, in fight or out of it, his alertness and his lightning-like decisions marked him apart from every other commander. His career in the Tennessee campaign was meteoric. Of his score and more of great conflicts, the most picturesque was his wonderful battle at Cedar Creek, to fight which he rode at breakneck speed “from Winchester twenty miles away” through the dust and debris of a broken army to the extreme front, rallying the scattered regiments and turning a defeat into a crushing victory, which recovered all that had been lost, taking 25 cannon and 1,200 prisoners, and driving for miles the lately victorious enemy under Early. Captain P.J. O’Keefe was one of the two who made the ride beside him. The battles of Waynesboro, Five Forks, and Sailor’s Creek showed the same brilliant generalship on the part of Sheridan. His hold on the affection of the army and the admiration of the people continued to the day of his death, August 5, 1888, when he held the headship of the United States army as general in succession to the great Sherman.
General Sheridan, towards the end of the war, had a soldier’s difference with Major-General George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, but that did not blind “Little Phil” to the real merit of the victor in the tremendous three days’ battle of Gettysburg, handling an army new to his hand against Robert E. Lee. The Meade family is of Irish descent. George Meade, the grandfather, came from Dublin and was a patriot in the American Revolutionary War. General Meade commanded a division at Antietam and a corps at Fredericksburg, and held command of the Army of the Potomac to the end of the war. He was a fine soldier and gentleman. Of quiet manners at most times, he was most irascible in the hour of battle, but his temper did not becloud his judgment. General James Shields and General Irwin McDowell, both fine Irish soldiers, have already been mentioned.
It would be hard to compass in a brief article even the names of the general officers of Irish blood in the Civil War. General John Logan, who fought with the western armies, is worthy of high and honorable mention, as is General Thomas Francis Meagher, a patriot in Ireland, a prisoner in Australia, a soldier of dash in the Civil War. Meagher’s Irish Brigade left a record of valor unsurpassed: their charge at Fredericksburg up Marye’s Heights alone should give them full meed of fame. General Michael Corcoran, a native of Ireland, commanded the wholly Irish 69th Regiment when it departed for the war in 1861, and after his exchange from a Confederate prison raised and organized the Corcoran Legion. Major-General McDowell McCook commanded brilliantly in the western campaigns. Who has not heard of the Fighting McCooks?–a family of splendid men and hardy warriors. Brigadier-General Thomas C. Devin was a superb cavalry commander, who led the first division of Sheridan’s Shenandoah army through all its great operations. General James Mulligan of Illinois was of the true fighting breed. Colonel Timothy O’Meara led his superb Irish Legion from Illinois up Missionary Ridge. Brigadier-General C.C. Sullivan of western army fame was one of the five generals, headed by Rosecrans, who recommended Phil Sheridan for promotion to brigadier-general after the battle of Booneville as “worth his weight in gold.” General Brannan was a gallant division commander in the Middle Tennessee campaign. Colonel William P. Carlin made a name at Stone River. General James T. Boyle, of the Army of the Ohio under Buell, was the brave man whose promotion to division commander left a vacancy for “Little Phil”, that was to be an immediate stepping stone to higher opportunity. Brigadier-General McMillan, who commanded the second brigide at Cedar Creek; Colonel Thomas W. Cahill, 9th Connecticut; Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Neafie of the 156th New York; Captain Charles McCarthy of the 175th New York; Lieutenant-Colonel Alex. J. Kenny of the 8th Indiana; Lieutenant Terrence Reilly of the Horse Artillery, all won distinction in the Shenandoah Valley. Such splendid fighters as General James R. O’Beirne, Colonel Guiney, Colonel Cavanagh, Colonel John P. Byron, Colonel Patrick Gleason, General Denis F. Burke, wrote their names red over a score of battle fields, but one cannot hope to cover more than a fraction of the brilliant men of Irish blood who led and bled in the long, hard, and strenuous struggle. The 69th New York Regiment was the mother of a dozen Irish regiments, including the Irish Brigade of Meagher and the Corcoran Legion. The 9th, 28th, and 29th regiments of Massachusetts were all Irish. A gallant Irishman, born at Fermoy, was Brigadier-General Thomas Smyth, who made a name and died in the battles around Richmond. There was not a regiment from the middle western and western States that did not hold its quota of Irishmen and sons of the Irish. After the names of Porter and Farragut in the Navy stands next highest in honor that of Vice-Admiral Stephen C. Rowan, born in Dublin, of the famous family that produced Hamilton Rowan, one of the foremost of the United Irishmen. It was the son of the vice-admiral, a lieutenant in the army, who carried “the message to Garcia” from the United States War Department to the Cuban commander in the eastern jungle of Cuba, before the outbreak of the war with Spain, and did it so well and bravely through such difficulties and dangers that his name will stand for “the faithful messenger” forever.
As a consequence of their stand with the American people in the Civil War, the position of the whole mass of the Irish and Irish-American people was vastly uplifted in American eyes. The unlettered poverty of scores of thousands of Irish immigrants, who came in multitudes from 1846 on, had made an unfavorable and false impression; their red blood on the battle field washed it out.
On the southern side as well, Irish valor shone. While the great flood of the mid-century Irish immigration had spread itself mainly north, east, and west, the larger cities of the South also received a share. The slave system precluded the entry of free labor into the cotton, corn, lumber, and sugar lands of the South, but such cities as New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston, Savannah, Vicksburg, and Richmond gave varied employment to many of the Irish who made their homes in the Southland, and so they came to furnish thousands of recruits to the local Confederate levies. The “Louisiana Tigers”, who fought so valiantly at Gettysburg on the Southern side, included many Irish. The Georgia brigade, that held the Confederate line atop of Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, up which the Irish brigade so heroically charged, had whole companies of Irish. There were scores of Irish in many of the regiments that made Pickett’s memorable charge at Gettysburg. All through the Confederate armies were valiant descendants of the earlier Irish immigration that settled the uplands of the Carolinas and Virginia and the blue grass region of Kentucky. Most famous, most glorious of these was “Stonewall” Jackson–Lieutenant-General Thomas Jonathan Jackson–next to Robert E. Lee the greatest soldier on the southern side. No more splendid soldier-figure rises out of the contest. Educated at West Point, serving in Mexico, then a professor of philosophy–and artillery–next a volunteer with his State when Virginia took arms against the Union, his long and brilliant service included a large share in the victories at Bull Run, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, where he was accidentally wounded by his own men. He was once defeated by General Shields, as has been noted. The piety and purity of his life belie the supposed necessity for the coarser traits that are thought to go with the terrible trade. General Patrick R. Cleburne was born in 1828, near Cork, Ireland. He was in the English army three years, and, coming to the United States, became a lawyer at Helena, Ark. He enlisted in the Confederate army as a private, rose rapidly to the command of a brigade, and made a great name at Shiloh. As major-general he led divisions at Murfreesboro and Chickamauga, and was thanked by the Confederate Congress. He fell at the battle of Franklin–a soldier of commanding presence, skill, and daring, beloved by the whole Army of the West. The gallant colonel Thomas Claiborne was a striking cavalryman. It was Lieutenant Thomas A. Claiborne of the 1st South Carolina who, with Corporal B. Brannan, lashed the broken flagstaff on Fort Sumter in June, 1864, when, under a withering fire, the flag of the Confederacy had been shot away. The fighting of Major-General Gary of South Carolina around Richmond was desperate. He was the last to leave the city when it fell, as told by Captain Sullivan: “He galloped at night through the burning city, and at the bridge over the James cried out, ‘We are the rear guard. It is all over; blow the bridge to h–l!’ and went on into the night”
The story of the Civil War is a mine of honor to the Irish, and Irishmen should set it forth at length. Here it can be merely glanced at.
The war of 1898 with Spain–that great patriotic efflorescence–was brief in its campaigning. Immediately provoked by the blowing up of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, war was declared on April 19. Admiral Dewey sank the Spanish fleet in Manila Harbor, May 1. The first troops landed on Cuban soil June 1. The first–and last–real land battle before Santiago occurred on July 1-2, with 13,500 troops on the American side against an available Spanish force somewhat less in number, but holding strongly fortified and entrenched positions around the town. The advance and charges uphill necessary to capture El Caney and the steep heights of San Juan called for desperate courage. It was there, however, and the Irish in the army exhibited dash and persistence, as duty demanded. In the second day’s fighting the Spanish assaults on the American positions were repelled, and the land fighting was over. The Americans in the two days lost over 10 per cent killed and wounded. The destruction of Cervera’s fleet on its attempt to escape from Santiago on July 3 ended the struggle. With the regiment of Rough Riders, under Theodore Roosevelt–who says he reckons “an O’Brien, a Redmond, and a man from Ulster” among his for-bears–were many gallant Irishmen–Kellys, Murphys, Burkes, and Doyles, for instance. His favorite captain, “Bucky” O’Neill of Arizona, fell at the foot of San Juan. The white regiments of the regular army had their quota of Irish, as had most of the volunteers. The 9th Massachusetts was all Irish. The 69th New York, all Irish, never reached the front in the war, but shared the fate of the 150,000 troops cantoned through the Southern States, their only effective enemies being dysentery, typhoid, and malaria.
A little splash of Irish blood came with the Fenian dash into Canada on June 1, 1866. There had been active preparations for a real invasion by some 50,000 Irish-born or Irish-fathered soldiers who had served in the Civil War. The American government, using its army force, intervened to prevent the bellicose movement, not, however, before Colonel John O’Neill, who had served in the cavalry with Sherman on his march to the sea, with Captain Starr, one of Kilpatrick’s cavalry, Captain O’Brien, and about 700 well-armed men, all Civil War veterans, had slipped across the Niagara River at Fort Erie. They made short work of all in sight, threw out a couple of hundred men who burned a bridge and tore up the railroad tracks. Their scouts fired on a small British detachment, which ran. On the morning of June 2 news came of a larger Canadian force advancing, and O’Neill went out to meet them. Deploying his men in a field near the high road at a place called Ridgway, he sent his pickets forward. They found heavy ground in front and about three-quarters of a mile away some 1,400 men of the “Queen’s Own” of Toronto and the Hamilton Volunteers advancing rapidly in line. O’Neill, after a few rounds, withdrew his pickets, and the Canadians, taking the movement for flight, came briskly on. As soon as they were clear of cover, O’Neill, firing a volley, gave orders for a charge. At it they went with a cheer, and the whole Canadian line gave way. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, leaving some fifty killed and wounded. After chasing them for two miles, O’Neill halted his men and brought them back to Fort Erie, where they intrenched. The Canadians did not stop until they reached Colburne, eighteen miles away. The Fenian loss was twenty-five. In the night O’Neill learned that no help was coming from the United States’ side, while news reached him that a force of 5,000 Canadian and British regulars was advancing on Fort Erie. Accordingly, at 2 a.m. on June 3, he surrendered to the United States forces with 400 of his men, who were detained for a few days on the U.S.S. Michigan and then let go. The balance of his force, about 250 men, escaped in groups across the river. There was another little victorious skirmish with the Canadians lower down under Captain Spear, who also slipped back over the border unpursued. What fighting took place was workmanlike and creditable.
There was a flicker of Irish fighting spirit in the Boer War. Many thousands, no doubt, were in the English army of 250,000 men brought against the 30,000 Boers, but there was a small “Irish Brigade” that fought on the Boer side, and was notably engaged at Spion Kop, where the English were driven so sweepingly from their position by desperate charges.
In the War of 1870, between France and Prussia, the good wishes of the Irish went with France, for the sake of the old friendship, largely helped, no doubt, by the fact that at the summit of army command was Marshal MacMahon, a descendant of a warrior of the old Irish Brigade. His service in Algiers; his skill and daring in the Crimean War before Sebastopol, where he led the division which stormed the Malakoff; his victories in the Italian War of 1859 against Austria, including the great battle of Magenta, all made him a striking, romantic figure. He failed in 1870 against the Prussians at Worth, and was made prisoner with his army at Sedan, but he suppressed the Commune after the war and was President of France from 1873 to 1879. The device by which 300 Irishmen took part on the French side in the war with Germany has a grim humor. They went as aides in an ambulance corps fitted out in Dublin by subscription, but, once on French soil, enlisted in the army. “Maybe we can kill as well as we can cure,” said one of them. The Compagnie irlandaise, as it was called, did creditable work, and was in the last combat with the Prussians at Montbellard. Their captain, M.W. Kirwan, was offered a Cross of the Legion of Honor, but for some reason declined it. Dr. Constantine J. McGuire, who won the decoration for bravery before Paris during the siege of the Commune, did, however, accept it, receiving the cross from the hands of Marshal MacMahon, and, hale and hearty, wears the red ribbon on occasion in New York today.
Even as this chronicle of daring deeds and daring doers is being penned, in the ranks and as commanding officers on the side of the allies in the far-flung battle lines of the great European war, are men of Irish birth, and, let it not be forgotten, not a few of the opposing side are the descendants of the Irish military geniuses who, in days gone by, fought so gallantly across the continent “from Dunkirk to Belgrade”. They are all, every man of them, bearing bravely, as of yore, their own part amid the dangers and chances of the fray.
If the inspiring story is of necessity here barely sketched in outline, it nevertheless clearly indicates that, as it has been for two thousand years of Irish history, so it will be to the end of the human chapter–the Irish race is the Fighting Race, and willing, even eager, to risk life itself for vital issues.
Keating’s, MacGeoghegan’s, Mitchel’s Histories of Ireland; J.C. O’Callaghan: The Irish Brigades in the Service of France, The Green Book; Lossing: Field Book of the Revolution, Field Book of the War of 1812; Several Mexican War Histories; Battles and Leaders of the Civil War; The Irish at Home and Abroad (New York, 1856); Canon O’Hanlon: Irish-American History of the United States; O’Hart; Irish Pedigrees; Martin I. Griffin: Life of Commodore Barry; John D. Crimmins: Irish Miscellany; Joseph Denieffe: Fenian Recollections; Plowden: Historical Review of the State of Ireland (London, 1803); Hays: History of the Irish (1798) Rebellion; Macaulay: History of England; J. R. Young: Around the World with General Grant; several valuable articles and records of research by Michael J. O’Brien of New York.