Irish revolutionist – Thomas Francis Meagher

luinrina

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Meagher_Battle of Fair Oaks.jpg

From Wikipedia


Thomas Francis Meagher was born on August 3, 1823 in Waterford City, Ireland. His father was a merchant and quite wealthy; he eventually retired from trading to go into the politics and was twice elected mayor of the city.

His family's financial situation enabled Meagher to study at Roman Catholic boarding schools in Ireland and England. From a young age, he showed great talent in oration, and at the age of 15, he was the youngest medalist of the Debating Society. While in England, he acquired an Anglo-Irish upper class accent.

Soon after his return to Ireland in 1843 to study law, he became involved in politics, specifically the Repeal Association which wanted to repeal the Act of Union which united Ireland and Britain. He first acted as his father's secretary, but soon gained popularity as speaker. Whenever he was announced to speak, the hall would be crowded.

For a while, the movement was peaceful, but when patronage was promised to silence the movement, the Association split. Meagher went with the Young Irelanders that continued working toward a repeal. In a speech – which would become known as the "Sword Speech" – he proposed on July 28, 1846 that physical force should be used to secure national freedom if peaceful means did not have the desired results. That speech, however, caused dissension within the Young Irelanders, and they split. Meagher and other like-minded activists formed the Irish Confederation.

In 1848, Meagher traveled to the continent to study the revolution happening in France at the time. He returned with a proposal for a new Irish flag, a tricolor of green, white and orange. With a few changes the flag is still flown today.

In August 1848, after a failed uprising by the Young Irelanders, Meagher and fellow patriots were arrested and faced trial. They were convicted guilty of treason and sentenced to death – meaning "hanged, drawn and quartered" because of a recently passed ex post facto law. After the trial, Meagher delivered another famous speech, the Speech From the Dock.

Meagher_trial.jpg

Trial of Meagher, Terence MacManus, and Patrick O'Donoghue, all sentenced to death.
From Wikipedia

Because of public pressure, the death sentence was eventually changed to imprisonment for life on "the other side of the world." In 1849, Meagher and his fellow prisoners were sent to Van Diemen's Land – Tasmania.

He was allowed relative freedom of movement on the island against his word not to try to escape without first notifying authorities. While in Tasmania, he secretly met with his fellow Irish rebels despite them all being in different districts. That Meagher never repented having rebelled showed in how he addressed the judge before his sentence:

My Lord, this is our first offense, but not our last. If you will be easy with us this once, we promise on our word as gentlemen to try better next time.

In February 1851, he married Catherine Bennett, daughter of a convicted mail robber. Less than a year later, when she was pregnant with their first child, Meagher escaped to the United States. Catherine stayed behind and soon after gave birth, but the child died about four months later in May 1852 – about the same time Meagher arrived in New York City. Catherine traveled to London and then further to Ireland where she lived with her in-laws. For a while, she and Meagher got to spend some time in America, and when she returned to Ireland, she was pregnant again but also in poor health. She gave birth to a boy who she named after his father, before dying in May 1854. Meagher never met his son; the boy spent his entire life in Ireland.

In New York, Meagher met, courted and eventually married in 1856 Elizabeth "Libby" Townsend. She came from a wealthy Protestant family but converted to Roman Catholicism.

Meagher settled in New York City, studied law and journalism, and published newspapers. He also became a noted speaker and received US citizenship. When traveling to Costa Rica – in part to determine whether Irish could immigrate to Central America – he wrote and published travel articles in Harper's Magazine.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a captain in the 69th New York State Militia.

We all know Meagher fought for the Union, but before the war, he supported the South. He had lectured there and was sympathetic to the people. Furthermore, his friend and fellow Irish activist John Mitchel lived in the South, supported secession and had his three sons serving for the Confederacy. Meagher also was a Democrat.

It is not only our duty to America, but also to Ireland. We could not hope to succeed in our effort to make Ireland a Republic without the moral and material support of the liberty-loving citizens of these United States.
Thomas Francis Meagher on deciding to fight for the Union

He recruited young Irishmen and they enlisted as Company K, 69th New York Infantry. The regiment's colonel was Michael Corcoran who was captured during the First Battle of Bull Run. Meagher succeeded him as colonel. The regiment was part of Sherman's brigade.

Afterward, he returned to New York to recruit more men to form the Irish Brigade. He lectured and implored the Irish of the North to defend the Union. Meagher's recruitment rallies and the Trent Affair enticed many Irish to enlist for the Union cause.

Meagher_1860s.jpg

Meagher in the 1860s
From Wikipedia

Meagher was promoted to Brigadier General, effective February 3, 1862, and led the Irish Brigade – consisting of the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York Infantry regiments – in the Peninsula Campaign. In the Battle of Fair Oaks, the Irish established a reputation of being fierce fighters. Soon after, the 29th Massachusetts Infantry was added to the brigade, but the men were predominately "Yankee." When that didn't work out for everyone involved, the 29th Massachusetts Infantry was replaced by the 28th Massachusetts Infantry after the Battle of Antietam, another regiment of mostly Irish immigrants. The fifth regiment to join the Irish Brigade was the 116th Pennsylvania.

The Irish Brigade attacked the Sunken Road at Antietam, suffering heavy losses, and charged up Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, again suffering immense casualties. The brigade was only lightly engaged at Chancellorsville. Meagher requested leave to recruit more men to fill out his reduced ranks (of the 4,000 men the brigade counted in May 1862, only a few hundred were left and combat-ready a year later), but the request was denied. In protest, Meagher resigned his commission on May 14, 1863. His replacement was Colonel Patrick Kelly.

After Michael Corcoran, exchanged from Confederate imprisonment, had died in December 1863, Meagher's resignation was rescinded. His new duty took him West where he commanded the District of Etowah in the Department of the Cumberland for a little more than a month and led a provisional division in the Army of the Ohio for about two weeks. He resigned, again, on May 15, 1865.

After the war, Meagher was appointed Secretary of the new Territory of Montana, and soon after arrival was designated Acting Governor. He tried – and failed – creating a working relationship between Republicans and Democrats, making himself lots of enemies. When Indian attacks on settlers increased, Meagher formed a voluntary militia after securing federal funding, but he failed to find the offenders and could not retain the militia's cohesion. He was criticized for his actions.

On July 1, 1867, Meagher disappeared. He had traveled to Fort Benson to receive a shipment of arms for the militia. In the early evening hours, he fell overboard from a steamboat into the Missouri. The ship's pilot described the waters as "…instant death – water twelve feet deep and rushing at the rate of ten miles an hour." Meagher's body was never recovered.

There are many theories and suspicions concerning his death: Some say he was killed, some say he had been drinking. Meagher had been accused of being drunk before, while commanding in battle. He got injured at Antietam because he fell off his horse, supposedly being drunk, and he also faced reports of being drunk during the First Battle of Bull Run.

Despite his political failings in Montana, Meagher was remembered by the founders of the Irish Republic as a great orator, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy told the story of Meagher's Irish Brigade before presenting the brigade's battle flag to the Irish Parliament where it still hangs. Furthermore, various statues and monuments in Ireland, Montana, New York and Antietam had been erected in his honor.

Meagher_flags.jpg

Tattered flags of the Irish Brigade flying in a parade in New York. Flown by the 69th New York Infantry, which still exists today.
From
Lines of Battle


Source:
- Wikipedia
 
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Hussar Yeomanry

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Lovely post. Minor point at First Bull Run he is not just Captain. He is Acting Major and Captain and so when Colonel Corcoran is lightly wounded and captured and acting Lieutenant Colonel Haggarty is killed he is the highest ranking officer left. Strangely command of the regiment seems to actually fall on Captain Kelly...
 

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Fascinating summary and great visuals, Lu. There are some facts in here I was unaware of including Meagher's sympathetic attitude to the South at one point prior to the Civil War. It has also fascinated me since the time of learning of it that the two Young Irelander's, both transported to Tasmania for their support of Irish independence, ended up on opposite sides of the Civil War. I was not aware that Meagher had resigned from the army - twice. His family affairs appear to leave a lot to be desired as well. Obviously a remarkable man caught up in turbulent times across the world, he left his mark both in Ireland and America. Meagher was indeed an Irish revolutionary, and an American patriot, and no doubt will continue to be remembered as such.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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As a follow up to my previous post in relation to Meagher at First Bull Run I've been doing a little digging.

Captain and Acting Colonel James Kelly's Official Report of July 24th is intriguing.

He starts by detailing the officers of the regiment at the beginning of the battle and in this Meagher is indeed stated as being Acting Major. Meagher is never mentioned again in the short report. Indeed he appears to be the invisible man of the 69th NYSM.

That said I will include for completeness that there is another account from 'an unnamed man in Company K' (Meagher's Company) that suggests that Meagher performed very courageously there and had a horse shot from underneath him leading a charge. I find it suspect however and not just because there is no name attached to it for it paints an impossibly rosy view of what the regiment did that day. Everything seems to have been glorified up and each and every man appears to be a hero at least twenty foot tall. (Now my belief is the 69th did everything that could have been asked of it that day after finding itself in a tough spot but there does need to be at least some accuracy)
 

luinrina

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it paints an impossibly rosy view of what the regiment did that day. Everything seems to have been glorified up and each and every man appears to be a hero at least twenty foot tall. (Now my belief is the 69th did everything that could have been asked of it that day after finding itself in a tough spot but there does need to be at least some accuracy)
A thought I just had: Maybe after that rout, some soldiers were trying to paint themselves and each other in better light to not make the loss of First Bull Run appear too bad? I hope that made sense...
 

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When I read Timothy Egan's biography of Meagher I learned that Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee the Young Irelander poet who wrote under the pen name Speranza was his lover at the time of the 1848 abortive uprising. She would later marry William Wilde and their child Oscar Wilde would be the best known Irish writer of the 19th Century.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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@John Hartwell Lovely newspaper posts if not without error (which is understandable). Certainly I have found no evidence he took command of the regiment and plenty that he did not. As to offering the Regular Captaincy to James Kelly there is a problem with that - according to some reports he's currently an officer with the 19th US and AWOL from them during the battle (It will require Sherman's intervention to smooth things over)
 

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Great post on the man. Now if we could only pronounce his surname right. Pronounced "Maar" as I understand it. (It seems Lepricans stole some of the letters).
It is indeed the correct Irish pronunciation of the name (rather than 'meagre' which would seem like the phoenetic way to pronounce it :smile:)
 



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