Thomas Francis Meagher (Lecture)

Thomas Francis Meagher (Lecture)


Well, we are going to go ahead and begin I
would just like to go ahead and welcome everyone to Gettysburg National Military Park. My name is Angie Atkinson one of the supervisory
park rangers here at Gettysburg, um primarily manage the Licensed Battlefield Guide program
and on occasion get to jump back into the world of interpretation and do some programming. So today we’re going to look at General
Thomas Francis Meagher and some of the very exciting aspects of his life from birth to
death. And, um, answer hopefully or at least um discuss
some of the questions that surround him um for many of these individuals not a lot remains. Meagher though luckily has a good amount of
source material related to him but there’s been some labels maybe attached to him to
his reputation some stories attached to him and so maybe we’ll tackle some of those
today and take a look at his life. To do so, uh let us begin. So Thomas Francis Meagher is born August 3,
1823 in Waterford, Ireland to a very wealthy family, the Meaghers had found success in
the merchant trade. His grandfather had actually moved from Ireland
to Newfoundland, and got involved in the trading business, worked as a tailor eventually taking
that income purchasing a ship to transport various goods back and forth between Newfoundland
and Ireland. Things would come back as well, bacon, flour,
oats and in fact the Irish. Individuals would emigrate from Ireland to
Newfoundland. Eventually though Meagher’s father who would
grow up with this business surrounding him would be made full partner and actually moved
the family back to Ireland. Unfortunately for Thomas Francis his mother
died when he was 4 year old, and his sister would pass about 10 years later. The home that you’re looking at here on
the left or the hotel now is actually the site of Meagher’s birth. Though he would spend most of his life here
at in this house from roughly age 2 on. As I said they were an extremely wealthy family,
um raised mostly by their father of course with their mother’s passing and the senior
Meagher would soon come to realize that Thomas Francis was cut of a different cloth. Thomas Senior was I would think very straight
forward goal oriented and very logical. Thomas Francis not that he was illogical but
was much more of a free spirit. And Meagher was enthralled as he would grow
up, as he would hear and see he would hear stories about English and Irish conflicts
as he would see some of those English and Irish conflicts. He would start to form a picture of the life
that he wanted to have and the life he foresaw for many of the people of Ireland. He was hoping and again became enthralled
with the movement across the pond and looked at this revolution in America, this independence
from Britain and hoped that one day maybe Ireland could do something of the same. His education would take place in a number
of private schools eventually leading him to, Stonyhurst College when he was the age
of sixteen. It was a four-year education that his father
was very encouraged with and hoping to settle young Thomas Francis and in fact it being
a Jesuit education many hoped that it would actually remove the Irish from the Irishman. Meagher would walk away though with a tremendous
education. He could or at least was familiar with five
different languages: Latin, Greek, French, Gaelic and English, and had made a name for
himself pursuing what he loved, and that was speaking. The debate societies he would find were really
his calling. However, that being all well and good, his
father wanted to know upon graduation from Stonyhurst College what’s the next step? You’re not going to speak your way into
a career, what are you going to do with this education. He wanted Thomas Francis to end up in the
family business but that just wasn’t a good fit for the young Meagher. And the senior Meagher did agree with Thomas
Francis on a couple of things and number one that there was this oppression of the Irish
by the English however the senior Meagher thought that change should not happen through
radical revolution that it should really be a more controlled process, small inroads when
you could make them don’t rattle too many cages but still try to achieve some level
of independence. The younger Meagher was completely different. He seeing a number of things that had happened
to his fellow countrymen wanted one thing and that was basically revolution. As Meagher had grown up as the seeds of revolution
were starting to be planted in his mind by men much older than Meagher, predecessors,
he wasn’t the first guy to think of this. It was slow to take hold. The timing for Thomas Francis Meagher was
just unfortunate in that as he was rising to success and really coming of age in his
quest for Ireland’s freedom, the country itself is going to fall into a famine. Throughout the early 1840s he’s going to
test the waters for what is going to be known as the Young Ireland movement. To arouse these young men, to ignite their
passions for their country to hopefully become a sovereign nation. But, as I mentioned the timing couldn’t
be worse. By 1845 the first signs of what would become
the potato famine were reaching the shores and being produced in the crops of Ireland. The image to the left is an example of that. As I understand it the crop looks good initially,
at least the first wave of the blight the crop looked promising but as the farmers would
turn over the soil and find the potatoes they were basically useless. And this seems to spread through the air like
wildfire and it doesn’t take much for it to go from county to county farm to farm before
literally the entire crop is ruined. And I believe the soil is actually able to
keep this fungus going. And so multiple plantings and re-plantings
next year hopefully we’ll hit ‘em again does not necessarily guarantee a better crop. But they didn’t have to suffer and this
is something that Meagher is going to struggle with as he’s watching his countrymen deal
with the potato famine and the blight. Ireland actually exported a number of goods
they exported a large quantity of oats, barley, along with livestock, all to England. And many times as you were existing on the
farm hoping to harvest your potatoes the farm across from you is bountiful with many of
these goods. But they were untouchable to Irish hands because
they were all slated for export. So, sadly, the farmers were left with little
choice but to watch as the chance of life as the famine kept and continued to grow throughout
the entire country and a chance of life was literally grown in the fields next to them
but unattainable. Help would come from other countries. Help would come from America. There were Jewish synagogues, Quaker meetinghouses,
and Catholic churches that would send corn, flour, and even clothing to the people of
Ireland. The Choctaw nation would in face send a good
deal of aide to the Irish, the Trail of Tears still very fresh on their mind. But unfortunately for many of the Irish even
when those items arrived on the shores they were not easily distributed. In fact soon there was a requirement that
the Irish must purchase these goods and if you’re living on a subsistence farm you
have very little money in which to purchase anything let alone the food to keep you going. He had not simply ignored his father when
it came to being obedient. Meagher at this point was kind of teetering
between should I stay the course should I not rock the boat or should I search for this
revolution that he hoped to have. But as he’s watching thousands of Irish
flee coming to America among other places he now understood his purpose. The famine was really the last straw. He would seize the opportunity to cultivate
followers of the Young Ireland movement and England is making things just more and more
difficult as the masses are starving. And England was aware that discontent was
spreading and they were not ignorant of this fact. And Meagher is going to use his speaking his
skills in July 1846 to solidify his stance in that the only way that Ireland could be
free. Not through diplomacy but through revolution,
through using force: “Abhor the sword? Stigmatize the sword? No, my lord, for at its blow a giant nation
started from the waters of the Atlantic, and by its redeeming magic, and in the quivering
of its crimson light, the crippled colony sprang into the attitude of a proud republic—prosperous,
limitless and invincible!” Where did that inspiration come from? It came from the thousands of men who had
already risen up against the Crown in America. In an attempt to not have a full scale revolt,
soup kitchens would start to be constructed by 1847 but they were not providing anywhere
near the nutrition that the people of Ireland needed. The Senior Meagher had actually been campaigning
for a seat in the House of Commons and had aligned himself with the British Prime Minister. You can imagine that this rankled young Meagher
quite a bit. One evening in the family’s home, Thomas
Meagher and his father as they had many times were discussing Ireland’s situation and
the picture of the future of Ireland. And Thomas Francis basically looked at his
father and said you will not have my vote. Thomas at that point is going to forge his
own path. After engaging his father in multiple debates,
pointing out the hypocrisies that had existed, and asking how he could knowingly send fellow
Irishmen to their graves, Meagher pointedly informed his father:
“Tell the minister, sir, that a new race of men now act in Ireland—men who will be
neither starved as the victims nor serve as the vassals of the British Empire.” But he’s going to need more support. The support from the people of Ireland is
there, however they’re still suffering through and some recovering from the literal depletion
of not only resources but people in the country because of the famine. He’s going to need to fill the ranks of
the leaders of the Young Ireland movement and he’s going to need to get backing from
individuals that have experienced the same. So, hearing about the success of the efforts
in France and the resulting abdication of the French throne, Meagher will travel to
Paris to meet the acting foreign minister. Unfortunately, Lamartine had already been
warned by the British not to get involved. And he is relatively new to his position so
he again caught in the middle is probably not going to rock the boat right away. What Meagher come away with though, maybe
not support in numbers, maybe not support in Lamartine’s words, but he will come away
with a template. A small template of revolution that is going
to mean a great deal for the people of Ireland. He will walk away with a tricolor. And he will help to create what becomes the
new flag of Ireland. This of course is not sanctioned by England. And Meagher will take it one step further
and he will take this flag and fly it above the city of Waterford upon his return. This a very decisive act of defiance to the
crown. And the Crown won’t stand for it. One by one the men associated with the Young
Ireland movement are going to be arrested and headed to trial for speaking of violence
against the Crown. But the Crown doesn’t have a full grip yet
on these Young Irelanders. During Meagher’s trial there is going to
be one dissenting vote (a Roman Catholic) and thus he will not be sent, he will be removed
from his cell and set free. But England thinking quickly will soon pass
the Treason Felony Act which made it a crime to be an Irish nationalist. July 11, 1848 as his father tried to reason
with him at their home there was a knock at the door. Meagher was to be arrested for “seditious
language” from a speech that he had given. When word spread around Waterford that their
leader was about to be arrested and taken to jail, roughly 20,000 gathered to attempt
to prevent young Meagher from being taken away. Was this the moment that Meagher was looking
for? Through the past years he had looked for ways
to instill patriotism in his country, instill this idea of revolution and here it was before
him. Was he ready to take hold of it and utilize
it? He was not. He would say to the crowd that they should
be steady and calm and refrain from any use of force. But it was of no use. They would start to throw stones and formed
a human barricade at the bridge in Waterford. Eventually after a few hours adjusting plans
and bringing in reinforcements Meagher was securely removed from Waterford and taken
to a train headed to Dublin. Now, being wealthy he could afford the bail
and was able to return back home to await trial. But now he was ready. That was the final straw. He was ready to seek his next opportunity
for revolution. He and the other leaders of the Young Ireland
would seek to begin their revolution in Kilkenny and Meagher would depart this home on July
20, 1848 for the last time. By July 22 England again in another very strategic
move would suspend habeas corpus and thus anyone could be arrested at any time for anything. Meagher was now a fugitive. Once at Kilkenny hopes for revolt began to
fade. He realized that the clerics would not support
him as they had just witnessed some going to their death back in France. Few weapons were able to be procured. If you’re going to elicit the help of farmers
rifles aren’t really in plentiful supply. They’d probably bringing their implements,
their tools. Another plan was then drawn up. Meagher and his supports would take the Rock
of Cashel. But on the way there a police officer, an
on duty police officer, noticed Meagher and took him into custody. August 12 he’s arrested, jailed in Kilmainham
Gaol, said “to have levied war on our Sovereign Lady the Queen in her realm” which carried
the penalty of death. Meagher will spend one month in the jail. He can hear them building the gallows right
outside his window. He knows what’s coming he’s visited by
his father who begged him to plead guilty to a lesser charge. But Meagher in no way, shape or form would
concede. The revolution had begun. But it was really a “non-revolution.” He wasn’t really able physically to get
anything started. Mentally, emotionally he was there. But physically the organization of thousands
of Irish compatriots was just not coming to fruition. As Meagher would say, “We were routed without
a struggle. A humiliating fiasco.” Meagher is tried in mid-September and after
nine days he is found guilty. At his sentencing in October, his words I’m
sure practiced many times over could not move the judge: he was to be hanged, decapitated,
and quartered. As would be fitting, in you know most legal
cases it will go to appeal it will go to Westminster to be heard but eventually denied. Outside pressure however will come to Meagher’s
aid. Outside pressure from the United States and
others will help adjust England’s thoughts on the matter. Here is the revolutionary hero how can they
take the next steps to kill someone who has become so popular not only in Ireland but
even in other countries. So England will relent and rather than death,
they will send Meagher and his compatriots to be exiled in Van Dieman’s Land. At this point, Thomas Francis Meagher, the
gentleman right here, picture of him in the jail is 25 years old. This is where Meagher goes. Literally across the other side of the globe. He would spend 112 days on a vessel to his
eventual destination. You’ll notice this is the map of Australia
this is what we now refer to as Tasmania then referred to as Van Diemen’s Land a blow
up here to the right. 112 days to arrive here. And this had been something that had been
started roughly as a penal colony. Convicts would be sent to Australia and also
to Tasmania, Meagher’s destination being Tasmania. About 40,000 people total most for petty crimes,
theft/debt, anything else that in some senses could be manufactured, some real some manufactured. 25% of the population was women. Political prisoners though were rare, so Meagher
and his compatriots were not the norm in Van Diemen’s Land they were about 1%, but they
carried notoriety. They carried the fame with them. Meagher and other Young Irelanders would arrive
on October 29, 1849 to a completely different world. Upon their arrival they were treated much
differently than the other petty criminals. Many times those criminals would be sent to
a work gang to another prison type labor camp but Meagher and his compatriots would actually
end up with quarters much like this. This is a sketch of his cabin at Lake Sorrell
in the Campbell Town district. It was much like a gentleman’s agreement
they had conditions of their parole they would exist on the island they would not be confined
to crude jails they were granted freedom of movement within their own district. So they were each given a district, Meagher’s
happened to be the one in Campbell Town. He would try to look on the bright side. It was a beautiful land, it was not Ireland. But it was still beautiful in its own right. Maybe he could make something of himself here
and eventually get back to that revolution in Ireland. This was just a pause. He spent time planting vegetables, taking
long walks and inspecting the various flora and fauna that this new and unique land had
to offer. But, while the location was quiet his soul
was not. Meagher and his fellow revolutionaries still
wanted to see Ireland free. So they’re not going to let exile to Van
Diemen’s Land dissuade this or slow them down. One of the conditions of their parole is that
these young men cannot speak to each other. Another is that they cannot cross into someone
else’s district. You must literally say in your place. So for example your county where you live,
you cannot cross to the next county you can go up to the line but you cannot cross. And technically you should not be speaking
with any of your cohorts across the way. But what Meagher and his friends would do
is of course take it right up to the boundary. So, obviously not to scale and the districts
were not square. But the districts that he and his compatriots
would exist in were adjacent. So while not crossing into one, they could
sure stand at the point where they all meet and talk to each other. Now that does violate their parole but they’re
not crossing into said district. They would do this they would meet for weekly
meals and talk of escape. Of course they are, they don’t want to sit
here on this island forever they have more important things to do. There was one attempted escape while Meagher
was at Van Diemen’s Land but it ended in betrayal. There had been a spy that had been able to
warn those in charge that an escape was going to happen. And that poor individual as they swam to the
boat hoping that that boat would pick them up to freedom no one on the boat extended
a hand they swam back to sure and of course the officers were there ready to take them
in. But for Meagher there was no rule that prevented
him from falling in love. We mentioned 25% of the inhabitants were female
and soon Meagher would find a young woman took notice of a lady named Catherine Bennett. In fact her carriage she was governess for
another individual on the island, that carriage had gotten caught in the road Meagher helped
to fix it. And then began to court her. After a brief courtship, he asked for her
hand in marriage. And Meagher is swept up he is completely enthralled
with Miss Bennett, his friends however are not impressed. She is the daughter of a convict, he is a
political convict. But they still in this instance believe she
is below his station and therefore not worthy. But Meagher will move ahead anyway. His spirit is still encouraged though by the
attempted escape and eventual escape in 1850. One of his friends was able to coordinate
an escape through Ireland and other channels by having a boat pick him up off the coast
of Van Diemen’s Land. And Meagher is energized by this. If that person can do it then so can he. So, Meagher will now look to coordinate his
own escape between individuals in Waterford, his father basically, and individuals in New
York. Now keep in mind a letter written at Christmas
will not reach someone’s hand in Waterford until April. So trying to coordinate an escape when you
have four months delay, I can even imagine the stress that would put someone under. But it was done, somehow it was done. And soon the ship the Elizabeth Thompson was
secured to aid Meagher in his escape. This is the same ship that had picked up that
gentleman back in 1850. On January 3, 1852 Meagher, being the gentleman
that he is, would send a letter to the magistrate of his district revoking his parole. Basically telling the magistrate thank you
but I’m no longer going to be abiding by this. He said, he said, “Circumstances of recent
occurrence urge upon me the necessity of resigning my ticket of leave, and consequently withdrawing
my parole. I write this letter, therefore, respectfully
to apprise you, that after 12 o’clock tomorrow noon, I shall no longer consider myself bound
by the obligation which that parole imposes. In the meantime, however, you should conceive
it your duty to take me into custody, I shall, as a matter of course, regard myself as wholly
absolved from the restraint which my word of honour to your Government at present inflicts. I have the humble honour to be, Sir, with
sincere respect, Your obedient servant, Thomas Francis Meagher. Thomas Francis basically informing them that
I’m no longer playing by your rules. I’m headed out. So how would he do this? The Campbell district here is Meagher’s
area of operation. His route would take him from Lake Sorrel
to Westbury, then following the Tamar river to the coast. This is not done in a day, but this is his
route. And eventually he will have to board a boat,
a very almost unseaworthy boat, and go 40 miles across the coast of Van Diemen’s Land
to Waterhouse Island, right there. Now the island is actually only 2 miles off
of the shore but to get there it took him a route of 40 miles. The whole time sharks are circling beneath,
there’s always the potential of a double-cross as happened to an individual years ago when
they tried to escape. Meagher will spend 10 days on Waterhouse Island,
he’s brought provisions with him he’s actually hanging out with a group of pirates,
and he’s waiting for the Elizabeth Thompson to show. And boats will show, but they won’t be that
one. And day in and day out his hopes are up and
down waiting for the Elizabeth Thompson and her signal shots. Finally, after 10 days he sees the boat, he
sees the appropriate signal shots and he’s ferried out to the ship. Once on board, his true identity is known
only to the captain, he is simply looked at as a traveler, and now he is on his way back
to freedom. He’ll eventually land in New York City by
way of Brazil, and his arrival was expected, lauded, and celebrated. A number of newspapers had already announced
his escape. And he looked up some of his friends who had
departed Ireland from the Young Ireland movement. One friend in particular, Michael Corcoran,
was living above a tavern. Meagher was celebrated near and far by supporters,
but politically of great concern. There was a movement afoot in America the
Know-Nothing movement which was a nativist movement not encouraged at all by the immigration
of the Irish. And soon Meagher and many of his Irish compatriots
would become targets once again. He would though bring out those speaking skills
and he would enrapture audiences as he entered the lecture circuit to again stir the movement
for Ireland’s freedom. He would end up traveling all over the United
States, would meet President-elect Franklin Pierce, and his wife and father actually joined
him for a time. Keep in mind he can never go back to Ireland. He is completely exiled and forbidden from
returning to his homeland. However, as Meagher will head out west for
more speeches, both his father and his wife will return back to Ireland in hopes that
a future rendezvous can be coordinated. Catherine would return to Ireland, she would
give birth to a young son, Thomas Bennett Meagher, but die shortly thereafter from complications. Now the Irish in America, broken down roughly
by percentage comprised a significant portion of the population. Meagher has a group of eager listeners and
many of these individuals had seen the horrors of the famine, had experienced the oppression
by the English and were more than willing to join in on the cause. Typically though the Irish are going to side
with the Democratic Party as they are anti-abolition. Also just mentioned fearing the Know-Nothing
party and the nativist movements and the Irish are also concerned about this potential abolition
of slavery and the competition for low-paying jobs. The Irish you know just as many others were
on the bottom of the ladder when it came to employment, some rights, and they feared that
if these newly freed slaves joined into the citizenry that the competition for jobs and
wages would be at a premium. And there is still the revolution to fight
back home and we’ve got to get this organized. So Meagher will reconvene with his friend
Michael Corcoran. Who was born in Ireland in 1827 and he is
also see the effects of the Great Famine. The ultimate goal is to avenge the persecution
that was felt by those individuals. Meagher like many others will join the Fenian
Brotherhood and become involved in the Irish nationalist movement in America. But eventually thought as course would have
it the United States was moving to the brink of civil war. And here was an opportunity for many of these
Irish to engage in what we might call training utilize the American civil war as a training
opportunity for their own future revolution. Michael Corcoran would organize the 69th NYSM
on the outset of the American Civil War and looked to do just that. So recruiting posters would go all around,
Meagher would be speaking, but one of the things that the Irish found themselves in
was a difficult position with their beliefs because they could actually sympathize with
the South. They could sympathize with this government
that was being told how to do things, how to live, what rules to follow, but yet here
is this opportunity for war and a training ground. Some would look to gain the military experience
to later fight for Ireland’s freedom others wanted to protect and fight for America and
protect its freedoms, and future for the future generations of the Irish. And some fought as we know from many, many
Civil War diaries for adventure, for pay, because it was what they had to do. Meagher would give a number of stirring speeches. He would look to rally the cry fill the ranks
of the Irish in the Union army. He said, “It is a moral certainty that many
of our countrymen who enlist in this struggle for the maintenance of the Union will fall
in the contest. But, even so; I hold that if only one in ten
of us come back when this war is over, the military experience gained by that one will
be of more service in a fight for Ireland’s freedom than would that of the entire ten
as they are now. They needed to go through this in their thoughts
they needed to go through this and if they could get a handful of people with the experience
the leadership they could go back to Ireland and throw away the Crown’s oppression. War begins in 1861. As the Irish were recruited they would be
sent down to Ft. Corcoran just outside of D.C. Michael Corcoran here. Meagher here. Meagher would eventually a Captain of Co. K 69th New York. They were responsible for constructing forts
around Arlington. But the men are green They are untrained as
of course many of the soldiers are at the onset of the American Civil War. And it will take practice before they are
truly a fighting force. On the way to Manassas you know initially
men had enlisted for 90 days. Lincoln is pressuring the Union army to get
something going we don’t have these men forever, so as a result it will eventually
be the Battle of Bull Run. But on the march toward Manassas an Irishman
was struck in the foot by a rifle that had discharged accidently Sherman then their brigade
commander was unimpressed, didn’t care, wasn’t concerned about that individual. And that episode left a very poor taste in
the mouths of the Irish soldiers and his style of leadership. At the Battle of Bull Run the 69th New York
State Militia will engage the afternoon of July 21 again Meagher leading Co. K. They prepare for the assault on the Henry
House hill and attempt to attack, they’re stripping their jackets off they’re basically
down to their bare clothes and they will charge the hill. A writer for Harper’s Weekly wrote that
the Irish had, “stripped themselves, and dashed into the enemy with the utmost fury. The difficulty was to keep them quiet.” And that’s their forward movement. But as many of you probably have studied this
battle and well know its disorganized it’s not coordinated well there’s confusion among
the ranks and things just don’t go well for the Union army. It appeared that the 69th was able to hold
for a time but they were never able to push the Confederates back. As they are retreating it is completely disorganized
and as a result Michael Corcoran who you see here is captured, the colors are captured,
and a variety of casualties take place 38 killed, 95 missing and 59 wounded. One would write later, “That it was, after
all, but a training-school to open men’s eyes to the real necessities and responsibilities
of war.” So that didn’t go as planned and now we
need to regroup. We need to regroup because we know the war
is not over. We all thought it would be hashed out with
this one battle, people picnicking on the hills close by, but it’s going to take a
lot longer. And now Meagher is going to take it upon himself
to form an all Irish fighting unit. Since the 69th New York State Militia did
not reup, now we look to the 69 NY volunteers. He’s going to look to organize them during
September and October. He is primarily focused on recruiting he’s
using those talents of speech to fill the ranks of these units. These men will now reenlist for three years
and he will eventually fill out the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York, the bulk of which
would become the famed Irish Brigade. And many times during these speeches he would
look at the men in the crowd, the men that he is asking to fight and die for him and
tell them that “For my part, I ask no Irishman to do that which I myself am not prepared
to do.” And whether or not they understood Meagher’s
background I think he was speaking honestly at that point. Meagher so fervently wanted Ireland’s freedom
that he was I truly believe ready to lay his life down for that cause. And if it had to be here in America through
their Civil War then so be it. And soon as I mentioned earlier Meagher will
start to realize that some of the Irish had loyalty to both countries. However he needed to in many of these speeches
stress the need, stress England’s abandonment of Ireland and the threat of the Confederacy
linking with them during the Civil War. Now not so much understanding about the South
being oppressed by the Federal government but that one piece the fact that they might
align with England that was enough to kind of move sympathies away from the South and
focus on the North. He needed roughly 2,000 men he’s still recruiting
for a number of these regiments and during one recruiting trip in New York July 1862
Meagher would say this, “It should be the vehement desire and the intense ambition of
every Irishman, who has one chord within him that vibrates to the traditions of that old
lyric and martial land of his, not to permit its flag, so visibly emblematic of the verdure
of its soil and the immortality of its faith, to be compromised in any just struggle in
which it is displayed.” Trying to rally the troops to support this
cause. To keep the Irish Brigade alive, demonstrate
to America that the Irish is there to fight, again this helps combat that Know Nothing
movement. America is going to be the home of future
Irish immigrants. But sometimes he’s having trouble getting
recruits to join the ranks. Some of that is because the letters are coming
home. The realities of war. One person Capt. James B. Turner would say,
“As to any idea you may have of joining the Army give it up at once. Unless a man occupies a position among the
very highest, the amount of vulgarity, profanity and utter tyranny that exist is to a man of
any regiment . . . a perfect hell.” Life in the officer corps was little bit different
than life in the field. The Irish Brigade would be thrust into among
a number of other battles more widely known battle of Antietam in September 1862. They will attack toward the Sunken Road held
by Confederates but as they crest the infantry fire is basically going to mow them down in
their tracks. The 63rd is going to take heavy casualties,
most survivors are falling to the ground simply for protection. Meagher who has gone into battle upon his
horse is now thrown to the ground and the animal when it was killed. While Meagher’s father was a teetotaler,
Meagher was not. Meagher was known to imbibe, but I think a
lot of the detraction of Meagher when it comes to his use of alcohol is actually more from
those looking to tear down Meagher and his politics rather than Meagher the person so
to speak. Because of who Meagher was because of the
revolution that he wanted to start he becomes an easy target. I think that and agree with some of the authors
having read through a number of the books that you can’t get a famed reputation as
an elite fighting force with a commander that’s necessarily behind a haystack drinking. I think Meagher was a true leader I think
that Meagher was completely sober during the battles that will take place, maybe not some
of his personal battles later in life, but during this portion of his life I think Meagher’s
focus being on that revolution being on the leadership of his men was in fact very much
tantamount to him rather than descending into drink. But of course that’s an easy story to write. That’s going to sell newspapers. So the Irish are poised to attack the Sunken
Road which is heavily fortified they’re fighting with .69 caliber smoothbore muskets
they’re advancing through hails of gunfire one will note, James Turner from the 88th
New York said, “The shot and shell of the enemy poured over our heads and crashed in
the hollow to the rear. . . the bullets are whirring about, an occasional
wounded man falling down and is borne to the rear but we have not yet been commenced to
fire.” They’ve got to be close. When you use a .69 caliber buck and ball you
basically have to be close or else you’re not really going to hit much of anything. And Meagher had actually requested these rifles
specifically, being close being in the fray signified prominence. As they continued men fell all around the
acting major of the 69th fell dead and a succession of color bearers of the 88th New York would
fall as well. Capt. Patrick Clooney, the gentleman you see
here, advanced his courage though would come to a quick end when he was hit in both the
head and chest within 30 feet of the Sunken Road. They got close but they could not break through. Once Mississippi soldier would write, ““They
stood in line on their ridge, in plain view, with three flags as colors- One the Stars
and Stripes, one a . . . State flag and one the green flag with the Harp of Erin.” “Our men kept those flags falling fast,
while just as fast they raised again. Several times the deadly fire of our rifles
broke the ranks of those men and they fell behind the ridge, but quickly re-formed each
time and appeared with shorter lines but still defiant.” What was the cost? And this is going to fuel Irish discontent. The fact that all of these men are dying and
the fact that the Union army is struggling to win decisive victories against the Confederate
is making a lot people question why they are sending husbands, brothers and sons off to
die in this war which for some is not their own. They’ve come to America to flee Ireland
they want to get back to Ireland and remove the rule of England there this is not going
to help. In addition to the casualties the losses taken
at Antietam a political blow will hit the Irish in the introduction of the Emancipation
Proclamation. As we had mentioned previously the threat
of former slave labor coming into the workforce is very real to the Irish. And now that Lincoln has introduced this it’s
one more concern that they have, again why are they fighting a war that potentially is
not their own. And yet they get no reprieve. The Irish Brigade will then continue with
the Union army now led by a different commander Gen. Ambrose Burnside into the throes of Fredericksburg
Virginia in December they would not have their Irish flags with them they were simply too
tattered to be taken into battle sent back to New York for repair and what they would
instead end up doing is placing springs of boxwood in their hats to identify their group. Finally on December 11 Burnside will order
the army, the Union army to cross into Fredericksburg and the battle will begin on the 13th. St. Clair Mullholand will write as the Irish
are advancing through the town of Fredericksburg and up toward Marye’s Heights and to the
stone wall beyond, “The hills rained fire and the men advanced with heads bowed as when
walking against a hailstorm. Still through the deadly shower the ever-thinning
lines pressed on. The plain over which they had passed was thickly
spotted with the men of the Second Corps, dead, in twos and threes and in groups. Regiments and companies had their third and
fourth commander, and the colors were borne to the front by the third or fourth gallant
soul who had raised them.” Ironically at the wall were fellow Irish. So not only brother against brother but now
literally countryman against countryman. They were the Lochrane Guards in Phillips
Legion of Georgia. Mulholland would write again, “bone of their
bone, and flesh of their flesh- the soldiers of Cobb’s Brigade were Irish like [our]selves.” In total approximately 13 assaults against
the Confederates. The 69th NY arriving just shy of 50 yards
in front of the stone wall. Father William Corby, chaplain with the Irish
Brigade would then write, “The place into which Meagher’s brigade was sent was simply
a slaughter pen. As Meagher waited for the troops and stragglers
he amassed about 300 men still left in the Irish Brigade. Some of the Confederate soldiers of the Washington
Artillery placed on those heights mentioned the Irish Brigade’s courage. They said, “. . . our fire was murderous,
and no troops on earth could stand the feu d’enfer we were giving them.. In the foremost like we distinguished the
green flag with the golden harp of old Ireland, and we knew it to be Meagher’s Irish Brigade. . . . the gallantry of the enemy pushed on
beyond all former charges, and fought and left their dead within five and twenty paces
of the sunken road.” And yet Meagher is still not able to go back
and recruit. He is struggling with the purpose of this
recruitment and now what he’s going to say to many of these men. In an attempt to lighten these spirits as
the new year commenced, as the soldiers were in winter camp Meagher would attempt to bring
some levity back to a significant depression that many of these men were going through. He would hold St. Patrick’s Day events,
he had contests for the enlisted men, foot races, weight throwing, Irish dancing, wheelbarrow
races, sack races and the catching of a greased pig. He entered his horse in one of the steeplechase
races, but an aide actually rode the horse he didn’t fare well because that aide had
probably been making the whiskey punch earlier that day. The races were open to everyone, at 1 o’clock
though there was a break for intermission. It was time to eat. And so lunch consisted of ham, roast oxen,
stuffed pigs, turkey, duck and various other game animals. Part of the steeplechase that would take place
in camp. Winner takes all, again the viewing stands
as you can see. And for those interested I always supply the
receipe for the whiskey punch. There you go. I think you can see why his aide was not able
to take first. But as winter camp will soon be broken because
the fighting season rolls in again, when spring arrives, the Irish Brigade is still going
to be in the thick of things. They will be involved in the battle of Chancellorsville
in late April early May 1863. After three days of battle again under another
Union army commander, General Joe Hooker, he’s lost roughly 18,000 men in casualties
and the remnants of the Irish Brigade have suffered as well. With the growing frustration that Meagher
is seeing/feeling he will tender his resignation at the close of this battle. He will do so much the way the colonies in
a sense tendered their resignation to King George. He will basically send Hooker a battle-by-battle
outline of the slights and mistreatments that the Irish brigade suffers while becoming one
of the most heroic units of the Army of the Potomac. He will eventually return to New York City
looking for what to do next, maybe it will appear to him. Maybe he will have to find it on his own. By July though he will find himself in the
midst of the draft riots in New York City Many of the soldiers of Gettysburg will then
travel there to help quell that disturbance. And this goes back to those casualties at
Antietam. The Irish are done they are done fighting
for this they are done looking at the list of names that arrive in the newspapers those
that are killed, and wounded missing captured and they are tired of the mistreatments that
are not only suffered in the army but those that are suffered at home as well. And Meagher realizes that had they known where
he was they probably would have taken him out too in those draft riots. He no longer had the standing that he once
had he was the one that went to these halls, to the rooms, on that soapbox. Using his words to paint a picture of what
could be done and now this picture is very different the picture is very real for many
families. They were also the people of New York City
specifically, the people of New York City, the Irish of New York City are facing conscription. They are facing being drafted unless they
can come up with $300 to pay for a replacement and that is a year’s salary plus for many
of these individuals so they have no choice. Meagher had recruited these men he had sold
them on the idea of freedom and purpose and now he had led them many of them to their
untimely death. And for what? To go back to his speech in that one in ten
of us might fight for Ireland’s freedom. He hardly even had a one left. Hindsight unfortunately painted a quite unpleasant
picture. But Meagher still needed something to do. He will be back in the army by September 1864
ordered to guard the Union supply line from Nashville to Atlanta. And who’s at the forefront, William Sherman. He’s was then handed command of a group
of men in various states of convalescing, some from illness some from poor decision
making, called the Provisional Army of Tennessee, about 10,000 strong, it was really kind of
a ragtag group folks that didn’t have anywhere to go and ironically that sort of fit Meagher
at this point. Unfortunately for him he was a bit too much
like the men he wasn’t maintaining control some of these guys got out of hand, Meagher
in fact ended up in Baltimore I believe and the group created even poorer names for themselves
and Meagher was thus removed from the Union army in March 1865. His career as a soldier at least in the United
State army over. Where would he go? What would he do? Again Meagher now needs a purpose. In Ireland he was with the Young Ireland movement. In Tasmania he was looking to keep the movement
afoot and escape that was his purpose. In America he came to New York and rallied
the men to fight in this Civil War. Now he needs something else. He always needs that goal
that is almost unachievable, unattainable. His new adventure would take him to the Montana
territory. He had mentioned it earlier in previous correspondence,
send me out there I might be able to find my fame and fortune, my paraphrase. But now this has the potential of new beginnings
and in his mind it has the potential to become a new Ireland. Bring the people from New York bring the people
from the city to get the Irish who are coming to America to go even further, which is not
an easy feat especially when you’re arriving with little nothing to start, but come out
to Ireland and now we will form our new country. President Andrew Johnson had actually appointed
Meagher Secretary of Montana and he was to literally create its government from scratch. In September of 1865 Meagher arrived and settled
in Virginia City the territorial capital. Upon meeting Sidney Edgerton, the territorial
governor at that time, Meagher was quickly informed that governing, law, and due process
were very much optional in this neck of the woods. That he should toe the line or else the vigilante
justice system would seek him out. They had already killed about 20 people that
month. And good luck with the budget, there was none. Oh and by the way, Edgerton holding his suitcase,
was on the way out. You’re now governor. And Edgerton was gone. Edgerton hadn’t even told the President
that he was leaving. Virginia City was rough as many of these western
towns are going to start out being they’re not going to be the fine dining capitals of
the world they’re going to be literally made from scratch, by the backs of individuals. And he of course wasn’t welcome. He’s not welcome into the vigilante justice
system because he’s going to try and impose law and order. He had no respect from some individuals he
had respect from others but they were going to keep that quiet for fear of their life. His early attempts at moving the state forward
in some enlightened thinking were shot down simply because Meagher was trying to make
plans for a public school system. The leader of the opposition movement there
did not like the fact that Meagher was not going to incorporate the King James Bible
into the curriculum. Now keeping in mind where Meagher has come
from Meagher clearly wants a separation of church and state he does not want the school
system to be teaching religion of any sort. He’s been through that long ago. So of course that will lead to a smear campaign
by the vigilantes against Meagher they will you know rumors again of his intoxication
of course that I’m sure probably preceded him because depending on which newspaper you
read which story you heard, I’m sure that preceded him. And they would say that he was at all times
he was polluting his bed and his person in the most indecent and disgusting manner. Of course Meagher is still in his attempt
to take the higher road is still going to attempt to govern the territory. But he may have sealed his own fate when he
involved himself in the case of a Mr. Daniels. James Daniels had purportedly found himself
staring down a not so honest card player, and in the midst of a fight defended himself,
the gentleman I believe was stabbed to death. For this he was brought before a judge and
sentenced to three years in the penitentiary. People came to Mr. Daniels’ defense, they
said that that sentence is much too strong is there anything that you can do Mr. Meagher? And they had hoped for a pardon, that is something
that only the President can do, but what Meagher could do was he could ask for a different
sentence, he could ask for a reprieve. And he did so. And what would happen is rather than being
sent to the penitentiary Daniels received a reprieve. For this a gentleman named Wilbur Sanders
leader of that vigilante movement was livid as it reversed the “due process” that
had taken place earlier. Daniels who was going to be released from
jail in the morning once Meagher grants the reprieve would find that the vigilantes saw
to it by night he was dead and hanging from a tree. Supposedly there was a note pinned to the
body that read, “The Acting Once is next.” Not to be dissuaded Meagher is going to reconvene
the legislature March 5, 1866, to show you how gritty territorial government was the
House met above a saloon and the Council met in a billiard hall. Meagher will reintroduce the concept of public
school he is not dissuaded, he’ll fire the editor of the Montana Post (who’s actually
also the school superintendent), and the first Montana public school will open in Virginia
City. He had nothing to lose. If the vigilantes were going to come after
them then at least he’d try and accomplish something. For 38 days he kept the legislators going
with 74 meals, 19 bottles of wine, 12 pitchers of beer, 43 cigars, and they passed 64 bills
while they were there. And now of course this is only going to flame,
inflame, the vigilantes. Meagher is also facing personal difficulties
as well. He’s broke. He’s not received a salary while Acting
Governor of Montana. And you know when Edgerton said that there
was no budget he meant that, there was no budget. There was no money coming in to pay for Meagher’s
time. Any money that he had left over from his father
was gone, any money that he had from his speaking engagements was gone and the opportunities
for speaking engagements in this area was limited. Still attempting to conduct his business he’s
actually going to go travel to Fort Benton, Montana, he’s been requesting some supplies
specifically arms to be given to militia to protect themselves from any conflict with
some of the native inhabitants. But they hadn’t arrived, it took a while
for them to arrive. And the person who was the officer that could
release these arms? William Sherman. Finally thought it was agreed they would arrive
at Ft. Benton and Meagher would travel to go and
pick them up. He was fighting a stomach ailment, he will
rest at the home of a Mr. Baker, the arms had not arrived yet so he was going have to
figure out something else to do. It turned out that as Meagher is in Fort Benton,
Mr. Baker was not the name of the house, while at the house a gentleman had returned from
D.C. who was there to plot against Meagher. Meagher was taking his meals, relaxing, hoping
to get rid of these stomach bug but he could tell that there was tension in the town. He could tell that people were looking at
him a little bit differently. As he boarded a boat, the G.A. Thompson, the
pilot of the boat Johnny Doran invited him to dine with him, provided him a stateroom
and Meagher initially declining eventually accepted upon persuasion that there was a
very significant library on the boat. And Meagher just looking for a chance to escape
thought this a good idea. When dinner concluded Meagher went back to
his stateroom to retire for the evening. Unfortunately at 10pm there was a cry of “Man
Overboard” was sounded and Doran feared that it was Meagher. He just knew something was not right. Ropes were thrown, lights were cast to attempt
to save the man and nothing could be done. Thomas Francis Meagher, survivor of the revolution,
survivor of banishment, and of civil war could not be survive vigilante justice. It had caught up with him. The searches continued for days afterward,
Meagher’s body was never found. And so the theories came. Suicide? Probably not for an Irish Catholic. Even thought he had been barely eeking out
an existence he was still focused. He still had purpose. He wasn’t that far gone. A drunken accident? There is documentation that Meagher partook
of some wine during the meal but no one left record of him stumbling incoherent completely
drunk nothing of the sort. And so that leaves murder, assassination,
potentially, and potentially most likely conducted by the leader of the theory goes that the
leader of the vigilante justice movement, Wilbur Sanders. But there is no conclusive proof, nothing
conclusive, it’s pretty solid but nothing conclusive. In the years following Meagher’s death Sanders
would actually be the one to write the history of Montana. And when you have that power and when you
have the ability you write the narrative, you chart the course on who’s going to be
remembered and how. Sanders will actually become the biggest supporter
of Meagher in these histories, but in reality he may have had a hand in his death. There was some time later about 1913 a gentleman
Frank Diamond who said he was paid $8,000 to push Meagher over the rail. Now that confession came and then I believe
the individual realized that the statute of limitations on this crime had not run out
and so quickly recanted. I didn’t mean that I was ill and now I’m
back to my senses. And so unfortunately as I said that became
useless. We may never know definitively what happened
to Thomas Francis Meagher that night. But his story is one of the ages. This young revolutionary who charted a course,
who successfully escaped an island, who took a fighting force and made it one of the most
revered in the Union army while battling character assaults the whole way his story still stands. The free spirit, the revolutionary, the fugitive,
the Civil War general, and eventually the Governor of Montana. He had hoped to be remembered by the Irish
in Ireland. I suspect that he had no expectation that
he would gather the Australians and the Americas too. So with that I give you Thomas Francis Meagher. I want to thank everyone for coming out today. I appreciate your attention. If you have any questions come on down and
we’ll chat. If not I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay
in Gettysburg.

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