Saturday, March 9, 2013

America Go Bragh!

I decided that with Saint Patrick's Day upon us, I'd muse on the role of the Irish in the American Revolution.  Now make no mistake, the war for independence and it's political underpinnings were a Yankee convention - drawing from English (and Scottish) political thought.  But as we all know, when it comes time for action we need a few Irishmen in the mix. For the record, a great number (if not the majority) of British troops were Irish.  The Patriot side, on the other hand, had relatively fewer due to the small number of Irish immigrants living in America at the time. This blog will focus on only a few, but is dedicated to all Irish who fought on either side.

The Statesman

Probably the most famous family of Patriot Irish were the Carroll family, the most notable of whom was Charles Carroll of Carrollton. He was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and notably added "of Carrollton" to distinguish himself from several other Charles Carrolls (such as his father) and ensure the king's men knew who to hang if the rebellion failed. Jesuit educated in Maryland and France, he later studied law in England where he was admitted to the bar. At the time of the rebellion he was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies.  His writings and advocacy played a guiding hand in Maryland's march to rebellion and independence and he had a role in Maryland's own "Annapolis Tea Party," the burning of the Peggy Stewart in October, 1774. During the war, Carroll represented Maryland in the Continental Congress and served on Maryland's Committee of Safety prior to the declaration.  A noted failure was his role in the 1776  mission to Canada where he along with Benjamin Franklin failed to convince French Canada to join the rebellion.

Father of the US Navy, Commodore Barry

The Seaman

John Barry is another notable Irishman Patriot.  Although often taking a back seat to the more flamboyant sailor (and native Scotsman) John Paul Jones, Barry is generally considered the Father of the US Navy. Unlike Carroll, who was born a wealthy third generation American landholder, Barry was your typical Irish hardscrabble transplant.  Born the son of a poor farmer in County Wexford, young Barry enlisted as a cabin boy on his uncle's fishing schooner and eventually rose to be a renowned master of mercantile vessels and eventually settled in Philadelphia. When the war broke out Barry worked tirelessly to equip the first Continental Navy vessels for combat.  His reward was command of the brig, Lexington, which he commanded in one of America's first triumphs over a Royal navy vessel. Barry turned down a lucrative offer to "come over"  for cash and a Royal Navy commission, proffered by the British.  During the dark days of late 1776, when he had no ship available,  he served on land as a Marine officer and had a role in the battles at Trenton and Princeton. Back at sea the next year he fought numerous engagements, usually while outnumbered, and generally gave more than he got.  After the war he returned to the merchant shipping but in 1794, Secretary of War Henry Knox recalled him to build the first US Navy vessels and led the US Navy during its perilous first years that included a naval war with France and the Barbary depredations.

Barry commanded the USS Lexington

The Sniper

The most famous marksman, in a war famed for its plethora of marksmen, was Tim Murphy of Morgan's Rifles. Murphy is said to have fired the shot that killed General Simon Fraser at Saratoga in 1777. Legend has it that Morgan gave the order. Climbing a tree, Murphy fired  at 300 yards and Fraser fell dying.
Some view that as the defining moment of the battle, the battle that changed the course of the war and maybe the world.  Fraser was General Johnnie Burgoyne's best commander, arguably the best field general in the British Army.  His death heralded the destruction of the British forces and the end to Burgoyne's dreams of crushing the rebellion from the north.

Sniper Tim Murphy takes aim at Bemis Heights

Brigadier General Charles O'Hara
substituted for the "indisposed"
Major General Cornwallis

The Foe

Although a distinct minority, the Irish fought in many Continental Army units as both enlisted and officers. Some of the "French" generals given commissions by Congress (the notorious Conway and hapless Fermoy come to mind) were of Irish heritage. And nine of Washington’s generals were born in Ireland—two major generals and seven brigadier generals. But of these, only Brigadier General Edward Hand from County Offaly was at Yorktown. There was another Irish general at Yorktown but, ironically, he was serving with the British forces. General Charles O’Hara, the illegitimate son of British General James O’Hara, second baron of Tyrawley, was born in Lisbon.  O'Hara lost his son during the Yorktown campaign and had the dubious honor of representing Lord Cornwallis at the surrender ceremony. There were no all-Irish regiments in the British order of battle at Yorktown, but there were many Irish among the rank-and-file. For example, the roster of the 76th Foot, a Scottish regiment that was at Yorktown, listed 114 Irish among its soldiers.  During the 1780s, the Dublin government was funding a British military reserve of 12,000 soldiers, and Cork was the primary logistical base for the British forces in North America. The famed Royal American Regiment of French and Indian War fame, had been posted to Ireland and when it returned to America to fight the rebellion its rank and file were mostly Hibernian.

British surrender at Yorktown, October 1781

The Family

Several of Washington's aides, his" military family", were Irish or of Irish descent:  John Fitzgerald, Peregrine Fitzhugh, James McHenry, Stephen Moylan, and Joseph Reed.  Moylan and Fitzgerald were born in Ireland.  Most notable was McHenry, who later became Secretary of War whose namesake fort in Baltimore Harbor became the scene of the battle that inspired the "Star Spangled Banner."

Former aide James McHenry later became
Secretary of War

There is no connection between aide John Fitzgerald and the hoary haired "Senior Intelligence Advisor"  in The Yankee Doodle Spies series...However he and Jeremiah Creed do represent the Irish and all immigrants who were caught up in the  great struggle for liberty.

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