The Irish Soldier and Respect for the Laws of War

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (9) start of chapter

The following may show the value which Irish soldiers attached to their fighting qualities:—

After the famous battle of Manassas, won by the Confederates, the victors were gathering the wounded to convey them to the nearest hospitals. The Confederates were generally the first attended to. But an Irish soldier happening to recognise in a wounded Federal an old acquaintance from his own parish 'in the ould country,' at once raised him from the ground, and placing him tenderly on his shoulder carried his helpless friend to a camp hospital which had been just improvised, and attended to him as well as he could. Next morning, at an early hour, he proceeded to the hospital, to enquire after the patient, and learn how he had got through the night. He found a sentinel at the door, who barred the passage with his bayonet. 'You won't lave me pass, won't ye!—not to see the poor lad from my own parish!' 'Faith, I can't; 'tis again orders,' was the reluctant reply of the Irishman on guard, as he still presented the weapon. 'Yerra, man, stand out of the way with you, and don't bother me!—hav'n't we done the height of the fighting on both sides?' The boastful query, coupled with the good-humoured violence with which the bayonet was shoved aside, were too much for the Hibernian, who, shouldering his rifle, condoled himself with the remark—'Look at that! Faith, one can see that fellow doesn't know much of the laws of war, or he'd respect a sintry. Well, no matter; his intention is good, any way.'

Here is a case where an Irishman emphatically rebuked an adversary on the field of battle, because of his violation of that law of war which prescribes fair fighting as essential.

Early in June 1863 the Federals were advancing to the attack of Secessionville battery, on James's Island, in Charleston Harbour. Their pickets occupied some negro houses and barns at Legree Point. Captain Klyne, of the 100th Pennsylvanians, was in command of the picket. The Charleston battalion and other troops were sent to meet the enemy; and so furious was the dash made by a company of the Old Irish Volunteers, under Captain Ryan, who led his men with characteristic gallantry, that the commander of the Federal picket surrendered as a prisoner of war. As Captain Klyne was in the act of surrendering, a German sergeant was bringing his rifle into position to shoot the Captain of the Volunteers, when one of the Irishmen—Jerry Hurley—who witnessed the motion, flung down his rifle, rushed at the German, caught him by the neck, and, putting his leg dexterously under him, brought him to the ground in the most scientific manner, and then commenced to pummel him unmercifully with his fists, at the same time shouting—'Blast your sowl! you infernal Dutchman! didn't you hear your Captain surrender? Is that what you call fighting in your country? Faith, I'll teach you a lesson that you won't forget in a hurry, my bould boy. Bad luck to you! is it murder you wanted to commit this fine morning? Come along with me, and I'll learn you better manners the next time.' The poor German, who howled tremendously beneath the shower of blows rained on him by the infuriated Irishman, accepted the position, and followed his conqueror, as he and his company rapidly retired after their successful dash.

In the case just mentioned, it was Irishman against German, Confederate against Federal; but here is an instance in which, under rather extraordinary circumstances, it was Irishman against Irishman. During one of the famous battles of the war, a young Irishman named Peter Hughes was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball, and fell helpless on the field. At the same moment, a comrade of his, Michael M'Fadden, received a shot in the groin, and fell prostrate on poor Hughes. Hughes had two infirmities—an irritable temper, and a deplorable stutter; and neither of these was improved by the pain of his wound and the weight of his comrade. He could not shake M'Fadden off, nor could M'Fadden help remaining as he fell; so Hughes remonstrated with the superincumbent mass in this fashion—'Da—a—a—m—n yo—u—u! isn't this fie—l—ld la—a—rge en—n—o—ough to—to fall in, witho—o—out tum—um—um—bling on m—m—e?' M'Fadden protested his innocence, declaring he was not a free agent in the matter, and that if he had his choice, he would prefer not falling at all; but Hughes would take no excuse, and insisted on M'Fadden tum—um—um—bling off a—a—gain—where, he did'nt care. M'Fadden could not stir, but Hughes would not believe in his protestations or his inability to move; so from words they came to blows, and it was in the midst of a regular 'mill' that they were found by the Infirmary corps, by whom the combatants were separated and carried to hospital, where Hughes recovered from his wound, and somewhat improved his temper; but for his stutter there was no hope whatever—that was beyond cure.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America