A Non-combatant defending his Castle

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (10) start of chapter

The indignation of an Irishman at the injury done to his property by an artillery duel in Charleston Harbour was narrated to me with great relish by a countryman of his. The property consisted of a house and lot for which the owner had paid $1,500 in 'hard cash.' The house was within 150 yards of Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, and almost in the line of fire from Fort Sumter. The firing was brisk, and many a ball whisked by, one occasionally passing through the tenement, or taking a fragment off a chimney, which seemed to be a favourite target for practice. The owner, who would remain to 'watch his property,' was remonstrated with, and advised to leave the place, and not risk his life. 'Risk my life! I care more about my house; and the devil a one of me will leave it while them blackguards are battering at it this way.' For a day and a night he walked up and down, 'protecting his property,' and occasionally relieving his mind by cursing Major Anderson, to whom he attributed personal spite and malignity of the blackest die. As a tile or a bit of the chimney was carried away, he would exclaim, 'Oh blood! isn't this a mighty hard case? Why then, Major Anderson, may ould Nick fly away with you, and that you may never come back—that's my prayer, sure enough.'—'There again!—there's more of your purty tricks! The devil run buck-hunting with you, Major Anderson.' 'My curse on you, hot and heavy, Major Anderson, that wouldn't leave a decent man's little property alone.' At length, one unlucky shot tore away five feet of the chimney, which came clattering to the ground in a shower of bricks and mortar. 'There now! I said he'd do it, and he's done it without doubt Why then, Major Anderson, may I never be father over my children if I won't make you pay for this work, if there's law to be had for love or money. You're in for it now, my fine joker—and I'm the lad to salt you—see if I don't!'

Fortunately no amount of cannonading could destroy the 'lot,' and the injury to the chimney, with an odd ventilator or two in the shape of shot-holes, were the entire results of Major Andersen's 'mean spite' against the owner of this critically circumstanced property; so, when the chimney was rebuilt, and the holes were filled up, the temper of the proprietor was restored to its accustomed serenity. And the time even came when he could tell with much humour how sturdily he defended his castle from the guns of Fort Sumter.

I was much amused at hearing a crusty American over-seer of the genuine old school tell an anecdote of an Irishman with whom he was well acquainted. At the battle of Manassas, this Irishman, whose name was Morriss, of the 18th Mississippi, when the order was given to his company to lie down and reload, and thus allow the storm of shell and balls to pass over their heads, retained his erect position, crying out—'By japers! I didn't come here to lie down and fight; I came here to stand up and fight like a man.' His clothes were riddled with bullets, and his flesh was torn in a few places, but he escaped all serious injury, as if by a miracle. After a hard chuckle at the fun of the thing, the Southerner added—'From now on, that Irishman could get along without ever doing another lick of work; but Moniss is an industrious man, and a good gardener, and he can help himself quite enough.'

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