Pat's little Game

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (13) start of chapter

At one of the battles in Virginia a company of Confederates charged a company of Federals. The latter yielded to the impetuosity of the charge, gave way, and fled, all save one man alone, who said—'You may kill me if you plaze, but not all the rebel army will make me run." The cool courage of the soldier at once disarmed hostility. 'Then will you surrender?' he was asked. 'Oh, yes, there is no disgrace in that,' he replied; 'I surrender.' So long as he remained a prisoner, he was a great favourite with his captors—one of whom I heard narrate the circumstance.

To the quick-wittedness and coolness of an Irishman the Federals were indebted for their preservation from no small disaster, and the Confederates for serious loss and great discouragement. Some time after Fort Pulaski, at the mouth of the Savannah river, had been taken from the Confederates, a small picket boat, steered by a midshipman, and rowed by four sailors—two Georgians and two Irishmen—was making its way cautiously in the direction of the fort, 'to see how the land lay.' The Irishmen were Federalists, who had been pressed into the Confederate navy, and were then, against their inclination, serving on board the 'Atlantic,' a blockade-runner, which had been converted into an iron-clad, and still preserved her fast-steaming qualities. The reconnaissance had been made, and the boat was on her way back, when the officer, taking off his pea-jacket, called out to the bowman—'Here, Pat! catch hold of this, and stow it under the bow;' and he added—'Take care how you handle it, you Irish son of a bitch; there are revolvers in it.' Quick as thought, the pistols were taken from the coat by Pat, who handed one of them to his countryman, and pointed the other at the midshipman, exclaiming in a voice expressive of merriment and triumph—'Now, you son of a bitch, steer us straight for Fort Pulaski, and'—turning to the Georgians—'you sons of bitches, pull us there, or we'll blow the tops off your bloody heads!' The gallant young fellow had no option but to do what he was ordered by the possessors of his revolvers, and the boat was rowed right into the landing-place of the enemy. Pat was brought before the officer in command, to whom he imparted the important intelligence that the 'Atlantic,' for which the Federals had been constantly on the look-out, was next morning to pass through St. Augustine's Creek, into Warsaw Sound, thus avoiding the fort, and getting into the open sea, where she was certain to inflict enormous damage on the commerce of the Union, and sink any vessel that did not equal her in speed or in power. This was startling intelligence indeed, for there was but a single gun-boat at the Creek, and this the ' Atlantic ' might disregard, or could destroy. Acting upon the information, an Irish officer of high rank, who happened to be at the time in the fort, at once started on horseback, and never spared whip or spur till he arrived at Port Royal Bay, where a Federal fleet was stationed. In a short time two iron-clads and two heavy transports were steaming for the Creek, where the 'Atlantic' was caught as if in a trap. The 'Irish son of a bitch' had the best of the 'little game.'

I heard an admirable description given by an Irishman in the Confederate service—an officer who had served with great distinction—of his countrymen as soldiers. The portrait is true to the life, and as faithfully represents the soldier of the Union as the champion of the 'Lost Cause.' I heard the same, though not in the same words, from Americans at both sides of the line. My friend thus hits off his compatriots as belligerents:—

'My experience of the Irish in our army was this—that they could endure more than any men on the face of the earth. They would march all day, and the officer in charge would have trouble enough to keep them from playing tricks on one another; and when all others, tired by bodily fatigue, would lie down, indifferent to what would happen, they would be as lively as ever; and if there were a chance of any devilment up, they were bound to be in the midst of it. This is the universal opinion of the officers of the Confederate army with respect to the Irish under their command. They were sometimes difficult to manage, but the fault did not generally lie with them. Their officer should be worthy of their respect. The first condition of their confidence is, that he must be worthy of it—that he is brave and daring—that he can be trusted—that he won't shirk his duty—that he is ready himself to do what he asks them to do. Satisfy them on this essential point, and there is nothing their leader cannot do with them, or that they won't do for him. They would readily die for him; and if there be a bit of fresh meat, or a chicken, or other delicacy to be had by foraging—and they are first-rate at that—he is bound to have his share of it. There are no keener judges of an officer than they are; and woe to the officer who excites their contempt.'

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