Thomas Francis Meagher

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIX (3) start of chapter

Perhaps to no other man of Irish blood was the Federal government more indebted than to that gifted and gallant Irishman over whom, in the mystery and darkness of the night, the turbid waters of the Missouri rolled in death—Thomas Francis Meagher.

Passionately attached to the land which for so many years had been the asylum and the hope of millions of the Irish people, he infused into his brilliant oratory all the ardour of his soul, and the strong fidelity of his heart.

The Union was the object of his veneration; its flag the emblem of its greatness and its glory. Meagher ‘of the Sword’ was in his element at last; and as his fiery words rang through the land, they roused the enthusiasm of a race whose instincts are essentially warlike, and whose fondest aspirations are for military renown.

Animated no less by a sense of their duties as citizens, than thrilled by accents that stimulated their national pride, the very flower of the Irish youth of the Northern States rallied under the flag of the Union.

Writers for and in certain journals of the United Kingdom frequently impugned the character and the motives of the Irish who joined the Federal army during the war; and ‘mercenary’ and ‘rowdy’ and ‘rough’ have been the terms too freely employed to express dislike of those who formed so powerful an element of the strength and valour of the Northern army. But never was slander more malignant, or description more entirely inapt.

Here, in the words of Thomas Francis Meagher, traced but a few months before his lamentable death, is the simple explanation of the motives and vindication of the character of the men who took up arms for a principle, and who fought with the valour and the chivalry of true soldiers.

From a letter dated the 4th of March, 1867, from Virginia City, Montana, I take this sentence:

‘A chivalrous—and I may with perfect truth assert a religious—sense of duty, and spirit of fidelity to the Government and Flag of the nation of which they were citizens, alone inspired them to take up arms against the South—and this I well know, that many of my gallant fellows left comfortable homes, and relinquished good wages, and resigned profitable and most promising situations, to face the poor pittance, the coarse rations, the privations, rigours, and savage dangers of a soldier's life in the field.’(56)

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