Thomas Francis Meagher

Thomas Francis Meagher, son of a wealthy merchant and "the counterpart of some rash, impolitic, poetic, personage from Irish poetry or fiction," was born in Waterford, Ireland, on August 3, 1823. As a disciple of "Irish liberty," he took part in the various independence movements—many of which were opposed to each other—and in 1849 was banished to Tasmania by a benevolent British government. Three years later he escaped to California and from there made his way to New York. He found in Manhattan a milieu which exactly suited his talents and his rabble-rousing oratory quickly made him the darling of the Young Ireland group. In 1861 he organized a Zouave company which became one of the units of the 69th New York Militia; this command, whose colonel was Michael Corcoran, fought at First Manassas with Meagher as its major, in Sherman's brigade. The following winter Meagher organized in New York City the "Irish Brigade" and was appointed by President Lincoln a brigadier general of volunteers on February 6, 1862, to rank from February 3. The Irish Brigade took part in all the battles of the Army of the Potomac from Bull Run to Chancellorsville—none of its exploits, however, exceeding the hopeless charge against the entrenched Confederate position on Marye's Hill behind the city of Fredericksburg in December, 1862. When he was refused permission to recruit his decimated ranks and it was proposed to extinguish the brigade organization by distributing its units among other commands, Meagher—who apparently regarded the brigade as a symbol of Irish glory rather than as a unit of the U. S. Army—submitted his resignation as of May 14, 1863, and went home. The resignation, however, was not accepted and was cancelled on December 23. In 1864 and 1865 he exercised command at various points in the rear of W. T. Sherman's armies, and on May 15, 1865, while stationed at Savannah, he again resigned from the service. Later that year he was appointed territorial secretary of Montana and, in the absence of the governor, served as acting governor for more than a year. On July 1, 1867, during a drunken spree at Fort Benton, Montana, he presumably fell from the deck of a steamboat into the Missouri River under mysterious circumstances and was drowned. His body was not recovered, and his last resting place is unknown.

Previous Page

Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.