James Haltigan.

The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

. (page 43 of 67)
Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 43 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

this service he received the formal thanks of all the general of-
ficers who participated in that action. His brother, Colonel James
Reed, was also in the engagement.

Another Thomas Read, of a different family, who was born
in Maryland, in 1746, proved himself an ardent patriot at this time.
He was the son of a farmer, who came to the United States from
Ireland some years earlier in the century, and was the pastor of
a Presbyterian church in Delaware. In 1776 he marched with a
company of neighbors and members of his church to Philadelphia
for the purpose of volunteering in the patriot army, arriving just
after the victories of Trenton and Princeton, which rendered
their services unnecessary. In August, 1777, he performed a
marked service for the American cause by drawing a map of the
country through which the British were about to pass after land-
ing at Elk River, Maryland. This map enabled Washington to
make an important move without the knowledge of the enemy.


Major Kelly, who was sent by Washington to destroy the
bridge at Stony Brook, had scarcely begun his work when Corn-
wallis pounced upon him, but he continued at his task while the
bullets of the British were menacing his life. He was cutting
away a log on which some of the timbers rested, when it gave
way sooner tlian was expected, and he was thrown Into the stream.
His men, supposing him to be lost, followed their army to Prince-
ton. He got out of the water, however, but his frozen clothes and
exhausted condition so retarded his progress that he was cap-
tured by the enemy and sent a prisoner to the vile sugar houses of
New York.

Colonel Hand distinguished himself as bravely at Trenton
as he did at Long Island, where he temporarily checked Com-
wallis in his advance. In fact, in all the trying campaign of 1776
no commander was more to the front or displayed greater cour-
age or ability than Hand, and he only received his just reward
when he was promoted soon after to the rank of brigadier.

The First City Troop of Philadelphia, nearly half of whom
were Irishmen and members of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick,
as we have already stated, took an active part in the campaign
of 1776, especially around Trenton and Princeton. Colonel Joseph
Reed, while on a reconnoitering expedition with six of these
spirited young troopers, among whom was James Caldwell, one
of the Friendly Sons, surrounded a barn, near Princeton, and
captured twelve British dragoons, who were so panic-stricken
that they surrendered without a struggle. Colonel Reed and his
six cavaliers returned in triumph to headquarters with their twelve
prisoners, from whom much valuable information was obtained.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was Washington's chief aid at the
battle of Princeton. At one time during the battle, when Wash-
ington exposed himself to the fire of friends and foes in order to
restore order among his troops, Fitzgerald thought his Comman-
der-in-Chief was a lost man. "Fitzgerald," writes Mr. Custis, in
describing this scene in his Recollections of Washington, "hor-
ror-struck at the death of his beloved commander, dropped the
reins upon his horse's neck, and drew his hat over his eyes that
he might not see him die. A roar of musketry succeeds, and then
a shout. It was the shout of victory. The aid-de-camp ventures
to raise his eyes. Oh, glorious sight I the enemy are broken and
flying, while dimly, amid the glimpses of the smoke, is seen the
chief, alive, unharmed, and without a wound, waving his hat and
cheering his comrades to the pursuit. Colonel Fitzgerald, cele-
brated as one of the finest horsemen in the American army, now
dashed his rowels in his charger's flanks, and, heedless of the dead
and dying in his way, flew to the side of the chief, exclaiming:


'Thank God, your excellency is safel' while the favorite aid, a
gallant and warm-hearted son of Erin, a man of thews and sinews
and unused to the melting mood, gave loose to his feelings and
wept like a child for joy. Washington, ever calm amid scenes of
the greatest excitement, affectionately grasped the hand of his aid
and friend, and then ordered, 'Away, mv dear Colonel, and bring
up the troops ; the day is all our own !'

Among the other brave men of the Irish race prominent in
the New Jersey campaign were the Gibson brothers — ^John, who
was colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment ; and George, commander
of the famous Gibson Lambs ; Colonel Potter, and Captains Neal
and Fleming, who gave up their lives for the American cause
at Princeton, and George Fullerton, a member of the Philadel-
phia Light Horse and of the Friendly Sons, who died of a wound
he accidentally received at Trenton. As we have said, the Irish
race was well and nobly represented at Trenton and Princeton.

Though Washington went into winter quarters at Morristown
he lost none of his zeal or activity. Military posts were quickly
established from Princeton to the Hudson Highlands and he acted
with such spirit in harassing the enemy that not a British or a
Hessian soldier was left in New Jersey by the first of March, ex-
cept at New Brunswick and Amboy, where they were so closely
hemmed in that they had to be provisioned from New York and
finally withdrawn altogether.

Washington had now restored hope in the hearts of his coun-
trymen and his own name was crowned with glory, not only in
America, but all over the world.

Moreover, he had covered the British troops with confusion
and disgrace, not only by his ability as a general, but by the hu-
mane and merciful manner in which he conducted the war. While
their course was marked by desolation and outrage, he lived up
to the highest principles of honorable warfare and always felt
compassion for his fallen foes, while he treated even the captured
Hessians, who deserved no mercy at his hands, with the greatest
consideration and kindness.

Instead of being dethroned from his position as Commander-
in-Chief, as Lee and Gates hoped and plotted, he received greater
power from Congress, and modestly and wisely did he use it. His
acknowledgment of the great confidence reposed in him — of the
unlimited power which Congress placed in his hands — was noble
and characteristic. "I find," he writes, "that Congress have done
me the honor to intrust me with powers, in my military capacity,
of the highest nature and almost unlimited extent. Instead of
thinking myself freed from all civil obligations by this mark of
their confidence, I shall constantly bear in mind that, as the


sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so
it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are
firmly established."

Thus the American people were raised by this Heaven-sent
man from the depths of ciespondency to the highest hopes for the
future, and they moved forward in a new and firm resolve that
the war of independence must be prosecuted to the bitter end —
xmtil every vestige of British power was driven from the land. ^



Leaving Washington In his winter quarters in Morrlstown,
wc revert for a while to the Carolinas, where the march toward
liberty was fully keeping pace with the North and East, and
where the men of Irish birth or blood, as we have already seen,
stood at the head and front of patriotic endeavor.

In Mecklenburg, N. C, a declaration of independence was
proclaimed more than a year before the grand pronouncement of
Philadelphia, and fully one-half of those who assembled in con-
vention to formulate it were men of the Irish race.

Thomas Polk, the grandson of Robert Pollock, an Irishman
whose name was abbreviated to Polk in the course of time, was
the chief organizer in the movement, while men bearing such
names as Neil, Morrison, Richard Barry, John Ford, Robert
Irwin, Matthew McClure, and William Wilson were associated
with him as leaders.

Most of the inhabitants of Western North and South Caro-
lina originally came from Ireland, and when the Revolution ap-
proached they were among its most sturdy supporters. That
was the country of the Jacksons, the Gastons, the McClures, and
the Wilsons, and as many as ten members of one family, as in the
case of Judge Gaston, were found fighting in the ranks of the

The family of Robert Wilson, whose brothers, William and
Zacheus, were signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration, was an-
other instance of this devotion. Lossing refers to the \Vilsons
as stanch Scotch-Irish, but there was no such term in existence
in the days of the Revolution and Irishmen were all known. Cath-
olics and Protestants alike, as men from the Kingdom of Ireland.

As related in Mrs. Ellet's "Women of the Revolution," the
wife of Robert Wilson had seven sons in the patriot army and
also her husband. When Cornwallis was retreating from Char-
lotte he halted at Wilson's plantation and quartered himself and
his staff at the house of the patriot. Mrs. Wilson was very cour-
teous, and Cornwallis endeavored to win her to the royal cause
bv flattering words. Her reply was worthy of the noble heroine
sne was, and deserves to be mscribed among the greatest sayings
in our history : "I have seven sons who now or have been bear-
ing arms; indeed, my seventh son, Zacheus, who is only fifteen



years old, I yesterday assisted to get ready to go and join his
brothers in Sumter's army. Now, sooner than see one of my
family turn back from the glorious enterprise, I would take these
boys, pointing to three or four small sons, and with them would
myself enlist under Sumter's standard, and show my husband
and sons how to fight, and if necessary, to die for their country !"
"Ah, General," said the cruel Tarleton, who was present, "I think
you've got into a hornet's nest! Never mind; when we get to
Camden I'll take good care that old Robin Wilson never gets
back again." Mrs. Wilson lived to the age of ninety years.

Comwallis and Tarleton were a well-matched pair and neither
age nor sex appealed to their hardened hearts. When Cornwallis
was fighting Greene he passed near the plantation of the Widow
Brevard, mother of the Secretary of the Mecklenburg Conven-
tion, and ordered it to be desolated. When asked why he was so
cruel toward a poor widow he replied : "She has seven sons in
the rebel army" — a typical answer from the man who caused so
much unnecessary devastation and suffering, both in Ireland and

In no place was the distinction between the real Scotch and
those now called Scotch-Irish (though their ancestors had Hved
in Ireland 150 years) more clearly marked than in North Caro-
lina. There the Scotch under the two McDonalds, almost to a
man, took up arms against the Americans, and there, too, were
they utterly routed by the real Irish under the command of James
Moore, the descendant of Roger O'Moore, of Leix, the leader of
the Irish Confederation in 1641.

The twentieth and last article of the Mecklenburg Convention
appointed "Colonel Thomas Polk and Dr. Joseph Kennedy to pur-
chase three hundred pounds of powder, six hundred pounds of
lead, and one thousand flints for the use of the militia." This
resolution in itself not only showed the earnestness and deter-
mination of the members of the Convention, but it also proved the
class of men who were uppermost in the movement.

In South Carolina, owing to the activity of the Rutledges and
the Lynches, and the great predominance of their countrymen
throughout the State, the friends of liberty far outnumbered the
Tories, with the exception of one district on the borders of
Georgia, between the Broad and Saluda Rivers, of which Ninety-
Six was the center.

Early in 1776 a commission of four gentlemen was sent into
this district by the Charleston Committee of Safety to explain to
the people the true nature of the pending conflict. Of this com-
mission one was an, Colonel William Thomson, and
another was an Irish- American, the Rev. William Tennant, whose


father and grandfather were both Irishmen and founders of the
old Log College of Pennsylvania, the forerunner of Princeton

Colonel William Thomson was a brother of Charles Thom-
son, the Secretary of Congress, and was born in Maghera, Ire-
land, in 1726. He was fourteen years of age when he arrived in
America and was taken to South Carolina by some friends of
his family. He was brought up as a frontiersman and became
famous in his district for his skill with the rifle. In 1775 he was
appointed Colonel of the Third South Carolina Regiment^ which
was known as the Rangers. His soldiers, like himself, were all
skilfull marksmen and he accomplished great deeds with them in
dispersing the Tories in the vicinity of Ninety-Six when he \vas
sent against them with Colonel Richardson, to suppress their in-
surrection and punish them for their treaty violations. The forces
under Thomson and Richardson were joined by seven hundred
North Carolina Militia under Colonels Thomas Polk and Griffith
Rutherford, and the Tories were soon subdued. Three out of the
four commanders of this expedition were Irish and Colonel Rich-
ardson, too, was more than likely of that nationality, though we
have no grounds for making the claim.

In September, 1775, Lord Campbell, the royal Governor of
South Carolina, owing to the storm which was raging round him
on account of his endeavors to incite the Indians to lift the hatchet
for the King, was obliged to take refuge on board a warship in
Charleston Harbor. He went in such haste that he left his fam-
ily behind him, but his wife was treated with the greatest respect
and was safely conducted to the warship. During the siege of
Charleston by Sir Peter Parker, Campbell was on board one of
the ships and received a wound from which he died two years

With the British gone the South Carolinians set about mak-
ing a government for themselves. A temporary constitution was
formed, the first in the Colonies, and John Rutledge was chosen
President of the General Assembly, with the actual powers of

Under his efficient direction Charleston and vicinity were well
prepared for defense in the spring of 1776, and he had his local-
forces well in hand under Colonels Gadsen, Moultrie, and Thom-
son. Brigadier-General John Armstrong, of Pennsylvania, ar-
rived in April and took the general command, and on June 4, 1776,
Major-General Charles Lee reached Charleston, sent by Wash-
ington to command the troops for the defense of the Southern


Nothing that had been done by Governor Rutledge suited
General Lee. He sneered at everything and had nothing but con-
temptuous remarks for all the arrangements which had been
made. Had his orders been carried out defeat would certainly
have taken the place of the glorious victory which soon followed,
but President Rutledge paid no attention to him and carried out
his own plans.

With evidence in his possession that a British fleet of fifty
vessels was about to attack the town, he had, early in the previous
March, ordered Colonel Moultrie to take post on Sullivan's Isl-
and, and complete a fort there — the outlines of which he had al-
ready marked out — within point-blank shot of the channel lead-
ing into Charleston Harbor. A square pen was built of palmetto
trees, laid in two parallel rows sixteen feet apart, the space be-
tween being filled in with sand.

When completed it presented the appearance of a solid wall
sixteen feet wide and capable of covering a thousand men. It was
the only defense which Rutledge could have placed between the
British ships and the town, and it proved the salvation of the

"At this juncture," writes Headley, "Lee arrived from the
North and took command of the troops. When his eye, accus-
tomed to the scientific structures of Europe, fell on this rudely
constructed affair, he smiled in derision, calling it a slaughter-pen,
and requested President Rutledge to have it immediately evac-
uated. But that noble patriot was made of sterner stuff and re-
plied 'that while a soldier remained alive to defend it he would
never give his sanction to such an order.' "

By a curious coincidence the British fleet, bearing a large
land force under Cornwallis, arrived on the same day as Lee, but
it made no hostile movement until the 28th of June. The forces
of Cornwallis took possession of Long Island, lying eastward of
Sullivan's Island, and only separated from it by a narrow creek.

The militia of the surrounding country obeyed the summons
of Governor Rutledge with great alacrity and flocked into the
town. These, with the regular troops of South Carolina, and those
of the Northern colonies who had come with General Armstrong,
made an available force of between five and six thousand men.
Gadsen commanded on James Island, Colonel Moultrie on Sul-
livan's Island, and Colonel Thomson held the advanced post on
the east end of Sullivan's Island, holding in check the British
under Cornwallis, which were only separated from him by the
narrow creek.

Lee retained for himself the position of Haddrell's Point,
which was furthest away from the enemy. As commander-in-


chief his proper place was on Sullivan's Island, the only barrier
between the British fleet and the town, but he was too careful of
his person to stay in a place which would be shattered into frag-
ments in thirty minutes and retired some distance to manage the
retreat which he was sure must take place.

In the city, Governor Rutledge, impelled by the necessities
of the hour, and under the belief that an attempt would be made
to pass the forts and land the troops in the city, pursued the rig-
orous course of martial law. Valuable stores on the wharves
were torn down, and a line of defense was made in their places.
The streets near the water were barricaded, and, on account of
the scarcity of lead, many window-sashes of that material were
melted into bullets. He pressed into service seven hundred
negroes with tools, who belonged to Loyalists ; and seized, for the
moment, the money and papers of the luke-warm. By these ener-
getic measures the city was made strong in moral and physical
material, and when the British fleet crossed the bar, all were
ready to receive them.

At 10:30 o'clock on the morning of the 28th of June, Sir
Peter Parker made the signal attack. As the vessels swept
gracefully up to their positions Moultrie's eye flashed with de-
light. He gave the order to fire the moment they came within
point-blank shot and that low, dark structure on Sullivan's Island
opened its thunder. "The shores," writes Headley, "shook to
the tremendous explosions and in a moment the wharves and
steeples and heights of Charleston were black with spectators,
gazing with throbbing hearts on the volumes of smoke that rose
in a vast cloud from that distant island. Without returning a
shot the vessels steadily advanced, until directly abreast of the
fort — then letting go their anchors, and clewing up their sails,
they poured in a terrible broadside. More than a hundred cannon
opened at once, with such a wild roar that the boldest for a mo-
ment held his breath. The battle had now fairly commenced, and
the guns were worked with fearful rapidity. It was one constant
peal of thunder, and to the spectators in Charleston, that low
spot across the bay looked like a volcano breaking forth from the
sea. Lee stood on Haddrell's Point, watching the effect of the
first fire. When the smoke lifted like the folds of a vast curtain,
he expected to see that 'slaughter-pen' in fragments; but there
still floated the flag of freedom, and beneath it beat brave hearts
to whom that awful cannonade was but 'a symphony to the grand
march of independence.' When the fight had fairly begun, they
thought no more of those heavy guns than they did of their rifles,
and, delighted to find they could wield them with such skill,
stripped to the work. Their coats were hastily flung to one side,


and their hats with them — and in their shirt-sleeves, with hand-
kerchiefs bound about their heads, they toiled away under the
sweltering sun with the cookiess and courage of old soldiers. The
fire from those nine vessels, with their cannon all trained upon that
pile of logs, was terrific, and it trembled like a frightened thing
under the shock ; but the good palmettoes closed silently over the
balls, as they buried themselves in the timber and sand, and the
work went bravely on. Thus, hour after hour, did it blaze, and
flame, and thunder there on the sea, while the shots of the Amer-
icans told with murderous effect. At every discharge those
vessels shook as if smitten by a rock — the planks were ripped up,
the splinters hurled through the air, and the decks strewed with
mangled forms. Amid the smoke, bombs were seen traversing
the air, and dropping in an incessant shower within the fort — but
a morass in the middle swallowed them up as fast as they fell.

"After the fight had continued for several hours Lee, seeing
that the slaughter-pen had held out so well, passed over to it in a
boat and remained for a short time. Accustomed as he was to
the disciplined valor of European troops, he still was struck with
astonishment at the scene which presented itself as he approached.
There stood Moultrie, quietly smoking his pipe, while the heavy
and rapid explosions kept up such a deafening roar that one could
hardly be heard, though shouting at the top of his voice — and
there, stooping over their pieces, were those raw gunners firing
with the deadly precision of practiced artillerists. Amazed to
find an English fleet, carrying two hundred and sixty guns, kept
at bay by thirty cannon and four hundred men, he left the fort
to its brave commander and returned to his old station.

"Amid the hottest of the fire the flag-staff was shot away
and the flag dropped outside of the ramparts upon the beach.
When it fell the people of Charleston were filled with despair,
supposing the fort had surrendered, and men were seen hurrying
through the streets with pale faces and tearful eyes. But the
firing did not cease, and soon that flag was again seen fluttering
amid the smoke. Sergeant Jasper, when he saw it stretched in
dishonor on the sand, leaped over the ramparts and walked the
whole length of the works, though the balls were crashing fear-
fully around him, picked it up, bound it to a sponge-staflf, and
coolly mounting the logs, planted it on the bastion. As it shook
its folds again in the sea breeze a loud shout went up, followed
by an explosion which made the enclosure tremble.

"At length the ammunition began to fail, and Moultrie re-
laxed his firing. Marion was hurried off to an American sloop
of war for a supply and another messenger to Charleston. Both
were successful. With the five hundred pounds from Charleston


Rutledge sent a hasty note, saying, 'Honor and victory, my good
sir, to you and our worthy countrymen with you. Do not make
too free with your cannon — keep cool and do mischief.' The fire
now opened with redoubled fury.

"All day long that brave garrison toiled like slaves, and now
the sun was sinking behind the distant shore. Slowly the gray twi-
light began to creep over the water, and at last darkness settled
on the shores and the sea. The scene now became one of inde-
scribable grandeur. At last, about 9:30 o'clock, the English find-
ing their vessels cut up and the crews dreadfully reduced, slipped
their cables and moved quietly away. The uproar had suddenly
ceased and darkness and silence fallen on the scene, but from that
little fort went up three hearty cheers, and when the news reached
the town one long, loud huzza rent the air, and 'Victory ! Victory !'
ran like wildfire through the streets, filling every heart with joy
and exultation."

The loss of the Americans in this gallant action was slight,
amounting only to thirty-six, both killed and wounded, while that
of the British, according to their own account, was one hundred
and sixty. Double that number would probably be nearer the

Simultaneously with the attack of the fleet on Sullivan s
Island, Clinton's redoubts on Long Island and some floating bat-
teries in the creek opened fire upon Colonel Thomson at the east
end of the island. Clinton's force was about two thousand six

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 43 of 67)