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Thomas Francis Meagher

Soldier, politician, b. at Waterford, Ireland, August 3, 1823; accidentally drowned in the Missouri River, U.S.A., July 1, 1867

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Meagher , THOMAS FRANCIS, soldier, politician, b. at Waterford, Ireland, August 3, 1823; accidentally drowned in the Missouri River, U.S.A., July 1, 1867. Educated in the Jesuit colleges of Clongowes and Stonyhurst, he finished his college career in 1843 with a reputation for great oratorical ability which he devoted at once, under O’Connell, to the cause of Repeal. His impetuous nature chafed under the restraint of constitutional agitation, and his impassioned eloquence stimulated the more radical revolutionary efforts of the young Irelanders, who, in 1848, broke away from O’Connell’s leadership. In the spring of that year he went with William Smith O’Brien to France as member of a deputation to Lamartine to congratulate the people of France on the establishment of a republic. A trial for “exciting the people to rise in rebellion”, the following May resulted in a disagreement of the jury, but in the abortive rebellion in July he was among those arrested, tried for high treason, and sentenced on October 23 to be hanged. This was commuted to penal servitude for life and on July 29, 1849, with O’Brien and Terence Bellew MacManus, he was transported to Tasmania. Escaping from this penal colony in 1852, he landed in New York, where his countrymen gave him a hearty welcome. His popularity as a lecturer was immediate; he also studied law and, admitted to the bar in 1855, started a paper called the “Irish News” (April 12, 1856), in which he published his “Personal Recollections”. Two years later he undertook an exploring expedition in Central America; his narrative was printed in Harpers Magazine”. When the Civil War broke out he espoused the cause of the Union, raised a company of Zouaves, went to the front with the Sixty-Ninth New York Volunteers, and participated in the first battle of Bull Run. He then organized the famous Irish Brigade, of which he was commissioned brigadier-general, and with it participated in the operations of the Army of the Potomac, in which it specially distinguished itself in the battles of Fair Oak (June 1, 1862), the seven days’ fight before Richmond, Antietam, Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), where it was almost annihilated, and Chancellorsville (1863). He then resigned his command because, he said, “it was perpetrating a public deception to keep up a brigade so reduced in numbers, and which he had been refused permission to withdraw from service and recruit”. A command of a military district in Tennessee was at once given him, which he resigned after a short time. At the close of the war he was made (July, 1865) Territorial Secretary of Montana. During a trip made in the course of his administration of this office he fell from a steamer into the Missouri River at night and was drowned. His body was never found.

THOMAS F. MEEHAN


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