Monday, April 12, 2010

The Rebel Sons of Erin

The Rebel Sons of Erin

Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While the Irish who fought for the Northern states are often written about less is known about the estimated 50,000 Irish who fought for the South. When the Southerners looked upon the North as something of an aggressive bully, trying to dictate how they should live their lives, it was a sentiment with which the Irish could readily identify.

Unlike other regiments that were Irish in name only, the Tenth Tennessee Infantry Regiment was made up entirely of Irishmen and was one of only two confederate regiments made up of Irish Catholics, the others being comprised mostly of Ulster Protestants. Its officers were for the most Northern Irish Protestants, the most famous being Randall McGavock.

The regiment was set up at Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, in May of 1861, a few weeks after war breaking out and colonel Heiman assumed command. It soon numbered 720 men armed with flintlock muskets. The Regimental flag, which is currently hangs on display in Nashville Museum, was made up of a golden harp with a maroon trim on a green background. Over the harp in white lettering was written "Sons of Erin" and underneath "Where glory await you". The regiment became locally known as The Rebel Sons of Erin but as later the war took a horrific toll on its numbers, they were christened The Bloody Tenth.
One of the regiment`s youngest soldiers was seventeen year old Patrick Griffin, who was born on St. Patrick's Day, 1844, in County Galway. His parents Michael and Honora Griffin decided left Ireland in 1847 when The Famine was at its worst, and in their desperation, they had to leave three of their children behind. When they landed in Baltimore, Patrick’s father worked laying train tracks, a job that would take the family to Nashville.
This regiment stayed at Fort Henry to drill and to train. It first saw action in February 1862 when the Union army bombarded the fort. It was ordered to fall back to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River where they thought they would be safe. After wadding a number of streams swollen by rain and snow, and being constantly harassed by Union cavalry they eventually reached the fort late that night. They soon found themselves under attack again when Union soldiers attacked the fort. Weary and outnumbered the 10th Tennessee held them at bay for four days before being compelled to surrender.
Their time in captivity was to prove harsh and they suffered under the atrocious conditions in the Union prison at Fort Warren in Boston Harbour. Five months later they were exchanged for Union prisoners and the regiment was reformed again at Clinton, Mississippi in October of 1862. When Colonel Heiman died in November, 1862 he was succeeded by Colonel Randall W. McGavock. He was a highly regarded figure in Tennessee, where he had been a former mayor of Nashville .
Near the end of December, 1862 the regiment was ordered to Vicksburg and helped defeat General Sherman's forces at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. In January 1863 the 10th Tennessee was 349 strong and was serving General Gregg at Port Hudson, Louisiana, where the Union navy bombarded them. They later engaged with Union troops at Jackson, Mississippi, and repulsed them. The 10th Tennessee then marched to Raymond, Mississippi, where, on May 12th, they fought in the Battle of Raymond, suffering 52 casualties.

At Raymond the confederate General John Gregg faced General Ulysses S. Grant. The confederates were trying to prevent the Union troops from reaching the Southern Railroad and isolating Vicksburg, Mississippi from reinforcement and resupply. It was a small but important battle in the Vicksburg campaign that thwarted Union plans.

In the midst of the battle as the regiment awaited orders to move forward, McGavock sent a courier to find General Gregg. The courier returned, not with orders from General Gregg, but with news that the Confederate centre had been routed. McGavock then ordered his regiment into an impetuous and ill conceived assault on the centre to repel the Union soldiers. He threw back his cape and rallied his men. The red lining of his cape made him a perfect target and he was riddled with more than twelve bullets. His men carried on, only to realise that they were now being fired upon from all sides and were forced into a retreat.

Ever loyal to his commander, the young Patrick Griffin took McGavock`s body from the field which led to his capture. The officer who captured him, a man by the name of McGuire, was also from Galway. Impressed by the young soldier’s courage and at finding a fellow Galwegian he ordered his men to place McGavock's body in one of the Union army wagons for transport into town, where after a coffin was hastily put together he was buried with full honours.
After the battle of Raymond the regiment now numbering 328 took part with remnants of other Tennessee regiments in the Battle of Chickamauga fighting mainly as sharpshooters. The combined regiment suffered 224 killed and wounded at Chickamauga. Their last major battle was at Bentonville, North Carolina in March of 1865
By the time they surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, in April of that year they numbered less than 100, all of whom had been wounded several times.
The war had taken its toll on the 21 year old Griffin who had been wounded and taken prisoner three times as well as taking part in twenty-four engagements with the enemy. It was these engagements with which he would later regal future generations. By the time he died in 1921 he had ensured that the contribution of the confederate Irish would not be forgotten.

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