Union Forces Targeted the Catholic Church

The siege of Vicksburg lasted 47 days. The Union forces had a clear view of the town established at the top of the hills above the Mississippi River. By Day 42 of the siege, the  Federals knew the daily habits of the town folk. The town generally avoided church. Because, church services would expose folks to enemy shot and shell. But, on the 42nd day of the siege, June 28, 1863, the Catholics wanted to attend Mass. Vicksburg, being a busy river port, had a healthy Irish population.

For reasons unknown, perhaps simple boredom, the Federals trained a battery of Parrott guns on the church early that morning. The Parrott guns were the rifled cannon pieces, more accurate than the traditional guns. The Union forces may have simply observed an unusually large number of persons in the streets. In any event, they opened up on the congregation. Several persons were struck by shrapnel. No one was killed. But, Michael Donovan, an elderly and respected member of the city, sustained lacerations to his arms as he emerged from the church. A shell penetrated the church, but miraculously did not detonate.

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 237-238.

Young Ireland and Fenians in the U.S. South

John Mitchel was not the only former member of Young Ireland to settle in the South. In the ante-bellum years, Richard D’Alton moved to Spring Hill, Alabama to teach at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit institution. In 1849, an Irish jury had acquitted him of the charge of treason. Two years later, he came to Spring Hill to teach Latin and Greek. Later, he moved to Louisiana to practice medicine. Another Young Irelander, Joseph Brenan settled in Louisiana, where a New Orleans newspaper said he had the eloquence of the 1798 exiles.

After the Young Ireland movement was crushed, a new organization emerged, known as the Fenian Brotherhood. It was founded on St. Patrick’s Day, 1858. The Irish Republican (Fenian) Brotherhood advocated the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland. The Fenians recognized the value of Irish-American support. They organized Fenian circles throughout the United States. In 1864, during the war, James Stephens, the founder of the Fenian Brotherhood, visited the Fenian circle in Nashville, 171 members strong.

Patrick Condon organized Fenian circles in New Orleans, Alabama and Texas. There were seven circles in New Orleans, with 800 members. The largest circle was the Emmett circle with 250 members. In 1865, the Baton Rouge newspaper reported there was an “immense”  gathering of the Fenian Brotherhood at the Opera House in New Orleans and large numbers signed the Fenian rolls. T.C. Cunningham, the “Center” of Louisiana presided over the meeting. Lieut.-Col. Condon spoke about the oppression of Ireland by Great Britain.

In 1869, James Brennan, of the Fenian Brotherhood visited New Orleans and delivered a series of lectures on the true conditions of Ireland. Also in 1869, Col. John J. O’Connor was reported to be organizing a Fenian brotherhood circle in New Orleans. In 1867, Col. O’Connor had commanded a Fenian uprising in Co. Kerry. The British government had placed a bounty of £800 for his head. Col. O’Connor was a Union veteran of the American Civil War.

The British consul in New Orleans was alarmed enough by the local Fenians to ask the Louisiana Union Army commander, Phil Sheridan, to suppress the Fenians. The War Department told Gen. Sheridan to arrest any Fenians who violate the neutrality laws of the U.S. There would eventually be a Fenian invasion of Canada in 1867, which invasion failed.

Later, it would turn out that the New Orleans organizer, Patrick Condon was actually Godfrey Massey, a British informant. Condon had claimed to be a Confederate veteran. His claim aroused some suspicion among the New Orleans Fenians. He would travel to Ireland in 1867 and served as a witness for the British government against several Fenians.

Baton Rouge Tri-Weekly Gazette & Comet, Nov. 14, 1865, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Crescent, Jan. 29, 1869,  p. 4, col. 3 (reference to Brennan)

New Orleans Crescent, Feb. 20, 1869, p. 2, col. 6 (reference to O’Connor)

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 70-73.

Child Rearing Advice from Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee had a difficult childhood. His father, the famous “Light Horse” Harry Lee was a fine commander, but a wastrel. Light Horse Harry came from a good family, but he could not hold a job and went through money like water. Even though he served a term as Congressman and governor, he ended up in debtor’s prison. Light Horse Harry did, however, marry well. Robert was two when his father’s creditors took Light Horse Harry to jail. Ann Carter Lee kept the family together by imposing upon relations who could spare room. By the time Robert was 6, the family (sans Light Horse Harry) left the Lee ancestral home to stay with relations in Alexandria. Robert would never see his father, again. At least four times, relations took care in their wills to leave property to Ann or to another Lee, but not to Light Horse Harry.

Perhaps with that background, a mature Robert was a devoted father. He would tell stories to his children, when he was home. They were expected to tickle his feet while doing so, or the story would end. He would set up games for them on the lawn, such as a high jump. He encouraged them to jump in his bed in the mornings. Yet, he had had his parental troubles. His oldest son, Custis was almost evicted from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His other son, Rooney, was in perpetual trouble at Harvard until he received a commission into the U.S. Army.

Robert Lee was a prolific letter writer. We know much about his thoughts from his many letters to friends and family. Writing in 1857, as his children were entering adulthood, Robert Lee mentioned to his wife that he believed there should be “infant schools.” He believed children should be gathered together at a young age and taught by well-trained instructors in “politeness, gentleness, courtesy and regard for others.” The benefits of self-denial and self-control could be modeled for the young children, he explained. Elsewhere he recorded that he believed physical discipline and verbal abuse were counter-productive. Children, he said, should be “governed by love, not fear.  When love influences the parent, the child will be activated by the same spirit.”  Lee was generally a man of his time. But, in rearing children, he was ahead of his time.

See more about Light Horse Horse Harry lee and his effect on Robert E. Lee here.

Emory M. Thomas, Robert E. Lee, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995), p. 145, 148-149; 171-172.