Half a Hundred Tipperary Throats

The Union Army had its famed 69th Regiment, all Irish. The South too had its Irish Brigade. The Sixth Louisiana Infantry Regiment was largely Irish. A key component of that Regiment was a company sized unit known as the Louisiana Tigers. They were commanded by the remarkable Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. Traveling from New Orleans to Virginia at the outset of the war, the Tigers and the Fourteenth Louisiana Regiment, mostly Irish, started a riot in Grand Junction, Tennessee. The commander had to shoot seven soldiers, killing them and wounding another nineteen to stop the riot.

I previously wrote about the Sixth Louisiana Regiment here and wrote about Roberdeau Wheat here.

But, in the heat of the action, the Irish always distinguished themselves. Gen. Richard Taylor commanded the Sixth Regiment for some time during the Shenandoah campaign under Stonewall Jackson. Taylor was a former Know-Nothing. In Louisiana, the Know Nothings caused riots that killed a few Irish immigrants. At least initially, Gen. Taylor was skeptical about his Irish charges. But, during the Shenandoah campaign they performed exceedingly well. In that campaign, Gen. Jackson had to march his “foot cavalry” over dozens of miles over several days. The Irish always responded. Even today, Infantry would not be expected to march more than 12-15 miles in one day. During the Valley Campaign, they marched 20 miles in one day and 30 the next.

In May, 1862, the Louisiana Brigade, which included the 6th Regiment, made an exhausting march to Strasbourg, Virginia in the oppressive May heat. Union cavalry pressed them and caused them to panic. The Irish provided a rear guard, which helped restore order. Retreat is one of the most complicated military maneuvers. Even the most experienced units can collapse. But, the Irish then refused to be relieved throughout the night, insisting they would protect the rear. The weather poured that night, dropping hail the size of “hen’s eggs.” Occasional artillery fire would not dissuade them from their duty. They cried out, “We are the boys to see it out!” This loud assurance “from half a hundred Tipperary throats”prompted Gen. Taylor, the former Know-Nothing, to comment years later that ever since, his heart “warmed to an Irishman since that night.”

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 144-145.

Courting and Singing the “Bonnie Blue Flag”

A couple of weeks later, near the end of the Summer, Clara is still broken-hearted that her hero, “Robert” Wheat fell at the Battle of Manassas. She tries to tell herself that it was a dream, but she knows it was true.

Her spirits are lifted when her friend, Annie leads a visit to one of the Spanish warships. There were Spanish warships in the port, after a mission to Mexico. One of Clara’s neighbors, Zulma Vienne, was being courted by a Spanish naval officer. Clara was charmed by the three midshipmen on the ship. They played the piano and sang songs. Of course, they sang the “Bonnie Blue Flag.” They ladies wrote their names for the officers, and the officers did the same for the ladies. The three officers promised to visit the ladies.

At the end of her diary, her thoughts went back to her dear Robert. She prayed that he and Clara would meet in Heaven. Clara did not mention that Roberdeau Wheat was Christian and she was Jewish. She promised to find for him a robe. And, that remark drew her diary to an end in the late Summer of 1862.

Paper was short in 1862 New Orleans. Clara may have kept other journals, but they have not found their way into modern times. For decades, Clara’s fate was unknown. But, eventually, she was located. She married an older man – by twenty years – after the war. Two years later, her husband died. She re-married again and had four daughters. When Clara died in 1907, the New Orleans Picayune recorded that she left “grief-stricken friends and four inconsolable daughters.” Her friends, said the newspaper, would cherish the memory of her brilliant mind and gentle heart.

Her dear father would die in 1874 at the relatively young age of 58, in difficult financial circumstances. His time as sutler for the Confederate army did not result in the financial success he had hoped. But, we expect his family loved him all the same.

Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 12, 436-444.

 

 

Maj. Wheat Falls

The worst that could happen did happen. At the Second Battle of Manassas, Maj. Wheat fell. The worst thing for Clara would have been the loss of her father. But, losing her beloved Roberdeau Wheat was a close second. Maj. Wheat was a legendary figure. He was filibusterer, something like a mercenary soldier and the son of a minister. I previously wrote about Maj. Wheat here.

The major was a close friend of the family. More than that, he was a dashing, gallant man who genuinely cared for the two Solomon sisters, Clara and Alice. She adored the man for his kindness. On hearing the news, she was disbelieving. He was so brave, so impetuous, she knew. Clara speculated that he may have died thinking about his mother with his “affectionate” heart.

Maj. Wheat’s death meant the end of the Louisiana Tigers, the name given to Wheat’s Special Battalion. But, in one young woman’s heart, Maj. Wheat lived ever again.

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 12, 432-433.

The Mercenary and the School Girls

The story of Roberdeau Wheat would seem to come from Hollywood, but it is a true story. He was the commander of a unit known as the Special Battalion during the Civil War. It was said he recruited many of the members himself. They were recruited from New Orleans docks, coffee houses (which sold anything but coffee), and, according to some stories, from the parish prison. The Special Battalion was largely Irish and German. They were so undisciplined and out of control, they were referred to as the Tigers. Eventually, the name “Tigers” was applied to the entire Louisiana Brigade. It was said Maj. Wheat was the only person who could control them. He controlled them with foul language, beatings and when necessary, with shootings.

“Robert” Wheat was born in Alexandria, Virginia to an Episcopal minister. The family moved to Nashville when he was 12. He graduated from the University of Nashville in 1845. He studied law and became a lawyer. As an adult, he stood 6’4” and weighed, according to various accounts, 240, 250 or 275 pounds. He was a large man when the average man stood 5’7 inches. His father considered him to be “wayward.” Yet, he was close to his mother.

He served as a lieutenant in the Mexican War and found he had a taste for war. After the Mexican War ended, he came to New Orleans, finished his law studies and was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1848. From New Orleans, he joined various filibustering expeditions in Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua. Filibustering has a negative connotation, today. But, in its day, it was seen as an outgrowth of the Manifest Destiny so prevalent at the time.

He was serving with Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Red Shirts in Italy when the U.S. Civil War broke out. He came back to New Orleans to serve his country. After raising men for filibustering expeditions, he knew how to raise a unit for the Confederate army. He raised a Battalion – about 500 men – most of whom were loyal to him personally.

The Special Battalion participated in the First Battle of Manassas where Wheat was shot in the lung. During the battle, a South Carolina unit accidentally fired on the Special Battalion. The Tigers deliberately took aim and fired back. As one South Carolina soldier would later say, “They were the worst men I ever saw.”

Maj. Wheat recovered from his wound. In December, 1861, two members of his Battalion were found guilty of violating an article of war and were sentenced to be shot. Maj. Wheat asked they be spared. His request was denied. As the two men were being executed, Maj. Wheat sat in his tent crying.

In 1862, he was serving under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. He had a strange belief that he would be killed. He asked his men to bury him where he fell. And, indeed, at the Battle of Gaines Mill, he was killed.

Maj. Wheat, the great soldier and filibusterer, was also adored by one school girl in New Orleans. Robert Wheat was a family friend of the Solomon Solomon family in New Orleans. Solomon Solomon was a merchant in New Orleans and a friend of Wheat. Clara Solomon kept a diary. At the age of 17, she and her family visited Camp Moore, Louisiana, a camp near Baton Rouge used by the growing Confederate army. In early1861, before the Special Battalion would ship out to Virginia, she was thrilled to visit her hero. She was excited to see the “dear Major.” The Major was very busy and she was distressed at not seeing him, perhaps a little offended. Then on the grounds of the camp, she heard his booming voice, “Where are the Miss Solomons?” referring to Clara and her sister. She was thrilled. Throughout her diary, she mentions him, hoping he is safe. When he is killed, she is inconsolable. Referring to Maj. Wheat and a second unidentified soldier, she said, “Two young men cut down in the prime of their lives! Oh! Robert! That noble governing heart stilled forever!”

When she heard he had been wounded, she described him as genial, warm-hearted, jolly, generous, affectionate and universally beloved. She admired him. She and her sister, Alice, cried in unison upon hearing of his possibly mortal wound.

The Solomons were not wealthy. They were solidly middle class before the war. This mercenary and soldier had many honors in his brief life. But, we expect few honors meant as much to him as being a hero to two young Jewish, schoolgirls.

Phillip Thomas Tucker, Irish Confederates (Abilene, Texas: McWhiney Foundation, McMurray Univ. 2006), p. 30

James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers (DeCapo Press 1998), p. xiii.

My New Orleans, http://www.myneworleans.com/Louisiana-Life/May-June-2013/The-Saga-of-the-Original-Louisiana-Tiger/, accessed Oct. 12, 2018

Elliott Ashkenazi , ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 22, 32, 433.