Meagher Recruits for the Irish Brigade

On October 7th 1861, the New York Times reported on a meeting organised to recruit Irishmen for the proposed Irish Brigade. As the famed orator Thomas Francis Meagher took to the stage in the Academy of Music, the paper’s reporter succeeded in capturing the mood of the moment, down to the cheers and hisses of the assembled crowd. The esteem in which Meagher was held by the Irish community is apparent, as was his talent as a speaker; undoubtedly a number of those present would choose to join up and campaign with the famous Brigade in the battles to come.

THE IRISH BRIGADE;

ORATION OF THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER AT THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC

AN OVERFLOWING HOUSE AND ENTHUSIASTIC MEETING

ERIN FOR THE UNION

If the complete success of the Irish Brigade depended upon the meeting at the Academy of Music, last evening, it would be most indubitably assured. The house was crowded in every part with an audience composed of Erin’s most stalwart sons and fairest daughters. From the upper private boxes descended the standards of the Emerald Isle and of the United States; and the hours from the opening of the doors to the commencement of the Oration were beguiled by music which awakened memories of the shamrock, as well as of the Stars and Stripes. Suddenly the melody swelled to a volume of martial sounds the gaslight assumed its most glaring brilliancy, and amidst the most deafening cheers and long continued plaudits, Mr. Meagher headed a long line of distinguished guests proceeding to the stage. Among the most familiar faces were those of Judge Daly, Collector Barney, Judge Connolly, Lieut.-Col. Nugent, Alderman Bagley, and others of equal note. Their appearance was the signal for a cry from an enthusiastic Celt, for “three cheers for Bull’s Run.” Failing to elicit these, he called for a similar compliment to the name of Mr. Meagher, which was given with a will.

Academy of Music. Digital ID: 809597. New York Public Library
Academy of Music, East 14th Street and Irving Place, Manhattan

Mr. Meagher, having been introduced in a neat speech by Judge Daly, commenced the reading of his address. He occupied two hours in a sketch of the history and duty of the Irish soldier, a review of the cause in which he was called to fight, a denunciation of the traitors and their abettors, and a glance at the prospects of the Union arms. There were, he said, no battle-fields in Europe that the feet of Irishmen had not trodden. [Applause.] The shamrock and the lily had been emblazoned on the banners of France in her proudest days. Ireland had shown that, although weak at home, she was strong abroad. [Applause.] Whether in the burning jungles of Hindoostan, the snows of Canada, or the sterilities of the Crimea, the Irishman stood erect and dauntless, [Applause.] The world knew their history, and he would not stop here to explain the historic contradictions of his race. He was here to plead their support for a cause whose justice and righteousness would not be impeached. [Applause.] He painted in eloquent terms the reverence of the people for Washington, denouncing with scathing terms the false-hearted traitors who would destroy every principle for which the Father of his country fought [Applause.] The legally elected Government had been most murderously assailed and by whom? With what violence, insubordination, malevolence and sacrilege? What justification was there for it? What part of the Constitution had been annulled? None. The South had always been the imperious dictator, and had come to regard the Presidential Chair as her peculiar institution. [Laughter.] And because the popular verdict had been against them, they undertook to substitute the bayonet for the will of the people. Instead of being Americans, they had become Mexicans. They had adopted the maxim of Lucifer — they would rather reign in hell, than serve in Heaven. What! had there been anything to justify their exasperation? If there was, he could not see it. [Great laughter.] It was claimed that the Chicago Platform was sufficient cause; but the trading politicians who had sold themselves to the rice and cotton plantations of the South must relinquish that argument. The President laid aside his platform when he took the oath of allegiance. [Applause.] But, even if the President had been in alliance with the prescriptive Dark Lantern of Ullman, or Gustavus Adolphus Narcissus Scroggs, of Buffalo, [great laughter,] it would have been the duty of all of them to support him. [Applause.] The President no longer could obey the mandate of a party — he must be the executive of a nation. [Applause.] But the so-called chivalry would not give him one day to disprove the calumnies of his unprincipled accusers. The spoils-seekers of the Buchanan Administration — the Fort Snelling Willett’s Point gentlemen — the Breckinridge, and Floyd, and Buchanan schools, had goarded on the North to madness. [Applause.] They had been exasperated by Greeley. [Hisses.] Oh let them be good-natured and give three cheers for Greeley. [Three faint cheers and hisses.] Well, he would leave it to their good-nature. [Laughter.] The sermons of Beecher, [hisses,] and the Phillippies of Phillips, [hisses,] and the poetry of Whittier, (he guessed they didn’t know much about the poetry) [laughter,] had driven the South to madness, and they should all alike be consigned to silence and seclusion. [Applause.] The South, too, had stigmatized the North, and insulted its honest toilers. But, through all, the Legislative, executive and Judicial Departments of the Government had been true to the rights of the South. He excoriated without mercy the traitors in our midst who are trying to poison the people’s minds with cries of “peace,” and eloquently depicted the more shameful calamities that could befall a nation than that of a war for the preservation of constitutional government. [Applause.] He humorously pictured the appearance of a perfumed, kid-gloved abolitionist, to whom he had described the Sixty-ninth Regiment at the battle of Bull Run, characterizing them, among other things, as Jacksonian Democrats, and, with a few conscientious exceptions, Roman Catholics all. He was himself a Jacksonian Democrat, and could not be suspected of sympathy with Republicanism. He described the traitors here among us as men “of immense stomach and shrivelled heart,” and anon returned to describe them in terms of loathing and contempt. In this connection he read a letter denunciatory of himself, accusing him of selling his birthright to Republicans for mess of pottage. [Laughter.] He boldly disavowed any sympathy with Irishmen who could shrink from such a cause as this.

Divine service being held in t... Digital ID: 800324. New York Public Library
Interior of Academy of Music, 1859

He glowingly painted the immense expanse of liberty here available to Erin’s sons, and asked should he, as a crowning reason, beg them to fight for the North because England’s sympathy was with the South. [Cries of "No," "No," "Yes," "Yes," and mingled cheers and hisses.] England was undoubtedly with the South. He eulogized the Union cause as worth living for, fighting for, and dying for, and besought Irishman, by all their most endearing memories, to do their duty to the land of their adoption. He, who had lost his Ireland home because he would not submit to the outrages that Castlereagh and Pitt would force upon his country, thought he had claims on Irishman here, and in that view he called upon them to come forward boldly. It was urged that they would be fighting against their own countrymen. Well, it would not be the first time they had done that. In the Revolution, Fitzgerald, who rode by the side of Washington, was confronted by Edward, the noblest of the Geraldines. He avowed that the Government never would surrender until allegiance had been everywhere restored, and one flag flew on the Mississippi, from its source to its estuary. He eulogized the valor of the Sixty-ninth, and sketched the intention of the new Brigade. He called upon the recipients of the Jones’ Wood Festival funds to hand over the same to the Sixty-ninth Regiment Committee, and averred that those who had once smelt the smoke of the battle, would not at this time be found wanting. After paying a merited tribute to the gallant Mulligan, of Lexington, he in conclusion, urged his countrymen to fight for American liberty, American honor, the supremacy of the popular will, and for National existence.

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Categories: Irish Brigade, New York, Thomas Francis Meagher, Waterford

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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