Name:  Thomas Francis Meagher

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Born:  August 23, 1823
Died:  July 1, 1867
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Thomas Meagher, a spokesman for Irish-Americans and a Union general, was born in Waterford, Ireland, to [first name unknown] Quan Meagher and Thomas Meagher, a Member of Parliament and wealthy merchant. As a boy he attended a Jesuit school, Clongowes-Wood, in Ireland before matriculating (1839-1843) at Stoneyhurst College in England. He became involved in the Irish independence movement, joining the Young Ireland party in 1845. When liberal democratic revolutions erupted across Europe in 1848, he publicly urged the Irish to overthrow their British rulers. Found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed, family connections helped get the judgment commuted to exile on Tasmania, an island off the Australian coast. There he farmed, married, and sired two sons (one died), then fled the island alone in 1852 and eventually ended up in New York City, where his family briefly joined him later.

In the United States, Meagherís Irish-nationalist notoriety made him an icon within the large Irish-American community, which in turn established him as an influential voice in municipal politics (as a Democrat) and as a popular lyceum-circuit speaker. He also studied law, passed the bar exam in 1855, and opened a legal practice which included his participation as an assistant defense counsel to U.S. Representative Daniel Sickles, who was acquitted in 1859 on a plea of temporary insanity for murdering his wifeís lover. In addition, Meagher edited (1855-1859) the nationís top Irish-American newspaper, the Irish News.

Once the Civil War began, Meagher raised the 69th New York Volunteer Militia Regiment, consisting mainly of Irish immigrants, who took part in the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). After his 90-day enlistment was up, he returned to New York City and organized the Irish Brigade, which eventually included several regiments from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, most of whose members were Irish-American. The Irish Brigade saw action in the Peninsula Campaign and the Battles of Second Bull Run (Manassas), Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Meagher resigned in 1863 when the War Department refused his request for recruits to replace the many lost at Fredericksburg. He continued to support the Union effort, though, when other Irish-Americans were expressing discontent with the Lincoln administration policies of a military draft and slave emancipation. He returned to the army in 1864 as a military administrator at the rank of brigadier general, assisting with the Union occupation of Savannah, Georgia, in early 1865.

After the war, President Andrew Johnson appointed Meagher to be secretary of the Montana Territory. In the absence of the territorial governor, Meagher temporary filled that position in October 1865. He worked hard to resolve disputes between miners, farmers, Native Americans, and other residents. Rumors circulated that he was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, a secret radical Irish nationalist group, but no evidence substantiates the charge and his public pronouncements and service militate against it. He was accidentally killed in 1867 when he fell off a steamboat and drowned.

Source consulted: American National Biography.











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