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Union General Thomas F. Meagher is born in Ireland

Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish revolutionary who later served as a general in the Union army during the U.S. Civil War, is born in Waterford, Ireland.

A Catholic, Meagher was educated by Jesuits, and studied law in Dublin. As a young man, he became deeply involved in Young Ireland, a nationalistic organization that opposed British rule in Ireland. Meagher was a fiery orator, and directed his invective against Ireland’s British overseers.

After participating in the aborted Irish rebellion of 1848, Meagher was convicted of high treason. Authorities commuted his death sentence to hard labor and exiled him, like many Irish nationalists of his day, to Tasmania. After four years, he escaped and made his way to New York City. He married into a prosperous merchant’s family and became a leader within the Irish-American community.

When the war broke out, Meagher became a captain in the 68th New York militia, an Irish unit that became the nucleus of the famous Irish Brigade in the Army of the Potomac. In February 1862, he was appointed brigadier general of the unit. Meagher served in all of the army’s major campaigns in Virginia, and the Irish brigade distinguished itself at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. However, he was criticized for his unit’s high casualty rates, which were rumored to be a result of his heavy drinking.

Meagher resigned his commission in 1863 when General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, refused his request to return to New York and recruit Irish replacements for the brigade. He continued his work in the New York Irish-American community, but he returned to duty and served in the Army of the Tennessee in early 1865.

After the war, President Andrew Johnson appointed Meagher secretary of Montana Territory. He died at Fort Benton, Montana, on July 1, 1867, after falling from the deck of a riverboat on the Missouri River. His body was never recovered.

Meagher is honored today with a statue in front of the Montana capitol in Helena.

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