Thomas Francis Meagher – aka: "Meagher of the Sword," or Thomas Francis "O'Meagher." Born County Tipperary, Ireland, August 3 1823; died Fort Benton, Montana, July 1 1867. Irish Revolutionary, U.S. General.
Meagher came from an old established Tipperary family, the son of Thomas Meagher, a wealthy merchant, British Parliamentarian, and first Catholic Mayor of Waterford in over two hundred years.
Thomas Francis Meagher first heard Daniel O'Connell speak in 1843 in Waterford, and joined the campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union 1800 with Britain. See Repeal (Ireland).
In 1845 Meagher joined the Young Ireland group, among them William Smith O'Brien, which favoured more aggressive action than O'Connell, causing its split from O'Connell. It was then that Meagher's fiery speeches earned him the title "Meagher of the Sword".
In January 1847, after the potato famine and a typhus epidemic, Meagher together with John Mitchel, Smith O'Brien and Thomas Devine Reilly formed a new repeal body, the "Irish Confederation " and preached revolution openly. In 1848, Meagher and O'Brien studied revolutionary events in France and brought back to Ireland with them the design for a new Irish Flag , a tri-colour of orange, white and green, commemorated at the 1848 Flag Monument in the Irish Commons. The design used in 1848 was similar to the present flag, except that orange was placed next to the staff.
In August 1848 Meagher, Terence MacManus, Smith O'Brien and Patrick O'Donohoe were arrested for the failed Ballingarry, Tipperary "Famine Rebellion ", and sentenced to death. They were soon joined in Richmond Gaol, Dublin by Kevin O'Doherty and John Martin. The death sentences were commuted to transportation, and in 1849 all were transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). On July 20th, the day after being notified he was to be transported to Van Diemen's Land, Meagher announced he was henceforth to be known as Thomas Francis O'Meagher.
Meagher accepted the "ticket-of-leave" in Tasmania, giving his word not to attempt to escape without first notifying the authorities, in return for comparative liberty on the island. Meagher lived in cottages in Campbell Town, Ross and Richmond (these still exist as then).
Throughout his time in Tasmania, Meagher continued to meet with and plot with his fellow Irish rebels. In January 1852 he broke his "ticket-of-leave" pledge (to the disapproval of Mitchel and Martin) and escaped to America on the "Elizabeth Thompson" under Captain Belts, arriving in New York in May.
Meagher pursued journalism and studied law, gave lecture tours and with John Mitchel, who had also since escaped, published the radical pro-Irish anti-British "Citizen". They split over slavery, Mitchel went to Richmond and his three sons served with the Confederacy, Willy being killed at Gettysburg.
Meagher served the Union as a U.S. citizen. As acting Major he led Company K of the 69th "Fighting Irish" of the New York State Militia at Bull Run (1st Manassas). He returned to New York to form the Irish Brigade and led it at as Brigadier-General in the Peninsula Campaign at Fair Oaks, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill , Peach Orchard (Allen's Farm), Malvern Hill , Antietam (Meagher's battle report, Antietam : ), Fredericksburg (Meagher's battle report, Fredericksburg : ), and at Chancelorsville . He then resigned in May 1863 over being refused permission to return his brigade to New York for reinforcements, after sustaining terrible casualties.
Meagher served as Secretary and Acting Governor of the Territory of Montana, faced with problems over political intrigues and a Sioux uprising. It was while dealing with these issues, his own personal illness, and just being plum worn out and depressed, that he either fell, jumped, or was pushed overboard from a steamer at Fort Benton and drowned.
He is remembered in Butte, Montana by a statue on the front lawn of the capitol grounds.
"The ecstacy. The glory of the old Irish nation, which in our hour will grow young and strong again. Should we fail, the country will not be worth more than it is now. The sword of famine is less sparing than the bayonet of the soldier."
On deciding to fight for the Union
"It is not only our duty to America, but also to Ireland. We could not hope to succeed in our effort to make Ireland a Republic without the moral and material support of the liberty-loving citizens of these United States."
On presenting the flag to the people of Dublin April 1848
"The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the 'Orange' and the 'Green', and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood."
Reginald A. Watson The life and Times of Thomas Francis Meagher: A Biography (1988) Published by: Anglo-Saxon-Keltic Society, P.O. Box 187, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005 Australia. ISBN 0 9595746 5 4