Grabbing For The Root
Genealogy is a passion to so many these days that I decided to take the plunge and see what all of the excitement was about.
My father’s family history is fairly well documented, mostly filled with Masonic Temples and Secret Societies, so I felt it might be best to hold back that information simply for safety sake.
I decided instead to search into my mother’s side of the family.
Bearing the name of ‘Irish’, I was certain that there would be very little gloss on that vessel. American history being what it is, I knew that immigrants often had their names changed by immigration officials to something that clearly indicated their racial and social position, just to make sure that they didn’t try ‘passing’ amongst decent folk.
After spending many days reading through the hundreds of records posted on the Internet, one fascinating character began to emerge from the mists of time. It is that character that I would like to showcase for you now.
FRANCIS NORSHAM IRISH.
The first mention of F.N. Irish was from a letter of protest written by Col. John Mandy to the Adjutant Generals office concerning the appointment of several young men as Commissioned Officers in the Union army whose sole qualification for command was their acquaintanceship with the young wife of an aged but very powerful General officer who was left unnamed. F.N. Irish was named specifically in this letter and it was pointed out that the young man was even incapable of sitting a horse adequately, yet he was commissioned as a Cavalry officer. It was also stated that the young Lieutenant, whose age was said to be 21 years, was a complainer and undisciplined. No reply to the letter was posted. This was dated as 1862.
THE HERO OF NEW HOPE FERRY
The next official document appears in December of 1863. It is a letter of commendation to F.N. Irish and a declaration of the facts concerning the valiant defense of the crossing at New Hope ferry where-in a small patrol under the command of the above mentioned Lt. Irish held off a much larger force of confederate regulars and successfully protected the right flank of the Grand Army of the Republic during their strategic retreat from the battle of Chippamagwa. There were only three survivors of the battle at the Ferry. Two were the Grimly brothers who deserted their posts and ran, and Lt. Irish, who, after receiving a saber wound and losing his mount, killed a confederate Officer, acquired that officers mount and rode back into the battle.
But information gleaned from a collection of letters and diary entries paints a somewhat different picture of the affair.
Piecing together the story from the letters and diaries, it seems that our young Lt. Irish, who was having difficulty coping with the cold of that late autumn in the field, had managed to severely cut his foot while trying to chop extra wood for his personal fire.
After caring for the Lieutenants foot, one Sergeant Horace Brandywine actually led the defense of the ferry.
According to letters home from the Grimly brothers, they were not deserting their post, but rather were trying to keep ahead of a ‘Crazy’ Confederate Captain who was ‘hell bent to blow their brains out if he caught them’. In their haste to retreat they had inadvertently led the Confederate Officer back through their own camp where Lt. Irish proceeded to shoot the officer in the back and steal his horse. They stated that the young Lt. had a notoriously bad sense of direction, and was actually trying to ride away from the battle when he rode out from the camp.
In the official report it is stated that a much larger Union force, under the command of one Captain Ezra Teague, had just arrived to reinforce the Lieutenants patrol when they spied the young Lieutenant charging single-handed out of the woods towards the enemy forces. The report stated that he was yelling “For Lincoln and the Union”.
There were some eyewitnesses who claimed to only hear the Lieutenant screaming, “Whoa, stop”. These were discounted to the heat of battle.
Defamation of an officer was one of the charges leveled against the two Grimly brothers before they were shot as deserters.
Lieutenant Irish was given a medal for the Saber wound he received and was promoted to the rank of Captain.
THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBERG
In an account written by one Billy Ingersall, I learned that a young Captain Irish, being in his words “the poorest damned horseman ever to sit a mount” was thrown from his horse the day before the big battle at Gettysburg and landed astraddle a thick poplar sapling. Within one hour the Lieutenant’s Testicles had swollen to the point where he could not even stand, much less sit a horse. His men propped him up on the side of the road with two canteens and a pouch full of Johnnycake and promised to try to retrieve him when the battle was over.
It was there that he was found by a wagon filled with the wounded heroes from the North Ridge who had been specifically sent to the rear because of their bravery in battle and the seriousness of their wounds. They stopped and loaded Lieutenant Irish on to the wagon and took him along with them.
In a letter of commendation dated 1864, he was named as fallen hero of the battle who had charged into cannon fire and had received severe but unspecified wounds.
He was recommended for a medal. He received a purple heart and the promotion to the rank of Major.
The Appomattox affair had several different versions, both official and private that lead me to a composite view. The official statement said that Major Irish was wounded when he stepped in front of an assassin’s bullet in an effort to protect the life of General Strom Thornton.
Piecing together several private accounts, both concerning the reputation of the Major and the actual account from the place, it seems that Major Irish had the unnerving habit of loading all six chambers of his Navy Colts sidearm instead of leaving the chamber under the hammer empty for safeties sake. He stated several times that he felt he might need that extra round to save his life. The accounts all seem to agree that the Major somehow managed to dislodge his weapon from its holster, causing it to fall to the ground and discharge. He was wounded in the Buttocks. According to the official version, the Major stepped between the General and the assassin, taking the round in his own body. It is stated that the assassin then managed to escape capture.
Young Major Irish received another purple heart and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
THE INDIAN RESERVATION
I could find few records of his military duties between the years 1865 to 1871. He seems to have been busy through out the south during the reconstruction period with no real mention of his activities.
The next record of him appears in Newspaper clippings from the spring of 1871 with the announcement of his engagement to the daughter of a very prominent General.
Surprisingly there are official orders from the summer of that same year assigning Lt. colonel F.N. Irish to command the Indian reservation at Branderson, in the western Missouri river valley.
I also found a marriage certificate for the Generals daughter to another man dated 1876. I could find no explanation for the discrepancy.
I did find a registration of marriage between one Col. F.N. Irish, US Army, Ret., and Candice Thompson the youngest daughter of a United States Senator dated 1881. I surmise that his engagement to the Generals daughter had somehow gone awry.
He commanded the post at Branderson between 1871 and 1879.
I gleaned several interesting facts about my ancestor from statements and official records that I found.
It seems that Lt. Colonel Irish managed to save over $100,000.00 dollars from his yearly salary of $1000.00 during that eight-year period when he commanded the reservation. He stated that extreme thrift and good management were all it took to acquire his nest egg.
He was also able to reduce the indigenous population from 69,000 in the fall of 1871 to 41,000 in the spring of 1876. For this excellent effort at introducing the native population into mainstream American life, he was given a Presidential Commendation and was promoted to the rank full Colonel. To highlight his skills as an administrator, it was noted that upon his retirement, only 18,000 Indians could be accounted for on the Branderson reservation. Through incompetence, it was noted, the new commander who had replaced him had managed to lose track of over 23,000 natives immediately upon his arrival and had allowed them to escape.
THE INDUSTRIAL YEARS
It is recorded that Col. F.N. Irish retired from the Army in 1879. In 1880 he founded the F.N. Irish machine works in the upper Ohio valley. There are only the most mundane records of his business activities, mostly Government and military contracts from 1881 until his death in 1904. He had assigned a full partnership in his business to his father in law, the Senator, and that partnership extended to his brother in law, also a U.S Senator, after the father in law passed away in 1892.
Upon his death, F.N. Irish was survived by his wife and five children. His business was sold, in 1915 to a new and upcoming automobile company. Coincidently, his brother in law had lost his seat in the Senate in the election of 1914.
DRAWING MY OWN CONCLUSIONS
After sifting all of these facts out of the volumes of information on the Web, I have come to the conclusion that this whole search has been nothing more than an exercise in self-gratification and the whole thing just made my hand tired. Maybe Genealogy takes a greater sense of the majesty of the past than I can muster.