Monday, January 31, 2011

Civil War Artifacts at Notre Dame - The Sword of Meagher - Part II

In my previous post (here) I included some photos of the Civil War sword of the Irish Brigade's intrepid leader, General Thomas F. Meagher. The photos were taken by friends of mine who had the opportunity to visit the Archives of the University of Notre Dame.

The purpose of this post is to describe the ceremony in which the sword was given to the university in 1914, and - in doing so - illustrate Notre Dame's connections with Meagher and the Irish Brigade and why the university is indeed a fitting place for it to rest.

The report of the presentation of the sword was covered in newspapers from Maine to New York to Pennsylvania to Indiana to Texas to Montana, and points in between. Typical of the coverage was this small item on the front page of the March 5, 1914, issue of The Gettysburg (PA) Times:

My favorite, though, was a report the same day in a Wisconsin newspaper (Stevens Point Daily Journal) that tied the record of Meagher and the Irish Brigade with that of Notre Dame's Civil War student-soldiers and the Holy Cross priests it sent as chaplains, and predicted the day - not too far off - when her sons and priests would again be sent to fight, this time in the Great War:

"While the heroic deeds of the men of the Irish brigade were the ones of which the orators had the most to say,it was not of them alone that they spoke. Rev. Father Corby, one of the presidentsof Notre Dame, who had given the brigade absolution for the dying as it rushed forward to meet Lee's veterans at Gettysburg, shared with Meagher in the honors of the evening. When Roger C. Sullivan, acting as chairman, predicted that if another war should break out Notre Dame would furnish both Corbys and Meaghers to the nation, the applause was the greatest."

Details on the actual ceremony were re-printed from the Notre Dame Scholastic in the Journal of the American-Irish Historical Society (Vol. XIII, 1914, pp. 320-331). A link to the entire article is here...excerpts are below.

In the speeches you will read how the sword passed from Meagher to his widow to a fervent admirer of Meagher, to the admirer's niece, and finally to the university.

More important, you will read why they thought Notre Dame the perfect resting place for Meagher's sword.

Read also the letter from one of the bishops who could not attend the ceremony but still has a poignant message, indeed.


MARCH 4, 1914

The ceremonies that marked the presentation of the sword of General Thomas Francis Meagher to the University of Notre Dame, like the life and works they commemorated, were simple, dignified and beautiful. Accompanied by an escort of honor, consisting of the commissioned officers of the cadet regiment, a color guard, a rifle squad, and a detail of first sergeants, the sword was borne through the aisles of Washington Hall, to the stage, where the officers saluted, the guard presented arms, and the buglers sounded the stirring martial strains that had so often inspired the gallant men of General Meagher's own command, the immortal Irish Brigade.

Father Cavanaugh introduced the chairman of the meeting, Hon. Roger C. Sullivan of Illinois, who presented Senator Walsh of Montana.
Senator Walsh's Speech Of Presentation

Mr. Chairman, Right Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Faculty of the University, Assembled Students, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am charged with the very delightful duty of presenting to this ancient and honorable institution the unsullied sword of General Thomas Francis Meagher, the gifted orator, the zealous patriot, the redoubtable warrior, the genial and cultured gentleman. Associations hallowed and unusual cluster about him.
On the pedestal of a magnificent equestrian statue of this singularly brilliant genius, erected in the grounds of the capital at Helena, my home, is chiseled his eloquent exordium upon the sword, delivered when he was a young man just out of college...

By what strange combination of circumstances has it come to pass that I, a citizen of the remote state of Montana, am permitted now to confide to this University this interesting relic? ...He came to the territory in September of 1865 under appointment by President Johnson as secretary of the territory, but in the absence of the governor he became, and remained until his untimely death on the first of July, 1867, its acting governor...

Conspicuous among the throng of Meagher's friendly contemporaries was one Andrew—universally referred to as Andy— O'Connell. Andy came to Terre Haute, in this State, as a boy, and as far west as Leavenworth, Kan., before he arrived at his majority. That region had not yet arrived at the dignity of statehood when he joined the rush to Pike's Peak. He maintained his headquarters on the site of the present city of Denver until he joined the stampede to Montana in 1864....
He was fiercely Irish, and he worshiped Meagher. His unobtrusive kindness in her affliction, at the time of General Meagher's death, endeared him to Mrs. Meagher, and when she was about to leave to return to the home of her parents and friends in the state of New York, she left with him this prized sword. She died childless without giving any directions as to its disposition. Andy, some ten years ago, crossed the divide, leaving his earthly treasures, including this sword, to his niece whom he had brought out from Terre Haute during the early 70's when she was a girl.

It is by the direction of this lady, Mrs. Catherine Young, of Kalispel, Mont., that I now confide it to this University of Notre Dame.

I confess to you that I made an effort to persuade her to present it to the University of my own State...But she remembered with affection and with pride this seat of learning nearer her own birthplace and would not be moved. Founded as it was, and maintained as it is, by an order of teachers like that from which Meagher secured the training that made him a world-famed orator at the early age of twenty-two, and for which he ever retained the highest degree of affection, love and respect, I am forced to believe that he would have approved the choice.

Here let it rest, teaching the youth who repair to these halls that nobility of character is the only sure foundation of greatness; teaching them that the right is always in need of fearless champions, and that the talents that God gave us we are expected to prove to their utmost in order that we may attain to the end and earn the reward which he has in store for each of us.

Reverend Father Cavanaugh's Acceptance

Senator Walsh:—On behalf of the University I accept the sword of General Meagher. I promise it hospitable welcome, safe-keeping and reverent admiration. I thank you, Sir, for the kindly thought which inspired its presentation to this venerable University, which already shelters the old green flag of the Irish Brigade and with which the memory of Thomas Francis Meagher has always been imperishably connected.

For, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, there are special reasons why the sword of Meagher should find sanctuary within these hallowed walls.

The chief good of a university is not that it is a dispenser of knowledge or even a nursery of the common virtues of life. The chief good of a university is that it is a place where ideals survive. If a school dreams of material success as the brightest destiny her sons may achieve; if it sets up money-getting or place-hunting, or even refined and comfortable living, as the chief preoccupations of mankind, such a school deserves no more reverence than the counting-room, the marketplace or the hustings. But if the university tells her children that while large salaries and honorable place are desirable, they are not the whole, nor indeed the best, in life; if she teaches that as the life is more than the food and the body more than the raiment, so the fairest fruit of true education is to hunger and thirst after justice, to admire nobility of soul and strength of character and unselfish devotion to an unpopular but worthy cause, and to cherish dearer than life the ideals of Christian chivalry and Christian civilization—then is she truly Alma Mater, the fostering mother of the soul, finding her crown and glory in the wisdom and chivalry of her sons...

There is another reason why this sword finds fitting sanctuary at Notre Dame. When the passion of the hour flung the great Civil War athwart the imagination of men and the tears of women, the founder of this University, out of his poverty and his faith, out of the love of God and the love of God's children, sent to the lonely and imperiled soldiers fighting at the front seven of his ablest and noblest priests as chaplains. They were to leave the serene atmosphere of the lecture room for the terrors, and horrors of war, the pains and privations of camp and battlefield...Yet in this moment when we recall reverently the memory of the illustrious organizer and leader of the Irish Brigade, let us pause long enough to mention with honor the name of the noble chaplain, Father Corby, once a professor and president of this University, the friend and confessor of Meagher, who at the bloodiest moment of that bloody day at Gettysburg, gathered his men around him, and having made above them the sign of pardon which was ratified in heaven, hurled them full of faith and hope and courage against the chivalry of the South and added another glorious chapter to the history of human valor.

There is yet another reason why the sword of Meagher should be an honored trophy here. When he was organizing the Irish Brigade it was his dream that the command of it should be assumed by another great Irishman, General James Shields, then fresh from his triumphs in the Mexican War. But Shields, generous as he was great, urged the appointment of Meagher himself, and his influence won the day in Washington. For years the sword of General Shields has had its place of honor beside the Green Flag of the Irish Brigade among the historic treasures of our museum; henceforth the sword of Meagher shall rest beside it. They shall be honored as twin tokens of a mighty peril through which our country passed by the Providence of God and the virtue and valor of her sons...

Following Father Cavanaugh's speech of acceptance, Reverend Father O'Donnell read an ode written expressly for the occasion. He chose as his theme, the reunion of the battle-scarred green flag of the Irish Brigade, already in possession of the school, and the sword which had flashed forth upon so many fields, over which the flag of the Brigade had floated. Father O'Donnell conceived all the Irish heroes from all over the earth as present to attend the feast. The "wedding of the sun-gold sword and the sea-green flag" was beautiful in thought and execution, and Father O'Donnell was accorded an ovation when he rose to deliver it.

The chairman then introduced Hon. W. Bourke Cockran...

The following are some of the letters received from those unable to attend the function:

Bishop's House, 800 Cathedral Place, Richmond, Va., February 16, 1914.
My dear Father Cavanaugh:—

I thank you for your invitation to the presentation ceremony of General Meagher's sword and sincerely regret I cannot accept it.

I never pass by Riot field of Fredericksburg without thinking of him, and without going over again in spirit the awful charge from the large open field to the base of Marye's deadly heights. I heard one gentleman say who saw it that he could walk from the foot of the hill into the town of Fredericksburg upon the bodies of dead soldiers, and another who was there told me he counted two hundred and sixty-seven dead soldiers within an area of thirty yards square. And now the grass is growing rich on the plain and the cattle are browsing it.

The wounded were cared for in our little church, and the floor and the walls, the priest told me, were red with blood. The bones of the fallen are with us in the cemetery near the town.

I wish I could be with you. Believe me,
Very sincerely yours,
D. F. O'Connell,
Bishop of Richmond.

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