Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

ReaganBerlinWallChancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and gentlemen: Twenty-four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the City Hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer Paul Lincke understood something about American presidents. You see, like so many presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin. [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said, “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.” Today I say: As long as the gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air-raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State–as you’ve been told–George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: “The Marshall Plan is helping here to strengthen the free world.” A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium–virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty–that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany–busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of parkland. Where a city’s culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there’s abundance–food, clothing, automobiles–the wonderful goods of the Ku’damm. From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn’t count on–Berliner Herz, Berliner Humor, ja, und Berliner Schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner Schnauze.]

In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind–too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent– and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Beginning 10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat, hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of striking every capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a counter-deployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution; namely, the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its counter-deployment, there were difficult days–days of protests like those during my 1982 visit to this city–and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then– I invite those who protest today–to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative–research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place–a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete.

Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, freer world. And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world.

To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other issues that call for international cooperation.

There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East. Our French and British friends, I’m certain, will do the same. And it’s my hope that an authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western sectors.

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you may have noted that the Republic of Korea–South Korea–has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West? In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You’ve done so in spite of threats–the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there’s a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there’s something deeper, something that involves Berlin’s whole look and feel and way of life–not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love–love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere–that sphere that towers over all Berlin–the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I’ve been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they’re doing again.

Thank you and God bless you all.

President Ronald Reagan – June 12, 1987

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Samahain paintingHow did Halloween start? The holiday goes back to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. Around 2000 years ago the ancient Celts from Britain and Ireland set bonfires on hilltops to ward off the evil spirits before the start of the winter season. They celebrated their new year on November 1, This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death.

People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables and thank the gods for the harvest and appease the gods of the coming winter. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

Druids or celtic preiests thought that spirits in thier precense, that they could make pridictions of the future. prophecies where important for these people that lived in a cold dark world. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

Around 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered a vast majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two Roman festivals were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on today.saints

In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Later In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated with some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween.
Later in the 9th century christian influence spread into celtic lands where it blended with other celtic rites and traditions. The catholic church would later make november 2, All souls day in 1000 A.D. a day to honor the dead. Many people today belive that the catholic church by sactioning a holiday to honor the dead it was trying to replace the celtic festival of the dead.


Halloween comes to America

Halloween came to America in the middle of the 19th century, in 1846 millions of Irish immigrants flooded America during the potatoe famine. these immigrants made this celebration popular by dressing up and going house to house asking for food or money. Later Americans began the practice that became the trick or treat tradition.
During the 1920s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties. By the 1930s halloween had plagued many town celebrations with vandalism. By the 1950s baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classrooms or homes. the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. So to prevent tricks being played on them families started providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.

Jack o lanterns

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By the 1840s a significant proportion of the enlisted men in the United States Army were Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany. The Mexican government, aware of prejudice against immigrants to the United States, started a campaign after the Mexican War broke out to win the foreigners and Catholics to its cause. The Mexicans urged English and Irish alike to throw off the burden of fighting for the “Protestant tyrants” and join the Mexicans in driving the Yankees out of Mexico. Mexican propaganda insinuated that the United States intended to destroy Catholicism in Mexico, and if Catholic soldiers fought on the side of the Americans, they would be warring against their own religion. Using this approach, the Mexicans hoped to gain 3,000 soldiers from the United States Army.

In November 1846 Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna organized American deserters with other foreigners in Mexico to form the San Patricio Battalion, or St. Patrick”s Company, a name it probably received from its Irish-American leader, John Riley, formerly a member of Company K of the Fifth United States Infantry. The company saw action at Monterrey, again near Saltillo, and at Buena Vista, each time receiving praise for its thorough job. The most important conflict came at the battle of Churubusco in August 1847. By July 1, 1847, Santa Anna gathered enough deserters and foreigners to organize two San Patricio battalions of 100 men each. As American forces rapidly approached Mexico City, Santa Anna divided his forces into three armies to guard several entrances to the city. One of these, commanded by Gen. Gabriel Valencia, was surprised by the Americans at Contreras and defeated. Santa Anna then decided to concentrate his forces at Churubusco, where there was a fortified bridgehead and a Franciscan convent.

Storming of Chapultepec Castle

Storming of Chapultepec Castle

He stationed the San Patricio companies with a battery of five cannons on the bridge. The American forces advanced from the south and the west covering one side of the fort. Although they suffered heavy casualties, the Americans continued to advance. Suddenly they noticed a drop in gun fire as they made their cautious approach. With his supplies running low, Santa Anna now ordered one company of San Patricios into the fort, along with another infantry company and a wagon of ammunition. The cartridges in the wagon, however, were the wrong caliber for all the weapons except those used by the San Patricios. From inside the fort the San Patricios manned three of the seven cannons. (Later some said that their gunfire was aimed at former officers.) The Americans continued to press on, forcing the second company of San Patricios and other Mexican soldiers into the convent. Reportedly, Mexican soldiers inside the convent tried three times to raise the white flag, but the San Patricios, desperate because of their fate if captured, tore it down. At last Capt. James M. Smith of the Third Infantry entered and put his own handkerchief on the pole.

Once back with the United States Army, the San Patricio company did not fare well. Gen. Winfield Scott issued General Orders 259 and 263 establishing two courts martial for seventy-two deserters. Col. John Garland convened the first court martial on August 23, 1847, in Tacubaya. Col. Bennet Riley, an Irish Catholic officer, convened the second court martial at San Angel on August 26. Only two defendants did not receive the death sentence, one excused because of improper enlistment in the United States Army, the other because he was deemed insane. When General Scott received the verdicts for approval, the Mexican people faced him with cries of outrage at the treatment of their soldiers. After considering appeals from the archbishop of Mexico, the British minister to Mexico, and a number of foreign citizens resident in Mexico City (including United States citizens), Scott reevaluated the courts martial, giving close attention to the Articles of War.

Scott issued General Order 281 on September 8, 1847, and out of the twenty-nine men tried at San Angel, twenty received the death sentence. John Riley, the leader, technically deserted before the war between Mexico and the United States was declared, so he could not be hanged. He received fifty lashes and the letter “D” branded on both his cheeks. Scott issued General Order 283 several days later concerning the trials at Tacubaya, confirming the death sentence for thirty San Patricios, and allowing the same considerations he had with the group before. Several of the men received pardon due to their relatively young age; and one man was pardoned because he was not a willing deserter, but had been kidnapped by the Mexicans while he was drunk or so he said. Sentences for the men tried at San Angel were carried out in that village on September 10; sentences from Tacubaya were executed in the village of Mixcoac on September 13. The latter sentences were carried out under the command of Col. William S. Harney, who had the condemned men fitted with nooses at daybreak and then left them standing on the gallows while the battle for Chapultepec Castle raged nearby. The men were to be hanged when the United States flag was raised over the castle; United States troops took Chapultepec several hours later, at 9:30 a.m. The sentences imposed on the San Patricios outraged the Mexican public.

The Battle of Monterey

The Battle of Monterey

In Toluca Mexican authorities prevented rioters from trying to retaliate against American prisoners of war. This did not end the story of the San Patricios. Mexico continued its dubious recruitment of deserters and by March of 1848 had found enough original San Patricios and new deserters to form two more companies. Mexico did not forget its San Patricios still held by American authorities and continued bargaining for their release. However, it wasn”t until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, and the war ended, that the fourteen remaining prisoners were released. The San Patricios continued as a group, providing support by patrolling areas of Mexico to protect the people from bandits and Indians. They later became involved in revolts within Mexico until a presidential order of General Herrera stopped them. Under the order, Riley was arrested for suspicion of a plot to kidnap President José Joaquín de Herrera, and the San Patricios were recalled to Mexico City where the government could monitor their actions. Herrera, in order to end the problems with the San Patricios and dispel any further crises as well as to cut the postwar budget, dissolved the company in 1848, a short time after it received its last military expenditure in August. While some members of the San Patricio company petitioned the government of Mexico for help in returning to their European homelands, most remained in Mexico as they could not return to the United States.

In general, Irish-Americans have also been uncomfortable with the story of the San Patricios. They could argue, and convincingly, that the overwhelming majority of the 4,811 Irish-born soldiers who served in the U.S. army during the Mexican-American War did not desert. Even if all the San Patricios soldiers were Irish–and they were not–Irish-born deserters would represent less than four per cent of Irish soldiers. During the 19th century, when the Irish place in U.S. society was far from secure, when Irish immigrants faced the hostility of violent nativists and the Know-Nothing Movement, dwelling on the San Patricios was seen as giving ammunition to the enemy. And those instincts were correct–the Know Nothings in fact used the San Patricios in their propaganda as proof of the unreliability of Irish Catholic immigrants. Most of the leading generals of the Civil War–Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee among them–had served as junior officers in the Mexican-American War.

It is interesting to note that never again would U.S. military commanders make the mistake of sending Irish Catholic soldiers to face death under bigoted officers or without chaplains of their own faith. The well known blood sacrifices of the Irish during the Civil War–at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg–to a large extent put to rest the question of Irish loyalty to the Union. But it ushered in an era of historical myth-making in which the Irish became super-patriots, steadfastly loyal to the Republic and always fighting on the “right” side. Carried to its extreme, we have the claim that Irish Catholics were loyal patriots to a man and that Irishmen in fact composed half the forces of George Washington during the American Revolution. This school of Irish-American history, of which the leading exponent was Michael J. O”Brien of the American Irish Historical Institute, tolerated no exceptions to its message.So most Irish-American scholarship on the San Patricios, until recently, was devoted to proving that a) the unit was not really Irish, b) if it was Irish, it was not Catholic, and c) in case a and b were proven correct, it was an ineffectual band of drunks who had repudiated their Irish heritage.After watching the film, we know better.

Although men of Irish birth may not have made up an absolute majority of the San Patricios at all times, Irish Catholics did form its largest ethnic component–ranging by various estimates from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. And the ethos of the unit was undeniably Irish.Curiously, people in Ireland have no trouble in accepting and indeed embracing the San Patricios as national Irish heroes. I happened to be visiting Ireland last year shortly after the documentary was shown on RTE on September 18 –the anniversary of the San Patricio executions at San Angel. And the sense of excitement and pride among those who had seen The San Patricios was very palpable. But perhaps Irish people have a more realistic view of their own military history. They know that Irish soldiers could be found fighting on both sides of almost every major conflict from the 17th through the mid-20th century. In Europe, in the armies of France, Spain, Austria, Russia–and Britain. In the New World, on both sides of the American Revolution–we have eyewitness accounts of the Maguire brothers, who had been fighting on opposite sides, meeting after the battle of Saratoga. And they know that Lord Edward Fitzgerald, one of the heroes of the 1798 Rising, served in the British uniform in South Carolina during the Revolution.

They know that opposing the 144,000 Irishmen in the Union Army were some 30,000 in Confederate ranks, and that the Irish Brigade”s charge up Marye”s Heights at Fredericksburg was halted by the fire of Robert McMilllan”s regiment of Irish rebels. They also know that desertion and defection are part and parcel of every war. And that bodies of Irish soldiers have changed sides since at least 1586, when a regiment of Irish Catholics rounded up after the Desmond Rebellion and shipped to the Netherlands to fight for the Protestant Dutch, promptly deserted to their Spanish Catholic opponents.

They recall that during World War I, Roger Casement toured German POW camps and recruited some 50 Irish prisoners–captured as members of British units–to form the nucleus of an Irish Brigade fighting on the German side. So the fact that 300 or more Irishmen deserted and changed sides during the U.S., war with Mexico should not surprise us. Indeed, in the political and religious climate of the time, we could legitimately ask why the number was so small.

“The San Patricios were alienated both from American society as well as the US Army,” says Professor Kirby Miller of the University of Missouri, an expert on Irish immigration. “They realized that the army was not fighting a war of liberty, but one of conquest against fellow Catholics such as themselves.”

Riley has hardly an unfocused rebel. As an Irishman and Catholic he was undoubtedly appalled and shocked at the behavior of the Texas Rangers and other volunteers who Gen. Taylor admittedly could not control. Among their crimes were murder, rape, robbery and the desecration of Catholic churches.While held prisoner in Mexico City, Riley wrote to a friend in Michigan: “Be not deceived by a nation that is at war with Mexico, for a friendlier and more hospitable people than the Mexicans there exists not on the face of the earth.” After leaving prison, the remaining San Patricios rejoined the Mexican Army and continued to function as a unit for almost a year after the Americans left Mexico. Riley was made commander of the two infantry companies with the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel, although he was actually a Captain. One unit was tasked with sentry duty in Mexico City while the other was stationed in the suburbs of Guadalupe Hidalgo. By late 1850, 20 of the original San Patricios left Mexico and returned to Ireland under the agreement Mexico had made with them when they enlisted to help them return should they choose to do so. Riley was not among them. John Riley died on the last days of August 1850 and was buried in Veracruz under the name “Juan Reley”, the name under which he had enrolled into the Mexican Army.

Mexicans celebrate the Irish soldiers on two days, Sept. 12 in honor of the anniversary of the first executions and on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Numerous street names across the country honor their contribution to the Mexican cause. In front of the Convent of Santa María in Churubusco the street is named “Mártires Irlandeses”, or Irish Martyrs. The Mexican government has officially recognized the contribution of the San Patricios through official acts of government. In 1997, President Zedillo held a ceremony in honor of the 150th anniversary of their executions along with Ireland’s ambassador. On Thursday, Oct. 28, 2002 the 57th Mexican Congress held a ceremony where the inscription “Defensores de la Patria 1846-1848 y Batallón de San Patricio” or “Defenders of the Fatherland 1846-1848 and the San Patricio Battalion” was inscribed in gold letters on the Wall of Honor in the Chambers of the Congress. Three hundred and ninety-four Mexican congressmen, along with Irish Ambassador to Mexico, Art Agnew, attended the ceremony recognizing the sacrifices made by the young Irish soldiers. Riley”s attitude could serve as a role model in today”s multicultural society. In fact, the parallels between the Irish immigrants of the 1840”s and today”s newcomers from Mexico and Central America should be obvious. Historically, both groups have suffered domination from oppressors who sought to destroy their religion and culture.

Both groups have braved dangerous journeys to arrive in America. The Irish crossed rough seas in “coffin ships” laden with diseased and starving passengers, while their Latin counterparts continue to brave barren deserts and freezing mountains, not to to mention the barbs of nativists who see them as economic and cultural threats to the so-called “character of America.”

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The Storming of Fort Wagner

The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts was organized in March, 1863 at Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts by Robert Gould Shaw, twenty-six year old member of a prominent Boston abolitionist family. Shaw had earlier served in the Seventh New York National Guard and the Second Massachusetts Infantry, and was appointed colonel of the Fifty-fourth in February 1863 by Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew.


As one of the first black units organized in the northern states, the Fifty-fourth was the object of great interest and curiosity, and its performance would be considered an important indication of the possibilities surrounding the use of blacks in combat. The regiment was composed primarily of free blacks from throughout the north, particularly Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Amongst its recruits were Lewis N. Douglass and Charles Douglass, sons of the famous ex-slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.


After a period of recruiting and training, the unit proceeded to the Department of the South, arriving at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on June 3, 1863. Soon after it saw its first action at James Island. The regiment earned its greatest fame on July 18, 1863, when it led the unsuccessful and controversial assault on the Confederate positions at Battery Wagner. In this desperate attack, the Fifty-fourth was placed in the vanguard and 281 men of the regiment became casualties (54 were killed or fatally wounded and another 48 were never accounted for). Shaw, the regiment”s young colonel, died on the crest of the enemy parapet, shouting, “Forward, Fifty-fourth!”

It was also on the parapet of the battery that Sgt. William H. Carney, Company C, risked his life in an action for which he received the Medal of Honor. His citation reads in part: “When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.”


Robert Gould Shaw

That heroic charge, coupled with Shaw”s death, made the regiment a household name throughout the north, and helped spur black recruiting. For the remainder of 1863 the unit participated in siege operations around Charleston, before boarding transports for Florida early in February 1864. The regiment numbered 510 officers and men at the opening of the Florida Campaign, and its new commander was Edward N. Hallowell, a twenty-seven year old merchant from Medford, Massachusetts. Anxious to avenge the Battery Wagner repulse, the Fifty-fourth was the best black regiment available to General Seymour, the Union commander. However, only about 500 members of the regiment were present at Olustee, the others having been detailed for other duty.

Along with the 35th United States Colored Troops, the Fifty-fourth entered the fighting late in the day at Olustee, and helped save the Union army from complete disaster. The Fifty-fourth marched into battle yelling, “Three cheers for Massachusetts and seven dollars a month.” The latter referred to the difference in pay between white and colored Union infantry, long a sore point with colored troops. Congress had just passed a bill correcting this and giving colored troops equal pay. However, word of the bill would not reach these troops until after the battle of Olustee. The regiment lost eighty-six men in the battle, the lowest number of the three black regiments present.

The 54th, as well as the 35th United States Colored Troops, served as the rearguard for the Union Army and possibly prevented its destruction. After Olustee, the Fifty-fourth was not sent to participate in the bloody Virginia campaigns of 1864-1865. Instead it remained in the Department of the South, fighting in a number of actions, including the battles of of Honey Hill and Boykin”s Mill before Charleston and Savannah. It was mustered out in August, 1865.

More than a century after the war the Fifty-fourth remains the most famous black regiment of the war, due largely to the popularity of the movie “Glory”, which recounts the story of the regiment prior to and including the attack on Battery Wagner.

As shown in Glory (1989) Robert Gould Shaw portrayed by Mathew Broderick and the men of the 54 Massachussetts Infantry Regiment.

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