Category: Archive

Hibernian Chronicle 140 Years Ago: Corcoran takes a stand

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Edward T. O’Donnell

One hundred forty years ago this week, on Oct. 11, 1860, Col. Michael Corcoran took a stand. All of New York was abuzz over the impending visit of the prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. A huge parade had been planned to welcome the 19-year-old prince and his entourage. All the city’s military units were expected to march, including the 69th New York Regiment of the state militia. But Col. Corcoran let it be known that he and his mostly Irish unit would do no such thing. He would rather risk court martial than pay homage to the son of Ireland’s oppressor.

Michael Corrigan was born in Carrowkeel, Co. Sligo, in 1827, the son of a retired army officer. At 19 he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary. But after three years service — years that brought the ravages of the Famine and the 1848 Young Ireland uprising — Corcoran resigned and headed for America. He arrived in New York in 1849 and joined the state militia a year later. By the time of the Prince of Wales incident, he was a widely known figure in Irish nationalist circles.

When word of his defiance hit the news wire, Corcoran became a hero to Irish America. Irish-American newspapers praised his bold nationalism and rallies were held in his honor in several cities. In his home city of New York, the Irish presented him with a green flag as a token of their appreciation.

To a great many Americans, however, Corcoran was a scoundrel, living proof that Irishmen made poor Americans. The story grabbed headlines across the country and editorialists condemned Corcoran for tarnishing what was supposed to be a great celebration of Anglo-American harmony.

As expected, Corcoran was charged with insubordination and stripped of his command. Court martial proceedings began in early 1861, but were delayed when Corcoran took ill. They were still in hiatus when the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861. At the urging of several prominent Irish Americans, including Archbishop John Hughes of New York, the Lincoln administration arranged to have the court martial quashed and Corcoran reappointed as head of the 69th.

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It proved a wise move, for Corcoran was an able recruiter and officer. At Bull Run (July 21, 1861), the first real clash between Union and Confederate forces, only Corcoran’s regiment received praise for their performance in an otherwise disastrous day for the Union Army. Fighting under the green flag presented to Corcoran by the Irish of New York, the men of the 69th were one of the last units to leave the field, despite suffering high casualties.

Corcoran, however, was not there to receive the praise he was due, for he had been wounded and taken captive. At first the Confederates threatened to execute him, but then relented. He spent a year in prison before returning to the North as part of a prisoner exchange. Promoted to brigadier general, Corcoran raised another regiment and soon headed south once again.

After a year of distinguished service in the field, Corcoran was thrown from his horse and killed on Dec. 22, 1863. By that time, of course, few remembered the prince of Wales incident. To a large extent this was due to the mounting horror of the Civil War. Yet it also had much to do with the fact that Americans in 1863, after several years in which Great Britain toyed with the idea of intervening in the war on behalf of the Confederacy, had come to share Corcoran’s jaundiced view of John Bull.


Oct. 12, 1798: Wolfe Tone is arrested when his ship, part of a French fleet bound for Ireland to assist in the United Irishmen uprising of 1798, is intercepted by the British navy.

Oct. 12, 1975: Archbishop Oliver Plunkett, martyred in 1681, becomes the first Irish-born saint in nearly 700 years.

Oct. 12, 1984: British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and several high-ranking government ministers are nearly killed when an IRA bomb explodes in Brighton.

Oct. 16, 1916: Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Burne open the first birth control clinic in the United States, in Brooklyn. Both will be arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail.


Oct. 14, 1882: President and Taoseach of Ireland Eamon DeValera born in Brooklyn.

Oct. 15, 1858: Heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan born in Boston.

Oct. 16, 1854: Playwright Oscar (Fingal O’Flahertie Wills) Wilde born in Dublin.

Oct. 16, 1888: Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill born in New York City.

Oct. 16, 1890: Nationalist, government official, and military leade, Michael Collins born in Clonakilty, Co. Cork.

Oct. 17, 1803: Nationalist and leader of 1848 rebellion William Smith O’Bren born in Dromoland, Co. Clare.

Readers may reach Edward T. O’Donnell at odonnell@PastWise.com./

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