Nineteenth Century

Midleton’s Most Famous Forgotten Son? General John Joseph Coppinger

Many of Midleton’s men and women have emigrated down through the years, settling all over the globe and becoming part of the Irish diaspora. Some went on to become relatively famous abroad- for example Nellie Cashman– a woman who will be the topic a future post. However one man, although his family name remains closely associated with Midleton, is not well-known in the town of his birth. This is despite the fact that he is undoubtedly one of the town’s most successful and colourful emigrants. His name was John Joseph Coppinger.

Coppinger was born in Midleton on 11th October 1834, into the powerful Catholic landowning family. He was one of six children of William Joseph Coppinger and Margaret O’Brien. We don’t know much about John’s early life, until he begins his first associations with the military- associations that would continue across more than half a century. He first tested out the military in the 1st Regiment of the Warwickshire Militia- The London Gazette of 12th October 1855 recorded that ‘John Joseph Coppinger Gent.’ was to be an Ensign from the 29th September. However, his life of adventure really started in 1860 when he became a Captain in the Papal Battalion, a group of Irishmen which travelled to Italy to defend the Papal States from the ongoing efforts to reunify Italy. During the fighting there the young Midleton man performed well- his defence of the La Rocca gateway that September earned him the position of Chevalier and two Papal decorations. (1)

Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede (For the Chair of Peter) awarded to members of the Papal Battalion, including John Joseph Coppinger (Robert Doyle)

Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede (For the Chair of Peter) awarded to members of the Papal Battalion, including John Joseph Coppinger (Robert Doyle)

When the Papal War was lost, John Joseph Coppinger was one of a number of men in the Battalion who elected not to return home permanently. Instead he travelled to the United States. According to one account, upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, Archbishop Hughes of New York sought advice from clergy in Ireland as to young Irishmen of influence who might come to America to become officers: …’Bishop Keane, the patriotic prelate of Cloyne, who had been parish priest of Midleton, recommended [Coppinger]…and he was one of six young Irishmen who came to the United States as commissioned officers.‘ (2)

So began John Joseph Coppinger’s long an extremely successful career in the United States military. In September 1861 he was appointed to the rank of Captain in the 14th United States Infantry. Joining the Union Army of the Potomac in July of 1862, he was severely wounded when he was shot through the neck at the Second Battle of Bull Run on 30th August. Lucky to survive, it took him six months to recuperate. John returned to active duty and in 1863 participated in the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. (3)

General Torbert and his staff during the American Civil War. John Joseph Coppinger is seated at the front left (Library of Congress)

General Torbert and his staff during the American Civil War. John Joseph Coppinger is seated at the front left (Library of Congress)

During the Civil War Coppinger was brevetted a Major for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Trevilian Station on 12th June 1864, and brevetted Lieutenant-Colonel for the same reason after the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19th October that year. At the time he had been serving on the staff of Cavalry General Alfred Torbert. Recommended for promotion by men such as George Armstrong Custer and Phil Sheridan, Coppinger was appointed Colonel of the 15th New York Cavalry on 19th January 1865, a position he held until the close of the war. (4)

Detail of the Civil War photograph showing Midleton's John Joseph Coppinger (Library of Congress)

Detail of the Civil War photograph showing Midleton’s John Joseph Coppinger (Library of Congress)

After the war Coppinger returned to the rank of Captain in the regular army and was transferred to the 23rd United States Infantry, with whom he served on the Western Plains. He earned another brevet, this time to Colonel in 1868, for ‘energy and zeal while in command of troops operating against hostile Indians in 1866, 1867 and 1868.’  In 1871 he returned to Cork to attend to family business resulting from a bereavement, and took the opportunity to visit Egypt. However, it was always his intention to return to the United States, and he was soon back in the American West. The Midleton man had a reputation as a dashing officer, and after his return to America he landed in hot water, when he was accused of seducing another man’s wife in California. Described by his accuser as ‘a gay Lothario in epaulettes…a…bold, unprincipled adventurer …a serpent’, Coppinger was outraged by what he described as ‘infamous falsehoods’, but whoever was in the right, the incident eventually died down. It did not hurt his military career, as John was promoted to Major in 10th United States Infantry in 1879 and Lieutenant-Colonel in the 18th United States Infantry in 1883. 1883 was also the year he finally married, tying the knot with Alice Stanwood Blaine (25 years his junior) in Washington D.C. on 6th February. The wedding was attended by President Arthur and his cabinet, a mark of how high Coppinger had risen. The couple would go on to have two sons, Blaine and Conor, but Alice would die tragically young just seven years later, during an influenza epidemic. (5)

John’s march through the ranks of the army continued. He was promoted to  Colonel as a result of service rendered against hostile Native Americans between 1886-1888, and took command of the 23rd United States Infantry in 1891. He finally became a Brigadier-General on 25th April 1895. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the Cork native took charge of the 1st Independent Division in Mobile, Alabama. He later served as Major-General of Volunteers commanding the IV Corps. John Joseph Coppinger retired from his 36 year career in the U.S. military on 11th October 1898. The Midleton man died in Washington D.C. on 4th November 1909, where he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (6)

General Coppinger during the Spanish-American War, 1898 (National Archives)

General Coppinger during the Spanish-American War, 1898 (National Archives)

Today John Joseph Coppinger is all but forgotten in his home town. Indeed he is one of the many hundreds if not thousands of men from around Midleton and East Cork who fought in the American Civil War and who are no longer remembered at home. Surely one of Midleton’s most successful and noteworthy emigrants, remembering John Joseph Coppinger’s life is hopefully something that will improve in the future.

The grave of General John Joseph Coppinger in Arlington National Cemetery (Brian C. Pohanka via Find A Grave)

The grave of General John Joseph Coppinger in Arlington National Cemetery (Brian C. Pohanka via Find A Grave)

*The most comprehensive research on John Joseph Coppinger to date has been carried out by the late Brian C. Pohanka, who’s work is referenced in this article and should be rightfully acknowledged.

(1) Pohanka 2013, London Gazette 1855, Tucker 2009: 135, Irish Nation 1883; (2) Irish Nation 1883; (3) Foreman 1943: 125, Tucker 2009: 135; (4) Foreman 1943: 125, Hunt 2003: 84; (5) Foreman 1943: 125, Pohanka 2013, Irish Nation 1883; (6) Foreman 1943: 125, Tucker 2009: 135;

References

The Irish Nation 17th February 1883. Colonel Coppinger.

The London Gazette 12th October 1855. Commissions signed by the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Warwick.

Foreman, Carolyn Thomas 1943. ‘General John Joseph Coppinger Commandant Fort Gibson’ in Chronicles of Oklahoma Volume 21, No. 2.

Hunt, Roger D. 2003. Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War: New York.

Pohanka, Brian 2013. Defender of the Faith and the Union Cork Born John Joseph Coppinger 

Tucker, Spencer 2005 (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars

John Joseph Coppinger Find A Grave Memorial

Categories: Famous Links, Nineteenth Century | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Midleton and the 1867 Fenian Rising

In 1867 the Fenian movement attempted an armed rising in Ireland in an effort to wrest the country from British rule. However, poor planning and successful Government infiltration of the organisation meant that the effort was doomed to failure. The rising was sporadic and quickly fizzled out. However, the London Times of 8 March 1867 illustrates that Fenian members in Midleton were determined to take part:

A formidable insurrection has broken out in this county [Cork], and is, probably, simultaneous with a similar movement in other places. Last night, at about 11 o’clock, the telegraph wires belonging to the two companies having stations at Cork were cut, the Magnetic Company’s wires being destroyed a little way beyond Charleville, about 36 miles from Cork and the Electric Company at Midleton, whence they radiate to several quarters. At an apparently preconcerted hour bands of armed insurgents assembled at Midleton, at Carrignavar, in the neighbourhood of Cork, at Kilmallock, Knocklong, and Rathduff…

The rising began in Midleton- that is, the assembly there seems to have been the earliest. The Fenians collected on the fair green  to the number of about 50, and marched through the town in military order. They were all armed, and had haversacks of provisions. At the end of the town, near Copinger’s-bridge, they were met by an armed police patrol of four men. The Fenian leader called on the patrol to surrender, and the demand was followed up by a volley, by which one of the four constables were killed and another slightly wounded. The uninjured men returned the fire, with what effect is not known, and made their escape hastily into an adjoining house, whence they afterwards regained the barracks. The Fenians marched from Midleton to Castlemartyr, leaving the police barrack at the former town unmolested. On the route they were joined by several parties of armed men, and arrived in Castlemartyr with a force about 200 strong. Daly, the Fenian leader, drew up his men in front of the police-barrack, which had been closed and barricaded on their approach, and called on its occupants to surrender. The policemen, who did not exceed six or seven in number, replied by a well-directed fire, killing Daly and wounding several of his band. The remainder then retired in the direction of Killeagh, to which place small parties of men were seen making their way from Cloyne, Youghal and several other places during the night. 

Mugshots of Fenians taken in Mountjoy Prison in 1866. The Fenians were some of the first people in Ireland to have mugshots taken, as it was a relatively new practice at the time (New York Public Library)

Mugshots of Fenians taken in Mountjoy Prison in 1866. The Fenians were some of the first people in Ireland to have mugshots taken, as it was a relatively new practice at the time (New York Public Library)

The Cork Examiner of 7 March 1867 added further detail regarding the particulars of the incident at the bridge in Midleton:

The precise circumstances of the occurrence in Midleton are these:- A few minutes before eleven o clock, the Fenians assembled in the Main-street of the town, as already stated, and after the interview with the gentleman who mistook them for police, they moved down to the bridge close by the National Bank and here they drew up on the left side of the approach to the bridge. The patrol, consisting of Acting Constables Greany, Sub-constables O Donnell, Sheedy, and O Brien, passed on towards the bridge, at the other side of the road. When they had passed slightly beyond the Fenians, they were challenged by, it is believed, Daly, their leader, and called upon to surrender in the name of the Irish Republic. The police were then close to Mr. Green’s gate, and the Fenians were but a few yards away from them, assembled four deep. When the police did not obey the call, Daly seized Sub-Constable O Donnell’s rifle, and presenting a revolver at his head, fired. O Donnell at the same time pushed Daly slightly from him, and thus caused the pistol ball to glance around the back of his head, the powder singeing his hair. At the same moment, the party of Fenians fired a volley. A ball entered Sub-Constable Sheedy’s breast, low down near the stomach on the right side, and after running a short distance up the chapel road, he fell and bled probably to death. The other policemen fled in the same direction, and O Donnell, who was wounded in the head, took shelter in a house. As the others fled, the Fenians fired after them, and the Acting-Constable had a number of extraordinary escapes. Bullets grazed the back of his hand, passed through his cap, touched his knee, and cut the edge of his ammunition pouch. He, with Sub-constable O Brien, got round by Mr. Green’s house, and having taken shelter there till morning, got back to the station, escorted by Mr. Green, who had great influence and popularity in the town. After Sheedy fell he was stripped of his rifle and accoutrements. Daly took Sub-constable O Donnell’s rifle with him. Greany and O Brien retained theirs. The gate and wall in front of Mr. Green’s residence were thickly marked with the volleys of bullets fired by the insurgents, and subsequently, a dozen revolver cartridges were found on the foot path there, as well as two large hand grenades with fuses attached. The cartridges were patent make, manufactured by Gladstone and Co. of London. It is also said that the first assembly of the Midleton Fenians was at the Cork road, where they were formed in three divisions, but being there surprised by the police they scattered and subsequently met at the house of a person of some position in the town, at the door of which a sentry was posted, and all persons entering closely scanned. Thence they are believed to have proceeded to the Bank Bridge. The police say they were only armed with pistols, but a gentleman who passed close to them, says that they had rifles and swords. After the encounter of the bridge, they are said to have gone by Ballinacurra towards Castlemartyr. The firing in Midleton is described as being as regular as that of disciplined troops. Another circumstance stated is that suspicious looking strangers wearing cloaks were seen in Midleton early in the evening, and they are believed to have come from the direction of Cork. Cars heavily laden are also known to have passed through the town about one o clock. Constable Greany found, near the bridge, a pike ten feet long, this morning.

References

London Times 8 March 1867

Fenian Rising Pages on Corkgen.org

Mountjoy Prison Portaits of Irish Independence: Photograph Albums in Thomas A. Larcom Collection

Categories: Nineteenth Century | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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