General Thomas William Sweeny  (1820 - 1892)

Thomas William Sweeny was born in Dunmanway, Co. Cork, Ireland on December 25th, 1820;  the youngest of four sons born to William and Honora Sweeny. His father died in 1827.  Unable to make a living in British occupied Ireland the family emigrated to the United States in 1832 and settled in New York City.

During the voyage across the Atlantic young Thomas was washed overboard. After enduring thirty-five minutes in the frigid Atlantic waters he was rescued. The resolve and courage that the 12 year old displayed during that life threatening ordeal was consistent with the courage and daring he would go on to displayed during his remarkable military career as one of the great Irish-born Generals in the Union army.  

After finishing his formal education in New York he found work as an apprentice with the law book printing of Gould and Banks. Around 1843 Sweeny joined the Baxter Blues a local militia group. When the war with Mexico started the Baxter Blues were mustered in as Co.  A, 2nd New York Volunteers.  By then Sweeny had risen to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  He participated in numerous battles from the siege of Vera Cruz to Churubusco, On August  20, 1847, during the storming of the fortified convent at the battle of Churubusco, Sweeny was severely wounded by a musket ball in the right arm . This wound necessitated amputation above the elbow.

In 1848 after recovering from his injury, Sweeny was honored by New York City and State dignitaries including the Governor who bestowed upon him with the brevet of Captain. His service during the Mexican war also earned him a commission as  2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry. He remained in the 2nd U.S. Infantry until May of 1861, mostly fighting Indians in California and on the Great Plains.  He was wounded during one of the battles receiving an arrow wound in the neck.  In 1854 he was stationed in New York City in the General Recruiting Service. In 1855 he was assigned an aide to General Harney in Fort Perrie, Nebraska and was  present at the Great Treaty with the Sioux Nations in 1857.
In January 1861 Sweeny was promoted to captain and ordered to  St. Louis, Missouri to take command of the U.S. Arsenal on an interim basis until a more senior officer was assigned.   Although he had less than fifty recruits to secure the Arsenal in a city harboring thousands of Confederate sympathizers;  no attempt was made to take the Arsenal as Sweeny threatened to blow it up before letting the enormous quantities of munitions it housed fall into rebel hands.

In May 1861, he became a Brig. General of Missouri volunteers and fought  at Carthage where the Missouri State Guard under the command of Governor Claiborne Jackson repulsed them.  At the Battle Wilson's Creek on Aug. 10, 1861,  Sweeny was severely wounded and carried from the field having received a musket ball in the thigh.  

After he recovered he reentered the service in January of 1862 as the Colonel of the 52nd Illinois. Sweeny led the 52nd at Fort Donelson and was command of a brigade at the Battle of Shiloh in April.  During the battle Sweeny's brigade was stationed above the sunken road near the "Hornet's Nest," where he was wounded several times. On the evening of April 6th, he received a wound in his remaining arm and was forced  to leave the field due to loss of blood.  His brigade suffering 1,247 casualties.

On October 27th, 1862, the officers of the 52nd Illinois presented Sweeny with a Tiffany sword and field glass, "as a token of respect and confidence." These items, along with a captured Confederate flag and belt plate may be seen at General Sweeny's Museum located at  5228 South State Highway ZZ, Republic, MO 65738. Telephone and fax # 417-732-1224.

Sweeny officially became a Brigadier General of Volunteers on March 16, 1863 made retroactive to November 29, 1862. He spent most of 1863 on garrison duty in Tennessee and Mississippi and finally advanced to the command of a division in the XVI Corps just in time for the Atlanta campaign. At the Battle of Resaca, GA, in May of 1864 it was Sweeny's division which flanked Joe Johnston's line and forced his withdrawal.

After the battle of Atlanta, Sweeny brought to a climax a long-standing feud with General Grenville Dodge, and another politically appointed commander whom he also resented, General John Fuller, an Englishman by birth. With good cause, Sweeny questioned Fuller's actions during the battle. Dodge, coming to the aid of his friend Fuller, called Sweeny a liar. Sweeny called Dodge a "God-damned liar," and blows were exchanged between the two generals. Dodge had Sweeny arrested and at the court martial, was honorably acquitted in December of 1864. After the acquittal hHe was placed in command of a post in Nashville, Tennessee to October of 1865.

Sweeny, like many of the Irishmen fighting in the Civil War, was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood.  When the organization finalized it plans to invade Canada and hold it hostage for Ireland's freedom, Sweeny was appointed Secretary of War by the Fenian Senate and placed in charge of the planning. In the meantime he was dismissed from the US Army for being AWOL. 

The plan agreed to included a three-pronged series of co-coordinated attacks from mustering points in Chicago, Buffalo and Maine. The invading force was supplied from a large amount of US army surplus rifles and ammunition obtained by Sweeny from sympathetic U.S. government officials. Command of the Buffalo expedition was entrusted to General John O'Neill who crossed the Niagara River at the head of at least 800 men during the night of May 31, 1866. On the morning of June 1st.  a regiment of Fenians captured Fort Erie for use as a defense perimeter.  On June 2nd O'Neill came face to face with British forces at Ridgeway where he out-fought and out-witted and decisively defeated the British and their Canadian cohorts.

The mayor of Buffalo John Wells  asked the federal government to intervene and stop the invasion. Gen. George Meade responded to Wells request and closed the border.  With no chance of reinforcement, General John O'Neill was forced to withdraw thus effectively ending the Fenian invasion of Canada.  Sweeny together with other Fenian officers were arrested, but were released shortly thereafter to avoid alienating the Irish who rightly believed they had given their all for the preservation of the Union only to find betrayal when Ireland's freedom was on the line.  

Logistical problems including poor planning and sabotage doomed the other prongs of the invasion even before they got started. 

Two other unsuccessful attempts were made by O'Neill thru October of 1871.

Shortly after the stymied invasion Sweeny was reinstated by the President to his former rank and given assignments  in the former Confederate states.  That action by the President gives some credence to the belief that the U.S. government may have encouraged the Fenian invasion of Canada and that General Meade may have acted hastily, if not surreptitiously, in bringing it to an unsuccessful end.  After all, the British, the purveyors of slavery, helped the Confederacy during the Civil War by way of trade and arms supply.

General Thomas Sweeny officially retired  in May of 1870 at the rank of Brigadier General of Regulars.  He lived out the rest of his days in Astoria on Long Island, NY.  He died there on April 10, 1892 at age  72.  He was buried with honors befitting his rank at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Contributed by;  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

cemetery AND grave location

Name:        Greenwood Cemetery                                      PHONE NO.      (718) 786-8002

ADDRESS:    4500  25th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215-1755




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