IRISH BRIGADE OFFICERS OF
THE FRENCH ARMY IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
by Chevalier William F. Marmion, M.A.
Records pertaining to the participation of Irish ‘Wild Geese’ Officers in Battles of the American Revolution are sparse; but herein is presented a list of a few such men who certainly fought for American freedom while serving their king.
Military records of the US government only relate to men who actually joined the Continental Army or one of the State militia organisations, etc. Those records include the service files of many of foreign birth. Many Irishmen — such as General John Sullivan of the Army and Captain John Barry of the Navy — fall into the this category.
But allies of the Americans, the most important being the French, are not catalogued in US records. Because of this, the contribution of Irish Wild Geese serving in various Irish Brigades of the French Army has been relatively unstudied. Not a lot of information exists anyway due to the destruction of many French military records during their own revolution!
Prominent Americans studying their own revolution came to realise that the services of their foreign allies were unrecounted and often not even available in the archives of the particular country. Some attempts were made to determine what was available. In 1849, Richard Rush, US Minister to France, turned to a French military researcher/historian, Monsieur Pierre Margry and indeed M. Margry searched the records available and responded comprehensively to Mr Rush. His letter and the list of French officers he found is contained as an appendix to the famous work of the distinguished US historian Francis B. Heitman, entitled Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution April 1775 to December 1783, and published in 1914. Our own Irish great historian of the Irish Brigades Mr John Cornelius O’Callaghan, in his 1870 work History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France, does not treat extensively of the officers or men who participated in the American Revolution — though there are bits and pieces of the services performed by Wild Geese which can thus be added to Heitman’s book. Thus, unfortunately, we are rather dealing with the raking of the ashes, as Monsieur Margry says in his 1849 report:
‘It was in vain…that I searched for the muster rolls at the Ministre de la Marine…or in the Archives de la Guerre…[so] I cannot say that [his list] is complete, for I could not conclude from the muster rolls themselves therefore that all the officers belonging to the corps had been present in America. The regiments not having sent very often more than a detachment, and the detachments sometimes having served only on shipboard, I could not designate an officer as having served in the American War unless the facts had been indicated in some note concerning that time, and so I was obliged to confine myself to inscribing the names of the officers whom I could positively ascertain to have been engaged in the war.’
Therefore we can be sure of those listed by M. Margry, but also we can be sure that others have been missed.
The contribution of the Irish Brigades began when the French sent the Regiment of Dillon, 1400 strong, from Brest to the West Indies in order to join the squadron of the Admiral Comte d’Estaing. This was on 5 April 1779, and soon after the Regiment of Walsh was also sent to the West Indies. Dillon’s Regiment met d’Estaing at Martinique and went on to capture Granada. But in the fall of 1779 d’Estaing took part of his squadron to the southern states of America, with a view to capturing Savannah, Georgia, in conjunction with American troops. There were 6,000 soldiers in total, organised into three columns. One of the columns was Irish Brigade, Dillon’s Regiment soldiers, led by Colonel (later General) Count Arthur Dillon. The other two columns were led by Baron deSteding and Colonel the Viscomte deNoailles. In the final attack on the English positions, 9 October 1779, one-fifth of all the troops the French and Americans committed were killed or wounded. Sixty-three grenadiers of Dillon’s Regiment were killed, plus the officers who will be outlined below. The British suffered only 155 casualties, thus the Battle of Savannah was a bloody defeat for the allies.
After Savannah, the Regiment of Dillon (and that of Walsh and that of Berwick which arrived only in late 1782) fought exclusively in the West Indies, indeed playing a most satisfactory and major role in wresting various islands from the British.
American fortunes looked low from 1779 to 1781 but then dramatically turned and forced the Battle of Yorktown in September of 1781, in which the British were decisively defeated and which led American independence. At Yorktown there were more French regulars than American regulars. The numbers were 7,800 French versus 5,545 Continental regulars and 3,000 militia. There were undoubtedly officers of the Irish Brigade attached to some of these regiments, or in deGrasse’s French fleet blockading the harbour (Walsh’s Regiment in particular provided many soldiers to serve as shipboard marines).
The list which follows gives the names of Irish Brigade officers of the French Army who served on American soil.
LIST OF IRISH BRIGADE OFFICERS
Barry, D’Imbart, Captain. Wounded (gunshot, left arm) in the attack on
Additionally, there is mention of a Major Browne, of Dillon’s Regiment who was killed at Savannah October 1779 and of a Colonel Browne, Aide-de-Camp to Admiral d’Estaing, an Irish Brigade officer, who was also killed at Savannah. A bad day for the Brownes. And finally, there was also a Lieutenant Colonel LYNCH, of Walsh’s Regiment, who distinguished himself at Savannah while serving as an aide to the Count deSegur.
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Irish Roots Magazine in which it was first published in Issue 3, 1998.