A faculty member at the University of Missouri-Rolla has written the first biography of Gen. Thomas Sweeny, an important figure in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo.
UMR’s Jack Morgan spent more than four years researching and writing Through American and Irish Wars: The Life and Times of General Thomas W. Sweeny, which was recently published as part of the Irish Abroad Series by Irish Academic Press.
Sweeny immigrated to the United States from Ireland at the age of 12. As a young man, he lost an arm in the U.S. war with Mexico but was permitted to stay in the army. By the time the Civil War started, he had risen to the rank of general.
During Union campaigns in Missouri, Sweeny was second in command to Gen. Nathaniel Lyon. Morgan, who recently returned from a book launching in Dublin, says he became interested in Sweeny while studying material on Lyon.
“Sweeny was in charge of the Union arsenal in St. Louis,” says Morgan, who teaches in the English and technical communication department at UMR. “He was trying to keep the Confederates from taking it in the first days of the war before Gen. Lyon arrived. He threatened to blow the whole thing up. He said he’d blow the whole city before he’d give it up. He held them off until Lyon arrived.”
Sweeny later traveled through Rolla on his way to another rendezvous with Lyon in Springfield, Mo. Again, Sweeny arrived first and held the city for the Union army.
“There’s now a General Sweeny Museum located on government property at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Springfield,” Morgan says.
Sweeny was wounded during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, but the general recovered to participate in other important battles that took him across the south to Atlanta.
Morgan’s book also explores Sweeny’s affiliations with Irish nationalists.
“After the Civil War, he led a band of nationalists into Canada to take on the British there,” Morgan explains. “They actually called themselves the Irish Republican Army and carried the first IRA flag with them into Canada.”
According to Morgan, the research for the biography was very demanding – and rewarding.
“He was just a fascinating character, all the way back to his days in the Southwest,” says Morgan, who was able to study some of Sweeny’s journal writings about the desert and interactions with American Indians. “Sweeny even knew Geronimo personally.”