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Abraham Lincoln’s Colonel John Joseph Coppinger (1834-1909)

Colonel John Joseph Coppinger of Cove/Queenstown

Early life

Nothing is currently known of John Joseph Coppinger’s early life, or his education, other than being born 'Glenmore Cottage', Cove, 11th October 1834,  who was one of six children of, William Joseph Coppinger and Margaret O'Brien of 'Glenmore Cottage', and cousin of William Coppinger of Barryscourt. This has been fully documented elsewhere within his parents' Coppinger section. Therefore, cannot have been a native of Midleton as has been continually misreported in the past until this day.

As may be seen, there is clearly a typing error, but there is no question this is the announcement of the Colonel's birth.

The Cork Constitution,
14th October 1834

Royal Warwickshire Militia

Likewise, it is unknow when John Joseph took up military service until it was first published, the Lord Lieutenant of the County (William Craven, 2nd Earl of Craven (1809-1866)) appointed 'Gentleman' Coppinger, aged 21, to the Royal Warwick Militia, 1st Regiment, Ensign, 19th October 1855, the lowest rank of commissioned officer. The following year the Lord Lieutenant promoted him to Lieutenant, 2nd October 1856.

The 1st regiment itself being establised just a few years earlier, 1853.

Coventry Standard,
19th October 1855
Leamington Advertiser,
 2nd October 1856

The Capture of Rome, 20th September 1870, culminated with the overthrow of the Papal States under Pope Pius IX, during the final throws the long process of unification of the Italian peninsula under King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy, ending approximately 1,116-year reign of the Holy Sea.

As a devout Catholic, John Joseph resigned his commission to enable him to sign up in defence of Rome a member of the Irish battalion that had already established itself in Italy by late June.

Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede

The London Gazette of 15thNovember 1860 confirms he resigned his commission;

“Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to accept the resignation of the commissions held by Captain Henry S. Bowes Watson and Lieut. John Joseph Coppinger.”

Coppinger travelled to Italy, where he was appointed Captain, placed in command of the Second Company of Major Myles O'Reilly's Battalion of St. Patrick. Here he served with distinction during the battles at Spoleto, receiving the rank of Chevalier for his gallantry at the defence of La Roca gateway in September, 1860.

For their service, each officer and enlisted man was awarded a commemorative service the medal 'Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede' with all those who fought being declared "meritorious of the Catholic Church, the Holy See and all human society."

An article published by the Army and Navy Gazette of London, 6 July 1898, by an unnamed correspondent confirms;

“With reference to a note in your last issue respecting Major-General John Joseph Coppinger, who is to command the American expedition to Porto Rico, it may interest your readers to know that his first military experience was in the 1st Warwickshire Militia, which he joined as Ensign in September, 1856, and left in November, 1860, having attained the rank of Lieutenant. He never, however, served in the regular Army.”

USA Civil War

At cessation of battles, many of the pope’s Irish battalion including John Joseph went on to have distinguished military careers, particularly in the Union ranks during the American Civil War

The Colonel's military and American Civil War service is fully documented by Brian C. Pohanka.

Follows is a contemporary account as reported by the Cork Examiner of 24th February 1883.

Colonel Coppinger
as transcribed
The Cork Examiner 24th February 1883

“The people of Midleton will be interested in the following particulars, about one of their townsmen, who is fast becoming distinguished in military circles in this country. Among the many young Irishmen who went as volunteers to Italy to uphold the temporal power of the Pope against the attacks of the Garibaldians, was a young man named John J. Coppinger, of the Midleton family of that name. He served creditably in the Papal Brigade, and received the rank of chevalier for gallantry at the defence of La Rocca gateway in September, 1860. After the triumph of Garibaldi, Chevalier Coppinger and comrades in arms returned to Ireland. At the outbreak of the civil war in this country, Secretary Seward, who was anxious to enlist the Irish sentiment in favour of President Lincoln’s administration, consulted with his friend, Archbishop Hughes, who suggested that a number of young Irishmen, of influential connection should receive military commissions. With the administration the Archbishop’s suggestion was equivalent to a command, and six commissions were placed at his disposal.

The sainted and patriotic Bishop Keane, of Cloyne, who had been P P of Midleton, recommended the young Papal officer for one of these commissions, and he received it, being appointed captain of the 14th Infantry in September, 1861.

He was in the Army of the Potomac in 1852 (62??), and saw some hard fighting at the second battle of Bull Run, where he was severely wounded, and subsequently at Gettysburgh, Chancellorville, Mine Run, Willderness, Yellow Tavern, Meadow Bridge, Hanover Crossing, Hawes Shop, Old Church, Cold Harbor, Trevellian Station, Deep Bottom, Newton, Winchester, Smithfield, Shepardtown, Fishers Hill, Waynesboro, Woodstock, Cedar Creek, Liberty Mills, and the last battle of the rebellion, Appomator, where he was again wounded. It will be seen that he had not been a carpet night, and while the commissions of those who had been appointed with him expired with the war, his bravery and soldierly qualities obtained him a permanent connection with our army. He was twice breveted for “gallant and meritorious service,” and in January, 1865, he was appointed Colonel of the 15th New York Cavalry, which he retained until the regiment was mustered out at the close of the war. He was ordered to the frontier, and in 1866 was brevetted Colonel “for the zeal and energy which he displayed in command of troops operating against hostile Indians.” For some years he has served as Acting Inspector-Gen on the staff of General Pope (doing service for a Pope again), a position only given to those thoroughly versed in the manual of arms, the drill, equipment and discipline of the army. Strict disciplinarian as he is, the men who have served under him speak of him in the highest terms of praise, and many of the “boys” from his own town and country have done duty for Uncle Sam, in his regiment on the plains.

When the writer saw Colonel Coppinger in Ireland, he was a tall, erect man, of military bearing, dark complexion and “bearded like the bard.” He was changed only in having becoming prematurely grey. Last summer Miss Alice Stanwood Blaine, daughter of ex-Secretary of State Blaine, visited the far West with some friends. There she met Colonel Coppinger, who wooed her, and made her his wife, Tuesday, February 6. Now James G. Blaine, the father of Mrs. Coppinger, is one of the most brilliant and distinguished men in public life in this country. He began his political life in the State of Main, though a Pennsylvanian by birth, who, with a dash of Irish blood in him. He went through all the grades of politics in Pine Tree State, and was sent to Congress, and was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. From the House he was promoted to the Senate, and at two Conventions of the Republican party he nearly obtained the nomination for President, which would have been equivalent to an election. It is not probable that he may be nominated and elected President in 1884. He is a man of great wealth, ability, and influence, and is now engaged writing a history of our own times [...] Justin M’Carthy.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and the story of Colonel Coppinger’s life reads like a chapter of romance. From Ireland to fair Italy, and then through the “pride, pomp and circumstance” of our great civil war, with credit and distinction he went his way. The Indian warfare coupled with his recent years, and far from the great cities, amid “the vernal woods” and great rolling prairies of the far West, he met and won a fair young girl whom he has just made his bride.

The wedding was the great social event of the season at Washington. It was celebrated in the now and elegant mansion of the bride’s father, where a large and very distinguished company had assembled for the occasion, in response to the following card:-

Mr. & Mrs. Blaine,
invite you to be present at the marriage
of their daughter,
Ann Stanwood Blaine,
Brovt-Col. John J Coppinger, U.S.A.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 12 o’clock, M, 1500
Twentieth-street, Washington, D.C

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