Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach!
THE IRISH BRIGADE
DURING THE AMERICAN WAR BETWEEN THE STATES
The social and political disadvantages encountered by the Catholic nobility and gentry encouraged many of them to emigrate to Europe. This exodus reached its peak in the 18th century when Irish soldiers and statesmen earned distinction in the service of many European armies, those of France, Spain and Austria in particular. Thousands of Irishmen, known as the "Wild Geese", whose ranks included names like MacMahon, Taaffe, O'Neill and Butler, died fighting for continental armies up to the time of the Napoleonic wars.2 Irish soldiers in foreign service went on to distinguish themselves in the 19th and 20th centuries, most notably during the American Civil War.
More than 170,000 Irish-born Americans fought under the flag of the United States between 1861 and 1865. Society in the United States had, up to that time, displayed a marked anti-Catholic sentiment, and most newly immigrated Irish occupied close to the lowest rung of the economic ladder, but this did not dissuade many from rallying to the colors at the beginning of the war.
When President Lincoln made his first call for volunteers following the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the 69th NYSM (New York State Militia) was the second unit to leave New York City. The 69th served at 1st Bull Run under the command of then-brigade commander William T. Sherman; it then returned home and mustered out of Federal service. At this point, the decision was made to raise an "Irish Brigade" for government service. Many members of the 69th NYSM joined the new 69th New York State Volunteers (NYSV), the first regiment of the new Irish Brigade. Selected as commander of the Irish Brigade was Thomas Francis Meagher, a man of outspoken anti-English sentiments who had been exiled to Tasmania by the Crown for his activities in Ireland. Together with the 63rd and 88th New York regiments, the 69th NYSV joined the Army of the Potomac to pursue the war against the Confederacy.
Beginning with the ill-fated Peninsular Campaign against Richmond, the Irish Brigade in general and the 69th in particular began building a reputation for hard fighting and courage, as well as lavish hospitality. Part of the renowned II Corps, the Irish often figured prominently in any advance and rearguard actions. More than one general was known to ask "Where are my green flags?"; the reference to the green regimentals of the Irish units is significant.
The Irish Brigade went through perhaps its most valorous period between the Battle of Antietam (17 September, 1862) and the Battle of Gettysburg (1-3 July, 1863). This series of events, from its frontal assault on the Sunken Road at Antietam through the engagement with Kershaw's Confederates at the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, saw the Brigade reduced to a bare skeleton of its former strength. The Brigade had figured prominently in Burnside's disastrous attacks at Fredericksburg (13 December, 1862), during which the 69th lost some 75% of its strength, and by the time of Gettysburg the 69th NYSV numbered under 200 and was comprised of a mere two companies. General Meagher had also resigned his commission in protest when refused permission to return the Brigade home to for recruitment.
Despite these hardships the Irish remained with the Army of the Potomac through the hard fighting under Grant, and took part in the surrender ceremony at Appomatox Courthouse in April of 1865. By the war's end various regiments from various states had passed through the Brigade at one point or another, but the same original three New York regiments had always served with the formation. Fresh infusions of manpower had increased their depleted numbers, but many of the best and bravest who had originally marched off to war from New York never returned. Throughout the war the units of the Brigade were hotbeds of Irish Separatist sentiment, and many of the original members had joined to gain military experience with which they hoped to return to Ireland and free their land from British rule. This dream, however, was not realized, for too many of those devoted to Irish nationalism lay buried along the eastern seaboard, casualties of the bitter years of 1861 through 1865. 3
The Irish Brigade was not just another Civil War unit. Its military reputation alone set it apart from the great mass of Northern brigades. But what made its story particularly distinctive was the Irish and Catholic identity that most of its members shared. Nearly 150,000 Irish-Americans eventually fought in the Union army, but most served in predominantly "American" units where their achievements seldom rebounded to the benefit of the Irish-American community. The Irish Brigade was specifically created to preserve this special identity and to advertise the important contributions to the Union cause that Irish Catholics made. Its founders wanted to demonstrate to a skeptical America the devotion Irish-Americans felt for their adopted land. But their motives were mixed, and sorting our their allegiances was not easy. The story of Irish-American attitudes toward the issues of the Civil War is a complex one.
The Irish were not likely candidates to rush to the Union war effort. Most were recent arrivals who had not been welcomed with open arms. The terrible years of the potato famine had pushed more than two million of the Irish overseas, with the United States becoming the most popular destination. Between 1846 and 1854 well over a million found their way to America. Desperate poverty caused these refugees to crowd into tenements and "shanty towns" in the worst part of the North's urban areas. Willing to accept the poor wages and terrible working conditions, they soon drove blacks out of the most menial employments the North had to offer. By the 1850s Irishmen made up the bulk of the common laborers, dock-workers, coachmen, draymen, waiters, cooks, barbers, and servants in the cities. Elsewhere, Irish workers poured into the mining industry and they dominated canal and railroad construction.
Their poverty alone might have made them outcastes, but the Catholic faith of the Irish also subjected them to the scorn of Protestant America. Anti-Catholicism had its roots deep in Anglo-American history. The earliest settlers of British North America had been steeped in culture intolerant of Catholics. By the 1820s, an organized "Protestant Crusade" of "No-Popery" began to appear. Throughout the antebellum era this cry was raised, resulting in fierce anti-Catholic riots, the notorious burning of a convent, and the creation of local political parties dedicated to stemming the tide of Catholic immigration. Dread of a Papal conspiracy to undermine republican America combined with economic fear of wage competition from impoverished Irish workers created a powerful reaction against the massive Irish immigration of the famine years.
The 1850s saw the rise of a national political movement to "war against the immigrant." An "American Party" better known as the "Know Nothings" for its members standard answer to questions about their secret rituals, very nearly became the dominant force in American politics by its appeals to anti-immigrant animus. The Know-Nothings attacked the Irish for their poverty, their religion, their Democratic politics, their intemperance, their criminality, their devotion to the old country, and their attempts to sow discord between the United States and Britain. The political tide of anti-slavery eventually submerged the nativist movements of the 1850s, though anti-Irish attitudes and discrimination hardly ceased with the demise of the national political party that had temporarily embodied them.
The Irish had nearly as much reason to reject the new Republican party as they had the nativist party it supplanted. As staunch Democrats, Irish- Americans would have opposed any party contesting their dominance of American politics, but their opposition to the Republicans rested on an even firmer foundation. They were well aware that most of the nativists and temperance reformers who had earlier attacked them from the American Party had found a new political home among the Republicans. Moreover, the Republicans had dedicated themselves to the liberation of black Americans from slavery, a development that would threaten the precarious foothold the Irish had on the lower rungs of the social ladder.
The Irish hatred of blacks stemmed largely from the intense economic competition between these two groups in America's unskilled labor market. When the famine Irish flooded into America's cities, it was largely black labor that they pushed out. The black leader Frederick Douglass complained in 1855 that "every house sees us elbowed out of some employment, to make room perhaps for some newly arrived immigrants, whose hunger and color are thought to give them special favor." In many cases, however, employers found blacks acceptable, but noted in their ads that "Irishmen need not apply." Society's contempt could not have been made more clear than it was in an ad for household help that sough applicants of "any country or color except Irish." The anger and frustration the Irish felt from experiencing such prejudice was often turned against blacks, and observers remarked that the Irish detested them even more than the English or the American whites who looked down on them from a position of social superiority.
When the secession crisis came, then, the Republican party could hardly expect to gain an enthusiastic following among the Irish for its war to subdue the South. Nevertheless, Irish-Americans in the North staunchly supported the Union at the outbreak of war, and they answered the country's call to arms as readily as any group in society.
There were four main reasons for the surprisingly strong Union sentiment among the Irish. The first reason was the intense American nationalism of the Irish. Many of their leaders, despite having opposed Lincoln and his party before the war, felt compelled to defend the constitutional integrity of the country that had provided them with an asylum from tyranny and persecution at home. The New York Irish-American called on its readers "by the sacred memories of the past, by your remembrance of the succor extended to your suffering brethren, by the future hope of your native land here taking root... to be true to the land of your adoption in this crisis." The Boston Pilot was well aware of the prejudice the Irish had encountered in America and it had resolutely rejected the party of Lincoln in the 1850s, but in 1861 it told its Irish-Catholic readers that they must "Stand by the Union; fight for the Union; die by the Union." The feeling was general that, whatever hardships the Irish had met with in America, they owed a great deal, and allegiance to the government in its hour of need was one way to repay the debt.
A second reason for Irish support focused less on the acknowledgement of a standing debt and more on the expression of future hope. Many Irish felt that participation in the war offered an opportunity to overcome nativist suspicions. They might prove that "although the Celts be hyphenated Americans in name, they were one hundred percent Americans in deed." The Boston Pilot looked toward the day when future generations of Irish-Americans could proudly say that "we too are Americans, and our fathers bled and died to establish this country." They may have been overly optimistic when they believed that Irish valor on the battlefield would erase generations of engrained prejudice, but in 1861, as the government sought to rally every group in society around the flag, anything seemed possible.
Irish hostility to Britain also contributed to their support for the Union. This perspective had several elements. First, the perceived British support for the Confederacy naturally increased Irish support for the North. Second, many believed that the break-up of the Union would only enhance British power in the world and that, in fact, for this reason the British themselves earnestly desired the destruction of their young republican rival. Third, if a war of liberation for Ireland were ever to be launched, America would be its logical base of operations and the Civil War could provide valuable military experience for the men who would obtain Ireland's freedom. One Irish-American poem made the point succinctly: "When concord and peace to this land are restored, and the union's established forever, brave sons of Hibernia, oh, sheathe not the sword, you will then have union to sever."
A final reason for the flood of Irish soldiers into the Union army in 1861 can be found in the hard economic times that accompanied the secession crisis. The dislocation of the economy caused by secession hit the working classes hardest. Unemployed Irish laborers and domestic servants often found enlistment in the Union army to be the only alternative to starvation. Such general economic pressures would ease as the war went on, but economic incentives to enlist, which the government later enhanced with large enlistment bonuses, would always have their greatest Arial on impoverished Northerners like the Irish.
Despite all the reasons for Irish support for the Union, their enthusiasm did not last. By 1863 it became very difficult to recruit new members for Irish regiments and most Irish leaders had turned against the war. By then Washington's purposes had come to include black emancipation, a goal that Irish-Americans could not support with the same zeal they had mustered in defense of the Union. Nor did it appear that the war would enhance opportunities for the liberation of Ireland. What was apparent was that too many Irishmen would never have the chance to fight for Ireland because they had spilled their blood in an American war instead. The Boston Pilot lamented in 1863 that "We did not cause this war, [but] vast numbers of our people have perished in it." It flatly declared that "the Irish spirit for the war is dead!... Our fighters are dead." The New York draft riots of that year brought to a boil the simmering Irish resentment at sacrificing their lives for the advancement of their hated black adversaries. Many Irish- Americans continued to enlist and to fight in the Union army, but neither their numbers nor their spirit matched the early days of the war.
That there was never anything intrinsic about Irish support for the Northern cause is evident from the fact that those who settled in the Southern states had no trouble accepting the logic of that section on the war. In many ways it was probably a more natural position for them. Being fundamentally conservative rural people whose Catholic faith resisted the kind of abstract idealism that motivated the abolitionists, the Irish could readily defend the Southern way of life. There, too, the cult of white supremacy and the institution of slavery ensured that they would never slip to the lowest rung on the social ladder. Finally, they could see the South's attempt to break from the American union as analogous to Ireland's longing to wrest itself free of its British connection.
Nor did the Irish who remained in the old country show any strong allegiance to the Northern cause. In fact, Irish opinion was overwhelmingly against Lincoln's attempt to preserve the Union by force. A basic conservatism, an abhorrence of the bloodshed, a hostility toward Protestant abolitionists, resentment of Northern recruiting efforts in Ireland, and a horror at the idea of Irishmen fighting Irishmen on American battlefields all conspired to turn most inhabitants of Ireland against the war.
One of the few exceptions to this rule was the sympathy for the Union cause felt by some extreme Irish nationalists, though they were clearly more interested in the fate of Ireland than in the young republic across the ocean. They thrilled to the exploits of Irish soldiers in the war, believing that the reputation of all Irishmen benefitted from the courage demonstrated by such units as the Irish Brigade. "It has restored the somewhat tarnished military prestige of our race," declared the Fenian Irish People. "It has restored the Irish people's weakened confidence in the courage of their hearts and the might of their arms." They also had hopes that in tangible ways the war in America might facilitate the liberation of Ireland. A victorious North could supply arms and experienced Irish warriors to throw off the British yoke. Like their countrymen in America, however, the nationalists' hope faded as they watched their best fighters die on American, not Irish, battlefields.4
The Rebel Sons of Erin - 10th
The 10th Tennessee Infantry was organized at Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, in May of 1861, just a few weeks after the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. Adolphus Heiman was Colonel of the regiment. Other regimental officers were:
Randall W. McGavock, Lieutenant Colonel
William Grace, Major
John Handy*, Adjutant, succeeded by LaFayette McConnico*
W. F. Beatty, Sergeant Major
Rev. Father Henry Vincent Brown, Chaplain
Dr. Alfred Voorhies, Surgeon
Dr. Dixon Horton, Assistant Surgeon
John McLaughlin, Quartermaster
Felix Abby, Assistant Commissary Subsistence
* Giles Countians
The 10th Tennessee Infantry Regiment was organized with 10 companies. Company H was organized at Pulaski, Tennessee, composed of men from Giles County. Company officers were:
Lewis T. Waggoner, Captain, succeeded by John Handy
John Handy, First Lieutenant, succeeded by LaFayette McConnico
LaFayette McConnico, Second Lieutenant
_____ McCoy, Brevet Second Lieutenant
In July, 1861, the 10th Tennessee was reported with 720 men armed with flintlock muskets. When accepted into the service of the Confederate States of America, the regiment was reorganized and the Giles County company was designated Company I. This regiment remained at Fort Henry from the time of its organization in May, 1861, perfecting itself in drill and discipline, until the bombardment by Federal forces on February 6, 1862.
The artillery bombardment lasted about four hours.
There was no infantry engagement. Before the white flag of surrender was hoisted, Confederate General Tilghman ordered the infantry forces to withdraw and fall back to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. After wading a number of streams swollen by rain and snow, and being constantly harassed by Federal cavalry, the Confederate infantry reached the presumed safety of Fort Donelson late that night.
The fighting at Fort Donelson started on February 13, 1862, and lasted until the surrender on February 16. The 10th Tennessee fought in Heiman's Brigade, composed of the 10th, 42nd, 48th, and 53rd (Alfred H. Abernathy) Tennessee Infantry Regiments, Maney's Tennessee Battery, and the 27th Alabama Infantry Regiment, totaling about 1600 men.
The 10th Tennessee Infantry suffered severe losses and earned the sobriquet of "The Bloody Tenth." After the surrender of Fort Donelson, the field and staff officers were taken as prisoners of war to Fort Warren. The line officers were taken to Johnson's Island. The noncommissioned officers and privates were taken to Camp Douglas, Illinois. At Camp Douglas they were treated with atrocious barbarity in numerous ways, even to the extent of shooting through the barracks at night, killing and wounding prisoners asleep in their bunks.
The captured Confederates left Camp Douglas in September, 1862, and were taken down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they were exchanged on the 24th of that month. The 10th Tennessee Infantry Regiment was reorganized at Clinton, Mississippi, on October 2, 1862. Colonel Randall W. McGavock succeeded Colonel Heiman as commander of the regiment. (Colonel Heiman died in November, 1862, and Colonel McGavock was killed at Raymond, Mississippi, in May, 1863.)
The Giles County company was reorganized as Company E. About ten days after the reorganization the regiment was ordered to Holly Springs, Mississippi, and placed in the brigade commanded by General John Gregg of Texas. Gregg's Brigade consisted of the 3rd/30th Consolidated, 10th/41st Consolidated, 50th, and 51st Tennessee Infantry Regiments, and the 1st Tennessee Infantry Battalion.
From Holly Springs the brigade was ordered to Water Valley, where they were reviewed by President Davis, thence to Tippah Ford, back to Holly Springs, then to Waterford, Oxford, and Grenada. Near the end of December, 1862, the brigade was ordered to Vicksburg and near there met Sherman's forces and defeated them in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou.
On January 3, 1863, the 10th Tennessee reported 349 effectives and moved with Gregg's Brigade to Port Hudson, Louisiana, where they stayed until May 2, 1863. At Port Hudson they suffered through the bombardment by the Federal fleet. On May 7th, they met the enemy at Jackson, Mississippi, and repulsed them. The 10th Tennessee then marched to Raymond, Mississippi, where, on May 12th, they fought in the Battle of Raymond, suffering 52 casualties, including Colonel McGavock.
After the Battle of Raymond the brigade fell back to Jackson and during the remainder of May and June were on a continuous march, watching the operations of the enemy against Vicksburg. The brigade remained in Mississippi until September, 1863, when it was ordered to join General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee, which it reached on September 17th, just in time to take part in the Battle of Chickamauga. The 10th Tennessee carried 328 men into action at Chickamauga and lost 224 killed and wounded. Among those killed were three Giles Countians - James Kelley, James Mahon and Jeremiah Harrington.
On November 12, 1863, Gregg's Brigade was broken up and the 10th Tennessee was placed in General William B. Bate's Brigade. On December 4th, The 10th Tennessee reported only 69 effectives. By February, 1864, the brigade was known as Tyler's Brigade. What few remained of the 10th Tennessee Infantry fought at Missionary Ridge. They were with General Joseph Johnston during his retreat to Atlanta, fighting at Rocky Face Ridge, Ringgold Gap, Buzzard Roost, Resaca, New Hope Church, Pine Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Decatur, and Jonesboro.
The 10th Tennessee Infantry returned with Confederate General John Bell Hood to Tennessee and fought at Franklin and Nashville, retreated with Hood through Giles County, then went to North Carolina. They participated in the Battle of Bentonville on March 31, 1865. The 10th Tennessee was placed in the 4th Consolidated Tennessee Infantry Regiment composed of the remnants of the 2nd, 3rd, 10th, 15th, 18th, 20th, 26th, 32nd, 37th, and 45th Tennessee Infantry Regiments and the 23rd Tennessee Infantry Battalion.
They were surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865, and paroled on May 1, 1865. There were less than 100 men left in the 10th Tennessee Infantry at the closing scene of the war, and every one of them had been wounded, many numerous times.
Paintings of Irish soldiers in Foreign Service during the U.S. War Between the States are reproduced here with the gracious permission of the artists. They may be purchased directly from the gallery, Allens' Creations (Allens' Creations, Inc. - Frame & Art Gallery - P.O. Box 452 - Clemson, S.C. 29633-0452. 1-864-654-3594 or toll-free in the USA 1-800-669-2731), home of such artists as Brad Schmehl, Don Troiani, Mike Gnatek, Mort Kunstler, Mike Gnatek, D.J. Neary, Rick Reeves, Don Prechtel, Don Stivers, and Dale Gallon. Or, by clicking the individual pictures, you will be taken directly to the page featuring that work of art, available for sale through the gallery online. Click here for their complete listing of Irish Brigade Prints.
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