“Damn Little Duty England Will Get”

The First Missouri Confederate Brigade had large numbers of Irish soldiers. Missouri had a large population of Irish born numbering about 43,000 in 1860. Fr. John B. Bannon, described as the “fighting chaplain” of the Missouri Brigade, often compared the struggle of the South to the struggle in Ireland against Great Britain. He believed it was a struggle for self-determination or “Home Rule.”

“Home Rule” was a concept well-known in Ireland which for decades believed its biggest problem was that Parliament was in England and that Ireland lost its own parliament in the late 18thcentury. Fr. Bannon believed that Roman Catholicism as it existed in the South was morally superior to the “bankrupt and corrupt morality of northern liberalism and Protestantism.” He noted in a letter to Pres. Jefferson Davis that Catholicism had been the victim of “northern fanaticism.” He believed the Catholic faith held more respect in the Southern cities of Baltimore, St. Louis, and New Orleans than in any city of the northern states.

References to “fanatics” in this context likely meant the Abolitionists, who were often zealous Protestants. These were not Anglican or Episcopal church-goers. The Abolitionists tended to be Anabaptists, Baptists, Quakers and Presbyterians, the newer, less traditional faiths. Fr. Bannon was saying the extremist Protestants were harsher on Catholicism in the North than in the South.

Later in the war, the Missouri Brigade became heavily engaged at the Battle of Franklin. The brigade would suffer 70% casualties at the battle. The young captain, Patrick Canniff, born in Ireland was killed. He was the commander of the Third and Fifth Missouri Infantry (Consolidated). He was 24 years old and a saddle-maker from St. Louis.

As the Missouri Brigade was about to launch its ill-fated, suicidal charge upon the Union fortifications, tension was high. The men had been through many battles this late in the war in 1864. One common soldier quoted the Admiral Horatio Nelson who famously said at the Battle of Trafalgar, “England expects every man to do his duty.” A St. Louis Irishman of the First and Fourth Missouri Infantry (Consolidated) retorted with a laugh, “It’s damn little duty England would get out of this Irish crowd.”

Phillip T. Tucker, Irish Confederates(Abilene, Tx: McWhitney Foundation Press 2006), pp. 20-37.

FOR more information on the Missouri Brigade, visit this website.

The Men Lost the War

The Civil War was unique in American history in one respect. It was the first and so far, the only war in which U.S. citizens (or former U.S. citizens) lost. That point comes home when we consider the experience of New Orleans. The city was lost with very little fight in 1862. New Orleans was not necessarily a hotbed of fire-eaters – the Southerners who sought or encouraged secession. But, the city had its share of patriots. When the Union forces occupied the Crescent City, however, the men could say or do nothing. The women, however, were motivated and offended. Some women were very critical of Southern men and their inability to defend the city. Once the outlying forts, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip fell, there was no more fight. There was no last stand.

It was the women who refused to countenance the presence of federal troops in the City. They would cross the street before having to pass Union officers on the sidewalk. That was no small sacrifice in a time when animal dung proliferated on city streets. Some more genteel women simply stayed home rather than encounter federal troops. The women would deliberately turn their backs to federal officers. Gen. Benjamin Butler would quip that these women “know which end of them looks best.” Within weeks of federal occupation, the war became verbal and emotional. Thus, Gen. Butler issued his infamous General order No. 28, which provided that if a female was rude to a federal soldier, the authorities could assume she was a prostitute and treat her as such. That meant the Federals could approach women they did not know. That was no small thing in a time when decent men did not approach a woman on the street at all unless he knew her from some other context.

Some women, such as Clara Solomon, had day dreams about throwing a rope around “Beast” Butler and all the women of the City dragging him through the streets. Or, having him eat salty food and placing water in front of him just out of reach. This was a silent, but effective war waged largely by women.

The Federal occupiers then arrested several women for offenses ranging from flying secession flags to possession of a federal musket to threatening a federal officer. Gen. Butler took delight in confiscating the flags hand-sewn by the Southern women. The remarkable thing is in that time, women were not allowed to have political opinions. But, now in occupied New Orleans, they could express their views.

These incidents reached a climax of sorts regarding Eugenia Phillips, wife of a former Alabama Congressman. She had evacuated to New Orleans. When a funeral procession passed by her house, she loudly and ostentatiously laughed as the cortege passed by. On June 30, 1862, Gen. Butler said she was trying to incite a riot and ordered her arrest. During an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, her husband could only weakly protest against invectives aimed at his wife. Mrs. Phillips denied her laugh was directed toward the funeral. But, she was arrested and sent to Ship Island.

She lived there in an abandoned railroad car, plagued by mosquitoes, bad water and musty food. And, of course, in July, the temperatures would have been high and the humidity heavy. She managed to send a few letters describing her austere conditions. She became a martyr to Southern patriotism. Hers became a cause celebre in New Orleans. Gen. Butler came to regret his impulse. He ordered her release after two and one-half months. He had been out-maneuvered by this one woman, this time.

One woman requested a pass to visit her ill daughter in another parish. The general refused, saying he had been fooled by prior requests. He added that he could never subdue the rebellious women of the city, but could manage the cowardly men. Gen. Butler likely appreciated his cutting remarks, but it only deepened the wound for the New Orleanians.

Washington eventually removed Benjamin Butler from his post in December, 1862. He had caused too many headaches for Washington. His replacement, Nathaniel Banks, was a better diplomat. Even so, when a group of Confederate officers were moved to be shipped out, several thousand residents jammed the levee docks to see the heroes off. Women carried flowers, waved handkerchiefs and hurrahed for Jeff Davis. The Federals called for troops with bayonets to drive the crowd back. As the crowd backed up two blocks, the women waved their handkerchiefs and parasols at the bayoneted rifles. During the scuffle, some women were injured. The Federals again looked silly.

And, all that helps explain a story a friend told me many years ago in New Orleans. John, a scion of a prominent Jewish family, told me that some of his ancestors were approached at their home by a few Union soldiers on horseback. The soldiers asked for a glass of water. The heat in New Orleans can be unbearable. Yes, said the mistress of the home. As each soldier handed her back the empty glass, the refined lady dashed each glass against the ground, indicating she would never use that glass again. The Confederate men could not make war, but the women could. That the family would maintain that story until it was shared with me in the early 1980’s reflects the anger of the time.

This reality that in the view of some persons, the Southern men did not serve as valiantly as they could have may help explain the universal movement to erect memorials and statues to the Confederate soldier after the war. Among the many motives for those memorials across the South, we must also consider that some women simply wanted to tell their men they believed in them.

Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, ed., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War(New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1992), pp. 139-144.

“Those Dirty, Ragged Rebs”

By 1863, the physical state of the Confederate soldier was poor. Food was scarce. Uniforms were in tatters. It was said at the time that one could tell a Confederate officer because his pants would have only one hole. The Confederate soldier was receiving only one quarter-pound of meat per day. For men engaged daily in hard, strenuous physical exercise, that was precious little protein. Tents and blankets were rare. Capt. Michael O’Connor, commander of Co. F, Sixth Regt. and a resident of New Orleans, said rations for the past two weeks included one-quarter pound of flour, one-quarter pound bacon, three ounces of sugar.  Some troops received sustenance from home. But, the Louisiana Sixth Regiment (aka “Irish Brigade”) could receive no help from New Orleans. It had been occupied by the Federal forces since April, 1862.

In winter quarters in 1862-183, the Irish Confederates shivered along with the other Confederates. Facing each other across the Rappahannock River, the soldiers from the opposing armies would still engage in trade and banter across the river. One member of the Sixth Regiment hailed from Albany, New York. He recognized voices from across the river and realized old neighbors from Albany. He crossed the river to ask about his aging father and mother. But, once on the Union side, the Federals tried to persuade him to desert. They assured him he need fight no longer. They promised him safe conduct to Albany. They told him of their food and supplies.

But, the Northern Confederate did not appreciate this tack.

 “The ragged, half-starved ‘Rebel’ drew himself proudly up, his eyes flashing and face all aglow with patriotic fervor, and contemptuously spurned the dishonorable offer. He told his tempters that he had oftentimes braved danger and death side by side with those dirty, ragged ‘Rebs’ over the River, had shared with them the exposure and sufferings of the march and the privations of the Camp  – was fully aware of the superior condition of the Federal troops. But that he would not desert his colors for all the gold that the Federal government could command. He declared that he had embarked on what he considered a righteous cause and if it should be the will of God, he would die fighting for it.”

Later, Col. Seymour, the commander of the Sixth Regiment, points out, the same Northern Rebel was on picket duty along the Rapidan River in the dead of winter with neither blanker nor overcoat to protect him.

Many members of the Sixth Regiment would desert or go AWOL as the war would go on. But, on this day, a Rebel from Albany, New York would not.

James P. Gannon,Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers(Boston: DaCapo Press 1998), pp. 149, 151-152.

The Irish Immigrants Preferred the Democratic Party

From early on, the Irish immigrants preferred the Democratic Party. For one thing, the Democrats actively courted the Irish vote. Coming from a country like Ireland, where the party in power, the Whig party, barely acknowledged their existence, this was significant. Too, the Democrats talked often about the value of the “common man.” The Democrat rhetoric appealed to the Irish immigrant.

Indeed, the Whig party in England had consciously and deliberately ignored the famine in Ireland. They were content to take little or no action, trusting in the powers of the free market to save the Irish from starvation.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson ran for office. Descended from an Irish immigrant, his campaign apparatus touted his Irish connections. His opponent, John Quincy Adams, was supported by newspapers that frequently described the Irish as “Hessian flies [and] cancer worms.” Those same newspapers attacked the rebels in the Irish 1798 rebellion. And, of course, Adams’ party was the Whig party. In the minds of many immigrants, it was the Whigs in England who “killed” them with the famine. Through the 1840’s the Whigs engaged in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Through the 1830’s and 1840’s in New Orleans, the Democrats reminded the Irish voters that “Whiggery” was the same as nativism. That is, the Whigs were the same as anti-immigration fervor. The Irish immigrants were often reviled in American newspapers.  It is not surprising they would prefer the Democrats throughout the South.

Today, we wonder why the Irish in the South served in the Confederate army and why some Irish immigrants in the North avoided the draft. One significant reason was the aversion and distrust of the Republican party. The Republicans were former Whigs and worse, former members of the American (Know Nothing) party.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 94-96.

The View of One Irishman in the Union Army

So, how was it for Irish immigrants who joined the Union army? It was difficult for some of them to join the Union army because it was ultimately controlled by former members of the Know Nothing party and by Protestants. We get some clues about Irish sentiment from a letter written in 1863. Christopher Byrne was younger brother to one famous Irishman, “Blind” Patrick Byrne, said to have been the last of the great Irish harpers.

Christopher expressed pride in his brother’s fame. He expressed regret that their family was now scattered all over the world. Christopher joined the Union army, but had his regrets. Writing from Minnesota, he described the state of Northern politics. He described the Union leadership as a “Horde of Fanatics” – likely referring to the ardent abolitionists – who would rather “rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.” “When they are not interfering with the rights of foreigners or proscribing Religious Denominations, they are Speech Making in favour of Abolition.” Here, Christopher is clearly referring to what was then overt discrimination against immigrants and especially against Irish Catholic immigrants. Many of the abolitionists were clergy or were otherwise very religious. We forget today how deep was the religious divide throughout the 1800’s. Ardent Protestants must have caused alarm for any Irish Catholic immigrant.

Cristtopher discusses slavery several times in his letter. Yet, he never addresses the morality (or lack thereof) of slavery. Instead, he insists the Northern U.S. had no business in meddling in the business of the South. He adds, writing in 1863, that the North can prevail in the war only if it guarantees the South’s autonomy in the matter of slavery.

He rose to Sergeant by the end of the war. Yet, he admits in the letter he enlisted only because “the excitement of the time and the misrule of the administration has forced me and thousands like me into it.”

He describes the civil war in 1863 as one for which “Magnitude has no parallel on record.” Coming from an Irishman in 1863, that does suggest a great rebellion indeed.

See “Irishman’s Diary about the American Civil War” in the Irish Times, Sept. 6, 2017 here.