“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.

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