Irish Southerners Join the Cause

The Irish in the South flocked to the cause once secession started. In Jackson, Mississippi, Harry McCarthy, a traveling Irish comedian, and excited about Mississippi’s secession, penned three verses of a song soon to be famous as “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Like most Southerners of the time, Mr. McCarthy believed he was witnessing the birth of a new nation. In New Orleans, the Irish chose St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate their heritage and their devotion to the Southern cause. Prominent at “Southern rights meetings,” the New Orleans Irish impressed at least one former Know-Nothing journalist as “true men of the South.”

In Charleston, the well-known Bishop Lynch changed the name of his newspaper from United States Catholic Miscellany to the Charleston Catholic Miscellany to reflect his new loyalty.

In December, 1860, U.S. troops moved during the night to occupy Ft. Sumter. The South Carolina government tried to negotiate the surrender of the fort. Irish militia at nearby Ft. Moultrie were spoiling for a fight. The Charleston newspaper noted the efficiency and energy of the Irish militia company.

In Mobile, the Irish formed a company known as the Emerald Guards. The Mississippi river towns had many Irish immigrants working the docks and digging canals. In Vicksburg, the Irish formed a company known as the “Sarsfield Southrons,” named after the Irish cavalry commander. The Sarsfield Southrons saw similarities between their cause as southerners and as Irishmen. On one side of the company flag was the newly adopted “Stars and Bars” of the Confederacy. On the other side was a wreath of shamrock with the traditional Irish battle cry “Faugh a Ballagh” (clear the way).

The New Orleans Irish joined in droves. They formed the Sixth Louisiana Brigade, which was largely Irish. The Sixth Louisiana became known as the Irish Brigade. Other Irish companies formed in Richmond; Alexandria, Virginia; Nashville; Georgia; East Texas; and all over the Deep South. It is said by David Gleeson that the Southern Irish joined the military in greater percentages than their counterparts in the North. The Irish, Northern and Southern, were about to demonstrate their patriotism in undeniable ways.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 141-143.

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