One Irish Union Soldiers’ View

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 Protestants. We find 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.

A Horde of Fanatics

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. The abolitionists often based their views on religion. Of course, now we know the abolitionists chose the moral side of the issue. But, it appears the abolitionists also reminded at least one Irish immigrant of the evangelical Protestants in Ireland.

Cristtopher discusses slavery several times in the letter. Yet, he never addresses the morality 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.

Who Were those Crazy Rebs?

We think of the Confederates as being rebels. It is trendy these days to consign them all as “traitors.”  Well, yes and no. Many of those Confederates truly believed they were part of a second American revolution. In fact, many confederates were direct descendants of Revolutionary heroes and patriots. Clyde Wilson at the Abbeville Institute has compiled a list of such descendants. Here is a brief list:

CSA President Jefferson Davis: son of a soldier in the American Revolution

Vice President Alexander H. Stephens: grandson of a soldier in the Revolution.

Gen. Robert E. Lee: son of a cavalry general, “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, in the Revolution and the nephew of two signers of the Declaration of Independence. His wife was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Robert’s father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis was the adopted son of George Washington.

Brig.-Gen. and Secretary of War George W. Randolph: grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

Gen. James E. Slaughter: grand-nephew of James Madison.

Lt.-Gen. Leonidas Polk: his father was a Revolutionary colonel as was his maternal grandfather.

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston: son of a Revolutionary army colonel

Brig.-Gen. Hugh W. Mercer: grandson of Revolutionary Gen. Hugh Mercer

Patrick Henry: he had at least two grandsons and many other relatives in the Confederate Army.

Gen. David E. Twiggs was son of John Twiggs, a General in the Georgia militia during the American Revolution. A great-grandson of John Twiggs was Marine Corps Gen. John Twiggs Myers, holder of the Marine Corps Brevet Medal.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Huger’s grandfather was a Revolutionary officer and a friend of Lafayette.

Lt.-Gen. Richard Taylor was the son of former President Zachary Taylor and the grandson of a Revolutionary officer.

Lt.-Gen. Richard H. Anderson was the grandson of a Revolutionary officer.

Maj.-Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw was the grandson of a Revolutionary officer.

Lt.-Gen. Wade Hampton’s grandfather was a colonel in the Revolution and a general in the War of 1812.

See Abbeville Institute for Dr. Wilson’s complete list here.

Other names include:

Thomas Garland Jefferson was a great-nephew of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration. Thomas Garland Jefferson was a VMI cadet when the cadets were called on to support Confederate forces at the Battle on New Market on May 15, 1864. Thomas Garland Jefferson  was shot in the lungs and died three days later.

The Louisiana Sixth Regiment

The New York 69th Regiment is justly famous as the Irish Brigade. The 69th was often in the thick of the fighting and suffered horrendous casualties. The South also had its Irish Brigade. The Louisiana 6th Regiment was largely recruited from New Orleans. One of its recruiting centers was the Olive Branch Coffee House in New Orleans. Coffee houses in the ante-bellum days sold everything but coffee. But, they were places where business was often contracted. William Monaghan, a native of Ireland,  conducted his recruiting for his company at the Olive Branch. He must have had a sense of humor. Mr. Monaghan was a notary in a city in which notaries drafted contracts and legal instruments. He was much better educated than the Famine Irish. Prior to the Civil War, New Orleans had by far the greatest number of Irish immigrants in the South. The New Orleans port was then the second largest in the country. The New Orleans port was then the second largest in the country. The fare from Ireland to the U.S. cost less for New Orleans than the Northern U.S. cities.

The Sixth Brigade was not completely Irish, but Irish constituted the largest number of enlistments by far. Of the ten companies in the Regiment, seven originated in New Orleans. The first colonel of the Regiment was Isaac G. Seymour, a newspaper publisher and Ivy League graduate. He was originally from Connecticut. He opposed secession. But, when war looked likely, he stepped forward to do his duty. The Crescent City had many “immigrants” from states north of Virginia. The booming economy had attracted many “Yankee traders” during the two decades before the war.

A Know Nothing Commander

The Louisiana Brigade was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia. It included three regiments including the Sixth Regiment. Within weeks, Richard Taylor was assigned as the general of the Louisiana Brigade. Son of the former president, Zachary Taylor, Richard was a prominent sugar planter in Louisiana and a former member of the Know Nothing Party. Officially named the American Party, the Know Nothings seemingly grew overnight when the Whig party collapsed in the early 1850’s. The Know Nothing party quickly filled the gap with a virulent anti-immigrant fervor. The Know Nothings killed two Irishmen in New Orleans in 1854. Two years later, they brought in thugs from distant locales into New Orleans to suppress the Irish vote. They opposed all immigrants, but especially the Irish. There is no known evidence that Richard Taylor did not care for Irish, but he was active in the American party. That does suggest he agreed with the anti-immigrant fervor.

In December, 1861, Gen. Taylor executed two Irish soldiers, despite the plea of their commander. Executions were not unknown in either Army during the war, but they were not common either. These were the first executions in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was making an example of these two Irishmen and he said as much.

“Devil Thank ‘Em for That Same”

In May, 1862, the Louisiana Brigade was assigned to Gen. Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah River Valley. The Brigade did very well during the campaign, distinguishing themselves with a brilliant charge during the first Battle of Winchester. Gen. Jackson told Taylor his men had done very well. During the Valley Campaign, Stonewall Jackson was famously surrounded by three different Union armies. He succeeded only by ruthlessly marching his men far beyond the level of endurance for any sane man. In one long night march, so black that owls could not see their way, Gen. Taylor was marching with a smaller contingent of the Sixth Regiment. He was impressed with the tenacity of the Irish soldiers who never faltered, who often had to wheel around and fire at their Union antagonizers. The Irish and Taylor were executing one of the most difficult maneuvers in warfare, a rearguard action as Union cavalry stuck to their heels. Gen. Taylor would later say about the Irish, “They were steady as clocks and chirpy as crickets, indulging in many a jest whenever the attentions of our friends in the rear slackened.”

The Irish themselves would say about the long rearguard action that night, “It was a fine night intirely for diversion.” The Federals would gallop up, discharge their muskets at the fleeing Irish, whereupon, wrote Taylor years later, the Irishmen answered, “Devil thank ‘em for that same.” Gen. Taylor would write in his book years later that his heart warmed to an Irishman ever since that night.


James P. Gammon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers (DeCapo Press 1998), p. IX, 41


It was one of those incidents that must have occurred many times in a slave society. At a “slave mart” on Conti Street in New Orleans, there appeared a little girl, apparently very much white. Imagine the horror in such a stratified slave society like New Orleans. She was said to be the “property” of one Bievenute Duran, a Spaniard. He had lived in the First Municipality (roughly comparable to the area known today as the French Quarter), and had fallen on hard times. Mr. Duran then moved to the working class Third Municipality. Duran ran a small grocery store. At his death, his only assets were his slaves, including one little girl named Madeline, perhaps nine years old. She was crying as she was paraded with the other Duran slaves.

J.C. Prendergast, the Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian, noted that it was poor practice to exhibit slaves on the open street. Prendergast found it “unsightly.” (Duh) But, his larger concern was the apparent white girl being sold as a slave. Such an incident tended to upend their social mores regarding the institution of slavery. A citizen known for his benevolence, Mr. Charles Lovenskiold, took in the little girl. Free men of color (meaning free African-Americans) raised almost $200 to purchase the young girl’s freedom. The sale was stopped when it was made known that the little girl likely came from deceased white parents. Charles Lovenskiold lived in the 7th Ward. The New Orleans City Directory does not provide his occupation.  He was an Alderman in one of the three municipalities. And, a Charles Lovenskiold appears later in the 1860 census in Nueces County, Texas working as a lawyer. This Lovenskiold was born in Denmark and had two daughters and one son. Madeline does not appear in that 1860 census record.


In 1849, after the rescue of the girl, Prendergast met with Charles Lovenskiold and Madeline. Madeline appeared to be about nine years old. She had come to Duran with an older Negro woman who died soon after. Madeline had blue gray eyes and very fair skin, said Prendergast.  

Lovenskiold believed the girl had been sold when she was six months old with her purported mother, “a very black old negro.” Prendergast believed Madeline was “Celtic,” meaning Irish. He theorized that her parents had likely died and left her with the old black woman. Slaves at the time had substantial freedom in the city. The older enslaved woman was probably friends or neighbors with Madeline’s parents. Slaves had some freedom in the city. Some slaves could live on their own for various reasons. Prendergast noted that during the bad cholera epidemic of 1839, he had seen many such instances of parents dying and leaving their child with a friend or neighbor. The black woman, postulated Prendergast, likely ministered to the girl’s parents in their last hours.

Certainly, the ante-bellum Southerners generally believed in the efficacy of slavery. They genuinely believed slavery was the only way black Americans could live. But, looking back, we have to wonder how at times like this, an almost-sale of a little white girl, they did not appreciate these inherent problems of a slave society. J.C. Prendergast himself, always ready to point out societal hypocrisies, did not reflect on the system that could lead to such a result. Although, this incident clearly attracted his attention. It was rare for Prendergast, the editor of the Orleanian, to actually visit the site of a news story.


New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 10, 1849, p. 2, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 28, 1851, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 7, 1851, p. 2, col. 2, 4, 5