The Irish as Troublesome Troops

The Irish were often seen as good soldiers, but as not the best disciplined soldiers. After the rebellion of the 1640’s ended in defeat for the Irish and then after the Williamite wars of the 1690’s again ended in defeat for the Irish, a great many emigrated to European countries. Many Irish served in the armies of Catholic countries, including Spain, France and Austria. In Spain and in France, these Irish soldiers became known as the “Irish Brigade.” In the 18th century, a regiment generally included about 1,000 soldiers. The regiment was commanded by a colonel. A brigade would include two or more regiments.

Before the wars in the 1600’s, the Dillon family owned tens of thousands of acres in County Meath and Roscommon. The Dillon family attained considerable fame in the French military. But, they were forced out of their country like thousands of other Irish. They contributed over 70 family members to the French army. Serving in the French army, these exiled Irish became known as the “Wild Geese.”

Like many Irish descendants, the cause of Irish freedom was always close to the heart of the Dillons. General Arthur Dillon spoke in 1792 to a meeting in Paris about the enslaved condition of the Irish. He said he hoped the time would come soon when he could devote his sword to the service of his own home, one day. He told the story how King Louis had once complained to him that of all his troops, the Irish gave him the most trouble. Arthur Dillon replied, “the enemy make the same complaint, Your Majesty.”

The Louisiana Sixth Regiment

So, it is perhaps not surprising that in the Louisiana Sixth Regiment, the most Irish of the many Confederate regiments, the new general, Richard Taylor felt it necessary to execute two Irishmen. Two of their comrades had been placed in the stockade. One night, Michael O’Brien and Dennis Corkeran, got drunk and tried to break out their fellow soldiers. Gen. Taylor, even though a new commander, decreed they must be executed. They were the first executions in the Army of Northern Virginia. The regiment was drawn up in a square and all were required to watch. They were shot by a firing squad. Half the members of the firing squad had blanks, so no one would know if they shot killed their comrade. One soldier recorded

“They fired, the two poor men fell down dead. They were picked up

and put in there [sic] coffin and buried at once. Most every fellow that was

standing around cride.”

The punishment struck many as an over-reaction to drunken behavior. One Northern newspaper said the incident showed the prejudice held by Confederate officers toward the Irish-born soldiers. As time would show, whatever bias Gen. Taylor may have held at the outset of the war all changed by the end of the war.


Stephen McGarry, Irish Brigades Abroad, (History Press, Ireland 2013), p. 216

James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers, (DaCapo Press 1998), p. 14-15.

2 thoughts on “The Irish as Troublesome Troops

  1. We generally ascribe the usual behavior of the men to the leadership quality of their NCOs and junior officers — who are responsible for unit discipline. Still, strong drink has been the ruin of many a man. Two Marines at Da Nang decided to borrow an F-4 and attack the enemy at Hanoi. They did manage to get to the end of the runway but soon found themselves surrounded by more than a few pissed-off M.P.s. A court-martial and some brig time settled the matter, but those young men were very close to death that night. It was a while before either of them could enter through the welcoming hatch of the enlisted club — and of course, their combat tours were extended to make up the “bad time.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yea, the presence of alcohol in the ranks all through the U.S. Civil War is amazing to me, a product of the U.S. Army. It was even a regular issue item. It also looks like alcohol was prevalent in most militaries through the 1800’s.


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