Gone With the Wind and the Lost Cause

Today, many folks cast the novel, Gone with the Wind, on the ash heap of Lost Cause literature. But, listen to Rhett Butler, attacking a militia officer at an Atlanta fund-raiser:

All wars are sacred,” he said. To those who have to fight them. . . .  But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles.  . . .  Sometimes the rallying cry is ‘Save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen!’ Sometimes it’s ‘Down with Popery!’ and sometimes ‘Liberty!’ and sometimes ‘Cotton, Slavery and States Rights!’”

GWTW, p. 230. Rhett is saying the Cause was not protection of liberty, but protection of slavery. Some may say well, those are not the true beliefs of the author, Margaret Mitchell. Rhett Butler was the bad guy, after all, sort of.

But, Melanie Hamilton Wilkes was certainly a protagonist. All the white characters were flawed in some way. But, not Melanie.

As Melanie, Scarlett O’Hara and others drive away from the bazaar, Mrs. Merriwether, a pompous battleax, expresses her fury. Butler had insulted all of them and the Confederacy! she exclaimed. Mrs. Merriwether blamed the Hamilton family for encouraging Rhett Butler to socialize with them.

Melanie listened for a time, but then the normally timid Melanie could listen no more. “I will speak to him again,” she said in a low voice. “I will not be rude to him. I will not forbid him the house.” She meant she would continue to allow his visits at the Hamilton home.

She won’t be rude to him, as her hands shook, because he said the same things her husband, then an officer in the Confederate army, was saying. Oh, Melanie allowed, Rhett said those things rudely. He said them at a musicale. But, they were still the same things the man they all respected, Ashley Wilkes, said. To forbid him for what he said, while her husband said the same things, would be unjust.

Melanie was the timid character. Ashley was the dreamy, sometimes unrealistic semi-hero. Margaret Mitchell was making a point. Her point was not the Lost Cause.

Source:

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner 2011), p. 230-231.

July 4 at Vicksburg

For decades, Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate July 4. In 1945, as part of a wave of patriotism washing across the country, they held a “Carnival of the Confederacy.”  That celebration lasted a couple of years. Then in 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Vicksburg on July 4. And still, July 4 remained a subdued holiday in Vicksburg, through the late 1990’s.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. For 47 days, the small city of 5,000 endured the Yankee siege. Although reduced to eating rats and mules, the Confederates believed they could have held out another week. But, Gen. Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, believed Gen. Grant would offer better terms on July 4. Although from the North, Pemberton had sided with the Confederacy during the war. His two younger brothers both served in the Union army. But, the career US Army officer had married a woman from Virginia and had spent much of his career in the south.

The Civilians

The siege was tough on both the Confederates and the Federals. But, it was devastating for the civilians. Much of the town is situated atop hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river. Vicksburg was a thriving river port before the war. See above picture of the busy Vicksburg port. The union army was dug in, in the low lying areas surrounding the town. So, as they were shooting up hill, it was inevitable that the town bore the brunt of shot and shell.

Mary Longborough, a resident of Vicksburg, kept a diary that was later published as My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Her eyewitness accounts attest to many poignant incidents that occurred during the siege of the city:

“One afternoon, amid the rush and explosion of the shells, cries and screams arose—the screams of women amid the shrieks of the falling shells. The servant boy, George…found that a negro man had been buried alive within a cave, he being alone at that time. Workmen were instantly set to deliver him, if possible; but when found, the unfortunate man had evidently been dead some little time. His wife and relations were distressed beyond measure, and filled the air with their cries and groans.”

Unexploded Ordnance

The families pitched tents in the ravines for protection. One family and their Negro servant (to use the contemporary term) pitched a tent a few hundred yards from their house in one such ravine. In the morning, as young Lucy McRae woke, she watched as a spent artillery ball rolled into their tent. She screamed. Her mother shouted to Rice, the negro servant, to take down the tent. The mother, the various children and Rice dashed to a wooden bridge to get back to town. Rice dropped the tent. The mother dropped the basket with their meager provisions. They tried to stayed beneath a dirt embankment. Jumping behind trees, fences, diving into trenches, shells exploding over their heads. The children were crying, the mother praying. They finally approached the Glass Bayou bridge, indicting the edge of town. A mortar shell landed on the far end of the bridge. Mother shouted, “run!” The children all ran to their cave, where they felt safer. Finding their home later, they saw it had been struck several times, but remained intact. A minie ball had creased William’s, the father of Lucy, whiskers while he sat in the hallway of the house, but he was otherwise unhurt. This was day 34 of the siege.

See a picture of the hillside caves here.

Source:

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 193-195.

The Emancipation Proclamation

While in camp, when the men of the Texas Brigade had time to write home, they would ask about the slaves back home. They would ask their family member “to say hello to the Negroes.” If the soldier had a “Negro” with him, he would write home how the enslaved American was doing in camp. Many of the men or their family back home owned some slaves. So, the modern reader might expect some resentment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Pres. Lincoln issued the proclamation in the Spring of 1863, soon after the Battle of Antietam.

In letters of the men and families of the Texas Brigade, they mentioned the Proclamation not much. To the extent they did, it was more about the war possibly ending soon. The men noted to the folks back home that the Union soldiers they talked to were not happy to learn they were now fighting for the “for the freedom of the black.” One soldier wrote home that Indiana and Illinois were considering seceding themselves because of the Proclamation. That belief was probably based on news reports of the time, which were not always accurate. In any event, we now know that no such secession ever happened in those two Northern states.

Union Brig. General John Gibbon recorded in his memoirs that generals in the Union Army were usually picked for command positions based not on military ability, but based on their views of slavery. For much of the Civil War, the Union Army, he recalled decades after the war, preferred persons who viewed slavery favorably. That is probably less a reflection on slavery and more on generals preferring persons with less zealous personalities. Abolitionists tended to be firebrands.

Another Texas Brigade soldier reported to the folks back home in Texas that he had passed through Virginia and had spoken with a group of 60 Federal prisoners. They were not happy to hear about the Proclamation. They said they were still willing to fight for the union, but not for the black man. The Texas soldiers believed the Emancipation Proclamation would help bring the war to a close. One soldier optimistically predicted the war would not last another six months. They believed the western states would rebel at fighting to end slavery. At the time, states west of Pennsylvania were considered “western.” We now know there were some mutinies among Federal units. But, by and large, the Union soldiers fought on.  

What is missing from these letters, whether written by soldiers or by the family, was a concern or resentment about the Proclamation. Either the soldiers did not see the Presidential order as close enough to their daily lives, or more likely, while they cared for blacks on an individual basis, for the black man as a whole, they just did not give him much thought, for good or ill.

Susannah J. Ural, Hood’s Texas Brigade (Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press 2017), pp. 143-144

Allen C. Guelzo, “Meade’s Council of War,” Civil War Monitor, Winter, 2018, p. 75 (citing Gibbon, Personal Recollections of the Civil War (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1928), p. 21-22, 242).

Taking the Oath

Oliver Evans was a small, young man attending law school in New Orleans when the war broke out in 1861. Attending law school was still a new thing in 1861. Oliver was one of the first. His law school friend, E. John Ellis had enlisted. Although, John Ellis was a reluctant secessionist. Ellis came from a slave holding family. The Ellis family generally opposed secession. But, like many Southerners, he enlisted when his state, Louisiana, seceded.

Oliver wanted to join his friend. He felt the pull of patriotism then resounding through New Orleans. Though barely old enough, Oliver joined in 1861, despite the protestations of his father and John Ellis. The young Oliver was small and thin. His friends did not think he could withstand the rigors of soldiering. In December, 1862, Oliver was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Murfreesboro. Oliver could not walk and was left behind when Gen. Bragg retreated. Oliver was taken prisoner and sent to a military hospital in Cincinnati. Oliver’s uncle, Caleb Evans, lived in Cincinnati. Uncle Caleb tried to provide personal medical treatment by his own doctor. But, Uncle Caleb insisted Oliver first take the oath of loyalty to the Union. The young Oliver feared for his honor. He would not take the oath. His wound festered until he was finally exchanged the following Spring.

At the Battle of Chickamauga, Oliver was wounded again, more seriously this time. Ellis looked at his young friend in the field hospital and was overwhelmed by Oliver’s willingness to sacrifice his body for a cause he believed in so deeply. Oliver joined in part to emulate his friend’s service. Now, Oliver was seriously injured. Capt. Ellis left his manservant, an enslaved African-American named Stewart to look after Oliver. A week later, the captain returned. Stewart told him Oliver had died, but he left a packet of letters for Ellis to deliver. The reluctant secessionist would in time become more ardent.

Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the War, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 45-46

Who Were the Montgomery Guards?

I talked about the Montgomery Guards getting ready to deploy in 1861 here. We talked about their first commander, Michael Nolan. But, how about the other Montgomery Guards? Who were they? They did not leave a diary or memoir, that I can find. But, we can glean some clues about these early Irish immigrants to the port city of New Orleans. Many were members before the war began.

Dennis Callahan/Callihan started with the Montgomery Guards from the beginning. He enlisted on April 24,1861, suggesting he was a member prior to the start of the war fever. He started as the First Sergeant. But, by November, 1861, he had been promoted to 2d Lieutenant. He was 31 years old in 1861 and was a clerk before the war. He does not appear in the 1860 census or the 1861 City Directory. As a clerk, he was doing well for an Irish immigrant. But, he still remained invisible in greater New Orleans. Dennis was the Drill Master in camp. That role afforded him extra pay. Doubtless, he developed those drill skills during his militia days.

John Dunlap joined the Montgomery Guards at the outset on April 28, 1861. He left in February, 1862 to join the Confederate Navy. There was one John “Dunlop” in the 11th Ward. That John was 27 years old in 1860 and was born in Ireland. He was a laborer. He owned no real state and claimed the paltry sum of $90 in personal possessions.

James M. McDonald/McDonnell enlisted on April 28, 1861, suggesting he was a probably a member of the Montgomery Guards before the war fever started. James went AWOL in April, 1862 and did not return until he was arrested. He was court martialed. He was released from arrest by Gen. Jackson and lost $30 pay. He died July 28, 1863 at a Richmond hospital due to double pneumonia. His death reflects the reality that in camp, illness was a deadly killer. He started as a private and died as a private.

Most of the service returns use the name “McDonald.” There are several James McDonalds in the New Orleans census for 1860. All of them live within the Third, Second, and Eleventh Ward area. That area was not just the home of the Montgomery Guards. It was also the center of the Irish community. One James McDonald lived in a boarding house and coffee house. It appears his family ran the boarding house and coffee house. This James had no specified occupation, suggesting he helped with the family business. A second James McDonald of military age was a laborer and married. Neither James McDonald claimed any personal estate. In the 1860 census

John R. Maskew was literate. He started as a private and ended up s 1st Lt. by 1865. Then, as now, it was an extraordinary achievement to be commissioned as an officer from the enlisted ranks. 1stLieut. Maskew commanded the Montgomery Guards, now Co. E by the end of the war. He enlisted on April 28, 1861 in New Orleans. He was apparently a member of the Montgomery Guards before the war. He was wounded and captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was retired from active service in March, 1865 due to some unspecified impairment.

No Maskew appears in the 1860 census. But, there is a James Maskey who lives at 177 Tchoupitoulas, which was near the wharves. James Maskey was a track driver, according to the 1861 City Directory. That meant he rode horses in the races. New Orleans had a vibrant horse and mule track. In 1865 John Maskew married Mary Hickey. In the 1868 City Directory, which generally reflects 1867 information, John was Constable for the First Justice Court. He also worked at a coffee house in the same building as the Justice Court. He lived at 197 Magazine, somewhat close to the future Irish Channel neighborhood. John Maskew died in 1867. He was 27 years old. He was said to be a native of Ireland. His widow, Mary Hickey Maskew, 45 years old, died in 1885. She was a native of County Tipperary.

James McClaughery and Andrew M. McClaughery both enlisted in the Montgomery Guards on April 28, 1861. Andrew was enlisted by Capt. Nolan himself. They lived in the Second ward, close to the Armory. Andrew and probably James were enlisted by Capt. Nolan himself, suggesting they were prior embers of the Guards. The 1860 census records James McClaughery as “John,” but that is such an unusual name. It appears the census taker made a mistake. James/John was a tinner or tinsmith. Andrew was a “C.P.” C.P. perhaps represented colporteurs, or seller of books and newspapers. Both McClaugherys were skilled workers Both were born in Ireland.

Andrew was promoted to Sergeant in 1862. He later wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and left in the “hands of the enemy.” Eventually, he was paroled back to a Confederate hospital. Andrew was found to be unqualified for further duty.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Picayune, Oct. 13, 1867, p. 3, obituary available at the New Orleans Public Library (Maskew)

New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 29, 1885, p. 4, obituary available at the New Orleans Public Library (hickey)

1868 Gardner’s New Orleans City Directory

Confederate Service records, available at http://www.fold3

The Emmet Guards Go to War

After the election of Abe Lincoln, expectations of war rose in New Orleans, as in most Southern cities. New Orleans had always had militias, as did most large cities. The Emmet Guards were established in 1850. They were the new Irish militia in the city, after the older and more prestigious Montgomery Guards. I previously wrote about the Emmet Guards here. After Pres. Lincoln levied the states for 75,000 troops in April, 1862, it was clear the U.S. would invade.

The Emmet Guards elected James Nelligan as their captain. Capt. Nelligan was born in Jamaica, apparently as part of the Irish diaspora. The Emmet Guards was a prominent Irish militia unit in New Orleans. Before the war, Mr. Nelligan was a “speculator.” Speculators were merchants who traded goods up and down the Mississippi river. He traded in horses. He also bought and sold horses. Capt. Nelligan had done relatively well for himself, for an Irish immigrant. James Nelligan lived at 482 Carondolet in 1861. He was firmly in the 11th ward. That part of town was heavily Irish and German.

James was the son of David and Ann Nelligan, both natives of Ireland. David was a grocer in the Second Ward, home to many Irish and German immigrants. Theirs was a blended family, Nelligan and Lane. Judging by the birth dates of their children, it appears the Lanes came to New Orleans sometime before 1838. There is no indication when David came to the U.S. In 1850, the David Nelligan family had their own apartment.

David was very active in the city. He was a member and officer in the Jackson Fire Company. David served in the Mexican War and upon his return, he likely helped start the Emmet Guards militia. David and Ann Lane Nelligan were doing better than many Irish immigrants.

James was married to Mary Jane Harris, a native of County Kerry. Before the war, James claimed $2,000 in personal property and none in real estate. He was also doing well, compared to most Irish immigrants.

The Emmet Guards were deployed early in the war. They became Co. D of the First Louisiana Infantry Regiment. They served in the Army of Northern Virginia until the bitter end. Capt. Nelligan became the commander of the 1st Regiment early in the war. He survived the war to return to New Orleans.

After the war, James became port warden for a time. He acquired real estate after the war, and owned two valuable race horses at his death. “Col. Nelligan,” as he was known, generally supported he Republican party during Reconstruction New Orleans. He died in 1871 due to cancer, after a long illness. His wife died two years later. They left no children.

Who were the Sarsfield Guards?

I wrote about the Sarsfield Guards here. They were a newly formed militia, created in New Orleans for the expected war with the United States. Their captain was James O’Hara, a painter. He apparently had a difficult life after the war. The Sarsfield Guards changed their name a few times, finally entering the civil war as the Pelican Guards. With a name like “Sarsfield,” their allegiance to Ireland is apparent. The Guards included many Irish immigrants. Who were those new U.S., now C.S.A. citizens? They did not leave any memoirs or letters. But, we can find some hints about them from public records. Their Confederate States of American service record provides some clues. The rest of the information comes form various sources.

The Pelican Guards were not assigned to a regiment. That was unusual. They were an independent company. That may explain why they were posted to a floating barge at the Battle of Island No. 10 in April,1862. The Confederates lost a quick battle that day The Federals managed to get behind the Confederates and cut them off. As will be seen below, a few of the Pelican Guards evaded capture, but most ended up as Federal prisoners. See more about the Battle of Island No. 10 here. For the Pelican Guards, the real story may be more about what they did after the battle than what they did during the battle.

Peter O’Neil

Peter O’Neil enlisted Oct. 26, 1861 in New Orleans. He was court martialed for assault and battery. He struck a hospital steward. He was sentenced to ten days guard duty. He was also required to walk up and down to the upper deck of their ship for four hours with a placard on his chest and back that said “drunk.” Like the rest of the Pelican Guards (Co. B, apparently not assigned to a regiment) was captured at the Battle of Island No. 10 in Kentucky on April 8, 1862. He managed to escape from his captors. The Pelican Guards were assigned to a barge mounted with artillery guns. It was known as the “floating battery.”

There were two Peter O’Neils before the war, both 31 years old and both living in the Third Ward, close to where Capt. O’Hara likely recruited his company. One Peter O’Neill was married with three children. The married Peter was a laborer who claimed $150 in personal possessions. The mother or aunt of the married Peter lived with the family. The small family lived in their own apartment. The unmarried Peter worked as an “Ostler, “usually spelled as “Hostler” in the U.S. A hostler was a stable groom. The unmarried Peter lived and worked at the Jacob M. French livery located at 98 Dryades. The unmarried Peter O’Neill lived with a dozen other Hostlers, of all nationalities. The Hostler Peter claimed no real estate or personal estate in the 1860 census.

James O’Rourke

James O’Rourke enlisted in New Orleans, but transferred to the 11th La. Regt of Infantry December 31, 1861. There were only two James O’Rourkes in the 1860 census who were of military age. And, only one was near the part of town where Capt. O’Hara raised his company. That James O’Rourke lived in a boarding house in the Third Ward. The boarding house James O’Rourke was a laborer, 22 years old in 1861. He claimed no personal estate and no real estate. The 15 other boarders were also largely Irish. James was one of thousands of nameless, unknown Irish in the largest city on the South.

Patrick McGovern

Patrick McGovern also lived in New Orleans’ Third Ward. Patrick lived at Poydras and Preyer when he enlisted. His service record is also very brief, indicating he did not serve after the capture in 1862. Pat McGovern was 31 in 1861. He lived in the Third Ward. Pat was a cab driver with a wife and two little girls. He was born in Ireland. In New Orleans, the Irish immigrants had largely taken over the cab driving work from the free blacks. Pat had done relatively well compared to other immigrants. He and his family lived in their own apartment and claimed $500 in personal possessions.

R. Downey

R. Downey was a Sergeant in Capt. O’Hara’s company. He enlisted on Oct. 26, 1861, well after the initial war euphoria. Sgt. Downey may have been Robert Downey, a bricklayer before the war, who lived at 211 Common Street. He was born in Ireland in 1835.

James and Thomas Kennedy

One pair brothers or cousins joined the Pelican Guards. James and Thomas Kennedy, living at the corner of Circus (changed to Rampart in 1852) and Girod Streets joined on Oct. 26, 1861. There was a James Kennedy, a screwman, who lived in the First Ward. The 1860 census does not show a brother named Thomas. In the 1861 City Directory, James the screwman was living on Rampart Street in the Third Ward. This James was the only James Kennedy who lived close enough to Capt. O’Hara to have been involved in his company. James, the screwman, was 23 in 1861 and had been born in Ireland. A screwman was considered a skilled trade at the time. It was the screwman’s job to screw down the cotton bales, so the shippers could squeeze as many bales as possible in the cargo hold. That was very desirable blue collar job in 1861. Thomas Kennedy may have been a recent arrival. There is no Thomas Kennedy living close enough to Capt. O’Hara to be involved in the Sarsfield Guards.

            For 90% of the Irish immigrants before 1860, the skilled trades were the top of the food chain. Screwmen, bricklayers and painters represented Irish immigrant success. One or two were laborers, but the rest worked as skilled tradesmen. None of the Sarsfield Guards appear to have continued their service after the battle in April, 1862. Perhaps they had enough. Or, perhaps, the strain of acting as an independent company, with minimal support, dissuaded then from further military service.

Half a Hundred Tipperary Throats

The Union Army had its famed 69th Regiment, all Irish. The South too had its Irish Brigade. The Sixth Louisiana Infantry Regiment was largely Irish. A key component of that Regiment was a company sized unit known as the Louisiana Tigers. They were commanded by the remarkable Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. Traveling from New Orleans to Virginia at the outset of the war, the Tigers and the Fourteenth Louisiana Regiment, mostly Irish, started a riot in Grand Junction, Tennessee. The commander had to shoot seven soldiers, killing them and wounding another nineteen to stop the riot.

I previously wrote about the Sixth Louisiana Regiment here and wrote about Roberdeau Wheat here.

But, in the heat of the action, the Irish always distinguished themselves. Gen. Richard Taylor commanded the Sixth Regiment for some time during the Shenandoah campaign under Stonewall Jackson. Taylor was a former Know-Nothing. In Louisiana, the Know Nothings caused riots that killed a few Irish immigrants. At least initially, Gen. Taylor was skeptical about his Irish charges. But, during the Shenandoah campaign they performed exceedingly well. In that campaign, Gen. Jackson had to march his “foot cavalry” over dozens of miles over several days. The Irish always responded. Even today, Infantry would not be expected to march more than 12-15 miles in one day. During the Valley Campaign, they marched 20 miles in one day and 30 the next.

In May, 1862, the Louisiana Brigade, which included the 6th Regiment, made an exhausting march to Strasbourg, Virginia in the oppressive May heat. Union cavalry pressed them and caused them to panic. The Irish provided a rear guard, which helped restore order. Retreat is one of the most complicated military maneuvers. Even the most experienced units can collapse. But, the Irish then refused to be relieved throughout the night, insisting they would protect the rear. The weather poured that night, dropping hail the size of “hen’s eggs.” Occasional artillery fire would not dissuade them from their duty. They cried out, “We are the boys to see it out!” This loud assurance “from half a hundred Tipperary throats”prompted Gen. Taylor, the former Know-Nothing, to comment years later that ever since, his heart “warmed to an Irishman since that night.”

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 144-145.

The Sarsfield Guards Go to War

In the 1861, there were few Irish heroes more well known than Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan. He lead the Wild Geese into France in 1692. He died in France, after being injured in battle. As he lay dying, he said, “Oh, that this was for Ireland.” See more about Patrick Sarsfield here. He was a great Irish hero.

So, it is not surprising that the Irish in New Orleans named their newly formed militia after the famous Irish general. As the Sarsfield Guards, the company acted with other militia companies in New Orleans to accept the surrender of federal property from Gen. Twiggs on Jan. 10, 1861. This surrender occurred just a couple of weeks before the state seceded. The company reported a strength of 16 men that day on Jan. 10. Their commander was James O’Hara, a resident of the Third Ward. The cream of New Orleans militias accepted the surrender. The Washington Artillery participated. As did the Louisiana Guards, the Orleans Cadets, The Crescent City Rifles, and the Second Company of the Chasseurs-á-Pied. The Sarsfield Guards/Rifles were a working class militia, formed specifically for the coming war. For a new militia, they had found themselves among some high-flying company. I previously talked about the militia tradition in New Orleans here.

James O’Hara

Capt. James O’Hara and his wife, Johanna McCarthy, were married at St. John Baptist Catholic church. St. John Baptist served a working class area, composed of many Irish and German immigrants. James and Johanna were both 31 in 1861. But, James could have been 41, depending on which census is accurate. 41 is much older for a soldier about to embark on a major campaign.

Johanna was born in Ireland. The census says James was born in Maine, but a later census will say he was born in Ireland. James and Johanna had two sons, and two daughters. It appears they were living in a boarding house before the war. In 1860, he was a painter, living at 119 Carondelet. James and Johanna had modest means.

The Sarsfield Guards/Rifles apparently became the “Pelican Guards” before deploying to active combat. In fact, the newspaper accounts of the day use either Sarsfield Guards or Sarsfield Rifles, as if they could not decide on a name. Regardless of the name, they had many Irish members.

As the Pelican Guards, the company was assigned to a floating barge on the Mississippi River. Most were captured at the Battle of Island No. 10 in April, 1862. See more here about the Battle of Island No. 10. Capt. O’Hara made his way back to New Orleans that same month, April. In his service record, he claimed he was “recruiting” a new company in the Crescent City. But, of course, by the end of April, 1862, New Orleans was occupied by Federal troops. Whatever recruiting he might have attempted had to be very discreet. And, generally, recruiting was very public affair, with daily ads in the newspapers.

Back Home

Things did not go well for the O’Haras. After the war, he returned to painting. He died sometime between 1880 and 1904. He may indeed have been 41 when he went to war. In 1904, Johanna applied for a Confederate service pension from the state of Louisiana. The Confederate pensions were small. A person had to be quite poor for those small pensions to hold value. The Southern state governments had little money. They would scrutinize applications for pensions. In her letter, Johanna mentioned that when James returned to New Orleans, some personal enemy reported him to the Federal authorities. He was sent to prison in Florida. But, soon after, he was released.

The Board of Confederate Pensions was not impressed. Capt. O’Hara had twice been released by the Federals. He had surely taken the oath of allegiance to the United States. Johanna insisted, no, James had never taken the oath. Gen. Benjamin Butler had released him from the Florida prison because a friend interceded. The Board believed he could only have remained in New Orleans as a Confederate officer if he had taken the oath of allegiance. The Board did not mention Capt. O’Hara’s claim to be “recruiting.” But, it is exceedingly unlikely he was recruiting. This unnecessary lie may have been too much for them. And, after all, he was just a painter. The two other captains of well-known Irish militias had successful businesses. Even if those two other militia captains were Irish, they were a step above the working class Irish. The Board could have been motivated by simple snobbery.

The Little Sisters of the Poor

The Board turned Johanna down. She was then living at the Little Sisters of the Poor on Prytania street.  In 1910, she was still living with the good sisters. She gave her age as 87, meaning she was actually 37 in 1860. That does suggest Capt. O’Hara went to war at the advanced age of 41. He and his wife had come a long way from that day in January, 1861 when they mingled with the City’s elite. Capt. O’Hara may have brought home some injury which limited his ability to work. We will never know. He was, after all, just another working class Irishman.

Sources:

1861 Gardner’s New Orleans City Directory

Confederate Service records, available at http://www.fold3.com

New Orleans Daily Delta, Jan. 9, 1861, p. 6, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 6, 1861, p. 5, col. 4

New Orleans Daily Crescent, Jan. 15, 1861, p. 1, col. 6

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.