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.

Sources:

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

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

The Beast Butler of the Shenandoah Valley

Benjamin “Beast’ Butler was not the only Union commander who imposed harsh discipline on Southern civilians beneath his boot. Robert Huston Milroy was the Southerner’s worst nightmare. His brand of abolitionism was fanatical. Certainly, today, we can appreciate his zeal for freeing persons who had long been enslaved. Burt, his zeal also marked him as an extremist in his time period. Milroy, raised in Indiana, graduated from Norwich Military Academy in Vermont. The young Robert Milroy’s earnest desire was to attend West Point. But, his farther would not support his goal. Even though the Milroys had for two generations been involved in the military, they had served in volunteer or militia units. Robert’s father may have had an aversion to a professional military. Norwich University still exists today as a military college. [1]

Robert Milroy served in the Mexican war without particular distinction. Although, even at this early stage, he demonstrated a zeal for combat and a strong irreverence toward authority. After the Mexican war, he returned home to Indiana, practiced law, became a judge and became an ardent abolitionist. [2]

“Known” Confederate Sympathizers

In early 1861, Milroy started recruiting a regiment. He was gung-ho for the war from the very start. By 1862, he was serving under Gen. McClellan, In 1862, he was now a Brig-General overseeing the war in West Virginia. In that new state, the Southern partisans were very active. It was a closely divided state. Unable to catch the partisans, Milroy devised a new strategy. Focusing on the “known” Confederate sympathizers. He decided that Union supporters who suffered from the partisan raids would present a bill for the value of lost property. Local commanders would then apply that bill to “known” Confederate supporters in their area. If the Confederate supporter failed to pay, the sympathizer’s house would be burned and the Confederate supporter shot. Thus, one West Virginian had to pay $1,000. Another 82 year old German immigrant – who was crippled and infirm – had to pay $285. Brig-Gen. Milroy’s scheme order produced some $6,000 within just a few months.

So, the Virginia government sent a protest through Gen. Robert Lee to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Halleck found Milroy’s order to violate the rules of war and that Milroy lacked the authority for such measures. Thus began long antagonism between Brig-Gen.Milroy and Halleck. Milroy had little patience for military etiquette or for West Point officers. [3]

Brig.-Gen. Milroy was promoted to Maj.-Gen. and to command of the Second Division, Eighth Army Corps headquartered in Winchester, Virginia. It has been estimated that the town of Winchester changed hands some 70 times during the war. But, for many months in 1863, it was held by one ardent abolitionist, Maj.-Gen. Robert Milroy. The Emancipation Proclamation had just been issued in January, 1863. But, it had not yet been enforced in Winchester. Milroy rectified that oversight immediately. Even on the road to Winchester on Jan. 1, 1863, he would excitedly proclaim to the marching troops that today was “Emancipation Day, when all slaves will be made free.” [4]

Exile

But, like any fanatic, he did more than just enforce this critical Presidential decree. Milroy also ruled the city with an iron fist. As he said to his wife, his will was “absolute law” in Winchester. He required Winchester citizens to swear a loyalty oath if they wished to buy supplies from the Union Army sutlers. They had to swear an oath if they simply needed a pass with which to leave town. He exiled Winchester families for violating his rules. He exiled folks who provided goods or information to Confederate forces. And, he also exiled folks who simply voiced support for the Confederate forces in which their sons, fathers and neighbors served. He exiled folks who wore a ribbon for the deceased Stonewall Jackson in May, 1863. Stonewall was from the nearby town of Lexington and was much mourned throughout the Shenandoah Valley. But, Milroy did not care. He exiled “scores” of families. [5]

In practical terms, exile meant the Union soldiers would transport a Winchester family with little notice in a wagon to some place 20 miles south of town. The family would then be deposited by the side of the road, sometimes in bad weather.

Maj.-Gen. Milroy exiled the Logan family at the corner of Braddock and Picaddilly streets because they harassed a “Jessie Scout” – a Union soldier dressed as a Confederate. But, the Winchester residents say he exiled the Logans mainly because his wife wanted their house. He saw himself as fulfilling the role of an Old Testament prophet ending slavery and he would brook no opposition. [6]

The Rules of War

Serving under Maj.-Gen. Milroy was Brig.-Gen. Gustave P. Cluseret. French-born, Cluseret objected to “fighting for Negroes.” But, he also objected to arresting women. And he believed that it violated the rules of war to refuse to feed prisoners – in which belief he was correct. And, he believed that maintaining some accommodation with the locals would assist in the Federal occupation. Milroy reversed Cluseret’s more accommodating policies. Cluseret would eventually resign. While, at the same time, Milroy was seeking leave to relieve Cluseret. [7]

In June, 1863, one Confederate Corps advanced upon Winchester. Gen. Halleck told Milroy to withdraw. But, Maj.-Gen. Milroy persuaded his superiors that he had built fortifications which would withstand any invasion. Milroy, ever sure of himself, said it was not possible for Lee to have moved so many troops to Winchester in such a short time. But, on June 13, a key defense was seized by Dick Ewell’s troops. And, on June 14, 1863, Milroy finally realized he was virtually surrounded by Gen. Jubal Early. He ordered an evacuation back to Harper’s Ferry. Leaving behind artillery and wagons, they started moving that night. But, his forces were ambushed during the retreat by Confederate forces. The surprise was complete. Milroy, ever brave in combat, rushed to the scene of the worst fighting and held his men together. Still, some 3,300 Union soldiers were captured. His army essentially ceased to exist. [8]

Milroy was relieved of command and arrested. It was not entirely his blunder. He was later found not guilty of malfeasance. And, he even obtained a new command later in the war. But, through that long process, Gen. Halleck for one always viewed him as an inferior officer – starting with those reckless orders in West Virginia.

Notes:

[1] Cary C. Collins, “Grey Eagle: Major General Robert Huston Milroy and the Civil War,” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 90, No. 1 (March 1994), p. 51-52.

[2] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 53-55.

[3] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 60-63.

[4] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 64; Jonathan A. Noyalas, Slavery and Freedom in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War Era (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2021), p. 88.

[5] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 64; Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District website, at https://www.shenandoahatwar.org/robert-milroy, accessed Jan. 8, 2023; National Park Service website at https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/occupied-winchester-1863.htm, accessed Jan. 8, 2023.

[6] Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District website, accessed Jan. 8, 2023.

[7] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 65.

[8] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 66-67.

The Final Goodbye

It was a scene played out all across the Northern and Southern United States during the Civil War: saying goodbye. Clara Solomon wrote a diary during the Civil War from her home in New Orleans. As I have discussed elsewhere, she admired a famous soldier, Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. See that post here. Maj. Wheat was a friend of her parents. Another close friend of the family was Capt. Obed Miller. Miller and Wheat both served in Wheat’s Battalion, known for hard-fighting and for wild conduct between battles. Capt. Miller was wounded in the first Battle of Manassas. In October, 1861, he came home to New Orleans, probably to recover.

From a mutual friend, the seventeen year old had heard that Capt. Miller and his wife were offended that they had seen Clara on the street and Clara ignored them. So, when Capt. Miller came to the Solomon home on Rampart, Clara thought he might be angry with her. But, no, he appeared “astonished” when she mentioned this. He assured her that he and his wife were not upset with the young schoolgirl. She recorded that Obed Miller was as handsome as ever. She often remarked on a person’s looks. He spoke of his impending departure to return to the war. He mentioned they would probably never see one another again. He asked her to sometimes think of him.

The Gift

Clara knew Cap. Miller was coming. She had considered what to give him. Knowing he had lost his little diary book, she consulted with her mother and asked if she could give him her diary book. Diary books were very important to Clara. She regularly exhausted her supply of paper and would yearn for additional paper. For the young Clara, this was no small gift.

Ma said yes. Clara presented the book, and expressed only the wish that he might at times write her name on the book in “sweet remembrance.” The captain thanked her. He said he would forever (emphasis Clara’s) keep it. He asked Clara to tell her sister, Alice that he could not see her that afternoon, but he would return in the evening. After some 45 minutes, he said he had to go.

“Oh . .  I felt so so sad, as I gazed upon him and thought that in all probability we would never meet again (emphasis Clara’s).” She bade her final good bye. As she gazed upon that “proud, manly form, an earnest prayer ascended from my soul that a Yankee bullet would never pierce his noble, generous heart (emphasis Clara’s).” The captain took her hand, “Clara, I have one favor which I wish you to grant. Think of me sometimes with kindness.” She replied, simply, yes.

Capt. Miller released her hand as he said, “God be with you.” In a moment, he was gone. Capt. Miller would later be killed in Virginia in 1863.

When I deployed to Iraq, I did say goodbye to close family friends. I did not do it as well as Capt. Miller. A Southern historian, whose name escapes me, once commented that the soldiers in the Civil War seem to have been so much more gallant than the heroes of WW I or WW II. He suggested that may have been because in the Civil War, especially in the South, the war was so close. The Confederate soldiers went to great lengths to protect the home folks from the dangers and terrors of the war. In truth, the Southern men essentially failed the home folks. They could not protect their homes from the predatory Union soldiers. Perhaps, the best the men could do was to pretend things would work out. And, the women may have pretended in turn that they believed their men.

Source:

Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 217.

“Damn Little Duty England Would 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. Irish long believed its biggest problem was that Parliament was in England and that Ireland lost its own parliament in 1800. 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.

Fanatics

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) responded with a laugh, “It’s damn little duty England would get out of this Irish crowd.”

Source:

Phillip T. Tucker, Irish Confederates (Abilene, Tx: McWhitney Foundation Press 2006), pp. 20-37.

A Rebel Christmas

How did the Rebels celebrate Christmas? They were far from home and were always under-resourced. Sixty years after the war, William A. Day recalled that he and his mates in the 49th North Carolina Infantry Regiment celebrated Christmas in 1862 by rolling dice for a watch. Each man would pay a dollar for a chance on the watch and then roll dice for it. They sat under a large canvas tent near a large camp fire. Two years later in 1864, they were in the trenches outside of Petersburg, Virginia. Normally, they endured a steady hail of bullets from the Yanks. But, on Dec. 25, the lines were quiet. But, food was scarce. Each man received just a small piece of corn bread, a slice of bacon, a spoonful of peas, and the occasional bit of coffee.

In more peaceful times, Southerners in general would celebrate Christmas by attending church services in the morning, with a nice meal later, perhaps some homemade wine, sweet treats and sitting around the hearth telling ghost stories.

Most Rebel soldiers recorded that they spent Christmas Day drinking homemade, pitiful liquor and trying to stay warm. In 1862, the men of the 16th Mississippi Infantry Regiment were searching for liquor on Christmas Eve. They were paying $50 to $100 for liquor described as “bad or worse.”

Eggnog

In the early years of the war, liquor was available. In 1861, the first year of the war, the men of the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment shared eggnog en masse. The boys recalled filling their cups, and singing Christmas songs until sunrise. In 1864, Pvt John W. Joyce of the 21st North Carolina Infantry had just a little coffee and sugar for breakfast on Dec. 25, 1864. For him, in that time, that was a treat.

In Christmas, 1862, the men of the First Louisiana Infantry Regiment, celebrated Christmas with six Masses, celebrated by Fr. Hubert, formerly of the downtown Jesuit Church, and Fr. Sheeran, formerly of St. Alphonsus in the Irish part of the city. The two priests and the men then enjoyed a dinner of beer, pork, turkeys, geese, and spiked eggnog.

On Christmas Day, 1864, James Evans, of the 13th Battalion North Carolina Light Artillery, just got a sip of eggnog. He said it was the only thing to remind him of “gone by days.” Samuel A. Burney, a Georgia in Cobb’s Legion, missed his wife and children. He begged his family in a letter home for a small box of “good things,” including brandy or whiskey. He said he would miss the annual hog killing. But, a package from home would help remind him of better days. By Christmas Day, he had been unable to buy a turkey or improve his mess. He celebrated Christmas with eggnog and whiskey mailed to him by his father. He said the whiskey reminded him “very forcibly” of better Christmases of days past.

The Rebels saw much privation, even more so at Christmas time. Yet, universally, the contemporary muster reports show a soldiery well-motivated and still full of fight.

Sources:

Tracy L. Barnett, “Holiday Toasts and Homesick Rebels,” Civil War Monitor, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Winter 2019), p. 54.

Katherine B. Jeffrey, First Chaplain of the Confederacy (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 2020), p. 59

“Those Dirty, Ragged Rebs”

By 1863, the physical state of the Confederate soldier was poor. Food was scarce. Uniforms were in tatters. It was said at the time that one could tell a Confederate officer because his pants would have only one hole. The Confederate soldier was receiving only one quarter-pound of meat per day. For men engaged daily in hard, strenuous physical exercise, that was precious little protein. Tents and blankets were rare. Capt. Michael O’Connor, commander of Co. F, Sixth Regt. and a resident of New Orleans, said rations for the past two weeks included one-quarter pound of flour, one-quarter pound bacon, three ounces of sugar.  Some troops received sustenance from home. But, the Louisiana Sixth Regiment (aka the “Irish Brigade”) could receive no help from New Orleans. It had been occupied by the Federal forces since April, 1862.

In winter quarters in 1862-183, the Irish Confederates shivered along with the other Confederates. Facing each other across the Rappahannock River, the soldiers from the opposing armies would still engage in trade and banter across the river. One member of the Sixth Regiment hailed from Albany, New York. He recognized voices from across the river and realized old neighbors from Albany. He crossed the river to ask about his aging father and mother. But, once on the Union side, the Federals tried to persuade him to desert. They assured him he need fight no longer. They promised him safe conduct to Albany. They told him of their food and supplies.

But, the Northern Confederate did not appreciate this approach:

“The ragged, half-starved ‘Rebel’ drew himself proudly up, his eyes flashing

and face all aglow with patriotic fervor, and contemptuously spurned the

dishonorable offer. He told his tempters that he had oftentimes braved danger

and death side by side with those dirty, ragged ‘rebs’ over the River, had shared

with them the exposure and sufferings of the march and the privations of the

Camp – was fully aware of the superior condition of the Federal troops. But that

he would not desert his colors for all the gold that the Federal government could command. He declared that he had embarked on what he considered a righteous

cause and if it should be the will of God, he would die fighting for it.”

Later, Col. Seymour, the commander of the Sixth Regiment, explained that this Rebel from Albany was on picket duty along the Rapidan River in the dead of winter with neither blanker nor overcoat to protect him.

Many members of the Sixth Regiment did desert or went AWOL during the ear. But, on this day, a Rebel from Albany, New York did not.

Source:

James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers (Boston: DaCapo Press 1998), pp. 149, 151-152.

“You May Bet Your Life Sor”

After weeks of hard fighting and long marches through the Shenandoah Valley, the men of the Louisiana Sixth Regiment had heard that Federal commander Gen. Shields was in the area. Shields was Irish born and had Irish troops. One of the Sixth Regiment Irishmen remarked, “Them Germans is poor creatures, but Shields’ boys will be after fighting.” The Irishman was referring to a prior battle in which the German soldiers – composed of mostly recent arrived German immigrants – performed very poorly in battle. They ran in the face of strong resistance. The Sixth Regiment soldier was saying that if the Union regiment has Irish soldiers, then they will fight with more determination than the prior Federal regiment.

Confederate Gen. Taylor responded that his boys could match Shields’ soldiers any time. That remark brought a loud assurances from “half a hundred Tipperary throats.” “You may bet your life on that sor,” said one.

Source:

James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers (De Capo Press 1998), p. 42.

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.

Source:

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