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.

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]


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.


[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, accessed Jan. 8, 2023; National Park Service website at, 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.


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.


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.”


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

Celebrating St. Stephen’s Day

In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is a national holiday. It falls on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. Officially, it celebrates the martyr St. Stephen. St. Stephen, says tradition, was stoned to death shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is another legend that says Stephen was hiding in a bush as a wren gave away his presence. Still other stories in Ireland say some Irish soldiers were sneaking up on some Viking raiders when a wren betrayed their presence.

In any event, in Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is also known as the day of the wren. On St. Stephen’s Day, a group of young men, dressed to look like birds, would parade around the town a dead wren on a stick. They approach various houses asking for a donation. When they accumulate enough money, they hold a party. This custom dates back hundreds of years, perhaps to pre-Christian times. See Irish Central website here for more information.

Another tradition was holding a fox hunt on the day after Christmas. [1]

The Irish in New Orleans celebrated St. Stephen’s Day the way the Crescent City celebrated most events, they held a fair at the Armory Hall to raise money for the Sisters of Charity Orphanage for young girls.[2] The Irish also held a fair for the building of St. Alphonsus on St. Stephen’s Day.[3] Mass was held on St. Stephen’s Day.[4]


[1] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 27, 1856, p. 1, col. 1

[2] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 25, 1851, p. 2, col. 2; New Orleans Daily True Delta, Dec. 26, 1850, p. 2, col. 2.

[3] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 25, 1856, p. 1, col. 1

[4] The Louisiana Democrat (Alexandria, Louisiana), Dec. 22, 1880, p. 3, col. 2

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.”


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.


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.


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

Retribution for the Rebels

The victors were extreme in their desire to punish the losing side in a protracted civil war. They were determined to seize land from the losers and award it to soldiers who served in the victorious army. One moderate voice, Vincent Gookin, however, cautioned moderation. Total revenge would harm the economy. Mr. Gookin argued that allowances should be made for those who simply followed the leaders and the higher-born who helped start the civil war. No, this was not Reconstruction in the United States. It was the days and months after the end of the rebellion in Ireland that ended in 1653. The Irish Gaelic and old English forces fought for their freedom. They had been oppressed by the English for decades prior to 1641. The uprising started about the same time in several locales throughout Ireland.

There were always tension between the Irish Catholics and the Protestants. But, those tensions rose to fever pitch when the Puritans seized control of the Parliament and executed King Charles I in 1649. Vincent Gookin was a prominent Protestant in Ireland who fled to England during the long war. When the wars ended, he returned to Ireland and preached a more moderate punishment of the Irish Catholics and Old English Catholics. The Puritan radicals wanted to force all the Irish Catholics out of eastern Ireland into Connaught, the western most province. Mr. Gookin lived in Ireland. Most of the Puritans lived in England. The Puritans relied on stereotypes of the worst sort about the Catholics, convinced they were evil marauders.

The Tories

As the wars wound down in Ireland, the Tories fought effectively throughout the island. “Tory” derived from the Irish word, toraigh, meaning to hunt or pursue. Bands of former soldiers roamed the countryside making war generally on the Parliament forces and sometimes on Protestant civilians. The Tories operated in large numbers, regiments of 1500 soldiers or more. Lacking artillery or siege craft, they could not assault large garrisons or towns. But, they were exceedingly effective. The Puritan response to the Tories was often collective punishment. The commanders would order entire populations into specific corralled areas in a county. Anyone (meaning any civilian) found outside of those reservations was to be “taken, slain and destroyed.” Echoing tactics which would be used in the Boer war in the 1890’s, the Puritan commanders would make war on the Catholic civilians.

Or, the Parliament forces would fine the residents of a barony for failing to warn the Protestant commanders about a Tory raid or attack.

A Pass

The Puritan commanders imposed passage requirements. To enter or leave a town required a pass from the local Parliament force commander. During Reconstruction in the United States, Union commanders also imposed similar travel restrictions. The Puritans dictated that anyone found without a pass would be given no quarter. The wars of the 1640’s and 1650’s were vicious and brutal. Both sides committed atrocities. The rules of war were well developed by this time in the Continental wars. But, in Ireland, both sides, especially the Parliament forces disregarded the fundamental principles of a rule based war. Oliver Cromwell to this day is reviled in Ireland for massacring defenseless towns after they surrendered to him.


Drogheda was the first such town he massacred. Cromwell was a skilled colonel of cavalry during the English civil war. By the time he entered the Irish version of the civil war in 1649, he was the trusted, mostly unbeatable army commander of the Puritan forces. He was also a true believer. He was convinced that the Papists, as he referred to the Catholics, were the devil incarnate. In the 1650’s, in the European wars, it was accepted that if a garrison surrendered without an agreement, the defenders could be executed. The decision to execute was up to the local commander. It was also a recognized principle of war that unarmed civilians would not be killed. But, In Ireland, those rules were often ignored. Gen. Cromwell believed he was acting for God when Drogheda surrendered without an agreement. The force defending Drogheda was an Irish Catholic regiment who were fighting in the name of King Charles I. Many of the leaders of the defenders escaped from the town before the Parliament forces could enter. The entire town was not killed. But, hundreds of non-combatant Irish Catholic residents of the town were killed by Cromwell’s men. Numerous Protestant residents were also killed.

A few weeks later, Cromwell did the same thing at Wexford town, killing after the surrender, all the men, women, children of the town “to a very few.” After Drogheda and Wexford, many towns would surrender, but they would always secure an agreement first. But, Gen. Cromwell had made it clear this Irish war would end soon, and it would end bloody. The last royalist army to surrender was in October, 1652 at Limerick city. This was the last “publicly entertained” army in the field. The Tories, however, continued.

The Last Tories

The Tories operated throughout the otherwise Parliament controlled areas near Dublin. The last Tory unit of any size surrendered in October, 1653. Galway town secured an agreement for surrender. But, after the wars had ended the Parliament would disregard that agreement and seize the property held by Catholics, forcing many residents out into the country side. In 1660, when Puritans would lose their power and King Charles II would assume the throne, the English government would still seek retribution on the Tories and all soldiers who operated secretly or not “publicly entertained.”

When Oliver Cromwell left the island in late 1649, much of the hard work had been done. The ”Great Protector” had vanquished the largest armies in the field. And, the bitterness among Irish Catholics ran deep. In 1997, Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, paid a call to the new British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. But, Mr. Ahern stopped in his tracks as he entered the office. He saw a large painting of Oliver Cromwell on the wall of Mr. Cook’s office. The Irish prime minister refused to enter that office while that painting hung on the wall.


That is how most civil wars end. The bitterness and anger ran deep and wide. The United States civil war was different. Yes, the Radical Republicans wanted revenge. They believed the Southern fire-eaters had started the war. As with the Irish civil war, there were Republican moderates who simply wanted to bring the country back together. Andrew Johnson was largely impeached because he advocated a moderate course for Reconstruction. The Irish soldiers on both sides, Union and Confederate, knew their history. They all recalled Oliver Cromwell and his atrocities.

To this day, Oliver Cromwell is easily the most reviled name in Irish history. We are fortunate that our civil war truly did end when the last Confederate army surrendered. Oliver died in 1658. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Soon after his death, the Puritans lost power. Oliver’s body was dug up, tried for treason, and executed, even though he had long been dead. Even in England, many hated the man. For more about Oliver Cromwell from the Irish perspective, see this piece. To us un the U.S., this is ancient history. But, to the Irish Immigrants in the 1850’s, the story of Cromwell and the Tories was very recent history.


Michael O’Siochru, God’s Executioner (London: Bloomsbury House 2008), pp. 1, 195-200, 210-211, 240-241.

“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.


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.