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.

The Winter of 1862-1863

The Confederate Army was chronically ill-equipped. It was still the second year of the war, yet the soldiers lacked basic necessities. After the Battle of Antietam and the invasion of Pennsylvania, William Monaghan assumed command of the Louisiana Sixth Regiment of Infantry. He was their fourth colonel. The Louisiana Sixth was known as the Irish Brigade, because it had so many Irish members. Out of a nominal strength of 664, by November, 1862, it had decreased to 289 soldiers ready for duty.

Many were barefoot or close to barefoot. They lacked shoes, blankets, coats and other clothing items. The boys, wrote one Louisiana soldier, were “shivering & huvering around their little chunk fires.” One soldier wrote that the entire army was basically shoeless. Capt. Ring, a company commander, wrote in a muster report that the health of his men was excellent, “conduct in the difficult engagements beyond all praise.” But, they were in want of blankets and shoes.

The winter of 1862-1863 in northern Virginia was particularly harsh. The men endured frequent, heavy snow falls. “Snow nearly knee deep, weather wet, cold and disagreeable,” wrote Capt. Michael O’Connor in his February muster report. Capt. O’Connor also complained about the slim rations for the men. Before the war, Capt. O’Connor was a store-keeper in New Orleans. Rations for the prior two weeks included one quarter pound of flour, one-quarter pound of bacon, three ounces of sugar, per man per day. This for men living outdoors and engaging in regular physical exercise. Yet, added the Captain, the men are in good health and in good spirits.

During the winter encampment, the Confederate and Union armies were separated by the Rappahannock River, some 100 yards wide. By mutual agreement, the opposing sentries did not shoot at each other, so long as the two armies remained static. Such was the winter of 1862-1863 in northern Virginia.

James Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers (Iowa: Da Capo Press Press 1998), p. 144-148

 

The Irish Brigade

The New York 69th Regiment is justly famous as part of 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. It is fitting perhaps that the Regiment started in the Olive Branch Coffee House in New Orleans. William Monaghan, a native of Ireland, starting recruiting for an Irish Brigade. He must have had a sense of humor when he selected his first recruiting location. 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 fare from Ireland to the U.S. was cheapest to New Orleans.

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 were form 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.

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.

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 maneuver in warfare, a rearguard action as Union cavalry stuck to their heels. Gen. Taylor would later say about the Irish, “They were steady as clocks and chirpy as crickets, indulging in many a jest whenever the attentions of our friends in the rear slackened.”

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

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

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 again after the Williamite wars of the 1690’s 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 18thcentury, 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. After the Dillons lost their land,  they attained considerable fame in the French military. They contributed over 70 family members to the French army.

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.”

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 had 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 a coffin and buried at once. Most every fellow that was standing 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 regarding the Irish, all that 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 Irish Brigade

The New York 69thRegiment is justly famous as the Irish Brigade. The 69thwas often in the thick of the fighting and suffered horrendous casualties. The South also had its Irish Brigade. The Louisiana 6thRegiment was largely recruited from New Orleans. It is fitting perhaps that the Regiment started in the Olive Branch Coffee House in New Orleans. William Monaghan, a native of Ireland, starting recruiting for an Irish Brigade. He must have had a sense of humor when he selected his first recruiting location. 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 fare from Ireland to the U.S. was cheapest to New Orleans.

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 were form 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.

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.

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 maneuver in warfare, a rearguard action as Union cavalry stuck to their heels. Gen. Taylor would later say about the Irish, “They were steady as clocks and chirpy as crickets, indulging in many a jest whenever the attentions of our friends in the rear slackened.”

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

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