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.

Southern Support for the Irish

Early in the Famine, Southern cities offered aid to the starving Irish. Natchez, Mississippi, a busy river port, had a thriving Irish population. The Natchez Mississippi Free Trader first reported on the Famine on Feb. 17, 1847. The newspaper called on its readers to provide aid for the “starving Irish.” Natchez citizens met on Feb. 20 at the Mansion House hotel and agreed to set up a committee to collect money. Leading citizens proclaimed that the free land of America was watered by the blood of Ireland’s sons. One Samuel Cartwright denied the Irish were against “our Southern institutions” (i.e., slavery). He called on the city to contribute, so as to pay a debt owed to Ireland. A local planter, John B. Nevitt, agreed.

Within a few weeks, what had been a Natchez committee became a regional committee across several counties. By March 17, the committee had raised $1,300 for the Irish. That amount included several donations by Protestant churches.

The folks in Jackson, Mississippi followed soon after with their own collection efforts. They raised $444.50 which they sent to New Orleans. The Jackson committee expected another $100 within a week from Vicksburg and Woodville.

Sergeant S. Prentis, a leading politician in Mississippi and a Whig, took up the cause. In New Orleans, the “Whig Orator of the Old South” made one of his greatest speeches in calling on Americans to aid the Emerald Isle.

This support would continue until the Famine Irish started arriving on America’s shores. At that point, the worst stereotypes of the Irish began to predominate.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 102- 104.

Irish Forming Social Groups

How did the early Irish immigrant share his ethnic identity? The earliest Irish immigrants came in the 1820’s and 1830’s. They were generally more prosperous than the famine immigrants. Many were refugees from the 1798 rebellion. From early on, the Irish in the Old South celebrated both their Irish identify and St. Patrick’s Day. In Charleston, the Irish formed the Charleston Hibernian Society. The members met every fourth Thursday for “sentiment, song and supper.” Reflecting an ecumenical approach, they rotated the presidency with a Protestant president one year and a Catholic president the next year. In 1833, the Society toasted both to the king’s health as well as and the death of the Irish patriot, Robert Emmet. By 1841, the Charleston Hibernian Society had built a magnificent “Hibernia Hall” on Meeting Street.

In 1831, the Louisville Irish met and toasted St. Patrick’s Day. The toasts of James Price, Clement Kennedy and others were published in the Louisville Courier.

In New Orleans and Savannah, the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations grew larger each year. The Catholics and Protestants joined in the same celebrations. In 1824, the Savannah Hibernian Society followed a requiem Mass with a parade to the City Hotel lead by Father Robert Browne and the pastors of the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches. At four p.m., the mayor of the city, along with the Spanish and British consuls awarded Charleston Bishop John England, an Irish native, with honorary membership. Then the crowd retired for dinner and watched the unveiling of a “transparency:” a female figure clothed in green with a wreath of shamrocks, intended to represent the “genius of Ireland.” Then came tunes and toasts honoring Ireland, Georgia and the United States.

The Natchez Hibernian Society had its annual celebration in a local hotel. The members enjoyed an evening of “song, sentiment, wit, and sociability.” Some less prosperous laborers collected near the market house on St. Patrick’s Day and enjoyed liquid refreshment. The became inebriated and fought any passerby. The local sheriff came and arrested two or three of the miscreants.

The more well-off Irish formed the Hibernian societies. These societies charged dues that tended to deter the laborers from joining. But, the middle class Irish set a different sort of example and encouraged the working class to avoid trouble.

Louisville Courier, March 21, 2831, p. 2

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 60-63.

A New Congressman Castigated Anti-Immigration Forces

In 1861, the Democratic party had wide support across the South. Even today, some people believe erroneously that the Democratic party alone supported slavery. But, certainly, the Democrats largely supported the extension of slavery. Yet, the Democrats also generally embraced the Irish and German immigrants in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In the decades prior to the Civil War, the German and especially the Irish immigrants were seen as repugnant by many native Anglo Americans. A young Congressman, Jefferson Davis, was friends with prominent Irish immigrants in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His plantation was near Vicksburg.

The future president of the Confederate States of America earned a measure of fame among immigrants everywhere when he attacked the nativist members of Congress and their attempt to restrict immigration. As a freshman Representative in 1844-1845, he castigated the nativist members for their “sordid character [and] their arrogant assumption.” Those nativists were invariably Whigs – the future Republicans. He argued that instead of restricting immigration, Congress should make becoming a citizen easier. It was one of the ironies of American history that a well-known supporter of immigrants was also a large slave owner.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 102.

Irish Immigrants in New Orleans

How many Irish immigrants were there in the South before the war? Precise figures are elusive. But, there are hints. The Irish were generally referred in the immigration records as having come from Great Britain. Arrivals generally peaked in the Spring or Fall, so as to avoid the Summer heat.  In the last quarter of 1845, there were 813 arrivals from Great Britain in the port of New Orleans. In late 1846, there were 1,519 arrivals from Britain in New Orleans. In the last quarter of 1847, known as “Black ‘47” – the worst year of the famine in Ireland, there were 3,621 arrivals from Great Britain. During the normally slow summer time, there were 5,856 arrivals from Great Britain in New Orleans.

In 1849, there were 7,272 passengers disembarking at New Orleans. By 1850, New Orleans was second only to New York for Irish arrivals.

In the 1840’s, Liverpool was the center of the cotton trade in Europe. On the return trip to America, the cotton ships would bring immigrants. The cheapest fare to the US was to New Orleans. So, it is not surprising that by 1850, there were some 24,000 Irish immigrants in Louisiana and some 28,000 by 1860. New Orleans had some 116,000 people in 1850 and 168,000 in 1860.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 26-27

Some Irish Immigrants Tolerated Slavery

So, what did the Irish immigrants to the Southern U.S. think about slavery? We know from numerous sources that many Irish laborers saw themselves as competing against slaves and free African-Americans. Most immigrants were not “fire-eaters” – that is, they were not ardent secessionists. Some wealthier Irish did purchase slaves. This author’s own Irish immigrant ancestor owned a slave for a few years. Even the well-respected Father Mullon in New Orleans owned two slaves. Father Mullon was pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in New Orleans and helped face down the Know Nothings. He was said to be a friend to Jews and Protestants in a time when that was a rare quality.

Some immigrants wrote home about slavery. At about the same time that the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, was publicly criticizing the “peculiar institution,” Irish in the Southern U.S. were distancing themselves him. Maria McLaughlin wrote to her Irish brother in Savannah, Georgia criticizing him for questioning Daniel O’Connell’s right to criticize slavery. Maria believed the Great Liberator was right to question the “enemies of liberty.” But, her brother worked as a clerk for men involved in the slave and cotton business.

William McElderry and his brother, Robert, Irish immigrants and now living in the South defended their new home against criticisms by their sister back In Ireland. They insisted the black slaves were contented. William added that the slaves were well dressed and often have money of their own. William said he had seen some slaves who had been whipped, but, he assured his sister, they “deserved it.”

Moses Paul, also writing home to his sister in Ireland, took offense at his sister’s charge that they were “savages” for owning slaves. Mr. Paul admitted many Southerners owned slaves, so they could earn money. But, he insisted the slaves were contented and lived better than the poor back in Ireland. He did point out that unlike the Irish landlord, no slave owner would ever deliberately starve his slaves.

Dennis Corcoran, a New Orleans newspaper man, wrote Daniel O’Connell on behalf of the New Orleans Repeal Association that any attempt to subvert slavery now, as the abolitionists contemplate, would start a civil war. Mr. Corcoran argued that Mr. O’Connell’s advocacy against slavery was hurting the Irish immigrants. He pointed out that the Louisiana Native American Association (a society that advocated more stringent requirements for naturalization and which opposed immigrants) used O’Connell’s advocacy to attack all New Orleans Irish immigrants. The newspaperman pointed out that the slave-owning Southerners had accepted Irish immigrants and that acceptance should not be jeopardized.

Daniel O’Connell accepted funds from the Southern Repeal Associations. But, many Irish in the South abandoned O’Connell’s Repeal Association because of his opposition to slavery. The Charleston Repeal Association closed due to O’Connell’s advocacy.

It is ironic that the Irish, often accused of being racially inferior, would themselves see the black man as racially inferior. But, such was the tenor of the times.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of N.C. Press 2001), pp. 121, 122, 126, 129, 130

The Know Nothing Party Represented the Worst of Protestantism for the Irish Immigrant

The Know Nothing movement was a major concern for the Irish immigrant in 1850’s America. That party combined the worst of the Irish experience with the Protestant faith. In 1850’s America, a large percentage of the immigrant population came to the United States within the prior 10 years. This population was scarred deeply by the Famine. These were early PTSD victims. They had seen hundreds of their neighbors, family and friends die a slow death due to starvation. In the midst of the greatest social calamity in Europe at the time, many landlords made it worse. Some of the English and Anglo-Irish landlords offered help, but only if the Irish Catholic would convert. After two centuries of religion based warfare and discrimination, that request resonated deeply with the Irish Catholics.

Since the 1690’s, the Irish parliament and the English and Anglo-Irish landlords had tried to curtail Catholics. The parliament issued new laws every few years restricting the Catholic faith. The Penal laws, as they are known, affected everything from the quality of a horse a Catholic could own to whether a Catholic could own land. Forget he right to vote. The Parliament issued bounties for priests and bishops. Mass was held in secret. Families were beaten and tied to trees and left to die if they refused to disclose the location of outdoor, secretive Masses. Even today, one can find throughout the countryside “Mass rocks” or hills where Mass was said outdoors in secret locations during the Penal times. The experience of the 1700’s when the Catholic faith was largely outlawed, endures to this day. See Cromwellian Settlement by John Prendergast here.

During the Penal times, if an English man took cattle from an Irish man, or if an English man beat the daughter of an Irish man, the Irish man could not seek remedy in court. He had no remedy. Britian’s overarching political goal was to eventually take land and property from every Irish person and give it to an English or Anglo-Irish person.

The Penal laws started after William of Orange defeated the Jacobite forces in 1691. The Penal laws followed just a few decades after the Cromwellian settlement of the 1650’s. Cromwell had defeated the Irish rebels in 1649. The “New Model Army” was a Puritan army. Oliver Cromwell was Puritan. The government that enforced the settlement of the 1650’s was Puritan. The Puritans hated Roman Catholicism. The Puritans were convinced that Catholics represented the devil incarnate. With the Cromwellian settlement of the 1650’s, many of the leading Catholic Irish families were forced to leave the country and were deprived of their land. The suffering was great and relentless. The Puritans showed little mercy.

So, it is not surprise that upon encountering the Know Nothing movement of the 1850’s. many Irish in the U.S. expected the worst. It was as if the Puritans of the 1650’s and the landlords of the 1840’s had combined into one relentless political party. As one émigré wrote back home to Ireland, if the nativist feeling continued as it was, “an Irishman will not get to live in this country.” By staying in Ireland, he warned, people would at least “be protected from murderers.” That is a strong statement from an immigrant. It was rare indeed for an immigrant to the U.S. to write back home and warn others not to follow him. So, it is not surprising that in 1861, the Irish immigrant will view the former Know Nothings, now Republicans with some suspicion.

David Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of N.C. Press 2001), p. 108.

Irish Immigrants Supported the Democrats

Throughout the 1840’s and 1850’s, the Irish immigrants in the South (and North) supported the Democratic party. The support was almost universal. Emblematic of that support was the newspaper editor, Doctor James Hagan of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Dr. Hagan was from Ireland and he fully embraced the anti-Whig fervor of the Democratic party. In an age when newspaper editors often used over-the-top language, Hagan stood out for his personal attacks on Whigs. He believed Whigism represented anti-nativism. Certainly, many Whig politicians of the day were opposed to immigrants.

Hagan and John C. Calhoun, the famous slavery senator, founded the Vicksburg Sentinel newspaper. In person, Hagan was mannerly and friendly. But, with a pen in his hand, his rhetoric was bitter toward the Whigs. One of the Democratic issues of the day in the 1840’s was a national bank. Democrats opposed the creation of a national bank. In Mississippi, the governor, Alexander McNutt withdrew the charter for the Union bank of Mississippi, due to corruption. For years, the issue raged regarding whether to pay on the bank’s bonds. McNutt opposed payment of the bonds. Dr. Hagan supported him.

In 1841, Hagan approached the editor of the Vicksburg Daily Whig, a Whig newspaper, at a Vicksburg street corner. Edmund Flagg was the editor of the Daily Whig. Flagg believed Hagan was armed and intended to kill him. The Irish editor denied the accusation, but took offense. He challenged Flagg to a duel. Hagan wounded Flagg in the ensuing duel. He wrote soon afterward that, “you should feel little compunction in visiting on the head of the degraded puppy the utmost of our wrath.” Mr. Hagan felt no sympathy for his wounded foe.

A year later, Dr. Hagan went after another well-known Whig politician, Seargeant S. Prentiss, a nationally renowned orator from Mississippi. He described the Whig politico as a “blackguard,” a “rowdy,” and as a “cowardly braggart.” The new Democratic governor in Mississippi, Tilghman Tucker, then almost got into a duel with Prentiss when Prentiss refused to disassociate himself from Hagan’s remarks.

Mr. Hagan regularly attacked the Whigs for holding nativist views. He encouraged immigrants to become naturalized as soon as possible. During the nineteenth century, immigrants to the U.S. were not required to become citizens. In time, his invective caught up with the fiery Irish immigrant. The son of one of his victims, D.W. Adams, physically attacked Dr. Hagan on a Vicksburg street in 1843. They wrestled. Hagan had the young man by the throat. Adams drew his pistol and shot the editor. Hagan died instantly. Tried later, the young Adams was acquitted. The Vicksburg community collected money to erect a monument in Hagan’s honor. But, there is no record of the monument ever being built.

Both parties, the Whigs and the Democrats supported slavery in varying degrees. The Whig party would fold quickly in 1854, to be replaced by the new American (Know Nothing) party. And, still, both parties would support slavery in varying degrees. The Democratic party was supported throughout the South, up to and including 1861. The working man did generally support the Democrats. While the planter class universally supported the Whigs all across the South.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), pp. 97-98.

 

There is No Sunday Here

So, what did the Irish think when they first arrived in the American South? Many were appalled that the American Catholics did not keep the Sabbath, at least not the way it was observed back home. One Irish immigrant wrote home that “there is no Sunday here.” He acknowledged that the churches were open and held Mass, but also open for business was the circus, the theater, the cockpits and the gaming houses. He added that more business was conducted on Sunday than on any other day.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 82.

 

Rep. Davis Castigates Anti-Immigrant Fervor

In 1861, the Democratic party had wide support across the South. Even today, some people believe erroneously that the Democratic party alone supported slavery. But, certainly, the Democrats largely supported the extension of slavery. Yet, The Democrats also generally embraced the Irish and German immigrants in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In the decades of the ante-bellum era, the German and especially the Irish immigrants were seen as repugnant by many native Anglo Americans. A young Congressman, Jefferson Davis, was friends with prominent Irish immigrants in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His plantation was near Vicksburg.

The future president of the Confederate States of America earned a measure of fame among immigrants everywhere when he attacked the nativist members of Congress and their attempt to restrict immigration. As a freshman Representative in 1844-1845, he castigated the nativist members for their “sordid character [and] their arrogant assumption.” He argued that instead of restricting immigration, Congress should make becoming a citizen easier. It was one of the ironies of American history that a well-known supporter of immigrants was also a large slave owner. No one said ante-bellum politics were simple.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 102.