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.

Irish Immigrants and Slaves

How did the Irish get along with slaves in the South? A very few bought slaves. Maunsel White in Plaquemines Parish, near New Orleans, owned four plantations and some 192 slaves. Frederick Stanton, of Natchez made a good living as a cotton factor. By the time of his death in 1859, he owned 333 slaves across sixteen plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana. For that time period, to be a planter was the height of society. City Directories in England and Ireland listed the gentry and the local nobility. The gentry and nobility held a special place. They were an economic engine in the old world. Similarly, the City Directories in the Southern cities reserved a special section for planters. Planters were the gentry and nobility of the new world.

But, most Irish who owned slaves owned just a few. In Mississippi, merchants P.H. McGraw and P.J. Noonan each owned one slave in 1860. In New Orleans, Dennis Donovan, drayman, owned three slaves, who probably worked as teamsters for him. Fr. Mullon, the hero to Irish in New Orleans, owned two slaves. I previously wrote about Fr. Mullon here.

Buying Slaves as a Kindness

We do not know now the circumstances of Fr. Mullon owning slaves. It may be that he bought slaves as a kindness. Some slaveowners, such as Thomas Jackson, future Civil War general, purchased slaves to help a particular slave remain near his/her family. This author’s ancestors owned one slave in Louisville, while operating a boarding house. Another Irish ancestor owned a slave also while running a boarding house in New Orleans. At least in the Price family, those instances of slave ownership were brief and did not last longer than a few years. Patrick Murphy came to Natchez to work on construction projects. He saved his money and speculated in slaves. He sold one African-American slave, George, for $1,500 on the eve of the Civil War.

Living in Proximity

The more common experience for most Irish was simply living in close proximity to slaves and freedmen. Mobile’s sixth ward housed Irish immigrants and slaves. It was common for slaves to have some measure of relative freedom in the cities. So, the white establishment saw the closeness between Irish and slaves as a concern. City officials responded by passing laws preventing “illicit” trade between free persons, white and back, and slaves. In Vicksburg, in 1859, John “Red Jack” McGuiggan was convicted of selling forged passes to slaves. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The timing, in 1859, probably contributed to the harsh sentence.

Martha Ann Logan of Mobile, was brought to court for having interracial sexual relationship with a slave named David. A local reporter described the offense as “disgusting,” but what would be described in Boston as “goodly and fashionable.” Catherine Harrington was prosecuted for “trafficking” (i..e., selling liquor) with slaves. Kitty Donigan was prosecuted for “harboring a slave.” Irish saloon keepers throughout the South illegally sold liquor to slaves.

Irish Were not Abolitionists

Of course, the over-arching question in the 1850’s was slavery and the fear of abolitionists. Some Southern leaders saw the Irish as potential abolitionists. But, the Irish fear of evangelical Protestants rendered such a possibility unlikely. Too, there were instances of Irish attacking slaves. Employers of workers on the Brunswick canal had to separate the Irish workers form the slaves, to prevent the attacks by the Irish. Patrick Murphy slapped a slave girl in Natchez for alleged insolence. When the white owner told Murphy he could not strike slaves on his property, Murphy packed up his tools and left. On another occasion when a slave owner let a slave sit at the same table as Murphy, the proud Irishman said he was “not one of them to sit at second or nigroes [sic] table.”

P. Kennedy in Virginia insisted slaves were better fed and clothed than the poor Irish farmers. He complained about Yankees who went to Europe to make money, complain about slavery and stir up English ladies. He said it would be better for the Irish laborer if he was half as well-fed and taken care of as the slaves in whom the owner had an interest. Kennedy was saying the slaves was treated better because his owner had invested money in him. Kennedy allowed there were some bad masters. But, he added, there was no comparison to bad landlords in Ireland. Irish landlords would drive out their tenants to the roadside to starve. He believed no one could justly criticize slavery. We might disagree today, but certainly, the state of the Irish tenant farmer was quite bad at the time.

Like most slavery questions of the time, the Irish interaction with slaves was complicated.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 122-125.

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

Union and Confederate Soldiers Were Motivated (Mostly) by Patriotism

Many folks are fussing about why the Confederate soldiers served. As a veteran, I find it hard to believe they would endure sickness, poor equipment and starvation simply for material gain. As harsh as it is to say, slaves represented material possession, an investment. The popular perception among some folks today is that most or all Confederate soldiers served to protect their economy or “way of life.” Surely, protecting economic interests motivated some Southerners. But, how many would endure wearing rags for shoes in winter merely to protect economic investment or a “way of life”?

In For Cause and Comrade, by James McPherson (New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1997), Dr. McPherson looked at the motivations of both the Union and Confederate soldiers. We cannot survey soldiers from 150 years ago. But, Dr. McPherson did the next best thing. He looked at personal letters and diaries of both Union and Confederate soldiers to ask the fundamental question, what motivated them to join, and then to stay in military service during very harsh circumstances.

Dr. McPherson reviewed the personal letters and diaries of some 400 Confederate soldiers. He looked at the contemporary correspondence and diaries of some 647 Union soldiers and 429 Confederate soldiers. In his career, he explains that having looked at perhaps 25,000 such records, he believed this was a representative sample. For Cause, p. viii. Dr. McPherson is a well known Civil War historian.

As a combat veteran I can attest that the willingness to endure hardship and danger is not an easy choice. As Dr. McPherson mentions, once the choice is first made, the typical combat soldier is forced to re-examine his choice at least two more times, once after his first battle and then again when he re-enlists. So, the average Confederate soldier had to choose to risk his life and the lives of his family (because life in a rural society without the men was extremely hard) twice, when he first enlisted and after his first combat. Re-enlisting was not an option for most Southern soldiers. Most Confederate soldiers enlisted for the duration of the war.

According to Dr. McPherson’s study, 57% of Confederate soldiers espoused patriotic sentiment for serving. That is, their service was motivated by a sense of patriotism. For Cause, p. 102. Compare that to 61% of Union soldiers who mentioned a sense of patriotism as motivation for their service. Ibid.

Some 20% of Confederate service members espoused slavery as motivation for their service. For Cause, p. 110. Opinion among Union soldiers changed over time. Through the Spring of 1863, 36% expressed sentiment favoring emancipation as a motive for the war. While, 16% expressed the opposite feeling, that the war should not seek emancipation as an end-state. For Cause and Comrade, p. 123. Dr. McPherson posits that likely, if all soldiers had been polled at the time, about one-half would have favored emancipation as a war aim, while 25% would have opposed and 25% had no opinion. In any event, those sentiments changed in 1863.

In the Northern U.S., the peace Democrats (known as “Copperheads”), started to publicly target the Emancipation Proclamation. That caused some soldiers to express sentiments opposing the Northern peace Democrats. And, soldiers began to see emancipation as another weapon against the Confederacy. The Union soldiers started seeing emancipation as something that caused harm to the Southern cause. For Cause and Comrade, p. 125. Too, some white Union soldiers noticed the obvious, if a Negro soldier could stop a bullet that might otherwise be aimed at white Northerner, then that would be a good thing.

In Rebel Yell, by S.C. Gwynne (New York: Scribner 2014), he describes the motivations of the Confederate soldiers as they fought to “repel the Northern aggressors from their homeland” Rebel Yell, at p. 30 (emphasis in the original). Mr. Gwynne also describes that as the simple motive for Gen. Thomas Jackson when he enlisted in the Virginia militia and later the Confederate army, to repel the Northern aggressor.

Many Southerners fought to avoid enslavement by the North. They believed the North sought to subjugate the South in some way. For Cause, p. 21. Many enlisted to defend their home from the invading Yankees. For Cause, at p. 22.

John Mitchel, the Irish rebel and editor for a time of two Richmond newspapers during the war, insisted the North was seeking to subjugate the South as Great Britain had subjugated Ireland. The Republicans, after all, were the heirs of the remnants of the Know Nothing Party. Most Irish suspected the Republican party of harboring anti-Irish and anti-immigrant sentiment at the time.

On May 18, 1865, one 1LT A.R. Mumford went to the home of my ancestor’s aunt in New Orleans. He went to the John Agar home. John’s wife was Theresa, sister to Anastasia Price. Anastasia was the mother of George Price Crane. Anastasia was married to Martin Creane/Crane and later married Cyrus Chism.

Entertained by the ladies, likely including Anastasia, the lieutenant spoke the words all veterans would like to utter when s/he first returns home, “we could not have received a warmer reception. . . . The New Orleans ladies shall long be remembered for their devoted patriotism.” My great-great-grandfather likely met his future wife that day. The lieutenant on his first day back home did not discuss slavery or economic gains and losses. He discussed patriotism. His thoughts were recorded in his diary, not in some polemic destined for a newspaper. One assumes he spoke his true thoughts to his private diary.

We cannot discount the myth of the “Lost Cause.” Certainly, many Southerners whined about the loss of the Civil war in ways that were not productive. But, just as certain, many soldiers served simply because they saw it as their duty.