Green, Blue and Grey: The Irish in the American Civil War

When we hear of the American Civil War, some of us think of Scarlett O'Hara in her hoops and skirts ruling the roost at Tara. What most Irish people don't realise is that we contributed more than just the name of her plantation in the Deep South of America. Thousands of Irish people left for the New World in the nineteenth century and although their families here may have mourned them as if they were dead, some went on to involve themselves in the conflicts of their new home. Irishmen fought in every important action in the American Civil War, helping to shape the America that we know today. Irish participation is woven into and highlighted in this single account of the Irish during this war, emphasising the role of Irish individuals and units. Irish involvement began when an ethnic Irish unit was called into action during John Brown's abortive attempt to start an anti-slavery uprising in 1859. When the war started the Irish Volunteers was the first unit in South Carolina to volunteer for service. The most famous Irish unit in the Federal army, the Irish Brigade, which included the famous 'Fighting 69th', was formed in 1861. The heroics of this brigade at Antietam, and elsewhere, became an important part of Irish American history. Irishmen fought at Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, sometimes on soil that may have raised corn for famine relief in Ireland. Many Irish made the supreme sacrifice in Union blue and Confederate grey, including Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher from Waterford, Patrick Cleburne from Cork and Colonel Patrick Kelly from Galway: they commanded brigades and units, and earned honours for their bravery. Modern Ireland may be dominated by American culture but modern America owes a lot to those who fought on both sides of the war that pitted brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour.