The Fighting Irish of the North and South
During The American Civil War, Irish Americans fought for the North and South. The legend of the Union's Irish fighting in the Irish Brigade is much better known than the stories of their Confederate cousins on the other side of the battlefield.
While 160,000 Irish fought for the Union, only 20,000 fought for the Confederacy.
Pictured: Union Army Lt. Col. James J. Smith and officers of the 69th New York Infantry, known as the Irish Brigade, pose for a photo during the Civil War.
Thomas Francis Meagher served as the Union's Irish brigade's only commanding general. In the early days of the Civil War, after helping raise regiments of volunteers from all across New York, Meagher was appointed brigadier general and took command of the Irish Brigade on February 5, 1862.
Throughout its service in the Army of the Potomac, the Irish Brigade was often positioned in very dangerous positions in battles such as the battle of Antietem and Fredericksburg where the suffered over 60% causalities. The brigade was slowly reduced in number through the loss of those killed and wounded but continued to distinguish itself. By June, 1864, the brigade had been reduced to that of nearly regimental size. The Union’s Irish brigade was officially disbanded in June, 1864.
While there were a number of Irish regiments, including the ‘Fighting 69th’, in the Union Army, the only Confederate regiment to be formally designated as Irish was the 10th, raised at Nashville, Tennessee, in April 1861. Under the command of Colonel Randall McGavock, an Irish-American, the regiment saw action in the Western theatre, fighting in Mississippi and Tennessee. At the Battle of Raymond, Mississippi, in May 1863, 52 members of the regiment were killed, including Colonel McGavock. His guidon which marked his position on the battlefield is pictured below.
Pictured: Colonel McGavock's Guidon
To learn more about the Irish in the Civil War, check out “Irish Confederates, the Civil War’s forgotten soldiers” by Phillip Tucker and, “The Irish Brigade In The Civil War: The 69th New York and Other Irish Regiments of The Army Of The Potomac” by Joseph Bilby.