Confederates in Ireland: Father John Bannon Receives His Orders

A previous post on the site told of the mission given to Lieutenant J.L. Capston by Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin in July 1863. Capston was to travel to Ireland and use legitimate means to counteract the work of Federal agents in the Country. Benjamin’s efforts to halt a perceived flow of Irish immigrants into the Union army did not stop there, however. In September of the same year, with Capston now operating in Queenstown (Cobh) in Co. Cork, Benjamin sent a letter to Irishman Father John B. Bannon, who had been serving as a chaplain with the First Missouri Confederate Brigade.

Department of State, Richmond, September 4, 1863.

Sir: The Secretary of War having relieved you temporarily from service in the army and placed you at the disposal of this Department for the purpose mentioned in our conferences, I now proceed to give you the instructions by which you are to be guided. With this view I copy the following passages of the instructions heretofore given to Lieutenant Capston, who was sent out by this Department in July last on a similar mission to that now confided to you. 

The duty which is proposed to entrust to you is that of a private and confidential agent of this government, for the purpose of proceeding to Ireland, and there using all legitimate means to enlighten the population as to the true nature and character of the contest now waged in this continent, with the view of defeating the attempts made by the agents of the United States to obtain in Ireland recruits for their armies. It is understood that under the guise of assisting needy persons to emigrate, a regular organization has been formed of agents in Ireland who leave untried no method of deceiving the laboring population into emigrating for the ostensible purpose of seeking employment in the United States, but really for recruiting the Federal armies.

The means to be used by you can scarcely be suggested from this side, but they are to be confined to such as are strictly legitimate, honorable, and proper. We rely on truth and justice alone. Throw yourself as much as possible into close communication with the people where the agents of our enemies are at work. Inform them by every means you can devise, of the true purpose of those who seek to induce them to emigrate. Explain to them the nature of the warfare which is carried on here. Picture to them the fate of their unhappy countrymen who have already fallen victims to the arts of the Federals. Relate to them the story of Meagher’s Brigade, its formation and its fate. Explain to them that they will be called on to meet Irishmen in battle, and thus to imbrue their hands in the blood of their own friends, and perhaps kinsmen, in a quarrel which does not concern them, and in which all the feelings of a common humanity should induce them to refuse taking part against us. Contrast the policy of the Federal and Confederate States in former times in their treatment of foreigners, in order to satisfy Irishmen where true sympathy in their favor was found in periods of trial. In the North the Know-Nothing party, based on hatred to foreigners and especially to Catholics, was triumphant in its career. In the South it was crushed, Virginia taking the lead in trampling it under foot. In this war such has been the hatred of the New England Puritans to Irishmen and Catholics, that in several instances the chapels and places of worship of the Irish Catholics have been burnt or shamefully desecrated by the regiments of volunteers from New England. These facts have been published in Northern papers. Take the New York Freeman’s Journal, and you will see shocking details, not coming from Confederate sources, but from the officers of the United States themselves. Lay all these matters fully before the people who are now called on to join these ferocious persecutors in the destruction of this nation, where all religions and all nationalities meet equal justice and protection both from the people and from the laws.

These views may be urged by any proper means you can devise; through the press, by mixing with the people themselves, and by disseminating the facts amongst persons who have influence with the people.

The laws of England must be strictly respected and obeyed by you. While prudence dictates that you should not reveal your agency, nor the purpose for which you go abroad, it is not desired nor expected that you use any dishonest disguise or false pretences. Your mission is, although secret, honorable, and the means employed must be such as this government may fearlessly avow and openly justify, if your conduct should ever be called into question. On this point there must be no room whatever for doubt or cavil.

If, in order fully to carry out the objects of the Government as above expressed, you should deem it advisable to go to Rome for the purpose of obtaining such sanction from the sovereign pontiff as will strengthen your hands and give efficiency to your action, you are at liberty to do so, as well as to invite to your assistance any Catholic prelate from the Northern States known to you to share your convictions of the justice of our cause and of the duty of laboring for its success.

You will, while engaged in the service of this Department , be provided with funds at the rate of £20 sterling per month for your personal expenses. Your passage to and from Europe will be provided at the expense of the Department, and you will receive herewith a letter of introduction to our private agent in London in which, as you perceive, he is instructed to provide at his discretion any small sums that you may need for the disbursement of expenses connected with your mission, such as costs of printing, extra traveling expenses and the like. He will also provide remuneration for your associate from the North, if you can obtain one entirely trustworthy and you find it advisable to secure his aid.

The Department will expect to hear from you on the subject of your duties and to receive a report from you at least once a month, and you can address your communications through the agent above referred to, and by whom they will be forwarded. 

The Department expects much from your zeal, activity, and discretion, and is fully confident that you will justify its anticipations of the good to be effected by your mission. 

You will receive herewith the sum of $1,212.50 in gold, to be applied to the expenses of your voyage and to your salary. You will please send an account to the Department with proper vouchers of the amount spent by you for the voyage to London, and the remaining sum will be retained in payment of your salary till exhausted.

I am very respectfully, etc.,

J.P. Benjamin,

Secretary of State (1)

(1) Official Records Series 2, Volume 3: 893 -895;

References & Further Reading

Official Records Series 2, Volume 3. Proclamations, Appointments, etc. of President Davis; State Department Correspondence with Diplomatic Agents, etc. 

Faherty, William Baranaby S.J. 2002. Exile in Erin: A Confederate Chaplain’s Story: The Life of Father John B. Bannon

Tucker, Phillip Thomas 1992. The Confederacy’s Fighting Chaplain: Father John B. Bannon

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Categories: Intelligence, Roscommon, The Civil War and Ireland

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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2 Comments on “Confederates in Ireland: Father John Bannon Receives His Orders”

  1. May 13, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Hi. It looks like Bannon Capston did not return America. I have just found out that he is probably buried in the family grave at the old Church of Ireland cemetery in Antrim town Co.Antrim. I hope to follow this out.I would assume both Bannon and Capston were probably meeting up in Ireland ?? Any comment via my website would be appreciated.Thanks

    • May 16, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      Hi Michael,

      That is fascinating I would love to know more about Capston- I will drop you a line about it to discuss it further!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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