Federal Recruitment of Irish Militiamen during the American Civil War

Will Butler is currently undertaking research on the Irish amateur military tradition in the British Army between 1854 and 1945. As he explains below, Will has come across intriguing evidence for the efforts of Federal recruiters to tap into this manpower pool in Ireland, as they sought to augment Union armies during the Civil War. Will is interested in hearing from any of the site’s readers who know of American Civil War veterans who had previous Militia experience in Ireland, in order to help him with his research.

American Civil War Recruitment Poster for The Phoenix Regiment (Civil War Treasures from the New York Historical Society, via Library of Congress

American Civil War Recruitment Poster for The Phoenix Regiment (Civil War Treasures from the New York Historical Society, via Library of Congress)

In December 1854, as many as 30,000 Irishmen were embodied to form part of the Militia Regiments for the defence of the United Kingdom during the Crimean War. Many of these units were to remain in this state of embodiment until 1860, meaning that the men in these amateur regiments came to be seen as highly efficient soldiers, and this was particularly the case of the 2nd, North Tipperary Artillery Militia, who were even considered as suitable candidates for conversion to a professional artillery regiment. This was not to be the case and thus the majority of these Tipperary men went back to their locality, many, it would seem, in some frustration.

The unit’s ‘Digest of Service’ records that two years after the end of their embodiment, ‘the Civil War in America, which had now lasted several months, tempted large numbers of men to go to that country, particularly such as were known to be well-drilled soldiers, to whom most tempting inducements were held out by agents who visited Ireland for the purpose, and their efforts had the more success from the want of any kind of employment for labourers in this country’. As a result of this, it is recorded that many men of this militia regiment enlisted to fight in America, some of those returning to once again serve as amateur soldiers in their native land. Similar examples are seen in other Irish Militia units, such as the Westmeath Militia. However, very little official documentation is available, owing to the difficulty in prosecuting anyone under the Foreign Enlistment Act. Owing to this lack of official evidence the author would greatly appreciate any information, or, indeed, other examples of former Irish Militiamen serving in America during the Civil War period.

If you have any information that you think might be of use to Will please email at irishamericancivilwar@gmail.com for his details or leave a comment on this post.

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Categories: Guest Post, Recruitment, The Civil War and Ireland

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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  1. Great Civil War Photographs of Washington « Ghosts of DC - February 5, 2012

    [...] Federal Recruitment of Irish Militiamen during the American Civil War (irishamericancivilwar.com) [...]

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