Irish Examiner Feature: Remembering the Irish Lost at Gettysburg

As many regular readers of the site will know I have been campaigning for some time (along with colleagues) to see greater recognition in Ireland of the cost of the American Civil War to the Irish community. It was the second biggest conflict in terms of numbers in which Irishmen served in uniform, yet we have no memorial. Despite repeated efforts the State has failed to take any steps to acknowledge the 150th anniversary of this important event in Irish history. As I have said before, I find the official apathy with which we seem to regard the Irish role in this conflict at odds with the consistent promotion of ‘The Gathering‘, aimed at welcoming the diaspora home to Ireland. I strongly believe that more than simply inviting the diaspora home we have an obligation to embrace our diaspora’s history and acknowledge that it is a central part of the Irish story.

I sought a number of weeks ago to get a feature piece in one of our national newspapers to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, and I am delighted to say the Irish Examiner took this offer up. The feature ran today and you can read it here. Unfortunately a couple of units (the 1st Virginia, 69th Pennsylvania and 42nd New York) lost their designations between page and print, but this is a minor aspect- I am very happy that the Examiner decided that this was a story worthy of highlighting. Hopefully it might be another small step towards wider recognition of the conflict in Ireland.

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Categories: Battle of Gettysburg, Discussion and Debate, Media

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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9 Comments on “Irish Examiner Feature: Remembering the Irish Lost at Gettysburg”

  1. July 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Reblogged this on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND and commented:
    A voice for the Irish Diaspora , many of whom fled the suffering and dying in Famine ravaged Ireland only to find themselves suffering and dying in their adopted land, helping to forge one of the most influential countries on earth.

  2. July 3, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    Reblogged this on therootsystems and commented:
    I seldom reblog posts, but wanted to share this one – from “Irish in the American Civil War” an excellent blog by archeologist Damien Shiels. Today is the 150th anniversary of the third and final day of the battle of Gettysburg.

  3. Donald Humphreys
    July 3, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    My great grandfather Patrick Breen, a native of County Kerry, was a member of Co. C, 2d United States Infantry. He was one of the few “regulars” in the Civil War, having enlisted in the U.S. Army as a musician in 1855. He became an infantryman and was severely wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. He survived and completed a 22 year military career, being forcibly “retired” in 1877.

    In researching the “regulars” aka “The Old Army”, I was struck by how many Irish had enlisted in the U.S. Army prior to the Civil War. My great grandfather’s company had more Irish than any other nationality.

    Per “A Whirlwind of Bullets”: Company C, 2d U.S. Infantry Regiment 1861 (thefreelibrary.com)”as of 30 June 1861 Company C consisted of 2 officers and 78 enlisted men. 65 of the soldiers were foreign born, 35 of them from Ireland. Several of the soldiers in Co C were on multiple enlistments. That number included Patrick Breen from County Kerry, Ireland. Breen, another musician who later turned infantryman, enlisted in 1855 at the age of 16 and would become a first sergeant by the end of the Civil War.” According to another account, Breen was one of only 3 soldiers in Co. C who made it through the entire war. He was briefly the ranking soldier in the Company following the loss of the one remaining officer. He “retired” as Ordnance Sergeant, considered a “plum” position given only to top soldiers.

    • July 4, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      Hi Donald,

      Many thanks for this fascinating information! The Irish in the regulars is something that needs a lot more study. In the 1850s upwards of 60% of the United States regular army were Irish. When the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in 1861, there were more Irish than American-born troops in the garrison. Also I have noted that very high donations were given by regular troops to the Irish Relief Fund in 1863 showing the continuance of the tradition of Irish in the regulars. Your great-grandfather seems to have been an incredible individual- what a record of service!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

      • Donald Humphreys
        July 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

        Damian,

        Thanks for the note.

        Following his retirement from the military Patrick Breen settled in Vincennes, Indiana and worked as a watchman for the Baltimore & Ohio RR. He died in Chicago in 1909 at age 70. He lived a remarkably long life especially considering he participated in many of the major battles of the Civil War and suffered the tough life of an infantryman for all those Civil War years.

        I have more details of Patrick Breen’s military service should you be interested.

        Don

      • July 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

        Hi Don,

        Not the first Irishman I have heard of who settled in Vincennes after the war! Do you have any photographs of Patrick?

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

  4. Pauline Mc Crory
    August 13, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Hi Damian
    I am researching County Down soldiers who enlisted in the US Army before and during the Civil WAR. Is there any recommended websites etc that I could research. I am a member of a local historical society. Thanks and Regards Pauline

    • August 15, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Hi Pauline,

      Many thanks for getting in touch. It can often be difficult to track soldiers by county of origin in the Civil War, and there are no easy ways of searching for them. Often the best bet is to go by common surnames in the county as a starting point. In circumstances where you have a name then ancestry has the military post returns for much of the US military in the pre-war years and these sometimes give county of birth. Another good avenue is fold3.com although both of these are pay sites. There are a variety of sources that can help during the Civil War depending on the State in which the men enlisted. I am happy to help if there are any particular men you are looking out for.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

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