A Confederate Agent in Ireland

In July 1863 Lieutenant J.L. Capston, a cavalry officer, received a letter from Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin indicating that he was to be reassigned. His destination was Ireland, and his task was to use legitimate means to counteract the work of agents of the United States operating there. His ultimate mission was to prevent the Irish from emigrating to the north and enlisting in Federal armies. The letter was originally carried in the 16th July 1896 edition of the Richmond Times.

Department of State, Richmond, July 3, 1863.


You have in accordance with your proposal made to this department, been detailed by the Secretary of War for special service under my orders.
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.

The government expects much from your zeal, activity and discretion. You will be furnished with letters of introduction to our agent abroad. You will receive the same pay as you now get as first lieutenant of cavalry, namely, twenty-one pounds per month, being about equal to one hundred dollars. Your passage to and from Europe will be provided by this department. If you need any small sums for disbursements of expenses connected with your duties, such as cost of printing and the like, you will apply to the agent to whom I give you a letter, and who will provide the funds, if he approves the expenditure.

You will report your proceedings to this department through the agent to whom your letter of introduction is addressed, as often, at least, as once a month.

I am, sir, respectfully,
Your obedient servant,

Secretary of State.


‘Special Mission of Lieut. J.L. Capston to Ireland’ in Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. XXIV, 1896


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Categories: Cork, Intelligence, The Civil War and Ireland

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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14 Comments on “A Confederate Agent in Ireland”

  1. Angela
    July 8, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    Yet another fascinating story…

  2. Angela
    July 8, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    Any reports of his activities in Ireland ?

    • July 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

      There is a box of material relating to him in the Museum of the Confederacy, he was operating around Cobh, Cork, the west of Ireland and Dublin. He met with pro Confederate people, attended meetings and sent regular reports back to the CSA.

      • Mick MacNamara
        October 30, 2010 at 10:51 am #


        I am fascinated with the story of the Confederate agent in Ireland. However, I am also interested in information regarding Federal recruitment in Ireland as I believe that there was tension with the English government regarding this.

        My GGrandfather enlisted in 1860 in Newport Ky and fought throughout the war with Missouri regiment and regular army and came back to Ireland in 1867.

        There was a family tradition that he was recruited in Cork but I have not been able to find any evidence of such activity before the start of the war.

        Ever hear anything like this?

      • November 1, 2010 at 10:24 am #

        Hi Mick,
        There is some evidence that there was some direct recruiting in Ireland- the Confederates saw it as such a threat that they sent a number of agents and religious to Ireland in order to counteract it. There was one incident with the USS Kearsarge where a number of Irish were found to be on board and they were subsequently prosecuted- another case was also brought against a Patrick Finney for operating as an american agent recruiting in Ireland, though there was a lack of evidence against him. I am hoping to make this the topic of a post in the future, but it seems likely that this practice was going on- I think it was more prevelant later in the war though when numbers were needed to fill up depleted regiments and form new ones.
        Kind Regards,

      • November 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

        Hi Mick,

        Further to this, check out ‘Celts, Catholics and Copperheads’ by Joseph Hernon on the book page of the blog- thanks to a heads up from Robert over at http://www.myleskeogh.org there is now a link to a pdf version of this book you can click on, which has a section on Union recruitment in Ireland- I hope its of some interest.

        Kind Regards,


  3. Mary
    April 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Is it possible to find rolls of names of recruits? My G-G Grandfather Daniel Harty, was recruited by the Confederates in Cork and returned there after the war. How would I go about finding information on him?
    Thanks for any help!

    • April 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Hi Mary,

      Your first stop should be the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database here: http://www.americancivilwar.org.uk/news_crossfire-preservation-articles-may-2007_118.htm I had a look and one Daniel Harty can be found, in Preston’s Battalion Missouri Cavalry. It looks like he may be the same man who then appears in the Union 3rd Regiment Missouri State Cavalry. This may be your relation, but it would be an odd unit for him to have ended up having come from Ireland so you should also check some alternate spellings of his name, as people often didnt have their names recorded exactly right. Also if you have a look at this site: http://www.genealogybranches.com/civilwar/servicerecords.html you can find some details on looking for service records etc. I hope this is of some use and if you have any other queries just drop me a line!

      Kind Regards,


  4. brid vereker
    September 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    ever heard of mullins family decoratedin us a civil war

    • October 4, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      Hi Brid,

      There were no Irish-born Mullins Medal of Honor recipients in the Civil War although there were Mullin/Mullins recipients of the medal in later years. You can see the full details here http://www.cmohs.org/

      Kind Regards,



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