Federal Recruitment in Ireland during the American Civil War

By 1864 there was very little popular support remaining in Ireland for the American Civil War. Added to this there was a perception (whether real or imagined) that Federal agents were extremely active in the country, either directly recruiting Irishmen for service in the Union army or duping them into taking passage across the Atlantic where they would then be forced to enlist. Many Irish newspapers were extremely vocal about the issue. A previous post on the site provided a link to a 5th April 1864 piece in the The Irish Times, where it was claimed recent Irish arrivals in New York were being abducted and forced into the army.

The fact that this issue was a hot topic in Ireland at the time is revealed by the latest addition to The Irish Times ‘From the Archives’ feature. The paper has once again delved into their 1864 issues, this time focusing on an editorial from 1st March that year. The editor describes a practice whereby Federal agents recruited a large number of men in Dublin to ostensibly work on a railroad, and arranged their passage to the United States. He tells of their isolation and segregation upon arrival in New York, eventually being left with no option but to enlist in the army in order to survive.

There is little doubt that Federal agents were at work in Ireland during the Civil War years and that the Confederacy sent their own agents to undermine these efforts. There remains debate as to the extent of these activities and how much truth there is in the types of incidents related by papers such as The Irish Times. Nonetheless it is a fascinating aspect of the Irish experience of the American Civil War. You can read the full editorial from 1864 here.


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Categories: Recruitment, 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 “Federal Recruitment in Ireland during the American Civil War”

  1. March 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm #


    The little bit I’ve learned about the Crimean war has helped me see US/CS overseas recruiting, particularly in GB, in a different light. This was a hot topic in the preceding decade, with the US and GB participating in some brinksmanship as a result of British recruiting activities in the US. All of this affected the Delafield Commission, which was largely denied observer priveleges by the allies, and as a result the US cultivated a good relationship with Russia. I’m guessing you may be more familiar with all of this.

  2. March 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Hi Harry,

    I think although there was certainly some element of concern for individuals, and a somewhat icy relationship between the Union and Britain at times, there are also two other key reasons why Northern recruitment was so frowned upon in Ireland. The first and major one was the fear of Irish emigrants becoming politicized by groups such as the Fenians within the Union forces and potentially returning to Ireland with military training in order to effect a Rising. The abortive 1867 Fenian Rising did contain a large number of returned Civil War veterans for example. Another cause of concern is that 19th century Ireland was a key recruitment area for the British Army. Wellington’s Army had a huge Irish contingent, and by 1830 there were more Irish than English in the British Army. A lot of this had to do with the relative agricultural wage available in Ireland as compared to England or Scotland at the time. This all began to change with the increased emigration to the United States, particularly during the Famine years of the 1840s. From there on there is a steady increase in Irish representation in the United States military and a continual decline in Irish representation in the British military. Of course the wider relationship between the Union and Britain played a role in commentary at the time as well, but I think these two factors were certainly a cause of great concern to the government.


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