Keeping Memory Alive of the Irish in the American Civil War

One of the key aims of this site is the promotion of awareness in Ireland regarding the extent of Irish involvement in the American Civil War. Although well known in the United States, the defining influence this conflict had on hundreds of thousands of Irish in America remains virtually unknown in Ireland.

Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Co. Cork. Major emigration port, location of Confederate spies, and port where the USS Kearsarge was accused of illegally recruiting British citizens

Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Co. Cork. Major emigration port, location of Confederate spies, and anchorage where the USS Kearsarge was accused of illegally recruiting British citizens (Photo by Ralph Rawlinson)

There is perhaps only one other conflict in history in which similar numbers of Irish were involved- World War One. Although recent years have seen a welcome increase in the study and remembrance of Irish participation in the Great War, the American Civil War has yet to achieve similar recognition. The principal reason for this can be attributed to one simple fact; the vast majority of those Irish soldiers and civilians caught up in the maelstrom of 1861-5 never returned to Ireland. Instead they went on to form part of what became the vibrant Irish-American community, and many of their stories did not make it back to the island of their birth.

Bride Park Cottage, Killumney, Co. Cork. Birthplace of Major-General Patrick Cleburne, C.S.A.

Bride Park Cottage, Killumney, Co. Cork where Major-General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A., 'Stonewall of the West', was born

The 150th anniversary of the American Civil War provides and opportunity for Ireland to recognise the effect this war had on Irish people. With that in mind a number of like-minded individuals who share an interest in Irish involvement in the Civil War have decided to see what might be achieved to this end over the course of the next four years. Robert Doyle, James Doherty, Ian Kenneally and I have started to work towards the realisation of two outcomes; the creation of a national memorial to the Irish soldiers and civilians, North and South, who were affected by the American Civil War, and the establishment of a Civil War Trail in Ireland highlighting locations with a connection to the conflict.

Sir Peter Tait Clothing Factory, Limerick. Confederate uniforms were made here in 1864 and shipped through the Union Blockade

Sir Peter Tait Clothing Factory, Limerick. Confederate uniforms were made here in 1864 and shipped through the Union Blockade

Thanks to the efforts of James Doherty, The Irish Times ran a piece about our aims in their newspaper on 11th November, which has already provoked a strong response. You can read Frank McNally’s article here. Although work is at an early stage it is hoped that momentum can be built for the project over time. An email has been established at for anyone interested in helping achieve these goals, or indeed for anyone who has any advice. Hopefully at the very least the initiative will lead to a renewed understanding in Ireland of the experience of this ‘lost generation’ of Irish in mind-nineteenth century America.

Derrynane House, 19 The Mall, Waterford. Thomas Francis Meagher grew up here

Derrynane House, 19 The Mall, Waterford. Thomas Francis Meagher, later commander of the Irish Brigade, grew up here


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Categories: Commemoration, General, The Civil War and Ireland

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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17 Comments on “Keeping Memory Alive of the Irish in the American Civil War”

  1. November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    I realise I digress somewhat, but lets not forget the hundreds of Irishmen who fought and died in the Crimea in 1854. One third of the british army were recruited fron Erins isle , albeit as a result of the famine, as was Maj Gen Partrick Cleburn who had experience of being in the british army but not having fought in the Crimea. Indeed a distant relative of mine fought and died on the heights of the Alma which I recently visited. A Russian bullet entered the shoulder of Colour SGT Davis, exited through his back, and then entered the throat of Pvt Keenan, killing him instantly. It is a spooky coincidence that SGT Davis’ decendant, Martin Davis [ Ex Lord Mayor of Sheffield ] , and myself are in the American civil war society and the Crimean reenactment regiment the 19th foot Green Howards. And it was in that very regiment that they fought in the Crimea ! Regards,Shane Keenan born and bred in Downpatrick Co Down NI.

    • November 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      Hi Shane,

      Very true, and indeed there are a number of instances where one brother may have fought in the Crimea and another in the American Civil War that I have heard of. Many of those who participated in the charge of the Light and Heavy Brigades were Irish as well (if memory serves, there were more Irish soldiers than English soldiers in the British Army in 1830, it was only from the American Civil War on that numbers began to fall away, principally as a result of post-famine emigration).There are many links between the two conflicts, and the Irish are certainly one of them!

      Kind Regards,


  2. November 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    What great ideas! I really look forward to hearing more about your efforts and will be sure to bring to my readers’ attention to them over at my blog/Facebook page. Your planned Civil War Trail will be yet another reason to get myself to Ireland.


    • November 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      Hi Ron,

      Many thanks I will keep you up to date, and thanks for sharing it- I am a big fan of your blog by the way!

      Kind Regards,


  3. November 17, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    Glad to share the info! And happy that you are a fan! Goes without saying that I am a fan of your blog too! Hope to get to Ireland one of these days–I’ve been all over Western Europe, but didn’t have a chance to stop by Ireland yet. I don’t have Irish ancestry myself, but my wife does, and by extension, my kids, so I’d love to get the family there to explore their roots as well.

  4. November 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks Ron! If you ever do make it over here you must let me know- there are a couple of sites worth seeing, both from a Civil War perspective and indeed a historical one- I would be happy to show you round some of them!

  5. GotIreland
    November 22, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    I never knew the extent of the Irish involvement in the American civil war. I could have guessed that we had a part to play but like you say most Irish people are probably not aware to what extent. This could be a failing of the history text books used in Irish schools, but I can’t say for sure. I don’t recall having many classes where this topic would’ve been discussed. I suppose due to the depth of our own troubles at home, this may have seemed like a blip in our history timeline.
    Thanks for posting, and good luck with your efforts with the creation of a national monument. Any ideas where you plan to have this erected?

    • November 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

      Hi Liam,

      Many thanks for the post. I think the history we are taught has much to do with it, but hopefully we can raise awareness over the next few years! We have no designated area for any monument as yet, but I will certainly keep you posted on it!

      Kind Regards,


    • March 1, 2012 at 2:40 am #

      As a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, I have portrayed President Lincoln throughout the state of Ohio, USA. Information on my background and performances may be found at

      Early this June, my wife & I will be in Ireland for about nine days. Would you know of any event or location that may be interested in having Mr. Lincoln speak with them?

      I would be much obliged for your kind assistance.

      Kindest personal regards,

  6. John Doyle
    November 30, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    my Gt Gt Grandfather, Hugh Niland 1835-1894 from Dublin, served in the 2nd Bombay Regiment of European Infantry (Honourable East India Company) 1854 to 1859. Though based in India this unit did not take part in the Indian Mutiny fighting nor the Anglo-Persian War. The Coopers Guild records in UCD record that he went to Canada in 1862 and returned from the USA in 1865.Apparently he went to Toronto, travelled across to New York and enlisted in the US Navy from Nov 1862 to Dec 1864. During 1864 he served on the USS Proteus which was on blockade duties around Florida. He returned to coopering in Dublin later working at Guinness, as did his sons.

    • December 1, 2011 at 9:02 am #

      Hi John,

      What an amazing military career! Do you have anything that relates to him still in the family? He must have been quite a character!

      Kind Regards,


  7. John Doyle
    December 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Damien, I picked up a copy of his discharge papers from the Bombay Regiment from the British Library and got a copy of his wife’s pension application via the website. That’s it. Nothing handed down unfortunately. John

    • December 5, 2011 at 10:13 am #

      Hi John,

      Thats a pity, but at least you were able to get the info on his amazing career!

      Kind Regards,


  8. August 14, 2012 at 1:46 am #

    Hey Guys …. Just found your site and added General Meagher’s house to our trip to Waterford on 08 November. We are staying for a night at the Grand to drink in the Meagher Bar. (My wife don’t know that yet) My youngers son is a 1st Lt. with the present day Fighting 69th and anything Meagher I have to get some photo of, for him. His day job is with NYPD the 69th is part of the New York National Guard.
    Semper fi
    Steve Reilly
    Family fought in the 51st N.Y. Thomastown, 182nd N. Y. (KIA) Tyrone, 170th N.Y.(KIA North Anna River, Cavan, 9th New York and 1st Mass. Cav. Thomastown

    • August 15, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      Hi Steve,

      Many thanks for getting in touch! I hope you enjoy Waterford- be sure to check out the ‘Waterford’ category on the site to see some of the things to see related to the Civil War there. Good to see your son is carrying on a tradition of service in the Irish regiments! That is quite a family service during the Civil War as well, I see two were in Corcoran’s Legion too boot!

      Kind Regards,



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