The last post looked at the nativity of soldiers in the 23rd Illinois Infantry, based on analysis of records pertaining to 1,585 of its men. The place of birth for 1,270 had been noted; of these 682 were from Ireland. Where were these Irishmen from? How many Irish counties were represented? Were any concentrations discernible? In this second in the series on the 23rd Illinois, we explore the origins of the men who eventually found themselves on the other side of the Atlantic, marching and fighting through iconic locations such as the Shenandoah Valley and Petersburg. 

The ten companies of the 23rd Illinois were organised at different locations, as set out in the table below. Some of the companies, such as the Shields Guards, had their origins in Irish dominated pre- war militia formations. It is apparent that there were Irish-born soldiers present throughout the regiment; unfortunately due to a lack of nativity data for some of the companies, such as Company D, it is not possible to state with certainty the total number within each unit.



No. Known Irish Born

A- Detroit Jackson Guards

Wayne County, Michigan


B- Montgomery Guards

Cook County, Illinois


C- Jackson Guards

Cook County, Illinois


D- Earlville Guards/Earl Rifles

La Salle County, Illinois


E- Ottawa Guards

Grundy County, Illinois


F- La Salle Guards

Cook County, Illinois


G- Mahoney Guards

Cook County, Illinois


H- Ottawa Guards

Cook County, Illinois


I- Shields Guards

Cook County, Illinois


K- Shields Guards

Cook County, Illinois


What is clear is that there were substantial numbers of Irish-born in companies such as B, K and F, and most likely numbers were high across much of the regiment. But where in Ireland were these men from? Of the 682 men recorded as having been born in Ireland, additional information on the town or county of birth was available for 496 of them. Interestingly, there was at least one man from each of the 32 counties on the island of Ireland in the ranks of the 23rd Illinois. The number per county and concentrations can be seen in the map below.

Map of Ireland showing nativity of members of the 23rd Illinois Infantry (Sara Nylund)

Map of Ireland showing nativity of members of the 23rd Illinois Infantry- click to enlarge (Sara Nylund)

While every county is represented, what is immediately noticeable is a concentration of men from the west and south-west of the country. Although these regions did suffer badly during the Famine of the 1840s, leading to increased emigration, this alone is not sufficient to explain the distribution pattern we see within the ranks of the 23rd.

Population Reduction in Ireland between 1841 and 1851 (Image via Wikipedia)

As can be seen from the graphic highlighting population reduction in Ireland between 1841 and 1851, many other areas were also devastated by the Famine, but some of these have relatively low representation in the 23rd Illinois. It is interesting to consider if there were any community aspects at play; emigrants from the same locale often found themselves sharing the same community in the United States, and it seems probable that small groups of men from the same place in Ireland may have then joined up to fight together. There is some evidence of this when we look for concentrations of men within the 23rd Illinois company structure. Most notable are Company F, which had at least 37 men born in Kerry amongst its number, while Company B had a minimum of 23 Tipperary men in the ranks.

The strong Irish-born presence in the 23rd Illinois was one of the elements that gave the unit its Irish character. However, analysis of the nativity data for these men suggests that they were not only Irish but were often from the same regions of Ireland; as a result large numbers of men from places like Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Cork served together in the 23rd Illinois. In many instances they not only shared a country of birth, but were often intimately familiar with the same localities as their comrades. No doubt many a campfire in Missouri and Virginia between 1861 and 1865 witnessed friendly chat and shared reminiscences about hearth and home in the farms, villages and towns of west and south-west Ireland.

*Special thanks to Sara Nylund for preparing the Ireland illustration for this post.


Illinois Civil War 150: ‘Civil War Units by County’

Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database