Two previous posts on this site (here and here) examined the nativity of soldiers in the 23rd Illinois Infantry, ‘Mulligan’s Irish Brigade.’ This research was carried out to determine how ‘Irish’ the regiment really was, and where within the United States and Ireland the men hailed from. Jim Swan, friend of the site and author of Chicago’s Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War, has kindly provided the data he gathered during his research to allow for a similar graphic treatment of the 90th.
The 90th Illinois were raised around Chicago in the latter part of 1862, and spent the early portion of their war guarding the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. They next moved towards Vicksburg, although they did not take an active part in the siege which led to the city’s fall. They were involved at the siege of Jackson, but it was to be at Missionary Ridge in November 1863 that their baptism of fire took place. They took an active part in Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea and the March through the Carolinas, before rounding off their service by participating in the Grand Review in Washington in 1865.
Jim compiled the data on the Legion using the Illinois Attorney General’s data and RG94 at the National Archives. The first set of information looks at the nativity of 950 non-commissioned officers and men in the regiment* with percentages calculated for each country based on the total number of soldiers:
|Country of Birth
|Number of Soldiers
|% of Total
|Isle of Man
|Born at Sea
The dominance of Irish-born soldiers is immediately apparent, representing 65.7% of the total number of enlisted men in the regiment (and 69.6% when those of no known nativity are excluded). This is a marginally higher figure than we see for the 23rd Illinois, where 43% of the total were of Irish birth (53.8% when unknown nativity are excluded). Generally though it must be said the proportional makeup of the 90th and 23rd Illinois are remarkably similar, with similar percentage representation from countries such as Germany and England evident. However, the 90th Illinois does have the edge in unusual minority countries, boasting both a Mexican and Hungarian on the regimental rolls!
The breakdown of data for the men born in the United States is of note, as only 150 men or 15.8% of the total (16.7% excluding unknown nativity) were born in the country where the war was fought. This contrasts with 407 men born in the United States out of the 1,585 examined in the 23rd Illinois, which represented 25.7% of the total for that regiment. In the 90th Illinois the state of birth is unknown for 41 of the men, which makes it difficult to draw any major conclusions from the distribution of men from within the United States. Nonetheless it is possible to say that more men were born in New York than any other State (38); the Empire State was also predominant in the 23rd Illinois. 32 of the men were born in the State where the regiment was raised, with Pennsylvania coming in third with ten representatives. It is important to remember that despite their birth in the United States, it is likely that at least some of these men viewed themselves as Irish-Americans and were part of that community, a situation probably mirrored amongst the 25 men of Canadian birth in the 90th.
The data that Jim has compiled makes it apparent that the 90th Illinois was indeed a strongly Irish regiment, perhaps marginally more so than the 23rd Illinois. The dominance of Irishmen born in Ireland (as opposed to being born into the Irish community in America) is of particular note, confirming that the unit was indeed ‘Chicago’s Irish Legion.’ The next post on the 90th Illinois will look at a breakdown of nativity by company, and will also examine the counties in Ireland that were represented in the ranks of the 90th Illinois Infantry.
*Includes 13 men who enlisted but did not muster
**Special thanks are due to Jim Swan for compiling this information and making it available to the site, and Sara Nylund for preparing the illustrations for the post.