Where Were ‘Irish’ Soldiers From?: A Case Study of the 90th Illinois Infantry

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.

Map of Europe showing nativity of members of the 90th Illinois Infantry (Information by Jim Swan, Illustration by Sara Nylund)

Map of Europe showing nativity of members of the 90th Illinois Infantry (Information by Jim Swan, Illustration by Sara Nylund)

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
Ireland 624 65.7
United States 150 15.8
None Recorded 53 5.6
Germany 37 3.9
Canada 25 2.6
England 25 2.6
Scotland 18 1.9
Wales 5 0.5
France 3 0.3
Norway 2 0.2
Sweden 2 0.2
Denmark 1 0.1
Isle of Man 1 0.1
Mexico 1 0.1
Holland 1 0.1
Hungary 1 0.1
Born at Sea 1 0.1

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!

Map of North America showing nativity of members of the 90th Illinois Infantry (Information by Jim Swan, Illustration by Sara Nylund)

Map of North America showing nativity of members of the 90th Illinois Infantry (Information by Jim Swan, Illustration by Sara Nylund)

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.


Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

Illinois Adjutant General’s Report: Regimental and Unit Histories, Containing Reports for the Years 1861- 1866

Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database


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Categories: 90th Illinois, Discussion and Debate, Guest Post

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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11 Comments on “Where Were ‘Irish’ Soldiers From?: A Case Study of the 90th Illinois Infantry”

  1. Jim Creed, Chicago, IL, USA
    March 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Damien: Great article. I’d like to clarify a point regarding the 23rd Illinois. You indicate that only 43% were Irish born. Mulligan’s Irish Brigade was reorganized five times during the war (1) Initial muster, Jun 1861, (2) Post Lexington, Nov to May 1862, (2) Post Veteran furlough, Jun 1864, (3) Kernstown Jul 24, (4) Consolidation Aug 1864, and (5) Addition of Recruit battalion in Richmond May 1865. That last addition was made up of mostly Norwegians, Swedes and Eastern Europeans. That fact could askew the stats. The original Irish Brigade which marched to Missouri in 1861 was significantly Irish born, with a smattering of Yanks, English and Canadians (some of whom were actually born in Ireland). Mulligan did enlist Germans and Frenchmen, but not a statistically significant number. Overall the Chicago Irish Brigade came from at least 29 counties in Ireland, 27 of the 35 states, including 7 Confederate States, 14 Foreign countries and two were born “on the High Seas.” Keep up the excellent work. Jim Creed, Chicago

    • March 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      Hi Jim,

      Glad you enjoyed it! You are of course absolutely correct and it is a very valid point, which is of course one of the reasons there were over 1500 men when I was looking at the 23rd. I think you are quite correct that the unit that marched to Lexington had a considerably higher % of Irish-born than when the whole number of men is looked at following the reconstitutions. In that respect it is a difficult unit to tease out- I am looking forward to the results of your work on them in that regard, as they really are a fascinating and deserve detailed study- I certainly want to read more about them anyway!

      Kind Regards,


  2. Brendan
    March 28, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    I’m really intrigued by the large number of NY natives in both the 90th and 23rd Illinois, and what it might imply about the link between the Irish-American communities in and around Chicago and NYC. I’m assuming these were mostly men who were born in NY and moved to IL at some point, right? Or did these regiments recruit in NY as well?

    • March 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Hi Brendan,

      That is a good question and one i have wondered about- check out Michael Kane’s comment on the first 23rd Illinois post which gives one of the potential reasons for this- it is certainly something that could do with being looked at in detail!

      Kind Regards,


  3. March 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Damian, Your write-up of the 90th Illinois data is very impressive. I think you have done an excellent job in summarizing the data and interpreting it. Sarah’s maps are beautiful, as usual, and I hope that she will allow me to use them in some of my talks about the 90th. Thanks for posting your article. Jim Swan

    • March 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for providing the excellent data, and of course please do use those graphics! Looking forward to doing Part 2!

      Kind Regards,


  4. March 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Brendan, I have seen no information suggesting that the 90th Illinois recruited in New York. Instead, the westward migration that was taking part in this country probably took young men with it from New York to Chicago and beyond. For example, the Quartermaster, Redmond Sheridan, was a 45 year old soldier who had been born in Bristol, England two weeks after his family had left Cork. As an adult, he and several members of his family moved from London to New York City. Later, Redmond, but not his brother, moved to Chicago. In general, the move to Chicago from New York reflected the sense of rapid development and attendant opportunity that was present in Chicago. Building of railroads and a major canal attracted many young laborers. Redmond was a Chicago alderman when he joined the 90th Illinois. There was communication between the Irish in New York and those in Chicago as evidenced by the fact that information about the formation of the 90th Illinois in Chicago was used to try to spur enlistment of Irish soldiers in New York according to newspaper accounts.Jim Swan

  5. March 31, 2012 at 3:24 am #

    Brendan, I have not seen any information that would suggest that the 90th Illinois recruited in New York. There was a general westward migration in the USA during the mid-nineteenth century and Chicago was seen as a city that was growing rapidly, in part due to building of railroads and a major canal, which provided work for unskilled laborers. As a different example of migration, the 45 year old Quartermaster of the 90th Illinois, Redman Sheridan, had been born in Bristol, England two weeks after his family left Cork. He and some of his family moved to New York City from London when adults and soon thereafter Redman moved his family to Chicago. He had a boot making shop on a main street in the center of Chicago and was a Chicago alderman when he joined the 90th Illinois. (His brother, by the way, remained in the East and served in the Army of the Potomac.) There is evidence that the Irish communities in Chicago and New York communicated. According to a newspaper account, information about the formation of the 90th Illinois in Chicago by Father Dunne was used as incentive for Irish recruitment to New York regiments at the same time. Moreover, Father Dunne asked the New York Irish hero, Michael Corcoran, for advice in selecting the colonel for the 90th Illinois. Jim Swan

    • April 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      Sorry for the double post. I thought the first one didn’t “take” so I wrote a second one. Please excuse!

  6. John Palmer
    July 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    My relative served in the 90th , he was a 1st Lt. He was from NYC, his brother lived in NYC as well. He signed up with the 16th Pa. when the war broke out serving as a first Sgt. but the regiment was mustered out after only 3 months. From July 1862 until Oct 1862 he somehow made his way to Chicago to live and he was recruited by Capt. Casey of H co. and he was commisioned as a 1st Lt.
    Many Irish didmove from NY to serve in Chicago’s 90th. The regiments commanding officer, Col. Tim O’Meara had roots in NYC, his mother and family lived in NYC and Col. O’Meara is buried in Calvary Cemetary in NYC Queens. I visited his grave yesterday. Trivia, the cemetary in the Godfather where Vito is buried, Col. Omeara is buried right near the location where the buriel scene took place. The bridge is right behind where O, Meara is buried.

    • July 19, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      Hi John,

      Many thanks for the comment. That is quite a relative to have in the family! Have you read Jim Swan’s history of the 90th? It is an excellent book and if not I would highly recommend it.

      Kind Regards,


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