previous post explored the case of the USS Kearsarge, which caused a major diplomatic incident when she illegally recruited in the port of Queenstown (now Cobh), Co. Cork during the war. It was not the only time when questionable recruitment tactics led to friction between Britain and the United States. In 1864 the actions of a man called Patrick Finney led to a number of Irishmen unexpectedly joining the 20th Maine and 28th Massachusetts Regiments. How did they get to America? In the first of two posts on the story, we explore the methods Patrick Finney used to get perspective recruits from Ireland to the United States.

Colors of the 20th Maine Infantry (Image via Wikipedia)

Colors of the 20th Maine Infantry (Image via Wikipedia)

In 1864 Patrick H. Finney, a native of Loughrea, Co. Galway, arrived in Ireland to work as an agent, ostensibly recruiting men to work on industrial projects in the United States. The authorities quickly began to suspect that this was just a cover story, and that in reality Finney was looking for men to serve in the Union army. That such activities might occur is hardly surprising, given the large bounties available at this point in the war for enlistment- there were potentially big profits to made. Finney was barely off the boat before the police began to monitor him; the Sub-Inspector of the Constabulary in Galway reported that ‘steps have been taken to watch the man’s movements.’  That January he was arrested in Loughrea on suspicion of breaching of the Foreign Enlistments Act, which made it illegal in British territories to recruit for service in foreign armies. However there was not enough evidence to hold the Galway man, and he was soon released. (1)

Unperturbed, Finney continued to travel around Ireland to gain recruits. He remained under suspicion, and somewhat foolishly failed to keep a low profile. On 28th January he was brought to court in Dublin by William Pike, who alleged that Finney owed him money. A Mr. McKenna took the stand as a witness for Pike, and stated that Finney was hoping the men he recruited would join the Union army:

…Finney, after his return from Galway, said he wanted tip-top men…Finney showed him [McKenna] the bounty that was being given for the American army, and from some conversation with him he believed that that was the purpose for which he wanted the men; Finney said he conceived they would all join the army when they saw the amount of wages and the bounty that were being given..’ (2)

Despite this evidence Finney was able to produce documentation which showed he intended to recruit only for businesses, and so he escaped sanction. He continued his work. On 16th February 1864 it was reported to the Dublin Metropolitan Police that he had recruited 70 men around the Loughrea-Galway area. Finney next set up an office in the back room of a cottage on Guild Street in Dublin, where he continued to sign up more men. They had been offered free passage, steady work, and the equivalent of £2 a month with board and two new suits a year. The text of the declaration that each man signed survives, and is worth reproducing in full:

We, the undersigned, hereby agree with Patrick H. Phinney [Finney], that in consideration of the said Patrick H. Phinney advancing the money necessary for the payment of our respective passages to Boston, in the United States of America.- that we, each of us hereto signing our names (or making our marks in presence of witnesses), hereby agree with said P.H. Phinney, that we will on our arrival at Boston aforesaid, commence to labor for said Patrick H. Phinney or his assigns, either on the Charlestown waterworks, in the City of Charlestown, or the Webster and Southbridge Railroad, in the employ of Wall and Lynch; or the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad, in the employ of E. Crane, in the State of Massachusetts; or the Pacific Railroad; or the Bear Valley Coal Company, in the employ of George P. Sanger; or the Franklin Coal Company, in the employ of E.C. Bates, in the State of Pennsylvania. 

And we hereby agree that we will, each of us hereto signing as aforesaid, continue to labour and work to our best ability for the said P.H. Phinney, or his assigns, for the term of twelve months, from the date of our arrival in said Boston, for and at the rate of ___ dollars per month, in addition to our board and lodging, which is to be furnished to us by the said P.H. Phinney.

And we each of us hereby agree that we will repay to said P.H. Phinney, or to his assigns, the amount which will have been paid by the said P.H. Phinney, or his assigns, for each of our passages to Boston as aforesaid, and also those of us who shall have had our inland passages paid for us by the said P.H. Phinney, or any other advances which may have been made to us by the said P.H. Phinney, or that the same shall be deducted from or repaid from our wages first earned as aforesaid, and paid to said P.H. Phinney or his assigns by our employers.

It is understood that the wages aforesaid of each of us will commence within one week after our arrival in Boston, or as soon as we commence work. (3)

In all 102 men agreed to travel from Dublin. Finney instructed them to proceed to the Office of Mr. Delany at 13, North Wall, where they were given tickets for their passage to the United States via Liverpool. Although suspicious, the authorities were unable to procure enough evidence of Finney’s real intentions to prevent their departure. The men set sail from Liverpool aboard the Nova Scotia bound for Portland in Maine, from where they were to proceed by train to Boston. The Nova Scotia arrived in Portland on 9th March, 1864. Seven of the men got not further, apparently coerced into the ranks of the famous 20th Maine. The majority got as far Boston, where they were soon informed that there was no work to be had. It was put to them that perhaps they might like to enlist in the 28th Massachusetts. The actions in both Portland and Boston caused consternation among the local Irish-American populations, and became a major news story. Part Two of the post will examine the fate of the men after their arrival- particularly those who went to war with the 20th Maine- and the political tug of war that their cause created. (4)

(1) Hernon 1968:31, North American Correspondence 1864: 5 (2) North American Correspondence 1864:6, Hernon 196832; (3) North American Correspondence 1864: 2-3, 13, Sydney Morning Herald; Hernon 1968:32; (4) North American Correspondence 1864:13;


Hernon, Joseph Jnr. 1968. Celts, Catholics and Copperheads: Ireland Views the American Civil War.

North American Correspondence N0.8, 1864 Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty. Correspondence Respecting Recruitment in Ireland For The Military Service of the United States.

Sydney Morning Herald 23rd June 1864. Recruiting in New York.