Ireland Takes First Steps Towards Remembering Irish of the American Civil War

In the past, I have been highly critical on this site of the Irish Government’s failure to recognise the huge number of Irish who participated in the American Civil War, and the impact the conflict had on Irish-America. Along with various others I have spent recent years trying to raise awareness at home of the scale of Irish involvement, with the most recent manifestation being the #ForgottenIrish series on Twitter and Storify. In July I published a letter I sent to then Minister for Arts, Heritage & The Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D., requesting that the Irish Government consider using the opportunity of the International Irish Famine Commemoration in New Orleans to mention these people. Having been critical, it is now appropriate that I congratulate Mr. Deenihan’s successor as Minister for Arts, Heritage & The Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., who in her New Orleans Address delivered at Tulane University, New Orleans, on Friday 7th November last made the following remarks:

American Civil War

I want to take the time as well this weekend to acknowledge, on behalf of the Irish Government, the enormous numbers of Irish emigrants who lost their lives in the American Civil War. It is estimated that between 170,000 and 200,000 Irish fought in that defining conflict of these independent United States. The vast majority of Irish combatants- probably more than 150,000- fought with the Union troops, with the Irish in the Confederate ranks possibly numbering 20,000. Many thousands of Irish lost their lives on both sides- in fact, the very first person to lose his life in the war was a Tipperary man, Daniel Hough. He was just 36 years old. Many other Irishmen would rise to the very highest ranks- individuals like Thomas Francis Meagher and Patrick Cleburne, whose reputations and legacies have echoed through the ages. But my thoughts this weekend are more with the tens of thousands of what have been termed the “forgotten Irish”, who lost their lives or loved ones on the battle fields of this great country and whose sacrifice history has too often overlooked. Men- and women too- who in many instances fled the Famine which tore Irish society apart, only to arrive into a war which was, incredibly, of comparable suffering and heartbreak.

Irish historians like Damien Shiels and David Gleeson deserve great credit for bringing these stories to Irish and American audiences. And often, it is only with the generosity of time lapsed- and so much water and bloodshed under the bridge- that a sacrifice of this scale can be properly appreciated and acknowledged. So it has proved with World War 1 in Ireland, which we are only now- in 2014, 100 years afterwards- coming to recognise fully the service of perhaps as many as 350,000 brave Irishmen. This year is also, of course, the 150th anniversary of 1864, the penultimate year of the American Civil War. I could not let the occasion pass this weekend without acknowledging the sacrifices and bravery of so many Irish who fought- and too many who lost their lives- in that great conflict.

The Minister has done these Irish emigrants a great service in remembering them in such a fashion, and I would like to thank her for it. Her full speech (which touches on a range of topics) can be read here. It was also gratifying to see that the Famine Symposium at Tulane included a lecture delivered by Dr. Terrence Fitzmorris on Irish involvement in the Civil War. The Minister’s speech is hopefully a first step in a process that will see the Irish Government acknowledge these men and women at home, just as they have sought to do with the Irish of World War One. Perhaps Ireland may yet see moves towards an appropriate remembrance of Irish involvement in the American Civil War prior to the end of the Sesquicentennial in 2015. As I head across the Atlantic to discuss Patrick Cleburne in Franklin, Tennessee, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death, it is heartening to think that we may have turned a corner in remembering these Forgotten Irish. Time will tell.

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Categories: Memory

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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23 Comments on “Ireland Takes First Steps Towards Remembering Irish of the American Civil War”

  1. November 10, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    Well done Damien on having impact and realising what you set out to achieve. Kudos on building your Irish-American recognition.

    • November 23, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

      Hi Shawn,

      Many thanks I really appreciate that!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. mogue1ohara
    November 10, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    It is most gratifying, Damian, to see the Government doing the right thing, and you must be pleased that your efforts are beginning to show some results. We were disappointed in not getting the stamp suggestion accepted, but we tried, and Ms Humphreys’ presentations helps to make up for things. I am continuing to do my bit and ‘raise the lamp’ to bring some awareness on the Irish in the Era of the American Civil War. My fifth venue is in Moate (Westmeath Archaeological and Historical Society) next Monday, and the County Longford Historical Society next month. Best regards always and keep up the good work. Aidan O’Hara

    • November 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Hey Aidan,

      Hope all is well! Really keen to hear that talk soon! Hopefully we can all come together soon for a proper event in Ireland like a conference or something similar dedicated to exploring these people. I hope the Westmeath talk went well!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  3. mogue1ohara
    November 10, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Oops! I forgot to add that the presentation illustrated presentation is on Women in the Era of the American Civil War – an Irish Angle. Aidan

  4. Steve Reilly
    November 10, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    Brave woman, calling it the American Civil war, that far down into Dixie.

  5. Fergus McK O'Hagan
    November 10, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Obviously it’s only due to your continuing efforts and persistence that the Irish Government has finally woken up to the thousands of Irish casualties in the American Civil War. Where is the monument they deserve? and what about the thousands who built the railroad after the war was over. Will they also form part of the “forgotten men” unless someone like yourself reminds our government of the monumental contribution they made to building one of the great structures in the USA.

    • November 12, 2014 at 5:38 am #

      Here is the monument to them in Gettysburg, PA: http://www.gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/NY/IrishBde.php
      This has become a recent interest to me and it would be wonderful to see this recognition in Ireland as well. The Irish of all generations have left a tremendous stamp on America and has helped define integral parts of its ever-evolving culture. Thank you to Damian Shiels, Aidan O’Hara, and all of those who have helped to bring this historic part of our past come to light!

      • November 23, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

        Hi Scott,

        It is a great monument alright! Many thanks for reading!

        Kind Regards,

        Damian.

    • November 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      Hi Fergus,

      There is a long way to go but hopefully this is a starting point- Ireland has a lot to do to wake up to her emigrant history but we will see what the next few years bring.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  6. November 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Damian, Congratulations to you on driving this reawakening. Without your work, highlighting the part played by Irish immigrants in this cataclysmic conflict this would never have happened. Keep up the good work.

    • November 23, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

      Hi John,

      Many thanks- there is a long way to go as yet but hopefully a stepping stone along the way!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  7. November 14, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    Thank you for not letting this go, Damian. As a descendant of one of those Irishmen caught in a conflagration in a strange land – I am so grateful.

    • November 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Hi Lois,

      Many thanks- it is far too late for me to ever do that, I am far to invested in all these men’s stories at this stage!

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  8. November 15, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

    Good job, Damian. I had ancestors who fought in both the Mexican War of 1846-48 and in the Civil War of 1861-65.

  9. November 15, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Good job, Damian. Thanks for all your hard work. I had ancestors who fought both in the Mexican War of 1846-48 and the Civil War of 1861-65. It is good to see them remembered by their land of birth.

    • November 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Hi Michael,

      Many thanks I appreciate it! Do you know where in Ireland they were from?

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  10. Dorothy Christiansen née Sweeney
    November 25, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    Hello Damian. I am a descendent of Brig Gen Michael Corcoran’ s niece, Mary Corcoran who was my Great grandmother. My cousins and I have been trying to learn more about our family history. I never heard about Micael Corcoran until my cousin Came across a newspaper article celebrating Mary’s wedding anniversary to John Sweeney also from Sligo. In the article it states she is his niece. Mary first came and worked in the household of Teddy Roosevelt on 5th avenue. He was a neighbor of Congessman William Bourke Corcoran also of Sligo. My father’s uncle has said Cockeran was a cousin but he spells his name differently. Maybe he is 2nd or 3rd cousin. The story is that Cockeran got this job set up for Mary. Excuse the sp errors which are hard to correct on my iPad. I very much enjoy seeing your work

    • December 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      Hi Dorothy,

      Thanks so much for the comment! There are a number of Corcoran descendants who have got in touch on the site- a number of you must be related to each other it would be great to put you all in touch! He was a fascinating individual, he really needs to have a biography written.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  11. November 30, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    Well done Damian. It seems that a blog is the best way to get the word out about the Irish involvement in that seminal event, the American Civil War.

    • December 4, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

      Hey Tony,

      Hope all is well! It is certainly a good way of doing it! I am hoping to do a bit more delving into one or two Midleton connections again when I have a chance!

      Talk soon,

      Damian.

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