“The Blacks Fought Like Hell”: Racism & Racist Violence in the Words & Actions of Two Union Irish Cavalrymen

This month is Black History Month in the United States. To mark that occasion, I wanted to once again explore an aspect of the often-fraught relationship between Irish-Americans and African-Americans during the Civil War era. It is a topic we return to regularly on the site (e.g. see here, here, here and here).  The concept for this post arose from a recent discovery I made during my work on the letters of Irish soldiers contained within the Widows & Dependents Pension Files. Among the correspondence I identified was that of a Limerick man in the 10th Illinois Cavalry, which vividly demonstrate his views on African-Americans soldiers both before and after the 1863 Battle of Milliken’s Bend, in which black troops participated. Any examination of the 10th Illinois Cavalry quickly highlights the racial-conflict that occurred during the unit’s stationing at Milliken’s Bend. One particularly unsavory violent rampage by a soldier of the regiment stands out in the historic analysis; it was perpetrated by another Irishman, John O’Brien from Co. Cork. In an effort to explore, and begin to assess, the potential origins of his aggressive attitude towards African-Americans, I decided to examine his background, his emigration and his ante-bellum experiences to see what questions it might raise about his subsequent actions. It should be noted that this post contains unfiltered contemporary quotations that contain extremely racist language and sentiments, which may cause offense to some readers.

African-American troops in action at Milliken's Bend, 1863 (Theodore Davis)

African-American troops in action at Milliken’s Bend, 1863 (Theodore Davis)

On 19th February 1863, 23-year-old Private Dan Dillon, from Ballyegran, Co. Limerick, wrote home to his mother. Dan was then serving in Company D of the 10th Illinois Cavalry, and was growing increasingly frustrated at the irregularity of his pay. In venting his frustration, he also offered his opinion regarding emancipation, and the prospect that he and his comrades might soon have to fight beside African-American soldiers:

Dear mother I mane to in form you that the war will be soon be at an end and we will all have a chance to go home without deserting the[y] ar[e] only giving us 2 months pay insted of 8 months and the cry is amongh the troops down here that if the[y] dont pay us more regular than what the[y] are the[y] will lay there arms down and left the damned abelinesets [abolitionists] and nigers fight themselves and see what the[y] can do there is great dissatifaction among the troops here for the half of them wont fight to free negroes nor fight with them if ever the[y] put a negro in the field with our armey every Black son of a Bich of them will get killed as soon & sure as the[y] come there sow the[y] stand a poor shoe [chance?] if ever the[y] get among the illinoise Boys of there lives (1)

Dan Dillon left little room for doubt about his views. His was an opinion shared by large numbers of Union troops, and by large numbers of Irish emigrants. Many, if not most, of the men in the 10th Illinois Cavalry would have agreed with him. Indeed, the unit itself developed something of a reputation with respect to their attitudes towards African-Americans, feelings which became heightened when elements of the regiment were stationed at Milliken’s Bend in Louisiana. In May 1863, during Grant’s Vicksburg campaign, it was decided that an “African Brigade” was to be formed there, largely drawn from former slaves who occupied the contraband camps located at the post. Already there had been problems between the white troops quartered there and the African-Americans; the latter, living in awful conditions, were regularly subjected to abuse- both physical and verbal- from the Union troops, many of whom were described as having “vicious and degraded” attitudes towards the former slaves. While the majority of white soldiers eventually moved on towards Vicksburg, the men of the 10th Illinois Cavalry stayed at Milliken’s Bend. Apparently many of them voiced their displeasure at appearing to form part of the “Negro Brigade.” A major incident seemed almost inevitable, and when it occurred, it was an Irishman of the 10th Illinois who was at its centre. (2)

On Saturday, 30th May 1863, two troopers of the 10th Illinois Cavalry drank themselves into a near stupor in one of the sutler’s tents. When they had their fill they stumbled out into the afternoon sun and made their way towards the area where the African-Americans were camped. Passing through the base of the newly formed 1st Mississippi Volunteer Infantry (African Descent), they came across Private Henry Lee of that regiment, who had been tied to a tree as punishment for a misdemeanour. Shouting “what is this damned nigger doing tied up here”, one of the men successfully landed a kick in the prisoner’s stomach. The two then staggered on towards a shack, where Lizzie Briggs and her 10-year-old daughter were staying with another freedwoman and a boy of around twelve or fourteen. Upon entering the hut, one of the soldier’s tried to lead the young girl away, but was so weakened by his drunken state that he was unable to wrest the girl from Lizzie’s grip. He apparently then picked up a hatchet, roaring “You damned niggers think you are free, and you are not as well off as you were with the Secesh! If you say a word I’ll mash your damned mouth!”. Turning next on the boy, the men rained down kicks on him, with the main instigator going so far as to grind his heel into the child’s eye, destroying it. The two then focused on the other woman occupying the shack; they attempted to strip her clothes away and rape her, but she successfully escaped. The savage rampage only came to an end when help was fetched, and an officer of the 57th Ohio succeeded in arresting one of the men. His name was John O’Brien. (3)

The Meeting of Friends. Caricature depicting Governor Horatio Seymour and Irish Draft Rioters in New York in 1863, with an African-American being lynched in the background (Library of Congress)

The Meeting of Friends. Caricature depicting Governor Horatio Seymour and Irish Draft Rioters in New York in 1863, with an African-American being lynched in the background (Library of Congress)

Allegedly John O’Brien had been the chief perpetrator; it was supposedly him who had tried to lead the girl away, and him who had assaulted the young boy. The incident gained notoriety not for his actions, but for those of Colonel Isaac Shepard, the abolitionist officer who was responsible for the recruitment of the 1st Mississippi (African Descent). Sickened by the constant assaults on the African-Americans for whom he was responsible, Shepard decided to make an example of O’Brien. He had the man restrained, and ordered a number of black soldiers to whip him with some berry bush branches. By all accounts the injuries inflicted on the Irishman was not serious- rather Shepard had wanted to make an example of him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the realities of race relations in 1863, the case became potentially incendiary not because of O’Brien’s shocking actions, but due to the punishment meted out on him- having a white man whipped by black soldiers. An Inquiry resulted, and was out of necessity closely followed by Ulysses S. Grant. Although Shepard was cleared, it was felt necessary to avoid publication of the details, lest both white and black troops become incensed. Indeed, no further actions appear to have been taken against O’Brien. It is not the focus of this post to explore the inquiry or its fallout; those interesting in learning more can check out the Further Reading section below. Rather, I want to focus specifically on John O’Brien, the man who carried out the brutal assault. What can we learn of his background and history, and what questions, if any, do they raise for us when seeking to gain a better understanding of Irish racism towards African-Americans in the 1860s? (4)

Only one soldier served in the 10th Illinois Cavalry under the name John O’Brien. The Illinois Muster Roll Database records that he initially enlisted aged 22 in Springfield, Illinois in October 1861. An Irish-born farmer, he first mustered into Company F, but was transferred to Company A in January 1862. The Milliken’s Bend affair did not prevent him from staying on in the army; he re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer in January 1864 and served through to the war’s conclusion. Following the war the soldier went to live in Ballston Spa, New York. There he settled down, married and had a family. He and his wife Bridget would eventually have five children, Edward, William, Lizzie, August and John. The 1890 Veterans Schedule confirms his service as a private in Company A of the 10th Illinois Cavalry from June 1861 to April 1865, and his residency in Ballston Spa. By 1930 the widower was living with his daughter Lizzie; the old veteran eventually passed away on 3rd December 1930. However, it is in John O’Brien’s ante-bellum experiences that we are most interested here, and for that we must turn to his pension file, revealing some of the story of his life prior to the service which brought him to Milliken’s Bend in 1863. (5)

John O’Brien was born in the east of Co. Cork in 1839. His baptism is recorded in Ladysbridge on 8th February that year. Given the apparent depths of racism he displayed in 1863, it might be expected that John had left Ireland at a young age, growing to manhood in an Irish-American community where opinions with respect to race were more likely to be to the fore. But this was not the case. Indeed, less than four years prior to his assault at Milliken’s Bend, it is highly possible that John O’Brien had never seen a black person in his life. In his pension file, O’Brien stated that he had lived in Cork City until May 1859, when he emigrated to Milton in New York, a location he likely chose as he already knew Irish people there. The fact that O’Brien was an adult upon his emigration raises a question that interests me perhaps more than any other with respect to Irish and African-American race relations in 1860s America. To what extent did Irish emigrants arrive in the United States with pre-conceived racist concepts about African-Americans, and to what extent was such racism learnt behaviour, based on exposure to prevailing views in established Irish-American communities in the United States? (6)

African-Americans being attacked during the Memphis Race Riots of 1866, an incident in which the majority of the rioters were Irish (Library of Congress)

African-Americans being attacked during the Memphis Race Riots of 1866, an incident in which the majority of the rioters were Irish (Library of Congress)

Perhaps there is something to be gleaned from John O’Brien’s experiences following his initial immigration into America. He had only been in New York for a few months before he moved to Richmond, Virginia, heading to that city around 1st December 1859. He spent about 7 months labouring there before moving to Cairo, Illinois, but within three months he was off to the Deep South, taking a job in Grenada, Mississippi. He stayed there until February 1861 (the month after the State’s secession) when he went to Springfield, Illinois, the location of his enlistment. It is impossible to know the mind of John O’Brien from the scanty details left to us. Had he begun to form opinions about African-Americans prior to leaving Ireland? Were they influenced by the Irish-American community he initially settled in around Milton? To what extent did his experiences in the South, both in Richmond and Grenada, impact on his views surrounding how African-Americans could be treated? These of course are questions to which there can be no definitive answer, and such traits are often formed through a combination of experience, but it is nonetheless instructive to consider them. (7)

It is not known how John O’Brien’s attitudes or outlooks altered after 1863, if indeed they ever did. But what of our Limerick letter writer Dan Dillon? Only days after the John O’Brien incident, on 6th June 1863, the 10th Illinois were part of a force sent out with elements of the African brigade to reconnoiter towards Richmond. Even with the prospect of battle in the offing, the cavalrymen displayed little but contempt for their African-American comrades. An unnamed Irishman in the unit reportedly commented that you would “be a damned fool to try to make soldiers out ah niggers”, while another member of the regiment said that “any one ought to know a nigger wont fight; they’re running now , before they seen a reb.” The exchanges that day were to presage a larger engagement to follow, but the Illinoisans did lose a number of their men captured. On 7th June the Battle of Milliken’s Bend took place, when Confederate forces attacked the post. The fighting that followed was occasionally hand to hand, as the Rebels tried to push the Union soldiers back onto the river. They were eventually forced to withdraw, not least as a result of the performance of the African-American soldiers in their first major combat. Their actions demonstrated that the disparaging comments of the 10th Illinois cavalrymen the previous day had been proved incorrect. Whether their bravery had any material impact on the views of those white troopers is difficult to judge, but Dan Dillon certainly struck a different tone when discussing black soldiers in his next letter home, written in mid June:

Dear mother I would write to you yesterday but I was out in a skout and did not get back untill today and did not have time to write before now we have plenty to do hear now and is in duty every day and had a fight at Millikens Bend the 5th of this month and lost fifty of our men and twenty five and our Lieutenant taken priseners and one hundred negros killed and a great maney of them wounded and the rebles ran a great many of them into the river and drowned them but the negroes killed 75 of them and made them run back as quick as the[y] could go and the blacks fought like hell but the rebles was two strong for them the[y] was 4 to our wane but we made them run like cowerds and holer mercy and the[y] got little of it from us and the negroes you may be sure and we are gowing to richmond tomorrow to have another fight there the[y] say there is ten thousant of the rebles there and expect a big fight in that place but I hope we will get out of it safe with the help of god (8)

Less than four months had passed since Dan Dillon had trumpeted that any attempt to have his unit serve with African-American troops would result in every “black son of a bitch of them” being killed by the men of his regiment. Now he was prepared to admit that the “blacks fought like hell” and had made the Rebels run. It is difficult not to see this change of attitude as the beginnings of a grudging respect for their service, whatever his views on race. One wonders if Dan Dillon’s experiences would have fundamentally changed his outlook on African-Americans in the years to come. That remains an unknowable, as within two months the young Limerick man would be dead, killed in action in a skirmish at Bayou Meto, Louisiana on 27th August 1863. (9)

Daniel Dillon and John O’Brien both held views towards African-Americans that we find abhorrent today, yet those views were far from uncommon among many white Americans, including Irish-Americans. There are many recorded historical instances where named Irish emigrants engaged in racially motivated violence and commentary. It is fascinating to consider the age at emigration of Irish-born people involved in such incidents, and the length of time they had been “in country” at the time. What is it that would drive someone from rural Ireland, with no experience of African-American people, to display such virulent racism within a short time of arriving in their new home? It is a topic I hope to return to examine again on the site, looking at the Irish both North and South. In the meantime, I am interested to hear readers thoughts and opinions on the question.

'The Ignorant Vote' Honors Are Easy. Harper's Weekly cartoon from 1876. One of the reasons often put forward for the virulence of some Irish racism was the effort of the Irish to differentiate themselves in the social-spectrum from African-Americans. (Library of Congress)

‘The Ignorant Vote’ Honors Are Easy. Harper’s Weekly cartoon from 1876. One of the reasons often put forward for the virulence of some Irish racism was the effort of the Irish to differentiate themselves in the social-spectrum from African-Americans. (Library of Congress)

*Very special thanks to my good friend Jackie Budell, who provided assistance without which this post would not have been possible. 

** None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3. A team from NARA supported by volunteers are consistently adding to this treasure trove of historical information. To learn more about their work you can watch a video by clicking here.

(1) Daniel Dillon Dependent Mother’s Pension File. Dillon dated this letter 19th February 1862, but its content and other letters in the file suggest this was erroneous, and it should have been dated 1863; (2) Ballard 2013a: 70-72, Henson Slay 2009: 81-82; (3) Henson Slay 2009: 73-76, Ballard 2013a: 71-72, Barnickel 2013b; (4) Ballard 2013a: 73, Ballard 2013b, Barnickel 22013b; (5) Illinois Muster Roll Database, 1890 Veterans Schedule, 1870 Census, 1880 Census, 1900 Census, 1930 Census; (6) John O’Brien Pension File; (7) Ibid.; (8) Henson Slay 2009: 89, Dobak 2011, Daniel Dillon Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (9) Daniel Dillon Dependent Mother’s Pension File;

References & Further Reading

Daniel Dillon Dependent Mother’s Pension File WC88094.

John O’Brien Pension File SC266425.

Illinois Civil War Muster Roll Database.

Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census (1890) Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M123, 118 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.[Accessed via Ancestry.com].

1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. [Accessed via Ancestry.com].

Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C. [Accessed via Ancestry.com].

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. [Accessed via Ancestry.com].

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls. [Accessed via Ancestry.com].

Ballard, Michael B. 2013a. Grant at Vicksburg: The General and the Siege.

Ballard, Michael B. 2013b. Grant and the Forgotten Court of Inquiry.

Barnickel, Linda 2013a. Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory.

Barnickel, Linda 2013b. 10th Illinois Cavalry at War with Isaac Shepard.

Dobak, William A. 2011. Freedom By the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops 1862-1867.

Henson Slay, David 2009. New Masters of the Mississippi: The United States Colored Troops of the Middle Mississippi Valley.

Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory.


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Categories: Battle of Milliken's Bend, Discussion and Debate

Author:Damian Shiels

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

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11 Comments on ““The Blacks Fought Like Hell”: Racism & Racist Violence in the Words & Actions of Two Union Irish Cavalrymen”

  1. John Murphy
    February 6, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    The topic of racism occurring in the newly arrived Irish is one I do hope you pursue.
    My thoughts on how O’Brien became tainted is that he likely learned the trait during his two jobs working in the South. His mind had to be poisoned by those there that despised the negro. If O’Brien was trying to “fit-in” he likely picked up the attitude of a racist. Peer attitude is a strong force among young newcomers.

  2. Steve Reilly
    February 6, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    I on the other side, hope you stay on topic, the Irish in the civil war. I have learned a lot from you, reading your work on my family regiments.

  3. February 6, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

    I think it is important to know what attitudes the Irish and Irish-Americans had towards the war and towards the African-Americans, especially given the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. The main war aim was to preserve the Union but Proclamation added another dimension to the war. It is possible that the occasional Negro was encountered in the neighbourhood of Cork – as sailors manning the vessels trading into Cork, although I suspect that most of them never got further than Passage, beyond which larger vessels had difficulty navigating due to the shallowness of Lough Mahon. It should also be recalled that there were some black sailors in the Royal Navy, although the naval station at Cork was not as big as it had been during the Napoleonic War.

  4. February 7, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks, Damian – an important topic for us all to consider, no matter how unpalatable.

  5. February 7, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    Thank you for this post, and for finding more information about the 10th Illinois Cavalry at Milliken’s Bend. I especially appreciate the sources from Dan Dillon and learning more about O’Brien’s background.
    I also would not discount O’Brien’s experiences at Cairo, either. Southern Illinois was nicknamed “Little Egypt” and that region seems to have had a reputation for anti-black sentiment that was more pervasive than elsewhere in the state.

    • March 21, 2016 at 12:08 pm #


      Thanks for the comment, and for all your own work on this area which is fascinating! That is really interesting about Cairo, it may well have had an impact on him as well.

  6. Pat Young
    February 11, 2016 at 5:02 am #

    Another interesting post. Interested in knowing if there is any serious work on Irish racial attitudes in Ireland in the 19th Century. Most Americans tend to think the extreme racism was learned here, but I wonder if it was brought over.

    • March 21, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

      HI Pat,

      Thanks for this. I think some of it has to have been brought over, it makes no sense otherwise. There was certainly at the very least a disposition.

  7. February 14, 2016 at 12:15 am #

    Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History and commented:
    What a great post

  8. February 17, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    This is a fascinating post on a topic we should try to get to grips with as we cannot understand the role of the Irish in the Civil War otherwise. Our relative, George Costello was an Irishman who lived through the New York Draft Riots of 1863 and joined the Tammany regiment (42nd NY) immediately afterwards. Many of the perpetrators of the racist atrocities during the riots did just this to escape justice so we have had to examine whether it is likely that our ancestor was a member of the lynch mob. His life has forced us to think about the role of the Irish in the Draft Riots.
    Most of the press claimed that the crowds were largely made up of Irish immigrants, but this may be the result of anti-Irish prejudice which was rife in the media at the time. The majority of those arrested were not in fact Irish. In particular, all the histories agree that the 6th ward where George lived was quiet during the draft riots. Contemporary lists of the addresses of those killed, injured or arrested during the riots include very few in the 6th ward. Many at the time would have found this surprising given the ward’s reputation for violence and lawlessness, and the newspapers’ enthusiasm for depicting “Irish harridans” at the heads of the” mobs”.
    Order was restored and conscription resumed on 19 August. During the previous week, over 1000 were killed, mainly local rioters as the military restored order.

    Now, as if to demonstrate the loyalty of the Irish Community, Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed conducted the new conscription draw, which passed without incident. Perhaps one reason for the peace is that the New York board of supervisors allocated $10 million in bonus money for military volunteers. This meant that each volunteer was given up to $700 by a county committee for recruiting, whose most famous member was Boss Tweed himself, the City supremo who salted away many millions himself before his own corruption was exposed a decade later.

    What can we assume about how George fitted into all this? We haven’t many facts so we can’t be certain, but….
    George didn’t arrive in America with the majority of the Irish who came in the 1840s and 50s from country areas, as a result of the destitution of the potato famine. Most came as families, were uneducated, illiterate and had previously had no contact with city life. They arrived with only farming skills, and were particularly vulnerable to exploitation by “landlord’s runners”, and unscrupulous employers, and ended up working as labourers on the docks, or on building projects (the men), or as domestics (the women) and living in the cheapest of the slum housing. This community was now dominated and spoken for by the Catholic Church and the Tammany Association. As exiles often do, many hung tenaciously to their Irish identity and roots, which often made the community politically, socially and religiously a conservative force.
    George came from the City of Dublin, where his father had been a shop keeper, and several of the family had had coach building business. He would have been literate, and probably had some trade skills in carriage work, as he got work in New York as a maker of harnesses and/or military equipment. His brother, Alfred, also mentioned coach making family links, and subsequently set up business in New Jersey as a photographer. This is a very different background to bring to the New World, from many of the New York Irish.
    Yet George lived in the 6th ward, the heart of Irish Manhattan, and was only a few blocks from the areas of greatest squalor and overcrowding. The vicinity of Elm Street was more a centre of trade and boarding houses. Across the road was a major railway warehouse, and nearby were the law courts. George was not living in the sort of neighbourhood that outsiders would not dare to visit. He might have been poor, but was not living in the middle of a slum, yet he was living very close to one of the most integrated and “multi racial” areas of North America. His neighbourhood was unusually quiet during the draft riots, and most people appear to have rubbed along reasonably peacefully, so perhaps George had also learned to be tolerant in this most cosmopolitan area of the city..
    George was a single young man in a vibrant, alive city. We don’t know what he did with his leisure time, but it would be surprising if he didn’t participate in the life around him. In later life he drank “at times more than is good for him” (according to his doctor in 1889), so he probably drank as a young man. He was living within a few minutes’ walk of some of the most exciting entertainments in North America. It would be surprising if he didn’t at least sample the bars, clubs, and theatres of the Five Points and the Bowery. Living in that neighbourhood, he must have become pretty streetwise and down to earth.
    George was working as a harness- maker or on military equipment. This suggests that he was a skilled worker. He may have worked for a coach maker as there were many in New York, and one within a couple of streets. He should have been more comfortably off than the majority of the Irish in New York, and might have intended to settle in the city, but these were not good times for industrial workers. Although the demands of war were generating good profits for some, rising prices and pressure on wages, coupled with uncertain employment prospects would have threatened George’s security.
    George gave his address in Elm Street in both May and September 1863. This is some stability compared to many who lived in uncertain rooms and were continually forced to move. He opened a bank account, so was showing every sign of putting down roots in the city and hoping to “improve his situation”.

    George lived amidst the mayhem of the draft riots and we have no way of knowing whether he was involved. Tens of thousands of people were on some of the demonstrations, and eye witnesses all remark on the large numbers of Irish among them. It should be remembered that the riots began as protests against the unfairness of the draft which only targeted the poor. It was only later that the riots became predominately anti-negro and degenerated into a lynch mob. It was in neighbourhoods which were further north and less racially integrated that the worst violence and lynchings occurred. It is, of course, possible that George could have been involved. It would be one explanation for his decision to enlist. Veteran serving soldiers believed that all who “volunteered” with George were only doing it to either take the money and run, or to escape from the law back home. Some specifically cited those running away from justice after the New York Draft Riots. This is exactly the time when George joined up. Yet George came from a reasonably peaceful area where the races did get along quite well. People around George were not generally involved in the riots. Irish people were not eligible to be conscripted, unless they had applied for American Citizenship, and I assume George hadn’t (though I can’t be certain). George probably had no reason to fear the draft. This all suggests that George probably didn’t join up to escape the law after being involved in the riots. But it is possible. And there are many ways he could have been caught up in trouble, and felt the need to get away, without us having to imagine him as a member of a racist lynch mob.

    When he chose to enlist, George must have received at least $300, and probably $700. Two years wages must have been a pretty strong inducement to go. This was a time of high unemployment in the Irish community. I wonder if that alone explains it? Had he debts? I haven’t seen any mention of any further deposits in the immigrant bank after he opened the account Perhaps work hadn’t been as successful as he hoped. Perhaps he decided he believed in the war or he fancied an adventure. Although a majority of Irish people had not supported Lincoln in either of the elections, most were fiercely loyal to the United States of America, when it was attacked.
    Accordingly, when the confederacy attacked Fort Sumner in 1861, there was great enthusiasm among Irish people to join exclusive Irish regiments such as the 69th Regiment and the 42nd (or Tammany Regiment), which George later joined.
    In 1862, Archbishop Hughes said many had enlisted with the thought of
    “ becoming thoroughly acquainted with the implements of war,” for the eventual service to their homeland. (meaning Ireland more than the USA!)
    George remained in the Tammany regiment through the Overland Campaign, was promoted to corporal and was injured at Spotsylvania. This was very different from the”bounty hunters” who would desert at the first opportunity and often re-enlist under another name to claim another bounty.
    George married while he was recuperating from his injuries and returned to Ireland after the War. He eventually settled in Stockport in England and received an American Government disability pension.
    When he died in 1915 his family told the papers that he had fought in “the War to End Slavery”. This is not how the American Civil War is described by racists.
    Although we can’t be sure, I don’t think that George Costello was one of a lynch mob fleeing from Justice.
    George came from a strongly Nationalist Irish family; the story has been passed down that the children were all brought up to spit on the statue of King Billy (William of Orange) in Dublin. George’s grandson Liam Parr was also living in Stockport when George was an old man. Liam chose to return to Ireland to fight for Irish Independence in the 1916 Easter Rising.
    I can imagine the elderly veteran of the American Civil War and his young grandson talking about the rights and wrongs of fighting for what they believed in as Liam pushed George in his wheel chair and heard of his exploits in the Army of the Potomac.
    There is more information about George Costello at https://hiddenheroesofeasterweek.wordpress.com
    The story of the Liam and the Manchester volunteers in the Easter Rising has been released as a book, but George’s experiences in America have not yet been published. Hopefully it will happen one day

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