We often view many of the ethnic-Irish ‘green flag’ units of the American Civil War as being completely dominated by Irish-born or Irish-American soldiers. While this was true to varying degrees, all of them also had a proportion of men with no connection to the Emerald Isle. This was particularly the case in the later war years, when new conscripts could be assigned to formations with which they had no specific connection. Some of these men who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Irish emigrants on the battlefields of the American Civil War were not even native English speakers. In this post we explore the stories of three of them, all of whom lost their lives– along with many of their Irish comrades– as a result of the severe fighting in the summer of 1864.
A Québécois in the Irish Brigade
Joseph Godfroid Bazin was a native French speaker from Pierreville Mills in Yamaska County, Canada. He was one of five children of Antoine Bazin and Catherine Crevier. When his father died in 1859, Joseph took it upon himself to care for his mother, giving up his portion of his inheritance for her benefit. Taking the lead among his siblings, between June 1859 and March 1864 he had given his mother over $600 in financial aid. Joseph supported her by working as a tradesman, but according to one family friend he struggled to find sufficient business in the 1860s, and decided to leave Canada to join the Union army “to more effectually support his mother.” Travelling south, the 26-year-old enrolled on 23rd March 1864 and was assigned to serve with the Irishmen of the 28th Massachusetts, in the Irish Brigade. Within weeks he was marching onto his first– and last– battlefield. The Québécois was severely wounded in the fighting at The Wilderness on 5th May. Amid these awful circumstances, it was fortunate for Joseph’s mother that the Irish Brigade had another French-Canadian present, Father Thomas Willett, Chaplain of the 69th New York. He wrote to her in their native French, translated below.
Camp of the 69th Regiment N.Y.Vols., July 5th, 1864
Having been informed that you desire to receive some news of your son, Jos. Godfrey Bazine, of Co. I, 28th Reg’t Mass., I will endeavor to give you such intelligence as has come to my knowledge.
He was wounded, on the 5th of May, in the leg, I am convinced, quite badly. The doctors were several times on the point of making an amputation but they did not dare to do so, believing that he was too feeble to bear it. He was confessed and received the extreme unction at my hands. Two days after he was transported to Fredericksburg, I believe. I do not know what became of him thereafter. I cannot but believe that he died. He begged me to say to you, that he always loved you, and that you should have this for a voucher that he was in the American army.
May the good God give you the consolation, in your affliction, that, if he is dead, he is not lost to you forever, but that you will be reunited in another world, never to he separated from him.
I am, Madam,
your very humble servant,
Thos. Willett, S.J.
Chaplain to the 69th N.Y.
Joseph died in Fredericksburg two days after his wounding. The brevity of his service meant that he had never had an opportunity to send money to his mother “having paid with his life the very first battle he fought for the Republic”, but she did receive a pension based on his sacrifice. (1)
A Deutsch Speaker in Corcoran’s Irish Legion
Franz Bordney served as a private in Company B of the 182nd New York, Corcoran’s Irish Legion. Although he was a native German speaker, it is not clear where on mainland Europe he was born. He was already in his 40s when he enrolled on 2nd October 1862, just a couple of days after having married Fredericka Shrier in a Lutheran ceremony. Originally supposed to be part of the 6th Regiment of the brigade, his company was consolidated into the 69th New York National Guard Artillery (182nd New York Infantry). One of the other soldiers in Franz’s company convinced the couple that they also had to be married “in a military form before it would be legal and enable her to recover his back pay…in case of his decease [sic.].” A number of other soldiers were present when they conducted that ceremony at Camp Scott on Staten Island on 29th October 1862. Franz was with the Irish Legion when they were engaged at the North Anna on 26th May 1864. He was among those captured there, and only scant details survive as to his fate. Other members of the Legion would later state he was imprisoned in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he presumably perished. As part of her pension application, Fredericka submitted a number of letters Franz had written to her from the Legion’s camp– all of them in German. (2)
A Menominee in the 17th Wisconsin
The 17th Wisconsin Infantry are regarded as the most Irish of Wisconsin’s regiments, with a distinct Irish character. But among the rank and file of the unit there were also members of Wisconsin’s Native-American community. During the Civil War an estimated 500-600 Native Americans entered Union service in Wisconsin, all the more remarkable given the majority of them did not have citizen status. One of them was Joseph Wah-Pah-No of the Menominee or Mamaceqtaw tribe. Joseph and his mother Wah-Pah-No-Kiew lived in Shawano, Keshena County, Wisconsin. His father, Wah-Pah-No, had died in 1861, and Joseph had afterwards done his best to assist his mother. On the 20th December 1863 he enrolled in the army and was mustered into Company K of the 17th Wisconsin. The following year he was on the line at Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia when he was shot and killed on 25th June 1864. When Joseph’s mother sought her pension entitlements from the Government, her property “consisted in the individual interest of the common property of the Menominee Tribe of Indians“. She relied on deponents such as William Powell, who had acted as an interpreter for the Menominee for ten years, and Joseph Gauthier, a trader to the Menominee in Keshina to give statements on her behalf and help her secure her entitlements.
The stories of these three men are just a handful of those relating to non-Irish affiliated soldiers who served in ostensibly ‘Irish’ units. Their presence, particularly as non-native English speakers, raises many interesting questions– how did they view their Irish comrades, and how did those Irish comrades view them? Did they suffer any discrimination from their fellow soldiers because of their origins? Did any of them establish an affinity with the Irishmen with whom they fought? Their stories also demonstrate that the history of these Irish regiments is a much broader and more complex one than just that of Irish emigrants.
* 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) WC99534; (2) WC129308 (3) WC121855, Wisconsin Veterans Museum 2016: 115;
Widow’s Certificate 99534 of Catharine Crevier, Mother of Joseph Godfriod Bazin, Company I, 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Widow’s Certificate 129308 of Fredericka Bordney, Widow of Franz Bordney, Company B, 182nd New York Volunteer Infantry.
Widow’s Certificate 121855 of Wah-Pah-No-Kiew, Mother of Joseph Wah-Pah-No, Company K, 17th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.
Wisconsin Veterans Museum/Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs 2016. Wisconsin Blue Book: Wisconsin in the Civil War.