There are only two conflicts in Irish history which have seen close to 200,000 Irishmen in uniform. One is the First World War, which has undergone a welcome rehabilitation in Irish memory over the past 15 years– books on the topic abound, memorials are located around the island, and the State, media and Irish historians are devoting significant attention to it for the 100th anniversary. This is as it should be. The other of these two conflicts is the American Civil War.
In 1860 there were 1.6 million Irish-born people living in the United States, with many hundreds of thousands more first generation Irish-Americans. In New York, one in four of the population were Irish-born. During the war, c. 180,000 Irish-born fought for the Union, 20,000 for the Confederacy. The majority of Irish who fought and suffered through the conflict had endured the Great Famine– the American Civil War represented the second great trauma of their lives. Although the Irish experience of the conflict receives significant attention in the United States, in Ireland it receives little. There are few books published on the topic in Ireland, and the 150th anniversary passed with relatively little recognition. This is symptomatic of a wider issue regarding how the history of the Irish diaspora is dealt with– little time is devoted to the story of Irish people once they leave these shores. Though we frequently discuss the Famine, we rarely follow its emigrant victims beyond the port to examine what further horrors lay in store for many.
The American Civil War affected the lives of Irish-Americans until well into the twentieth century. Although it may seem like the distant past, the last known Irish veteran of the conflict was still alive in 1950. It is time that we in Ireland recognised the scale and impact of the conflict on people from the island of Ireland. For those Irish counties worst impacted by Famine emigration, the American Civil War almost certainly represents the largest (in terms of numbers who served and were killed) conflict in their history.
My name is Damian Shiels and I am a professional archaeologist who specialises in ‘conflict archaeology’, particularly where it relates to Ireland. I currently work with a commercial archaeology company, Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd, but have also spent time as one of the curatorial staff at the National Museum of Ireland where I worked with the military collections and in the design and preparation of the award-winning Soldiers and Chiefs military history exhibition. I have published a book on the Irish experience of the American Civil War with The History Press Ireland which you can buy from sites such as Amazon here and the Book Depository here. If you would like to find out more about the type of papers I have published and talks I have given you can see details on my academia.edu page here.
I have had a long-standing interest in the Irish experience of conflict regardless of period or location, and the American Civil War is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating topics in this sphere. The sheer scale of the Irish involvement in the conflict and its affects not only on the soldiers at the front but Irish civilians at home have captivated my attention. This blog has been set-up to fulfill a number of aims. I hope to tell the stories of Irish men and women caught up in the Civil War in an engaging and informative manner, along the way providing information on different people, units and places. As part of this I want to highlight the wider impact of war- taking family stories beyond the battlefields and into the decades that followed 1865. It is also intended that resources for those interested in the Irish experience will be built up over time, to act as an aid for those who wish to find out more (check out the ‘Resources’ tab at the top right of the site to see what is currently available). Finally I hope the site makes some small contribution to raising awareness in Ireland of the Irish experience of the American Civil War, particularly in light of the 150th anniversary.
If you would like to contact me please email me at: