The Confederate Irish

1st Lt William L. Fagan, Co K, 8th Alabama Infantry. Fagan la shown in a typical Confederate officer's gray frock coat and

1st Lt William L. Fagan, Co K, 8th Alabama Infantry. Fagan la shown in a typical Confederate officer's gray frock coat and

Irish immigrants also settled in large numbers in the antebellum South. New Orleans, third largest city in the United States, had the largest Irish population in the Deep South, followed by Memphis. Tennessee: there were also sizeable Irish communities in Charleston, Richmond, Savannah and Mobile. The Irish were the largest single immigrant group in the South, and some 40,000 are said to have served in the Confederate army.

The Irish thought of themselves as loyal Southerners. Through determination and hard work they had carved out a niche for themselves in Southern society; Irish Catholics were more accepted here than in the North, were active in the dominant Democratic Party, and participated fully in political and economic life and military affairs. Many of them saw a parallel between the South's war of secession and the struggle of Irish nationalists against Britain. John Mitchel, Jr (son of an Irish nationalist immigrant who became an ardent voice for both Irish and Southern independence) commanded Fort Sumter in July 1864; mortally wounded in its defense, he is reputed to have said. "I die willingly for South Carolina, but oh that it had been for Ireland!" Patrick Cleburne of Arkansas - who became the best Confederate general in the Western theater - was a Protestant who recalled with equanimity his three years in the British 41st Regiment before emigrating; nevertheless, he would amply prove the sincerity with which he wrote: "I am with the South in life or in death, in victory or defeat." Many Irish Catholics in the South claimed that Northern abolitionists were hypocritical to condemn slavery-while turning a blind eye to the treatment of Irish immigrant workers in Northern factories. More to the point, working-class Irish feared that an emancipated labor force of African Americans would compete with them for the heavy work on the docks, canals and railroads.

Caught up in the euphoria of secession fever, existing Irish volunteer militia companies quickly stepped forward to offer their services to the Confederacy, and new companies were raised. While the North fielded entire regiments of Irish Americans, the organization of Gaelic units in the South was confined mosdy to company level. The Irish formed distinctive ethnic sub-units, which often performed skirmishing duties or protected the regimental colors. There were not enough Irishmen in the South to organize a whole brigade like Meagher's Union formation, but two Louisiana brigades recruited in New Orleans came close to this. The Missouri Confederate brigade that fought with the Army of Tennessee also contained a large number of Irish Americans, most from the St Louis area. Patrick Cleburne's division, which earned a reputation as the best formation in Bragg's Army of Tennessee, was not exclusively Irish but boasted a large number of Irish American soldiers. The 5th Confederate Infantry, recruited in Memphis, and the 10th Tennessee, organized in Nashville and nearby communities, were Irish regiments.

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