In the North, Irish-American morale plummeted following the dreadful casualties suffered by the Army of the Potomac's Irish regiments in bloody engagements like Antietam and Fredericksburg. After the Irish Brigade sustained some 1,200 casualties in three major engagements between June and December 1862, Irish-American newspapermen began to question the use of Irish soldiers as cannon fodder; "We did not cause this war," complained the Boston Pilot, "[but] vast numbers of our people have perished in it." Irish recruitment dropped off sharply.
Other factors also contributed to Irish disenchantment. Wartime inflation in the North impacted heavily on unskilled laborers, many of whom were Irish. In the North as in the South, the abolition of slavery had never been popular among the Irish, who feared competition for jobs from free African Americans; Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect in January 1863, turned many of them against the war. As one Irish-American soldier wrote, "Indeed the spirit and patriotism of this army is dying out every day."
The event that pushed the Irish over the edge came with the introduction of conscription in the North; this smacked of discrimination against poor Irish, who - unlike wealthier Northerners - could not afford to pay substitutes to take their place in the army. Violence erupted in New York City in July 1863, as largely Irish mobs took to the streets in a four-day rampage of looting, burning and murder. Taking out their wrath particularly on African Americans, the mob left at least 19 blacks dead before Federal troops restored order; these riots also cost the lives of at least 100 Irish-American civilians.
In the South, postwar immigration from Ireland declined. Irish communities shrank noticeably, due to competition from the free African Americans who replaced the Irish in most unskilled work. These changes forced many who could not climb into the middle class to migrate West. Irish Americans continued to play a role in urban social and political life, however, and many of their old volunteer militia companies had reappeared by the 1880s.
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