Some 150,000 Irish immigrants served in the Union army during the Civil War. In the North, Irish immigrants genuinely saw military service as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to their new homeland, but many were also faced with the unattractive choice between military service and poor civilian employment opportunities. Irish Americans fought to preserve the Union, but many also saw the war as a training ground for another armed struggle to come — a war of Irish liberation from Britain. New York by far outdistanced all other American cities in the number of Irish-American military companies formed both before and during the Civil War. With more than 200,000 Irish (a quarter of the city's population) at the outbreak of war, this metropolis accounted for a third of the total number of Irishmen who served in the Federal army.
The famous Irish Brigade in the Army of the Potomac was the most visibly ethnic command of Irish Americans. Formed in the fall of 1861 with the famous "Fighting 69th" New York as its nucleus, and commanded by popular Irish-American nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish Brigade also included the 63rd and 88th New York Infantry Regiments, later joined by the 28th Massachusetts and 116th Pennsylvania. A source of pride to Irish Americans throughout the North, the Irish Brigade suffered very heavy losses at Antietam and Fredericksburg in September and December 1862.
There were other large Irish-American Federal units apart from this formation. A second Irish brigade, Corcoran's Irish Legion, was formed in die western part of New York state. Other Irish commands from the Empire Slate were the 20th New York Stale Militia (Ulster Guard), and the 37th New York (Irish Rifles). The Irish in New England were well represented in the 9Ui Connecticut, 9lh Massachusetts, and 10th New Hampshire infantry regiments. From the Keystone Slate came the 69th and 116th Pennsylvania. Irishmen from the Midwest served in the 10th Ohio (Montgomery Regiment), 23rd and 90di Illinois. 35th Indiana and 17th Wisconsin. From west of the Mississippi came the "Irish 7th" Missouri and 30th Missouri (Shamrock Regiment). In addition to these identifiably Irish units, large numbers of Irish Americans served individually in the regular US Army, and many more in volunteer units enlisted from right across the Northern states.
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