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The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865

Susannah Ural Bruce
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 323
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  • Book Info
    The Harp and the Eagle
    Book Description:

    On the eve of the Civil War, the Irish were one of America's largest ethnic groups, and approximately 150,000 fought for the Union. Analyzing letters and diaries written by soldiers and civilians; military, church, and diplomatic records; and community newspapers, Susannah Ural Bruce significantly expands the story of Irish-American Catholics in the Civil War, and reveals a complex picture of those who fought for the Union.While the population was diverse, many Irish Americans had dual loyalties to the U.S. and Ireland, which influenced their decisions to volunteer, fight, or end their military service. When the Union cause supported their interests in Ireland and America, large numbers of Irish Americans enlisted. However, as the war progressed, the Emancipation Proclamation, federal draft, and sharp rise in casualties caused Irish Americans to question - and sometimes abandon - the war effort because they viewed such changes as detrimental to their families and futures in America and Ireland.By recognizing these competing and often fluid loyalties, The Harp and the Eagle sheds new light on the relationship between Irish-American volunteers and the Union Army, and how the Irish made sense of both the Civil War and their loyalty to the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8574-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    William O’Grady braced himself against the cold. It was early December 1861 and he was alone in New York City. Just two years before he had been a second lieutenant with the British Army in India, but to the outrage of his Irish-born father, a colonel also serving in India, O’Grady had inexplicably resigned his commission and gone to America. Now the son was determined to prove that he was no coward. He could fight, and would fight, for causes he believed in. For William O’Grady, like so many other Irishmen already fighting in America, the cause of union was...

  5. 1 “An Irishman Will Not Get to Live in This Country”: The Irish in America, 1700–1860
    (pp. 7-41)

    The history of the Irish in America is both long and complex, involving the immigration of Protestants and Catholics, skilled laborers and peasants, rebels and farmers. Understanding why Irish men volunteered for the Union Army in 1861 and why their families supported or challenged this decision requires an understanding of the generations preceding them. In achieving this understanding, one can examine what the Irish hoped to find in America, how they went about accomplishing their goals, and how these factors influenced their actions during the American Civil War.

    In the decades before the war, most Irish immigrants settled in or...

  6. 2 “Remember Your Country and Keep Up Its Credit”: Volunteering for Ireland and America
    (pp. 42-81)

    With the election of Abraham Lincoln and the creation of the Confederacy, Americans north and south were forced to take a stand on the issues that were driving the country toward war. Irish-Americans, too, would make important choices during this time, and concern over their interests in America and in Ireland would shape these decisions.

    In the election of 1860, Irish Catholics remained overwhelmingly loyal to the Democratic party. This decision was not particularly complex for them. The Republicans contained abolitionists whom many Irish-Americans saw as more concerned with the plight of southern slaves than with the plight of poor...

  7. 3 “We Are Slaughtered Like Sheep, and No Result But Defeat”: The Decline of Irish-American Support for the War in 1862
    (pp. 82-135)

    The year 1862 would be marked by the rise of the new Irish Brigade and its growing fame for tenacity at Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. By the end of the year Union commanders agreed that the Irish Brigade was one of the best in the Army of the Potomac, and the unit to be called upon to take the most difficult objectives. In battle after battle the Irishmen proved not only their ability as soldiers but also their loyalty to the United States, even if that was not necessarily a goal. Such a reputation had a...

  8. 4 “The Irish Spirit for the War Is Dead! Absolutely Dead!”: Battles Raging in the Field and at Home, 1862–1863
    (pp. 136-189)

    While the armies battled from the fall of 1862 through 1863, northerners on the home front struggled with conflicts of their own. A vocal minority opposing the war gathered momentum, with some calling for the immediate opening of peace negotiations and others demanding new leadership for the war. This minority included an increasing number of Irish-Americans, despondent over the toll the war was exacting and opposed to the new goals of the Lincoln administration, especially the Emancipation Proclamation and state and federal drafts. Their civilian resistance to government authority became the most violent in American history.

    On September 22, 1862,...

  9. 5 “Hordes of Celts and Rebel Sympathizers”: The Decline and Consequence of Irish-American Support for the War
    (pp. 190-232)

    On a cold Saturday morning in 1863, Sarah McCormick entered the offices of Charles H. Birney, Esquire. She had no money and “appear[ed] to be bad off.” As far as she knew, her husband, serving in the Irish 69th New York, had not received any pay recently, or at least he was not sending any home. Charles Birney, treasurer of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in New York City, had seen situations like hers since the war began. Susan Callahan, for example, had seven small children and a sick husband “to Provide for.” In 1863, she requested from Birney...

  10. 6 “Father Was a Soldier of the Union”: Irish Veterans and the Creation of an Irish-American Identity
    (pp. 233-262)

    During the American Civil War, Irish-Americans’ support or criticism of the Union war effort revolved around its impact on their neighbors, their soldiers in the field, and their families in Ireland. As this perspective fueled their criticism of the Lincoln administration and led to declining enlistments by young Irish-American men, native-born Americans railed against them as being disloyal and ungrateful. Irish-Americans insisted that they were loyal citizens protecting their communities from the same prejudices they had faced since their arrival in the United States. In the postwar period they retained their strong sense of local unity and developed an increasingly...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 263-264)

    The St. Patrick’s Day parade in the largely Irish Catholic community of Clontarf, Minnesota, in 1900 bears a striking resemblance to the 69th N.Y.S.M. regiment marching down Great Jones Street in April 1861, ready to defend the Union. In both cases, flags of Irish green rippled next to the stars and stripes of the United States. And yet, there is a powerful difference between these two events. In 1861 Irish Catholic communities supported the war for union, but their actions during that conflict indicated that their first loyalties were to Ireland and their Irish communities in America. When they perceived...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 265-284)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 285-292)
  14. Index
    (pp. 293-308)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 309-310)