J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Irish Brigade”

Civil War Celts: The Fighting Irish

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Because I’m Irish, I think it is only fitting to pay homage to some of the many Irishmen who fought in the War Between the States. The Irish played an enormous role in both armies during the Civil War, and many famous soldiers were Irish. Nearly everyone has heard of the infamous Irish Brigade, the 69th New York Infantry “Fighting Irish,” which still exists today. The Irish Brigade, led by Thomas Francis Meagher, played a significant role in many major battles, and there have been documented accounts of the Confederates hearing the approaching Irish Brigade chant, “Erin Go Bragh!” as the Irishmen marched toward them with the Union army. The 2,500 Irish soldiers stuck green sprigs in their caps to remind them of the “old sod.”


On the Confederate side, six of the 425 generals were Irish. Patrick Cleburne saw the South’s plight as that of Ireland’s, in that the Union refused to allow secession, just as Britain disallowed Irish independence. General Cleburne, who would be celebrating his birthday today if he was alive, distinguished himself as a brave and innovative leader. Other notable Irish commanders included General Philip Sheridan, General George Armstrong Custer, John Barry, father of the American Navy, and the Reverend Abram Joseph Ryan, who served as a chaplain to Confederate troops and went against Union authorities to do so.



During the course of the War Between the States, approximately 2.2 million men fought for the Union, 150,000 of which were Irish. In comparison, around 900,000 enlisted for the Confederacy, with 20,000 to 40,000 of these men being of Irish decent. The Irish influenced Civil War music as well. A popular song of the time, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” was written by Patrick Gilmore, who was, of course, an Irishman.

Civil War Fighting Irish


Most Civil War buffs know about the infamous Irish Brigade, the 69th New York Infantry Regiment that fought at Gettysburg and numerous other battles. The brigade was led by Colonel Joseph Kelly. “Kelly’s Brigade,” the “Fighting 69th,” still exists to this day. But many Irish immigrants fought for the South as well. It is estimated that 30,000 Irishmen fought for the Confederacy.

On September 1, 1861, the 10th Tennessee Infantry Regiment enlisted. Known as the “Rebel Sons of Erin,” these men consisted primarily of Irish-Americans. Some of their surnames included Brennan, Brien, Conley, Dougherty, Fitzgerald, Haley, Kelly, McKenny, McNichols, Murphy, O’Sullivan, Riley, Ryan, and Sullivan, to name a few. The regiment was led by Colonel Randall McGavock, whose parents emigrated from Ireland in the 1820’s. McGavock was killed at the Battle of Raymond.

Patrick Cleburne, who was probably the most recognizable Irishman to fight for the Southern cause, died during the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee. Cleburne, an Irish immigrant who was born in County Cork, was known as the “Stonewall of the West.” Robert E. Lee referred to him as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky.” Other famous Irishmen who served for the South included Reverend Abram Ryan and Chaplain John Bannon.

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