Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Because I am Irish, we always make a big deal out of St. Paddy’s Day by going to the parade, playing Irish music, and of course, cooking corned beef and cabbage. During the Civil War, the Irish played an enormous role in both armies, and many famous soldiers were Irish. Everyone no doubt has heard of the infamous Irish Brigade, which still exists today. The Irish Brigade, led my 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 Braugh!” as the 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 were alive, distinguished himself as a brave and innovative leader. Other notable Irish commanders included General Philip Sheridan, General George Armstrong Custer, and John Barry, father of the American Navy.
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 played an important part in music as well. A popular song of the time, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” was written by Patrick Gilmore, an Irishman.