"When Johnny Comes Marching Home"
The Irish in the American Civil War
In 2008, 36 million Americans, about 12% of the population, reported Irish ancestry. This makes the Irish the 2nd largest self reported ancestral group, trailing only the Germans. These modern day statistics are very similar to the percentages of foreign-born soldiers in the American Civil War with Germans having the most and Irish born soldiers the second largest contingent.
From 1820 to 1860 approximately 2 million Irish arrived in the US, 75% of them Catholics. Another 2 million arrived from 1860-1900, mainly due to family reunification.
When the Civil War broke out, the Irish joined the Union Army and the Confederate Army in large numbers and were regarded as courageous soldiers who fought with intensity and bravery. They were often assigned to the Color Guard. This was considered a high honor and was given to the bravest soldiers in the unit. Native Irish and Irish-American soldiers were present on both sides in all the major battles of the Civil War.
This exhibit will explore the often complex role the native Irish and Irish-Americans played in the American Civil War. We will tell the story of the famous and not so famous.
In the Union Army Irish generals include Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, General George Meade, General Phil Sheridan, Brigidier General Michael Corcoran and General Grant, who became our 18th President, was also Irish American.
Among the Irish generals in the Confederate Army were Major General Patrick Cleburne, Brigadier General Joseph Finegan, General Patrick Moore, General Walter Layne, General James Hagan, and General William Browne.
General James Hagan
General Joseph Finegan
Most of the Scots Irish that immigrated to America almost 100 years before the Civil War fought on the side of the Confederate Army. These include Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson, Major General J.E.B. Stuart and Major General John C. Breckinridge to name a few.
We will look at the famous Irish brigades and companies in both armies and will take a look at some of the battles where Irish units fought against Irish units.
Photography was in its early days, and Irish-American Mathew Brady became famous for his haunting photographs of the war, as well as portraits of some the famous.
The Irish have contributed greatly to America’s musical history. Patrick Gilmore, born in Ireland, who went on to become the most famous band leader in the United States, wrote “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” - - the title for this exhibit. Songs chosen as unofficial anthems for both sides were also penned by Irish-Americans - - Dan Emmett wrote “Dixie” and Harry McCarthy wrote the “Bonnie Blue Flag”. There are many other songs that came out of the Civil War that are set to Irish tunes.
Recruiting posters, penny ballads and sheet music are woven into the exhibit along with authentic reproductions of both Union and Confederate uniforms and accoutrements plus a stand of colors.
This exhibit was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and focuses on the role of the native Irish and Irish-American in the bloodiest conflict in America’s history. It will travel to other Irish festivals around the country this summer.