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All my men behaved like heroes; not a man flinched from his post… R. W. Dowling, 1st. Lt., Cook’s Artillery.

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Before you read Samito’s book and get the wrong impression that the Irish were part of the tradition of fair weather citizens who would sell their souls for a green card – or its 1860’s equivalent – you need to know that there were as many Confederate units laying claim to being Irish Brigades as there were in the north. Many of these were recent immigrants and just as many were descendents of immigrants. Whether it was Dick Dowling driving the union invaders out of Sabine Pass or Thomas R. R. Cobb and his 24th Georgia infantry that saw action all the way from Antietam to Appomattox there were Irishmen fighting for the true meaning of republicanism from the first shot to the last.

Brig.-Gen. Lucius J. Gartrell; Brig.-Gen. Dudley M. DuBose; Brig.-Gen. Thomas R.R. Cobb; Brig.-Gen. E.P. Alexander; Brig.-Gen. A.R. Lawton; Brig.-Gen. A.H. Colquitt; Brig.-Gen. Henry L. Benning; Maj.-Gen. Howell Cobb; Brig.-Gen. Alfred Iverson; Brig.-Gen. B.M. Thomas

Brig.-Gen. Lucius J. Gartrell; Brig.-Gen. Dudley M. DuBose; Brig.-Gen. Thomas R.R. Cobb; Brig.-Gen. E.P. Alexander; Brig.-Gen. A.R. Lawton; Brig.-Gen. A.H. Colquitt; Brig.-Gen. Henry L. Benning; Maj.-Gen. Howell Cobb; Brig.-Gen. Alfred Iverson; Brig.-Gen. B.M. Thomas

Becoming American under fire : Irish Americans, African Americans, and the politics of citizenship during the Civil War era  Christian G. Samito  Ithaca : Cornell University Press, c 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. x, 305 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Lt. Col. James J. Smith and officers of 69th New York Infantry (Irish Brigade)

Lt. Col. James J. Smith and officers of 69th New York Infantry (Irish Brigade)

In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides an account of how black American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, black Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. Members of both groups also helped to redefine the legal meaning and political practices of American citizenship.

Brig.-Genl. Michael Corcoran - of the Irish Brigade late colonel of the gallant N.Y. "Sixty Ninth"

Brig.-Genl. Michael Corcoran – of the Irish Brigade late colonel of the gallant N.Y. “Sixty Ninth”

For black American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of black Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race.

Col. Jas. A. Mulligan: Of the Illinois "Irish Brigade"

Col. Jas. A. Mulligan: Of the Illinois “Irish Brigade”

For Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism. The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization of British subjects abroad.

Grand requiem mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, Friday, January 16, for the repose of the souls of the officers and men of the Irish brigade killed in the war

Grand requiem mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, Friday, January 16, for the repose of the souls of the officers and men of the Irish brigade killed in the war

As Samito makes clear, the experiences of black Americans and Irish Americans differed substantially — and at times both groups even found themselves violently opposed — but they had in common that they aspired to full citizenship and inclusion in the American polity. Both communities were key participants in the fight to expand the definition of citizenship that became enshrined in constitutional amendments and legislation that changed the nation.

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