This is Phillip T. Tucker’s second book published by McWhiney Foundation Press on the Irish in the Civil War. His first book on the Irish Confederates was published in early 2007 and entitled Irish Confederates: The Civil War’s Forgotten Soldiers. This book focuses only on a single Union brigade: the Irish Brigade of the Union Army, comprised of regiments from New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Nearly 150,000 Irishmen served in the Union Army; most were Roman Catholics, but not all. Many of those in the Massachusetts regiments of the Irish Brigade were Protestants. A great number of the Irish Catholics serving in the Irish Brigade did so to prove to other Americans that they were patriotic and loyal to the United States. Often, they were accused of having double loyalties - to the Pope and to the U.S. Some of the Irishmen - like their first leader, Thomas Meagher – had been involved in earlier, failed rebellions against Ireland’s English overlords and joined the Union Army to gain experience in fighting and learning how to be soldiers so that they might one day go back to fight again.
The Irish Brigade, part of the Army of the Potomac, was involved in the Peninsula Campaign under General George McClellan. They were also involved in the horrendous Battle of Antietam, where the Irish Brigade was almost destroyed. They were in the midst of the heaviest fighting, and many died - especially at the infamous “Sunken Road.” The Irish Brigade along with the rest of the Army of the Potomac was under a new commander after Antietam: General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside decided to attack the Confederates entrenched behind the town of Fredericksburg on Marye’s Heights. The Confederates under General Robert E. Lee boasted superior defensive positions with a clear view over the plain outside of Fredericksburg leading up to their defenses. Conversely, there was little protection for the Union soldiers to hide behind. The Irish Brigade was sent to take the Confederate defenses on Marye’s Height, but they never got too close to them. It was a horrible slaughter, one in which an Irish Confederate unit fought the Irish Brigade.
A new, reconstituted Irish Brigade was at the Battle of Gettysburg. Most of its previous members were either dead or wounded and out of action. The Irish stood their ground against the Confederates and helped to hand General Lee a major defeat. They moved on to the campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia, which led them through the Wilderness Campaign, the Battle of Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg and Richmond, and they were at General Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Court House.
The heroic and patriotic men of the Irish Brigade loved their new country and wanted to help save the Union and prove their loyalty. They suffered greatly during the Civil War; many were killed or wounded, and some of the wounded suffered from their injuries for the rest of their lives. The Irish Brigade’s high numbers of dead and wounded compared to other units in the Union Army make Tucker’s title appropriate. Tucker shows that as the men were loyal to their Church, the Roman Catholic Church was loyal to them. Several Catholic priests served as chaplains, some willing to risk their lives to provide sacraments to the dying.
Several black and white photos and drawings as well as some maps from the Civil War period are included, as well as a bibliography and an index. The cover features a color illustration of the Irish Brigade flying the American flag and the green flag of the Irish Brigade.
This book is highly recommended to those interested in the Civil War, the Irish in the Civil War, and Roman Catholics in the Civil War. Phillip Thomas Tucker is a historian for the United States Air Force in Washington, D.C., and he has written fifteen books on the Civil War, the Irish, and African American history. He is the author of Westerners in Gray (2007), Irish Confederates (2007), Storming Little Round Top (2002), Cubans in the Confederacy (2002), and others.