That Irish who fought for the Confederacy is not as well known as that Irish fought for the Union. Phillip T. Tucker tries to remedy this with great success. Although his Irish Confederates is short, it covers a lot of territory in providing an introduction into research of the Irish who fought for the Confederacy.
Irish Confederates were not as numerous as those who fought for the Union; an estimated 150,000 Irish served in the Union Army while only 30,000 served in the Confederate Army. Irish Catholics were not as persecuted in the South as in the North, mainly because they were so few in the South that they did not draw attention to themselves as those in the North could not help doing by their sheer numbers. As was the case with the Union Irish, the Confederate Irish were usually Roman Catholic, especially those from Louisiana and Missouri. Of course, they were not limited only to those few Southern states, and not all Irish Confederates were Roman Catholic; many were Protestants.
Tucker relates the history of eight Irish Confederate units or regiments, first presenting an introduction about Irish Confederates. Some Irish brothers fought against each other; case in point is the McIntosh brothers. Brigadier General James McIntosh fought for the Confederacy and was killed at the Battle of Pea Ridge, while his brother, Second Lieutenant John B. McIntosh fought for the Union.
Of the 425 Confederate generals, six were Irish. There were more Irish among the colonels, and they served in various positions, but many more Irish served in lower ranks - some in the Confederate Navy. One of the most famous Irish Catholic chaplains was Father John B. Bannon, also known as the “fighting chaplain.” Many of the hardest-fighting units included Irish within their ranks. The casualty rates were higher among the Irish than among other groups; these soldiers typically refused to give up where others would retreat.
In the first chapter, Tucker presents the story of the Tenth Louisiana, who clashed with the Union’s Irish Brigade at the Battle of Malvern Hill. The Louisianans were mainly from New Orleans, and half of the casualties on the Confederate side were Irish. The second chapter is about the Irish of a Georgia regiment who protected what became known as the Burnside Bridge at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Chapter three illuminates the Twenty-fourth Georgia, which had a large number of Irish. They faced the Union’s Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1863, where the Union was horrendously defeated. Many Union Irish died at the hands of Confederate Irish. The Union Irish may not have known they were facing another Irish army or not, but the Confederate Irish did and mourn their countrymen’s deaths.
Chapter four covers the First Missouri Confederate Brigade which fought at the Battle of Champion Hill, Mississippi, part of which led to the capturing of Vicksburg by the Union, but the Irish of this Brigade gave it their all. In chapter five, readers learn of the Irish of the Fifteenth Alabama, who faced the now famous Twentieth of Maine at the Battle of Gettysburg for control of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. Chapter six illustrates Irish involvement in “Pickett’s Charge” at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. The Irish who served in the First Texas Heavy Artillery highlighted in chapter seven were involved in protecting the Sabine Pass from the Union. Chapter eight tells of the Irish of the Tenth Tennessee Infantry Regiment of Volunteers, mainly Roman Catholics whose officers were Protestants. In the Battle for Fort Donelson, this regiment did not want to surrender the fort to the Federals and were taken prisoner and later exchanged.
Tucker concludes that although the story of the Irish Confederates is neither as well known nor as well popularized as the Union’s Irish Brigade, the Irish in the South supported the Confederacy in more comparable numbers than the Irish did for the Union.
Tucker provides a six page bibliography followed by an index. There are many black and white illustrations and photographs but no maps. The text is accessible to most readers and highly recommended to Civil War enthusiasts and those interested in Irish American history or culture.
Phillip Thomas Tucker is an historian for the United States Air Force in Washington, D.C. and won the Douglas Southall Freeman Award in 1993. He is the author of the forthcoming Westerners in Gray (June 2007) and of God Help the Irish! (2007), Storming Little Round Top (2002), Cubans in the Confederacy (2002), and other books.