Just before sunrise on April 12, 1861, the shell that would start America’s bloodiest war sailed towards Fort Sumter. Unbeknownst at the time, it would set in motion a chain of events that wreaked destruction upon the land, economy, and social structures of America. As Confederate, Jefferson Davis, pulled the trigger starting the Civil War, he also triggered events that would allow Irish immigrants to become interwoven into the economic and social fabric of America and Irish culture to be imprinted upon the American landscape.
Plagued with nativism, Irish immigrants found America hostel and job opportunities scarce. Persuaded by financial and citizenship incentives initial Irish recruits joined the war effort to improve their situation. However, fear that upon success the 4 million newly freed slaves would compete for their jobs prevented many from joining. Archbishop of New York and Irishman, John Hughes began to see participation in the war as a way for the Irish to engineer acceptance into society. Fellow Irishman Captain Thomas Francis Meagher paved the way for increased Irish participation by recruiting an ethnically homogeneous Irish Brigade. Meagher promoted the ideas of brotherhood and Irish nationalism by framing the war as a fight against tyranny. During a recruitment speech, he declared, “it is a fact that after all her denunciations and horror of slavery, England is for the South, where slavery is in full blast, and against the North.” Thousands responded, and Meagher’s choice of 3,000 men formed the first Irish Brigade. As part of the Army of the Potomac, the Brigade fought in every major battle of the Eastern theater. They contributed to the wars unprecedented carnage and lost the lives of approximately 4,000 of their men. This loss of life indirectly affected their home fronts resulting in the creation of Catholic Protectory for Homeless and Wayward Children and the 1863 New York Draft Riots.
Opened in 1863 with 1,000 children in care by the end of that year, the Protectory ensured the teaching of the Catholic faith to the homeless and orphaned Irish children.  Institutions such as this strengthened Catholic presence and acceptance in their new country. Environmental damage extended to home when the 1863 New York Draft Riots resulted from the belief that the Irish soldiers were wantonly sacrificed. Although the Draft Riots cast the Irish in a negative light, the courage their soldiers displayed during battle helped to break down the longstanding Irish nativism. Both Union and Confederate armies were impressed with the Brigades performance. Confederate General George Pickett applauded their valor in a letter stating his, “heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin fearlessly rush to their deaths. The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. We forgot they were fighting us and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines.”
Recognizable by friends and enemies alike the emerald green silk flag flew alongside the Union’s red white and blue. The emerald green represented Ireland’s traditional Catholic color. Its’ heraldic symbol of a harp and motto written in Gaelic, “Riambh nar druid o sbairn lann,” meaning “They shall not retreat from the clash of spears” inarguably represents the Brigades connection to their homeland. Their flag melded with American history as it became a symbol of the American Civil War and signified “the respect the immigrants were gaining in 19th-century society.” On the second day of battle at Gettysburg, Reverend William Corby, christened American soil with the Catholic tradition when he granted general absolution to the soldiers. Without time for individual confessions, Reverend Corby enacted the seldom-used Catholic practice immortalized in Paul Wood’s Absolution Under Fire.
Several commemorative monuments grace the American landscape to immortalize their contribution to Union victory. Most notably on the historical sites of Gettysburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Adorned with Irish symbols the monuments “keep their memory green in the American heart.” The boxwood that surrounds the Fredericksburg monument gives remembrance to the General Meagher’s act of distributing boxwood to his soldiers to give them “an emblem of the Emerald Isle” to carry into battle. Meagher’s act expertly projects Irish nationalism onto the American landscape.
Although it would take time to eradicate prejudices, the Civil War accelerated the Americanization of the Irish. The Brigade contributed to saving the nation and diminished the Irish stigma by becoming comrades-in-arms. Meagher went on to be acting governor of Montana bringing Irish culture and nationalism west with him. The Irish Brigade being homogeneously ethnically Irish opened the eyes of Americans to see the capacity of their contributions. The Brigade caused direct and indirect environmental damage typical of wartime, but their reward for their loyalty and bravery is that America became a little more Irish.
– Lacie Jensen
Bierle, Sarah Kay. “Those Green Flags” – The Irish Brigade’s Battlefield Banners.” Gazette665. June 29, 2016. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://gazette665.com/2016/06/24/those-green-flags-the-irish-brigades-battlefield-banners/.
Brennan, Matthew. “The Irish Brigade: Heroes of The Civil War.” Irish America. April 13, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://irishamerica.com/2011/07/the-irish-brigade-heroes-of-the-civil-war/.
Bunch, Lonnie. “Who Is to Blame for First Shot?” The Washington Post. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/who-is-to-blame-for-first-shot/2011/04/04/AF1M5uHD_story.html?utm_term=.ca86c4872614.
Craughwell, Thomas J. 2011. “Remembering Ireland and Fighting for the Union.” American Spectator 44 (6): 26. http://libpublic3.library.isu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=62012340&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Craughwell, Thomas. 2011. “The Fightin’ IRISH.” America’s Civil War 24 (5): 50. http://libpublic3.library.isu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=65093841&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Hartwig, D. Scott. 2017. “When Luck Ran out for the Irish Brigade.” America’s Civil War 29 (6): 14–15. http://libpublic3.library.isu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=118705922&site=eds-live&scope=site.
“Irish Brigade Monument at Gettysburg.” The Battle of Gettysburg. Accessed December 03, 2018. http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/new-york/new-york-infantry/irish-brigade/.
Welch, Richard. “America’s Civil War: Why the Irish Fought for the Union.” HistoryNet. June 23, 2016. Accessed December 03, 2018. http://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-why-the-irish-fought-for-the-union.htm.
 Bunch, Lonnie. “Who Is to Blame for First Shot?” The Washington Post. Accessed December 03, 2018.
 Welch, Richard. “America’s Civil War: Why the Irish Fought for the Union.” HistoryNet. June 23, 2016. Accessed December 03, 2018. http://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-why-the-irish-fought-for-the-union.htm.
 Hartwig, D. Scott. 2017. “When Luck Ran out for the Irish Brigade.” America’s Civil War 29 (6): 14–15.
 Craughwell, Thomas J.“Remembering.”1.
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 Craughwell, Thomas J.“Remembering.”4.
 Brennan, Matthew. “The Irish Brigade: Heroes of The Civil War.” Irish America. April 13, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018..
 Bierle, Sarah Kay. “Those Green Flags” – The Irish Brigade’s Battlefield Banners.” Gazette665. June 29, 2016. Accessed December 03, 2018..
 Craughwell, Thomas J.“Remembering.”4.
 “Irish Brigade Monument at Gettysburg.” The Battle of Gettysburg. Accessed December 03, 2018.