Irish Brigade of the Civil War

Irish Brigade of the Civil War

To understand the Irish Brigade one must look back before the war. As most people know, Irish immigration to the United States took off in the 1840’s, in response to the potato blight and famine in Ireland. Between 1846 and 1854, more than one million Irish emigrated to the United States. Most Irish Americans are also aware that upon arrival here the majority of Irish immigrants met with something considerably less than an enthusiastic welcoming committee. Anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Irish sentiment ran high in some areas of the United States, particularly among a splinter political group called the “Know-Nothings.” (The name came from their standard response when questioned about the membership or activities of their secretive political party.) One by-product of this blatant hostility was, ironically, the solidification of the unique identity of the Irish-American community. Pushed together in the slums of mid-19th century cities like New York and Boston, the Irish responded by welding together a new political identity and working towards acceptance through the development of political power. At the same time, the majority of the “average” Irish-Americans stuck in the cities tried to blend in with American society in other ways.

One obvious route to cultural assimilation is imitation. In the mid-1850s, one of the most curious trends to sweep America was the “Rage Militaire.” This was a civilian fascination with all things military. The Rage manifested itself in ladies’ fashions and social titles, but most especially in the veritable horde of social-club-turned-militia-unit organizations that sprang up across the country. In New York and Philadelphia, from Cleveland to Boston, men joined these “militia” units not with the expectation of true military service, but for the camaraderie and pageantry. They equipped themselves in the finest uniforms (of their own design) with the best rifles, muskets and bayonets, and practiced week in and week out on the fancy “evolutions” (formations and movements) of the tactics of that day.

The New York Herald, April 10, 1865: End of The Civil War




The New York Herald, April 10, 1865: End of The Civil War


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