An Cosantóir

November 2014

An Cosantóir the official magazine of the Irish Defence Forces and Reserve Defence Forces.

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Page 30 of 39 the defence forces magazine | 31 Corcoran's Irish Le- gion, which boast- ed a strong Fenian contingent, and regiments such as the 69th Pennsyl- vania Infantry, part of the force that famously repulsed 'Pickett's Charge' at Gettysburg. While ethnic units such as these continue to dominate Irish memory of the war, the reality was that the majority of Irishmen experienced the conflict serving in the ranks of non-Irish regiments. Although huge numbers of Irish served in the Civil War, their num- bers are actually lower than might be expected given the total Irish emigrant population. Despite much initial enthusiasm for the conflict, heavy casualties sustained by units such as the Irish Brigade in the second half of 1862 and Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that September saw many in the Irish community turn against the war. This culminated in the New York Draft Riots of July 1863, where an estimated two-thirds of the rioters were Irish. Although many early Irish enlistments were motivated by combinations of ideology, economics and a search for adventure, from 1863 on- wards the driving force behind enlistment was largely finan- cial, particularly as bounties on offer for joining increased. In contrast to the large numbers of Irish in the northern ranks, the much smaller population of Irish in the south meant that only some 20,000 Irishmen fought in Confederate gray. The biggest contribution came from the state of Louisiana, mainly due to the concentration of Irish in New Orleans and along the Mississippi. There was only one 'green flag' regi- ment, the 10th Tennessee Infantry, but there were significant numbers of ethnic Irish companies within larger formations. Six Irishmen became generals in the Confederate army. Major General Patrick Cleburne, from Killumney, Co Cork, was the highest-ranking Irishman on either side during the war. Nick- named 'The Stonewall of the West' he was widely regarded as the finest Confederate fighting general in the Western Theatre. Killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, on 30th November 1864, he remains famous in the United States where he has been the subject of a number of biographies, statues and memorials. The city of Cleburne, Texas, which 30,000 people call home, was also named in his honour. Many of the Irish impacted by the Civil war were Famine- era emigrants, for whom the war represented the second great trauma of their lives. One such couple were Charles and Marcella O'Reilly, who left Ireland for a better life the United States sometime in the mid-1840s. In 1860 they lived in Auburn, New York with their four children. Their eldest son Anthony enlisted in the 9th New York Heavy Artillery in August 1862, where he was joined by his father Charles in December 1863. At the Battle of Cedar Creek in October 1864 the two O'Reillys were fighting side by side when the Confed- erates launched a furious attack on their position. One of their comrades described what happened next: …Anthony Riley (sic) was shot and killed; his father was by his side; the blood and brains of his son covered the face and hands of the father. I never saw a more affecting sight than this; the poor old man kneels over the body of his dead son; his tears mingle with his son's blood. O God! what a sight; he can stop but a moment, for the rebels are pressing us; he must leave his dying boy in the hands of the devilish foe; he bends over him, kisses his cheek, and with tearful eyes rushes to the fight, determined to avenge his son.' A little over five months later Charles O'Reilly also lost his life, succumbing to disease contracted in the trenches of Petersburg, Virginia. The loss of a husband and eldest son proved emotionally and financially ruinous for Margaret and her remaining children. With the main breadwinners gone, in 1871 her property in Auburn was seized by the sheriff and sold at auction. Whatever their original circumstances in Ireland upon emigrating, Margaret and Charles O'Reilly could never have imagined what life in the United States ultimately held in store for them. The American Civil War is the only conflict in Irish history comparable to World War One in terms of the number of Irish- men who served and the numbers who died. Although it was fought 150 years ago, the impact of the conflict was still being felt by veterans and their families until well into the twen- tieth century. The last known Irish participant, Limerickman Jeremiah O'Brien, was still alive in 1950. Despite its major significance as part of the story of the Irish people, the experiences of these hundreds of thousands of emigrants have been largely forgotten in Ireland. Although many had lived through the Famine, they are not remembered as part of that catastrophe. Few books are written here that explore Irish participation in the conflict, fewer Irish histori- ans study it, and no events or conferences have taken place to mark its 150th anniversary. Perhaps most poignant of all is the fact that Ireland still lacks a memorial to remember those Irish, like Charles and Margaret O'Reilly, whose lives were so deeply affected by the conflict between Blue and Gray. Men of the 63rd New York (Irish Brigade), with their United States and Irish Colours. Officers of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry (an ethnic Irish unit) celebrate mass in Camp, 1861. Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne.

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