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How Many Irish Fought in the American Civil War?

The American Civil War rightly lives long in the memory of men and women in the United States but here on the Emerald Isle it was a story from a far-off, distant land.

For many in Ireland, the Civil War was unconnected to their home, but history tells a different story.

Wartime America

Things could have been different but the circumstances of the 19th century lead to many Irish becoming involved in a Civil War on a faraway land that they wanted to call their new home.

The Great Hunger, the Irish Famine of 1845-51, happened just a few short years before the breakout of the Civil War and thrust millions of young Irish men, women and children into the US melting pot of the time.

It’s estimated that wartime America homed 1.6 million Irish born immigrants, featuring a large percentage of Irish Catholics and, to a slightly lesser extent, Scots Irish Protestants.

This large collection of young able-bodied workers would soon become embroiled in a fight that spanned the nation.

Irish in the American Civil War

It’s estimated that up to 200,000 Irish Americans fought in the American Civil War, with 150,000 on the Union side and approximately 30,000-40,000 on the Southern Confederacy side.

Many joined of their freewill, as they fully accepted America as their new homeland, but others were drafted by the controversial Enrollment Act of March 3rd 1863.

This controversial move, by the Union, lead to bloody battles in the form of the Detroit Race Row of March 6th 1863 and the New York Draft Riots of July 13-16th of the same year.

Despite the huge racial and slavery issues that dominated the Civil War from a political standpoint, the Irish simply wanted to secure their freedoms and a better economic standing for their families and future generations to come.

Interestingly, this quest for freedom lead to some, on the Confederacy side, considering the southern states more open and welcoming to the Irish in the years when they arrived dirt poor, and rejected by many of America’s established and elite.

Many of the Irish formed units and regiments of their own people. The 69th New York State Volunteers, 90th Illinois Infantry Regiment and Irish Bridge featured on the Union side whilst the 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry and Louisiana Tigers were some of those to feature on the Confederacy side.

Impact

Despite the divide, the Irish on both sides fought and suffered tremendous losses.

A small example of this is that whilst there are no official figures, it’s estimated that a large percentage of Irish fought and died amongst the 165,000 soldiers present during the famous Battle of Gettysburg July 1-3rd 1863.

Whatever the figures, the Emerald Isle rarely experienced loss like it then or since.

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