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America’s Civil War Book Review: Home of the Brave

By Allen Barra
7/7/2017 • America's Civil War Magazine

Home of the Brave: In Their Own Words— Immigrant Soldiers Who Received the Medal of Honor During the Civil War

Les Rolston, Blue Mustang Press 2012, $12.95

There are plenty of existing accounts of veterans on both sides of the Civil War, told in letters, memoirs, oral history, etc. Les Rolston’s Home of the Brave addresses a mostly overlooked yet critical aspect of the war: the experiences of immigrant soldiers—men who were, as Rolston writes, “often unliked and unwelcomed people seeking a new life in a new country.” Readers may be surprised to find that hundreds of immigrants earned this country’s most prestigious commendation.

Most of the names, as one might expect, are Irish. From the 42nd New York, Michael Madden of Limerick, who had come to America at age 14, was twice wounded, once at Antietam, and was awarded the MOH for carrying a wounded comrade on his back across the Potomac River to safety. Captain John Lonergan distinguished himself at Gettysburg, supporting John Buford’s cavalry, and elsewhere. And then there was Orlando Caruana, a 20- year-old from the island of Malta who immigrated to the United States in 1861. Fighting with the 51st New York, Caruana—who didn’t receive his medal until 1890—survived the heroic charge at Antietam’s Burnside Bridge and fought in the Wilderness Campaign. None of these men second-guessed their decisions to come to a new world nor showed regret for serving in a war with horrors they could never have envisioned.

Regarding his research, Rolston notes that “it was quite sad. Many files were missing [from the National Archives]—having been lost, misfiled or stolen.” For some, like John Ortega, the first Hispanic sailor to receive the MOH, there’s no record of his life after the conflict. Belgian-born Albert Oss “[r]emained in the rifle pits [at Chancellorsville] after the others had retreated, firing constantly and contesting the ground step by step.” Records show Oss died in 1898 and was buried in New Jersey, but since his pension file was lost, we know virtually nothing about his postwar life.

It’s surprising, 150 years after the fighting, to find an essential new book on the conflict, but Rolston has compiled a collection of stories that illuminate the devotion and sacrifice of previously unknown patriots.

 

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.

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