Irish-American Units in the Civil War

by Thomas G. Rodgers, Osprey Publishing, 2008, $17.95

The Irish—both Protestant and Catholic, from poor laborers to established upper-middle class— were the largest wave of immigrants to settle in the United States before 1861, and when the Civil War broke out, they dutifully formed militia units in cities and towns throughout the country. Although generally unsympathetic regarding the nation’s pressing slavery issue—since the working-class Irish regarded black Americans as their chief competitors—they were divided over the matter of union vs. secession. Consequently, some 150,000 fought for the North, most famously in Brigadier General Thomas Meagher’s Irish Brigade (see related article, P. 26), but about 40,000 served the Confederacy with equal distinction. That total included the best Rebel division commander in the Western theater, Major General Patrick Cleburne.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Alabama University librarian Thomas G. Rodgers, a graduate too of that Southern academic bastion, would never neglect including the story of the Confederate Irish units in his new guide Irish-American Units in the Civil War, part of Osprey’s valuable “Menat-Arms” series. Rodgers’ comprehensive treatment of these distinctive brigades and regiments deals with them not only by North and South, but also state by state.

Richard Hook’s artwork, which includes some prewar militia uniforms and the flags that made the Irish units truly stand out on the battlefield, is a nice bonus. But curiously, only one black-and-white illustration depicts the unique and colorful Zouave-inspired uniform worn by Wheat’s Tigers from Louisiana.

Photographs of well-known officers and privates from the rank and file abound in this book, which concludes with a brief summary of the Fenian campaigns of 1866 and 1870, in which Civil War veterans of both sides united in their own common cause: invading Canada in hopes of ransoming the territory they seized back to Britain in exchange for Irish independence!


Originally published in the March 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here