I’m not sure that I follow Susannah Bruce’s logic in her article “Summer of Irish Rage” (March 2009). The Irish were hardly alone in resenting the removal of George McClellan, immediate emancipation and the imposition of national conscription. New York’s 1863 riot included plenty of German and native-born Americans. If the Irish rioters were provoked by executive disdain for Irish soldiers, were the Germans miffed at the insults hurled at XI Corps German troops after Chancellorsville? What slight motivated the Anglo-Saxon participants?
It seems clear that the riot represented a class struggle, rather than an ethnic one, as is illustrated by Ms. Bruce’s correct assertion that “there were Irish Catholics on both sides of this fight.” The conflict arose between the more affluent citizens who were viewed as supporters of the war and those of lesser means who ended up as cannon fodder and whose livelihoods were jeopardized by freed slaves. Irish composed a high proportion of the rioters because they composed the vast majority of the lower economic strata.
South Conway, N.H.
Susannah Ural Bruce responds: I want to thank Mr. Marvel for his comments. He argues that “the riot represented a class struggle, rather than an ethnic one.” Actually, both ethnicity and class influenced the rioters. My point was that many historians have failed to consider military influences. Many Civil War scholars write on the home front while ignoring military affairs, while military historians often ignore the home front. The two are inseparable. Thus, my article focuses on the military issues that influenced Irish-Catholic rioters. Mr. Marvel also wonders whether Irish Catholics were really angrier than, say, German-American soldiers and families regarding perceived government mistreatment. My answer is, yes. For example, by the fall of 1864, most Northerners and Union soldiers supported the war’s direction and demonstrated that by re-electing Lincoln in large numbers. New York’s Irish-dominated neighborhoods, though, remained loyal to McClellan. The 6th Ward, for example, gave 90 percent of the vote to McClellan. The German communities, however, were much more split in their votes for Lincoln or McClellan. The question I will grant Mr. Marvel is the exact breakdown of the soldier vote. I would love to examine how, for example, Germans in the XI Corps voted compared with Irish-Catholic volunteers.
I will not argue that military factors had more influence on Irish rioters than class or ethnicity. But I would not accept the reverse of that either. My point is that you cannot understand individuals and communities during the Civil War without a full under – standing of the battlefield and the home front.
The caption for the photo on P. 23 of the March 2009 issue refers to the men shown as “members of the storied Irish Brigade.” It is worth noting that the man on the far right of the photo (seated and holding a hat) is Father William Corby, the chaplain of the Irish Brigade.
Corby is famous for standing on a boulder near Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg and giving soldiers absolution as they prepared for battle. His statue at Gettysburg commemorates that event.
Western Pennsylvania boy
The March 2009 article “Stories in Stone” includes a section on Captain David Acheson, who was killed in the Wheatfield during the Battle of Gettysburg and buried on the field, underneath a stone there with his initials “DA” and his regiment—“140 PI”—carved into it. The article states that several cousins came from Washington, D.C., to disinter his body and take it back home to the family plot in the cemetery in Washington. He, in fact, was from Washington, Pa., or as we called it growing up in Pitts burgh: “Little Washington.” His cousins brought his body back to the cemetery in Washington County, Pa., about 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. A recent documentary on Pittsburgh’s PBS station, WQED, discussed the vandalism that occurs to Gettysburg monuments. One segment showed David Acheson’s marker, with his great-niece reading letters that he had written to his mother in Washington, Pa.
Upper St. Clair, Pa.
Stop Forrest fire
As a new student of Civil War history, I read your magazine to learn about the many players who helped shape the Civil War. To be honest, I had never heard of Nathan Bedford Forrest prior to your cover story on him. Your story clearly stated that while many believe Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan, recent evidence points to the contrary. Forrest may not have been a great man, but in the South neither was Abraham Lincoln nor General William T. Sherman.
The Civil War is not only about great generals and battles, it is also about a horrendous loss of life and unspeakable tortures. We must remember all of these things in order to fully understand where our great country has come from and where we are headed as we inaugurate our 44th President.
Jenna M. Frye
Editor’s note:We were unable to print the large volume of letters, the largest amount we have gotten in some time, that the magazine received supporting the January 2009 cover and article on N.B. Forrest. America’s Civil War always appreciates our readers’ interest in our editorial content, and thank you for your overwhelming response.
Journey to the past
When I was 8 years old, my mother and I moved in with my grandparents. They had no television, so for entertainment they told us stories about relatives that lived in Arkansas during the Civil War.
Many years later, after serving in the Marines, raising a family and retiring from teaching, I began a journey back to the past. I discovered that my great-grandfather had been a Confederate soldier. His name was George Wash ington Hammon, and he joined the Walker County Light Guards in 1862. The Guards became E Company of the 39th Regiment of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Twice, my great-grandfather was captured and paroled.
I always enjoy stories of family members who served in the Civil War, so I decided to share a little history of my family.
Originally published in the May 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.