'To live and die [for] Dixie': Irish civilians and the Confederate States of America

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Abstract

Around 20,000 Irishmen served in the Confederate army in the Civil War. As a result, they left behind, in various Southern towns and cities, large numbers of friends, family, and community leaders. As with native-born Confederates, Irish civilian support was crucial to Irish participation in the Confederate military effort. Also, Irish civilians served in various supporting roles: in factories and hospitals, on railroads and diplomatic missions, and as boosters for the cause. They also, however, suffered in bombardments, sieges, and the blockade. Usually poorer than their native neighbours, they could not afford to become 'refugees' and move away from the centres of conflict. This essay, based on research from manuscript collections, contemporary newspapers, British Consular records, and Federal military records, will examine the role of Irish civilians in the Confederacy, and assess the role this activity had on their integration into Southern communities. It will also look at Irish civilians in the defeat of the Confederacy, particularly when they came under Union occupation. Initial research shows that Irish civilians were not as upset as other whites in the South about Union victory. They welcomed a return to normalcy, and often 'collaborated' with Union authorities. Also, Irish desertion rates in the Confederate army were particularly high, and I will attempt to gauge whether Irish civilians played a role in this. All of the research in this paper will thus be put in the context of the Drew Gilpin Faust/Gary Gallagher debate on the influence of the Confederate homefront on military performance. By studying the Irish civilian experience one can assess how strong the Confederate national experiment was. Was it a nation without a nationalism?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-153
JournalIrish Studies Review
Volume18
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

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