I received a copy of Osprey’s latest American Civil War title, Irish-American Units in the Civil War, which is Number 448 in their popular Men-at-Arms series. Written by Thomas G. Rogers, the 48-page book includes eight pages of full color illustrations by frequent Osprey contributor Richard Hook. Dotted with dozens of period photographs and etchings, the author takes a brief look at leading (as well as some rather obscure) Irish regiments and companies raised in the volunteer armies of both warring sections of the country. Focused heavily on their early war uniforms and appearance, the book is a useful general overview for wargamers wishing to field armies to contest 1861/1862 battles. As the war dragged on, the colorful and distinctive uniforms that marked several of these Irish units wore out and often were replaced with regulation attire.
Rodgers first gives a brief synopsis of the factors that led to two major waves of immigration from Eire to the United States in the antebellum period. In the late 1700s, significant numbers of Irish Protestants boarded ships for the colonies and later the new USA, A second wave, mostly Catholics, sailed westward following the Napoleonic Wars through 1845, driven primarily by financial uncertainties in the Emerald Isle and the Potato Famine. More than 150,000 Irishmen fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, and a full third of them called New York City home.
The author takes a look, state by state alphabetically, at the major units containing Gaelic-heritage soldiers, beginning with Connecticut and ending with Wisconsin. He naturally spends the most time on the Empire State, as well as looking at the famed irish Brigade. My native state, Ohio, contributed several Irish units; Rodgers focuses on the Cleveland-area’s 1st OVI and gives a detailed description of their early war appearance. Scattered in the text are brief biographical overviews of several leading Irish generals and colonels, including Thomas Meagher, Patrick O’Rourke, Michael Corcoran, and others. Photos of enlisted men and line officers are captioned with brief bios as well.
The second major section is Rodgers’ corresponding look at Confederate Irish units, again on a state by state breakdown. Similar in style and tenor to the Union section, this again provides a very brief glimpse into early war uniforms and equipment, where available. Among the Irish officers he discussed is Patrick Cleburne, and Rodgers gives a useful overview at a very high level of the Irish contingent of the famed Louisiana Tigers, a brigade with a significant Gaelic presence, mostly from the docks and wharves of New Orleans.
Finally, Rogers presents a few pages on the effects the war had on the Irish population, including the dissatisfaction felt by the Irish community of New York and Massachusetts as casualties mounted and the Federal government turned to conscription drafts. Also, he gives an overview of the causes, intentions, and outcomes of the Fenian Raids, in which former U.S. Army officers planned a series of strikes into Canada in hopes of striking a blow against the British on North American soil. Only two of these raids of any size were ever conducted, and both failed miserably.
The bibliography is brief, perhaps way too much so, but presents some of the common reference works on Irish in the Civil War, but it misses some important sources that inquisitive readers may wish to consult for more detailed information. The index is relatively thorough, but uses a font size that is far too small for 40+ eyes.
At $17.95 US and $21.00 Canadian, this book is relatively expensive, and the price-per-page is rather steep. Still, if you are looking for illustrations of early war uniforms of Irish units, it’s a useful reference work for dioramists, 54mm figure painters, and wargamers. However, if you are looking for specific details on the Irish participation in American warfare in the period, this will not provide enough information to be useful.
The new book is available from many leading military book retailers, as well as on-line from amazon.com and similar booksellers. ISBN 978-1-84603-326-1.