April 5th, 1864: Emigrant abduction used to recruit for army


FROM THE ARCHIVES:During the American civil war young Irish male emigrants were in danger of being hustled into the Union army on their arrival in the US (as depicted in Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York). The Irish Timeswas appalled at the practice and accused the British government of turning a blind eye to it for its own political reasons. –

THE IRISH peasantry – at least the young and able-bodied portion of them – are leaving the country in a continuous stream ever increasing in volume.

On Saturday 350 left Sligo, 500 left Queenstown [Cobh], 400 took their departure for port from Killarney station. At Queenstown as many passengers are booked as the steamers will be able to convey in a fortnight.

Orders have been given not to book passengers for the steerage under £7, yet still they poured down to the quays from every conceivable quarter, and this at the very time when the opening spring gives ample employment in tillage. During the last month 9,250 Irish left Liverpool for America. Very soon will have departed the additional half million which dilettanti statesmen and writers doom to emigration before Ireland can be safe.

Few, indeed, of the emigrants ever penetrate the jungles of America, or reach those fields they hear so much of. The Times’ correspondent, writing from New York on March 23rd, corroborates every statement we have made respecting the infamous system of kidnapping adopted to provide recruits for the Federal armies.

The Washington Cabinet offers fifteen dollars “hand money to every citizen” who shall bring in a volunteer to either branch of the service. Hundreds of wretches swarm about the ships when the emigrants are about to land. They beset them, dog them, offer to treat them and to provide them with employment at once.

The emigrants who accepts “a treat” perhaps offered by some false countrymen whom residence in the States has made callous to another’s suffering and indifferent to wrong – is lost. The cup of welcome to the new country which he drinks, is drugged.

In the morning the emigrant awakes in depot and finds he has sold himself, or is said to have sold himself to the recruiting officer. No one can learn anything about him, and vain are his efforts to communicate with his friends or to appeal to the British Consul.

He has been entered under a fictitious name given by the crimp to the recruiting agent, and to that name he is compelled to answer, if the relatives of the emigrant, ignorant of the false appellation given to him inquire respecting him in his own name. Should the British Consul endeavour to ascertain his fate, the answer invariably given is “no such person is known in the Federal ranks.” . . .

The Government believing, or pretending to believe, in the theory that half a million more of the able-bodied must be killed off as regards Ireland before the country can recover herself, looks on contentedly while the very marrow of the land is melting away. . . . One would believe that the Whig Government are proud that under their rule the population of Ireland is disappearing.

They employ persons to write pamphlets upon the old question of demand and supply of the labour market, and the relative price of labour, and to preach that it is good for the country to be depopulated, and for the peasant to be exited to the Far West.

It only remains, until a change of Government ensues, that all who have influence with the peasantry should teach them what perils await them from the moment of their landing.