Irish In The US Civil War


Sir, - You recently published an eloquent plea by a distinguished former member of our diplomatic service, Con Howard, calling for research into the very considerable participation by people from Ireland in the Civil War which convulsed the United States from 1861 to 1865, and has been categorised as foreshadowing "total warfare", as practised by governments in our lugubrious century. As in so many of the big wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, there were Irish on each side, fighting each other for causes that could only very remotely be considered to have anything to do with Ireland.

I am asked by the research department of the Maritime Institute of Ireland to report that over 20 years ago, thanks to a generous donation by an institute member, it was able to make a comprehensive search into the documentation in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, concerning the Confederate navy. The researcher reached Richmond with the names of nine Irishmen who served in that navy, and returned with 845 names out of the 5,200 total that manned it (including one woman who provided naval intelligence).

What was striking was the variety of reasons that led Irish people to support the Confederacy. Highly qualified naval officers who did so were strong opponents of slavery who had won distinction seeking out and capturing ships illegally carrying human cargoes from Africa to be sold as slaves in North America. To them the federal side represented overcentralised government and loss of states' right for the benefit of big business. The most famous, Maury, made a moving personal appeal to Lincoln to prevent war. - Yours, etc.,

John De Courcy Ireland,

Grosvenor Terrace,


Co Dublin.