A new book on the Irish on the Confederate side in the Civil War claims that Irish emigrants to the south saw slavery and owning slaves as their passport to wealth.
“The Green and the Gray” by British-based historian David T. Gleeson also states that “Irish participation in the Confederate experiment,remains a “complex and imperfectly understood element of the American Civil War.”
Irish immigrants, Gleeson observes, “saw slave ownership as the way to success in the South.”
Among the slave owners was Bishop Patrick Lynch of Charleston, S.C. who Gleeson says “saw himself as a good Confederate paternalistic slaveholder,” and was “willing to sell slaves” through an Irish-American slave trader.
Bishop Lynch was later sent by Confederate leaders to meet with Pope Pius IX, as Jefferson Davis and others had become convinced “that papal recognition of the Confederacy might encourage other Catholic countries” to come to the aid of the South.
The pope met Lynch but told him slavery was “a major sticking point.”
Most Irish had arrived earlier than Irish in the North and were prosperous in the main.
Frederick Stanton arrived in Natchez Mississippi in 1812 and soon had six cotton picking plantations and owned 333 slaves.
Other Irish were active in politics, owned newspapers; and there were Catholic bishops and cathedrals in the largest cities.
Gleeson, an historian at Northumbria University in Britain says 20,000 Irish served in Confederate units and bore names such as the Irish Volunteers, Emerald Guards, and Shamrock Guards. The men “earned a reputation for bravery,” Gleeson says, but were known “for being difficult to manage.” “Irish men fought hard but also deserted . . . in larger numbers than native Southerners,” he says.
There was apparently only one Irish vs. Irish battlefield clash at Fredericksburg, Va., in December 1862 when Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade“charged up Marye’s Heights toward certain death,” Confederates — including the Lochrane Guards, an Irish unit from Georgia — “ensconced behind a stone wall poured fire into the charging Irishmen.”
In the south Irish-owned machine shops “were an integral part of the Confederate military complex.”
But in the end, “Irish loyalty was shallow,” writes Gleeson as they were unwilling to “sacrifice everything on the altar of the new nation as it disintegrated before their eyes.” He describes them as “ambiguous Confederates,” and “when the Yankees finally came,” most Irish were ready to rejoin the United States.