Did the Irish Potato Famine Help Doom the Confederacy?

NH Civil War Gal

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I happened to read a line today that said that the Irish potato famine helped doomed the Confederacy because of the tremendous amount of immigration that poured into this country. Apparently recruiting posters for the Union side were printed in different languages too and posted where? In New York City? And apparently the 1862 Homestead Act was publicized around the world to attract immigrants and 800,000 came during the war. I didn’t realize that.

There might be two or three issues here in this thread. But the Irish Potato Famine has certainly sparked my curiosity and I never thought about that before. There were certainly Irish units on both sides but were there more on one side or the other? Or were they fairly equal?
 
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Ole Miss

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@Pat Young would certainly be at home with this topic! I am know that the majority of the Irish and other immigrants arrived through New York City and Boston and beleived they settled in Northern cities and towns due to lack of finances and family that had arrive earlier.

I am sure you are correct that the Famine, poverty and harsh treatment from Englishmen and Ole John Bull. America offered freedom and an opportunity for a man to make his own success so why throw that away and join the Confederacy? America was their new home and they had a dislike for slavery based on Ireland's tragic history.

I have seen figures of over 150,000 Irish men fought for the Union and about 15 to 20,000 for the South. Many Irish settled in the South with probably Patrick Cleburne the most famous.

This is going to be an interesting thread. Congratulations!
Regards
David

 

Pat Young

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During the two decades before the Civil War, for every 100 immigrants, 5 went to Border Slave States, 5 went to future Confederate States, and 90 went to Union Free States. Mass immigration, and the fact that immigrants overwhelmingly chose to live in the North were important factors in giving the North the manpower advantage that is almost always described as a winning factor in Union victory.
The immigrants who continued to arrive during the war had a big impact on keeping the Union economy humming, and not just in manufacturing. Many went into agriculture either as laborers or small farmers. The North avoided the severe labor shortages that crippled parts of the Southern economy through a policy of actively encouraging immigration.
I am always wary of saying that any one factor “doomed” the Confederacy, but the Famine drove hundreds of thousands per year to Amerikay, and nine out of ten went to live in the Free States.
 

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As Pat said, way more Irish immigrants settled in the North than in the South. I expect that the closer a place was to Ireland, the cheaper it was to sail to someplace closer to Ireland than to continue on to a more distant port. Hence, way more Irish settled in Boston than in Charleston.

Two random facts kind of pop into my head. When the war began, there was a grand total of eleven Catholic priests in the entire state of Georgia (I'll be posting about Father Peter Whelan later this week), and while some Irish joined up voluntarily and made fine soldiers, once the Draft started (at least in the North), things got ugly. The law said that a recent immigrant could be drafted and forced to serve if he intended to stay in America. This resulted in three days of draft riots in New York City, where mobs of Irish immigrants went on a rampage targeting blacks, who they felt were responsible for the war because of slavery. A man was lynched, a black orphanage (!) was burned, and much destruction ensued.

Robert Kellogg said in either his book or his diary that if there had not been a draft, there would not have been any Raiders at Andersonville, because the draft brought the shadier elements of society into the military. John McElroy (who I consider to be kind of shady himself) made a big point about the Irish being the ones that preyed on their fellow prisoners, and at least half of the Raiders who were hanged were Irish (Delaney, Sullivan and Sarsfield; two more likely were of Irish descent, as five of the six hanged were Roman Catholic). Amos Judson, who was the captain of Delaney's company, was extremely relieved when the Irish who were sent to him deserted because he saw them as a corrupting influence on the 83rd Pennsylvania, and wrote as much in his regimental history.

So, yeah, the Irish presence in the Union Army definitely did make a difference, but like Pat, I would stop short of saying that THAT is what "doomed" the Confederacy.
 
During the two decades before the Civil War, for every 100 immigrants, 5 went to Border Slave States, 5 went to future Confederate States, and 90 went to Union Free States. Mass immigration, and the fact that immigrants overwhelmingly chose to live in the North were important factors in giving the North the manpower advantage that is almost always described as a winning factor in Union victory.
The immigrants who continued to arrive during the war had a big impact on keeping the Union economy humming, and not just in manufacturing. Many went into agriculture either as laborers or small farmers. The North avoided the severe labor shortages that crippled parts of the Southern economy through a policy of actively encouraging immigration.
I am always wary of saying that any one factor “doomed” the Confederacy, but the Famine drove hundreds of thousands per year to Amerikay, and nine out of ten went to live in the Free States.

Pat, I had recently read (I'm trying to remember which book) that immigrants made up 25% of the Union's military but the Irish who were predominately poor, Catholic, Democrats and opposed to emancipation, and the German Catholics were the two lowest represented groups in the military by proportion than all other immigrant groups.
 

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Pat, I had recently read (I'm trying to remember which book) that immigrants made up 25% of the Union's military but the Irish who were predominately poor, Catholic, Democrats and opposed to emancipation, and the German Catholics were the two lowest represented groups in the military by proportion than all other immigrant groups.
Three points:

1. when a civil war breaks out today in a foreign country, do the Americans living there typically:
A. Enlist in the country’s army
B. Flee the country or lay low to avoid the conflict

It strikes me as weird that while more than 500,000 enlisted in the army, higher than their proportion in the population, they are criticized for under enrolling!

2. Irish did enlist in the army in slightly less numbers than the German immigrants. What gets left out is that 20% of men in the Navy were Irish, way above their proportion of the population. If you combine army and navy enlistments, Irish and German enlisted in similar numbers.

3. Draft resistance tended to be higher in German Catholic and Irish areas. The fact that men who did want to enlist also did not want to be drafted should come as no surprise. This has little bearing on those who voluntarily enlisted. Had there been no opportunity for better off men to buy their way out of the draft, we might have seen similar resistance in native born areas.
 
Three points:

1. when a civil war breaks out today in a foreign country, do the Americans living there typically:
A. Enlist in the country’s army
B. Flee the country or lay low to avoid the conflict

It strikes me as weird that while more than 500,000 enlisted in the army, higher than their proportion in the population, they are criticized for under enrolling!

2. Irish did enlist in the army in slightly less numbers than the German immigrants. What gets left out is that 20% of men in the Navy were Irish, way above their proportion of the population. If you combine army and navy enlistments, Irish and German enlisted in similar numbers.

3. Draft resistance tended to be higher in German Catholic and Irish areas. The fact that men who did want to enlist also did not want to be drafted should come as no surprise. This has little bearing on those who voluntarily enlisted. Had there been no opportunity for better off men to buy their way out of the draft, we might have seen similar resistance in native born areas.

I agree with everything above that you've said. I believe that the author that made the comments wasn't attributing the disproportion of enlistments to the Irish and Germans as an ethnic group but rather to the fact that they were Catholic and this combined with the nativism anti-Catholic movement caused these two groups to enlist disproportionately less than the other ethnic groups and drove them to the Democrat party.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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fact that men who did want to enlist also did not want to be drafted should
Sorry for the incomplete highlighting but the iPad is not cooperating this morning!

I’ve read where families thought it was the “hight of shame” to be drafted and to buy a substitute was “not be considered.”

In fact, in the diary I’ve just finished. Oney Sweet, in a letter from his mother learns that a couple of families from his home town hired substitutes. He writes back to his mother asking for a list of the men who hired substitutes. I’m assuming there would be future shame and payback in store.
 

James N.

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As Pat said, way more Irish immigrants settled in the North than in the South. I expect that the closer a place was to Ireland, the cheaper it was to sail to someplace closer to Ireland than to continue on to a more distant port. Hence, way more Irish settled in Boston than in Charleston.
Even if an Irishman wanted to join the Confederacy, the blockade made travel to the South very difficult which was another negative motivator.
One aspect that hasn't been considered fully is that New York Harbor was the principal antebellum point of entry for the entire country, and remained so; Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New Orleans, and other ports were important regionally but secondary to N.Y. in National importance and shipping. Irishman Pat Cleburne and his siblings were unusual in the 1850's when they immigrated because they came through New Orleans instead. In N.Y.C. agents from the notorious Democrat "machine" Tammany Hall met ships containing passengers from Ireland and quickly sucked them into its maw as prospective new members and Democrat voters - Sound familiar?; it should! Once the war was in full swing, they were joined at the docks by recruiters looking to enlist the newcomers directly into newly-forming units. Other agents went directly to Ireland and other countries looking for prospective recruits who they encouraged to immigrate.
 

Dave DuBrucq

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I happened to read a line today that said that the Irish potato famine helped doomed the Confederacy because of the tremendous amount of immigration that poured into this country. Apparently recruiting posters for the Union side were printed in different languages too and posted where? In New York City? And apparently the 1862 Homestead Act was publicized around the world to attract immigrants and 800,000 came during the war. I didn’t realize that.

There might be two or three issues here in this thread. But the Irish Potato Famine has certainly sparked my curiosity and I never thought about that before. There were certainly Irish units on both sides but were there more on one side or the other? Or were they fairly equal?
Given the famine and onerous treatment by the English, it is not surprising a large number of Irish fled to the United States. Although they enjoyed more freedom here than in Ireland, the initial treatment of the Irish in the United States was hardhanded. The Irish however, showed their metal in the ACW with their loyalty and acts of bravery. An estimated 150,000 Irish fought for the Union during the war. Although significantly fewer Irish lived in the South, they too fought bravely. Patrick Cleburne, the Confederacy's finest Division commander in my opinion, was the highest ranking among them.
 

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Bounties and floating the idea if you signed up for 3 years you got a quarter section of land in the west, didn’t hurt.

North had a large, poor, propertyless class who could be paid as replacements for the middle and upper class was a huge benefit.

Average median family wealth in MA was $300 in 1860. By 65 some areas of MA had a bounty of as much as 1k. In 1863 1 in 40 drafted served in MA. Connecticut 1 in 63 drafted served in 63. So, the overwhelming majority could find a way out of it.
 
Do we have any idea how many soldiers were substitutes? Is that figure anywhere?
According to McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" pg. 605, during the two years following the passage of the Federal Conscription Act, 800,000 men enlisted or re-enlisted, 46,000 men were drafted and served while 74,000 provided substitutes.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I wonder if there is a break down of where those 74,000 come from. I’d love to know by state if possible. It’s very interesting to speculate on who and why someone would get a substitute vs. other families regarding it a terrible smear on their family reputation.
 
I wonder if there is a break down of where those 74,000 come from. I’d love to know by state if possible. It’s very interesting to speculate on who and why someone would get a substitute vs. other families regarding it a terrible smear on their family reputation.
Unfortunately McPherson does not offer a source for that passage. This might provide some help to you:
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Unfortunately McPherson does not offer a source for that passage. This might provide some help to you:
I read somewhere that Cleveland was not as sympathetic (I don’t know if that is true) as Garfield was to veterans because he did not serve. Calling @Eric Wittenberg do you know about the Cleveland administration and how they acted towards veterans?
 
I read somewhere that Cleveland was not as sympathetic (I don’t know if that is true) as Garfield was to veterans because he did not serve. Calling @Eric Wittenberg do you know about the Cleveland administration and how they acted towards veterans?

Did you see "Records of the Provost Marshal General's Bureau, 1863-1865, Record Group 110, are the principal records that relate to the 1863 draft" buried down in the link I provided?
 
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