Did the Irish Potato Famine Help Doom the Confederacy?

NH Civil War Gal

Captain
* OFFICIAL *
CWT PRESENTER
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
1615993226396.png


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?
 
Last edited by a moderator:

LetUsHavePeace

Volunteer
Joined
Dec 1, 2018
Chapter Title: Irish Emigration
Chapter Author: D. A. E. Harkness

 

CowCavalry

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 17, 2017
A very interesting topic!
For several years, I ve been working on a manuscript based on an 18th to 19th century Mississippi family. Research for that work led me to an in-depth ancestry research where I ve found a colonial trail leading 18th century Irish immigrants from NY, Boston and Philadelphia into south-western Pennsylvania to southwestern Virginia and southeast Tennessee. This of course has nothing to do with the potato famine but it’s enlightening to read the many replies you received - which has given me ( and I am sure others) a great deal to think about. Thanks again!
My paternal G Grandfather immigrated from Portlaw Ireland in or around 1860. His passage to America was supposedly aboard the "Harmony", landing in New Orleans where he made his way to Gibson Co. TN to help an uncle operate his farm and take care of his blind aunt. Per family lore, he was either drafted or joined the Confederate Army. I do know that he had a son who in 1905 served in the TN house of representatives and later served as a senator, listing the SCV as one of the fraternal orgs. he was a member of.
 
Last edited:

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Teddy's mother was also a Southern belle who had brothers serving as Confederate officers. Beyond Theodore Sr.'s other reasons for hiring a substitute, it might have made things less complicated at home.

Yes, this was the explanation that was passe down as family lore. Mrs. Roosevelt (Teddy's mother) was reportedly extremely upset that her husband might be involved in the killing of her brothers or other relatives, and did not want him to join the army. Mr. Roosevelt was very devoted to his wife and honored her wishes. At least that is the family story repeated in a number of TR biographies
 

Zella

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
Yes, this was the explanation that was passe down as family lore. Mrs. Roosevelt (Teddy's mother) was reportedly extremely upset that her husband might be involved in the killing of her brothers or other relatives, and did not want him to join the army. Mr. Roosevelt was very devoted to his wife and honored her wishes. At least that is the family story repeated in a number of TR biographies
That's interesting--I didn't realize that, but it makes sense. I have read that he would refer to his mother as "unreconstructed" until she died in the 1880s. I definitely don't think his mother's opinion and probably influence on her husband's decision can be discounted, even if other factors were at work.
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
I hear you and respect what you are saying. I took the shame thing straight from a family diary of the time period. It was from a letter by the mother of Oney Sweet who served in the 1st Penns. His mother said, “drafting was considered a shame on the family and a substitute was not to be thought of.”

Later, in his diary, he and others from their town in the 1st Penns learn that others bought substitutes. He writes that he directs his mother to provide a list of them and send it to him. So at least in that little subsection of men, they considered, very strongly, that it was something to be ashamed of.
Indirectly your citation proves my point. By citing a diary/letter from one family, you leave open the question--where are all the others. If this had been the rule not the exception, there would be a flood of similar cases. Do you really think that Mr. Sweet 2, 3 or 4 years later after the war made it his business to accost anybody on the list who paid a sub? In fact having seen so many of his comrades who suffered or died, his opinion post war very possibly might have changed entirely.
 

NH Civil War Gal

Captain
* OFFICIAL *
CWT PRESENTER
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
In fact having seen so many of his comrades who suffered or died, his opinion post war very possibly might have changed entirely.
I’m thinking it probably did. Certainly after the war there isn’t a record of him going home and pouncing on people. I’m sure the war changed a lot of mind sets and opinions.
 

Lusty Murfax

Sergeant
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Location
Northwest Missouri
My Irish Great Grandfather and his little sister were transported by their parents to America in about 1850 when he was eight years old. They were bound over to a well to do family near Mansfield, Ohio and were listed on the 1860 census as house servants. The family story is that they were starving in Ireland and this was an act of desperation on the part of their folks.

In about 1861 GGPa was released from his obligations to this family and joined an Ohio volunteer infantry regiment, the 102nd OVI. His service included occupation duties with the regiment in Kentucky and Tennessee and nine months as a POW at Cahaba prison in Alabama. At the end of the war he was also one of the survivors of the Sultana sinking. He is listed in the 1870 census of his Missouri County of residence as a 29 year old farmer. My Grandpa was born in 1897 when the old boy was 55.
 

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
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.
God bless the USA. 😂
 

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
I think it was something like 25% of Union soldiers were immigrants - that’s a considerable amount of men to draw upon, no matter how you look at it. I’m not sure you can’t say it didn’t make a difference to helping win the war. Maybe not strategic difference but in sheer manpower and keeping things manned it might have.
I wonder why the Confederacy didn’t try to make use of the prisoners and win them over.
The CSA was desperate for British recognition. Perhaps an outright appeal to Irishmen would hamper that effort?
 

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
The permanent ending of prisoner exchanges in 1864 was Grant's decision. He made the awful calculus that the Confederacy could not replace the men that the Union armies captured through battlefield surrender and through military arrest. The calculus was "awful" because it was made entirely on the basis of logistics. The troops captured at Donelson were made prisoners of war because there was no difficulty in sending them to Chicago (the extent to which Camp Douglas contributed to the Windy City's emergence as the transportation hub for country seems to me badly underappreciated). Those who surrendered at Vicksburg were paroled because Grant calculated that sending them north would break his fragile supply lines and there was very little likelihood of those men reforming as an effective combat force or journeying hundreds of miles to join the other Confederate armies still in the field. Like those other rare people who can think in mathematics as well as language, Grant was always running the numbers in his head. In that sense only he was guilty of being a "butcher"; war was, in the end, a weighing of the human meat to be engaged in movement and battle.
Why did Grant say that he wouldn’t continue the exchanges?
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Calling it the Irish Potato Famine is one way to look at it but another way is calling it the European Potato Famine as the potato crop failed in much of Europe. This contributed to insurrections and revolutions in many European nations. So Germans and many other failed insurrectionist and revolutionaries also emigrated to the United States. Most went to Northern states.
 

LetUsHavePeace

Volunteer
Joined
Dec 1, 2018

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
https://civilwarmonths.com/2019/04/01/grant-suspends-prisoner-exchange/

“The enlistment of our slaves is a barbarity. No people… could tolerate… the use of savages (against them) … We cannot on any principle allow that our property can acquire adverse rights by virtue of a theft of it.”
That quote, according to the cite you shared is the Confederate War Bureau, not Grant.

What did Grant say about ending prisoner exchanges? What did he give as his reasons?
 

LetUsHavePeace

Volunteer
Joined
Dec 1, 2018
Grant's instructions to Butler, who was the direct negotiator with the Robert Ould, Confederate commissioner of prisoner exchange: “No distinction whatever will be made in the exchange between white and colored prisoners, the only question being, were they, at the time of their capture, in the military service of the United States. If they were, the same terms as to treatment while prisoners and conditions of release and exchange must be exacted and had, in the case of colored soldiers as in the case of white soldiers....“Non-acquiescence by the Confederate authorities in both or either of these propositions will be regarded as a refusal on their part to agree to the further exchange of prisoners, and will be so treated by us.”

The people who knew Grant best understood something that still bewilders most of us. The man could think about problems mathematically with enough skill and insight to understand the scientific discoveries of the age - like Rankine's method, something the exalted engineering faculty at West Point would take another decade to incorporate in its own curriculum. That explains why he could spent his time reading novels and working with the best horses, yet be the only member of his class whom the mathematics instructor thought worthy of recollection.
The formula for the conservation of energy gave the answer: increase the pressure on the Confederates until desertion, disease and near starvation broke their armies and the civilians' will to fight. Exchanging prisoners would decrease the pressure; therefore, do not exchange the prisoners.
The other part of Grant that escapes appreciation is his ability to understand the dynamics of electoral politics. The abolitionists in Congress would fully support the suspension of prisoner exchanges; without their enthusiastic support, Lincoln would lose the election; and the Union would lose the war.
 

Grant's Tomb

Corporal
Joined
Apr 4, 2020
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.
He was referred to as the Stonewall of the West and he was one of the few Confederate generals that supported recruiting black troops in the Confederate army
 

Grant's Tomb

Corporal
Joined
Apr 4, 2020
I think it was something like 25% of Union soldiers were immigrants - that’s a considerable amount of men to draw upon, no matter how you look at it. I’m not sure you can’t say it didn’t make a difference to helping win the war. Maybe not strategic difference but in sheer manpower and keeping things manned it might have.
It seems like the majority of the XI Corps in the Army of the Potomac were German and Polish immigrants, many of whom had participated in or supported the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. They were known as the Forty-Eighters. Carl Schurz who commanded a division in the XI Corps and later served as the 13th Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Hayes and Garfield was a Forty-Eighter. Franz Sigel, Alexander Schimmelfennig, and Adolph von Steinwehr were among them as well
 
Top