Recovering the voices of the Union Irish: identity, motivation & experience in Irish American Civil War correspondence, 1861-65

Shiels, Damian (2020) Recovering the voices of the Union Irish: identity, motivation & experience in Irish American Civil War correspondence, 1861-65. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This thesis is the first to examine Irish American Union service using the words of the ordinary rank and file who fought it. It does so through an analysis of more than 1100 letters written by almost 400 Irish American servicemen, which were uncovered through an assessment of c. 168,000 Widows and Dependents Pension Files. Nearly 98 percent of these men served in the enlisted ranks. Taking the contextualised correspondence of these men as a foundation, this thesis proposes the need for a reconfiguration and reframing of perceptions of Irish American service during the Civil War. It puts forward new criteria for how the Irish American contribution should be defined and quantified, and seeks to break new ground by situating it within the field of Civil War soldier studies. Significantly, it finds that previous estimates of Irish American participation in the Union military are too low and have led to an erroneous assumption that they were under-represented. At least 180,000 natives of Ireland donned Union blue, with up to 250,000 Irish Americans serving the United States between 1861 and 1865.

The thesis identifies Irish Americans as a complex and diverse body of men, whose working-class status was as significant as ethnicity in shaping their experience. That experience shared many similarities with that of their non-ethnic comrades, though they faced greater challenges than most in sustaining their commitment and maintaining their morale. Nevertheless, Irish American men demonstrated a constant willingness to enlist, fight and die for the United States throughout the four years of the conflict, a willingness that matched and sometimes exceeded that of non-ethnic men. It was driven in the main by factors such as economic need and opportunity, a sense of duty and patriotism towards America, and an identity that by the dawn of 1861 had caused many of them to see themselves not just as Irish, but as distinctly American Irish.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Civil War history, Irish emigration, soldier studies, Irish history, Irish diaspora
Subjects: L900 Others in Social studies
V300 History by topic
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2021 13:32
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2022 08:01

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