Saturday, June 18, 2016

Green, Blue, and Grey

Green, Blue, and Grey: the Irish in the American Civil War
©  2009 Cal McCarthy
325 pages

Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
For the green flag of Erin so true..

The music of the Civil War reflects the sheer variety of men fought in it; they were not all Americans, but many were recent immigrants from across Europe, who retained their national identities. Germans, for instance, sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic in their own tongue -- and the songs of the combative Irish are a genre unto themselves. It was through their music that I first heard references to the Irish revolution of 1798, a bid for independence that would, like the South's, fail. These references came from Irishmen fighting on both sides of the Civil War, however, and it was to learn more about how Irish immigrants viewed the conflict that I first picked up The Green, the Blue, and the Grey.  It is, however, purely a military history of the various regiments and brigades who were constituted wholly of Irish-Americans. (Two of the most notable are the 69th New York and the 10th Tennessee.) Some were directly recruited from Ireland, occasionally under false pretenses. (Irish laborers were recruited to the US to work for companies which proved fictitious, then shanghaied into the Union army. Welcome to the land of the free, boys.)

The history covers virtually all of the major battles of the conflict -- Bull Run, Fredericksburg,  Antietam, Gettysburg, the usual suspects -- along with minor ones that I've never heard of, like the skirmish of 'Desert House'.  While the author's focus is on battles in which Irish forces played a major role, especially when they fought against one another, the filled-in narration is such that this easily serves as a general military review of the Civil War. He covers both theaters and even includes some naval goings-on.   Learning how the Irish interpreted the sectional conflict in the light of Ireland's own relationship with Britain, however, will wait for another book. The Irish in this book fought for whichever region they  happened to be living in, and at Gettysburg, Catholic and Orange Order immigrants fought side by side.

Some Music of the Irish
"The Irish Volunteer", David Kincaid. Union.
"Song of the Irish Brigade", David Kincaid. My personal favorite. Southern.
"Kelly's Irish Brigade", David Kincaid.  Southern.
"We'll Fight for Uncle Sam", Union, and set to 'Whiskey in the Jar'.
"Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade", Union.  Performed by Bobby Horton.
"The Green, the Red, the White, and Blue", Derek Warfield.  Southern.  This is an interesting one; it's a heavily modified version of "Dixie, Land of King Cotton".
"The Southern Wagon (Irish)". Derek Warfield.  Southern.

These are all high-energy except for "Pat Murphy", which is mournful. These songs have some of the best lyrics of any in the ACW canon.


  1. Well, I have again enjoyed reading another of your reviews/postings. I know there must be a complicated rather than an obvious answer, but I wonder why the Civil War is the most written about "chapter" of American history? I think a reader could spend a lifetime reading only about the Civil War without scratching the surface. To my mind, but just guessing, the books about WW2 might be a close 2nd place in numbers.

  2. The usual answer is that it remains the most devestating war ever endured by the United States, with a death toll that surpasses our casualties in all other wars combined. More significantly, however, is that it completely altered the constitution (note the little c) of the United States. Where before states and sections of states acted as weights against one another and the general government in D.C., after the war the balance of power was dramatically shifted in D.C.'s favor. Before it, northern states threatened to secede or nullify various matters when their interest demanded it, but afterwards everyone was absorbed by the national interest.

    1. Stephen, your thoughtful response sends me to my bookshelf where several Civil War books wait for me. You remind me that I need to learn more, and McPherson's _Battle Cry of Freedom_, collecting dust for too long on my bookshelf, will be a good starting point.

    2. Postscript: My review today at Solitary Praxis is relevant to this discussion.

  3. I have 'Battle Cry' on my shelf too - unread. Not really on my radar ATM with my concentration on British/European history. I do, however, have a Civil War book coming up later in the year - about Confederate Commerce Raiders (again) built in Scotland.... [grin]


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