Irish Confederates

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Features, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2012), Volume 20

John Mitchel in the late 1850s

John Mitchel in the late 1850s

About 30,000 Irishmen fought with the Confederacy, predominantly infantrymen who saw combat against fellow countrymen without giving quarter. Most responded to the call-up for a meagre wage ($8 a month) and probably had no strong convictions. Many had been wharf and dock workers in New Orleans and other southern ports. As Catholics they had found it easier to assimilate in Louisiana than in other Southern states.The best-known Irish Confederate was John Mitchel, author of Jail journal, his account of imprisonment in Van Dieman’s Land following the aborted 1848 Young Ireland rebellion. He later escaped to America and after a period of Fenian involvement in New York he became an enthusiastic champion of the Confederacy and a pro-slave propagandist. On close terms with the Richmond government, Mitchel was a harsh critic of Jefferson Davis’s war strategy. An inveterate scribbler, he published The Southern Citizen, a newspaper with a die-hard readership. Three of his sons fought in the Confederate army, two falling in action. The eldest, William, participated in Pickett’s infantry charge at Gettysburg (3 July 1863). Mitchel himself served in an ambulance corps.


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