Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era

Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era

Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era

Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era


Drawing on records of about 5,500 soldiers and veterans, Shades of Green traces the organization of Irish regiments from the perspective of local communities in Connecticut, Illinois, and Wisconsin and the relationships between soldiers and the home front. Research on the impact of the Civil War on Irish Americans has traditionally fallen into one of two tracks, arguing that the Civil War either further alienated Irish immigrants from American society or that military service in defense of the Union offered these men a means of assimilation. In this study of Irish American service, Ryan W. Keating argues that neither paradigm really holds, because many Irish Americans during this time already considered themselves to be assimilated members of American society.

This comprehensive study argues that the local community was often more important to ethnic soldiers than the imagined ethnic community, especially in terms of political, social, and economic relationships. An analysis of the Civil War era from this perspective provides a much clearer understanding of immigrant place and identity during the nineteenth century.

With a focus on three regiments not traditionally studied, the author provides a fine-grained analysis revealing that ethnic communities, like other types of communities, are not monolithic on a national scale. Examining lesser-studied communities, rather than the usual those of New York City and Boston, Keating brings the local back into the story of Irish American participation in the Civil War, thus adding something new and valuable to the study of the immigrant experience in America's bloodiest conflict.

Throughout this rich and groundbreaking study, Keating supports his argument through advanced quantitative analysis of military-service records and an exhaustive review of a massive wealth of raw data; his use of quantitative methods on a large dataset is an unusual and exciting development in Civil War studies. Shades of Green is sure to "shake up" several fields of study that rely on ethnicity as a useful category for analysis; its impressive research provides a significant contribution to scholarship.


In April 1861, newly elected president Abraham Lincoln found himself in a precarious situation. Although he had won the presidency in the November elections, his victory was by no means a mandate from the people for the Republican Party platform. the nation was perilously divided. Winning less than half the popular vote in 1860, the tall, gaunt lawyer from Illinois looked on as his nation teetered on the brink of civil war. To keep the nation together, the new commander in chief drew support from a rather tenuous alliance of political rivals openly divided in their opinions about the actions of their southern brethren. the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, however, galvanized public opinion throughout the north and fostered, at least momentarily, a powerful wartime alliance between Republicans and Democrats that allowed Lincoln to carry out a war to preserve the Union. As Federal troops lowered the Stars and Stripes in surrender from the ramparts of the bastion in Charleston Harbor, banners were hoisted in towns and cities across the North as men of all ages, ethnicities, classes, and backgrounds rushed to the defense of their flag and their nation.

The Irish in America, both foreign and native born, joined in a vocal chorus of support for the Lincoln administration and backed their words with physical displays of fealty, as thousands of volunteers came forward to defend the Union. Many of these men, representatives of both their homeland and their local communities, sacrificed themselves in defense of the Union. Their gallantry on the battlefield, furthermore, reinforced perceptions of the patriotism and loyalty of these adopted citizens of the United States. Although visible Irish enclaves in cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia have traditionally dominated the story of Irish participation in the Civil War, the experiences of soldiers and civilians living in those cities provide only one part of the nuanced tale of immigrant soldiers and their communities who supported the Union during the four years of bloody sectional conflict. Individually and in groups, ethnic . . .

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