Commanding Boston's Irish Ninth: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick R. Guiney, Ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick R. Guiney; Christian G. Samito | Go to book overview

SERIES EDITOR'S PREFACE

It would be easy to stereotype the Irish experience in the Civil War. Most Irish-Americans in 1861 were poor, uneducated, urban- dwelling Catholics who had recently fled the horrors of famine Ireland. They voted overwhelmingly Democratic, opposed Lincoln's election, and had no sympathy with those who advocated rights for blacks. If they threw themselves into the war effort, their reasons for doing so were not those of the Lincoln administration. Yet such generalizations overlook important Irish actors in America's greatest drama. Christian Samito's edition of the letters of Col. Patrick Robert Guiney of the Ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry vividly tells the story of one such Irishman. Colonel Guiney may have been typical in his Irish courage on the battlefield, but in most ways his story is distinctive.

When the war began Guiney was a well-educated, successful Boston attorney. His law practice had allowed him to move to a comfortable suburb and to maintain his wife and young daughter in a style to which few recent Irish immigrants could aspire. Though he had previously been a Democrat, shortly after the war began he became a staunch supporter of Lincoln and the Republicans. Unlike most Irishmen in the army he criticized Democratic generals like McClellan who did not press the enemy hard enough. He entertained far more liberal views on racial issues than most Irishmen and he openly welcomed the end of slavery. His outspoken support for the Republican prosecution of the war not only separated him from the Irish community in Boston; it set many of the men in his own regiment against him.

Guiney's story is a valuable reminder that the Civil War--and even the comparatively narrow slice of the Irish role in the war-- was much more complex than popular legend would have it. Post- war memoirs and regimental histories often conveniently forgot about the war's cowards and shirkers, just as they often passed silently over episodes of trouble within the regiments. But stories of heroes and sacrifice, of unity and comradeship, tell only half-

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