Preview: Shiels, “The Irish in the American Civil War”

20 10 2014

8768 Civil CVR.inddThere are numerous studies on the Irish in our Civil War, some fairly objective and many laden with sentimentality and myth-building which employ such flowery terms as “Celtic Warriors in Blue/Gray.” Even as second generation on my mom’s side I find the latter tedious. What sets The Irish in the American Civil War apart is that its author Damian Shiels (host of a blog with the same title and a professional conflict archaeologist) is not an Irish-American but an Irishman from Limerick. In addition to his proximity to the homes of many of his subjects, his work on the blog and with local Irish sources give him a unique perspective (Damian works wonders with pension records – if you haven’t visited his site please do, you’ll be glad you did.)

This is not a strict narrative account of the history of Irish-American soldiers. Rather the book’s 229 pages of text is divided into sections: Beginnings; Realities; The Wider War; and Aftermath. Each section includes “six true stories of gallantry, sacrifice and bravery,” including good personal accounts of First Bull Run.

Sources include a lot of well-known secondary sources, but the use of newspapers and pension files is Shiels’s real strength. If you’re interested in a different perspective on a well-worn topic, I think it’s worth your while to give The Irish in the American Civil War a tumble.