American Ethnic History
December 15, 2014
The Irish Brigade’s Significance to the Union Army during the Civil War
How the Fighting 69th Epitomizes the American Spirit
The 69th Irish regiment of New York’s militia has a deeply rooted history in both American immigration and military history. A militia composed entirely of Irish immigrants who fought bravely for the Union Army during the Civil War, and who are still a prominent military faction today. The 69th regiment was instrumental in the overall success of the Union army and also instrumental in the overall success of changing the majority opinion regarding the Irish immigrants in America. Their ...view middle of the document...
To understand the monumental importance of the 69th regiment it is important to understand the struggle of the Irish that led them to immigrate to America in the first place. The Irish potato famine which took place from 1845 – 1853 was devastating to the Irish people who already lived under a British aristocracy that believed that the Irish were a superstitious, ignorant and volatile group of people that had to be kept under control. One million people were killed throughout the potato famine and another one million people immigrated to North America or other parts of Europe (historyplace.com). This famine had a massive political impact as many people in Ireland felt that the officials in London did as little as possible to help them through the famine. This prompted some individuals to see it as a sign that the Irish had to take care of themselves. Further proving that they had to take matters into their own hands, there was a revolution in Paris, France which mirrored their situation. During this revolution the people of France overthrew Louis Philippe and a provisional authority was put in place (historyireland.com). It inspired great hope that they too could rise up to defend themselves against the harsh treatment of their government, and perhaps even the French would sympathize with them. What they failed to take into consideration was the strong allegiance between France and Great Britain at the time that the French were unwilling to break.
In response to poor treatment from the government and a strong desire for change, many underground organizations were formed. One of these organizations held a demonstration in Tipperary in which a man by the name of Michael Doheny spoke out with Thomas Meagher and other men against the overpowering government. Its purpose was to demonstrate to the government their determination to obtain repeal by constitutional means if possible, and in truth they were also preparing to go the non-constitutional route if need be in order to get what they knew they so desperately needed. In return the British government suspended the Habeas Corpus Act after hearing of the demonstrations and the uprising, and several men were arrested for participation and speaking out at the demonstration. Habeas Corpus is Latin for “you may have the body” and in a sense means that one cannot be unlawfully imprisoned without being fairly tried in a court of law. It is apparent that Habeas Corpus was in the way of the British government controlling public thought so they had to lift it in order to further dissuade people from continuing to speak about injustices done by the government. Luckily for Michael Doheny, (and perhaps the future of this Irish movement) he knew the countryside very well and went into hiding for some time until he could catch a boat to America (Doheny). Meanwhile Thomas Meagher and many others were arrested and tried as traitors. They could have faced death but were instead exiled to Australia (a common...