Her Exiled Children in America: Irish American Identity and the Civil War
Nugent, Brodie Alyce
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Irish Americans fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War of 1861-1865. This article explores the motivating factors behind Irish American decisions during the Civil War Era. Drawing on the work of Susannah Ural, this article argues that the varying economic, social and political factors influencing Irish Americans were interdependent, forming a unique set of interests which reflected the dual identity of the Irish in America. The article argues that this set of distinctly Irish American interests was able to be manipulated in support of the antagonistic Union and Confederate causes, and that the experiences of Irish Americans, North and South, were largely parallel throughout the Civil War Era. The article explores the various decisions taken by Irish Americans in both the Union and the Confederacy throughout the conflict, and demonstrates that the particular interests produced by the duality of Irish American identity provided the ultimate context for decision-making throughout the period. Finally, it argues that, rather than creating a ‘melting pot’ in which Irish migrants were assimilated into a cohesive American national identity, the Civil War in fact acted as a catalyst for the consolidation of a distinctly Irish American collective identity.