on 12 October 2015
Of all the ethnic groups who took part in the Civil War, the Irish are probably the best known and most written about. Damian Shiels' book is different though. Rather than focus on a particular brigade of certain battles, the author looks at the whole Irish experience in the conflict.
The two burning questions that come to mind with all the ethnic groups are why did they go to America and why did they fight. Mr Shiels answers the first one very simply- most of the Irish emigrated to escape the terrible famine in Ireland. The second question has several answer. Some fought just for the adventure. Many did so because they thought life in the armed forces would be better than the grinding poverty the suffered in America. However, there were also many who took part having been inspired by orators such as General Thomas Meagher, who believed that despite the prejudice they faced in American society, they at least had a voice by having the vote and a better chance for the future in a preserved Union than they would have done in Aristocratic feudal Europe or the Slavocracy that existed in the Southern states. The other major reason to fight was that many felt they would gain valuable experience for a future struggle to gain freedom from Britain.
The author concentrates on certain individuals and how the war affected them. He looks at soldiers, including the famous female solider Albert Cashier/Jenny Hodgers, sailors, nurses and the families who were also affected. he covers the controversial subject of suspected Union attempts to recruit soldiers in Ireland and he looks specifically the Queenstown affair.
The aftermath of the war and how widows went about trying to get pensions as they did not have a man to provide for them.
The book is very well researched and eminently readable.
To anyone whose interest in the Civil War goes beyond the battles, I highly recommend this book.