Defending an Adopted Nation

One of the most significant aspects of the Irish-American experience during the nineteenth century followed the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. While many Irish social organizations sought to emphasize patriotism and downplay ethnicity through their choice of title or the character of the events they hosted, other Connecticut residents went countless steps further by volunteering for military service when the survival of the nation was threatened.

Despite the aforementioned hostilities that many individuals of Irish heritage faced from nativist populations, Irish-born or first-generation citizens volunteered for service in efforts to preserve the Union at an incredible rate. Of the 54,000 total enlistments that the state of Connecticut contributed towards quelling the rebellion, approximately 8,000 were men of Irish birth or heritage. While Irish soldiers could be found in all of the units and branches

of the armed services that Connecticut provided to the Union, the Ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry is particularly notable as the unit was primarily comprised of Irish recruits, these totaling some 1,600 men by the war’s end. 102

The formation of the Ninth Connecticut was welcomed by Connecticut’s governor at the time, William A. Buckingham, who rejected Know-Nothing sentiments and supported organization of the Ninth Regiment “Irish Volunteers” starting in May 1861.

Command of the unit was awarded to Colonel Thomas W. Cahill of New Haven, who further bore the distinction of having served as the captain of New Haven’s Irish militia unit, the Washington-Erina Guards, and its eventual replacement, the Emmet Guard. The Emmet Guard was central to the creation of the Ninth Connecticut Regiment. Immediately following the outbreak of the war in April 1861, the New Haven Palladium noted, “Our Irish fellow-citizens are strong in their patriotic devotion to the country of their adoption.

At a very enthusiastic meeting of the Emmet Guard last evening (in New Haven) it was determined to offer their services to the Government as soon as they shall have been recognized as citizens and soldiers by the Governor.” Just two days later the Palladium announced that Governor Buckingham had contacted Captain Cahill and informed him that officers to be selected by the Emmet Guard would be immediately commissioned by Adjutant-General, thus laying the framework of command for an Irish regiment.103

The mechanisms for outfitting a unit of Irish volunteers were quickly put in motion and soon newspapers and recruitment offices and posters made the call for enlistments in this “destined to be gallant Regiment.” The Ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was organized, trained, and equipped during the summer of 1861. A history of the regiment notes that, “One company, (A), and the nucleus of two others, for the new regiment, went into camp at Hartford.

Great interest in ‘The Irish Regiment’ was  manifested in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, Meriden, Norwich and many other places throughout the State.” On September 9, 1861, the Palladium announced that, “The 9th (Irish) Regiment, C.V., is to be removed to-day or to-morrow from their present camp ground at Hartford to this city, taking position on Mr. Hallock’s field at the right of the 6th and 7th. This is done because it is apparent that the regiment will be largely recruited from this section of the State.”104

By the time the Ninth Connecticut’s initial roll of 845 volunteers departed for combat its recruits represented a total of 79 Connecticut cities and towns. The majority of the regiment, however, did come from the cities highlighted by the Palladium. The most heavily represented was New Haven, with nearly 400 men being residents of the Elm City. On October 30, 1861, five days before the unit’s deployment, the regiment was presented with its colors. One was the flag of the Union, while the other was the regimental banner.

This was specially designed for the Ninth Connecticut and while one side bore the state seal over the national on a field of dark blue, the other side replaced the state’s emblem with a harp of gold laid over a green background. A spray of shamrock was entwined around the harp, below which was the inscription, “Erin Go Bragh.” This flag accompanied the unit when it departed New Haven on November 4, 1861, and through its eleven engagements across Virginia and Louisiana between 1861 and the war’s end. By the time the Ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was mustered out of service in the first week of August 1865 approximately 220 of the unit’s men had died during the war. As was typical of other units engaged in the conflict, the vast majority of these succumbed to diseases such as “swamp fever,” which ravaged the Ninth Connecticut while stationed at Baton Rouge and Vicksburg.105

Monuments to those who served and died defending the Union cause were erected across Connecticut by the dozens in the decades following the Civil War. Included among them is one acknowledging the sacrifices of the state’s “Irish Regiment,” which was located in Bay View Park in New Haven, and unveiled on August 5, 1903 (See Inventory Index). The dedication day’s festivities coincided with and included the annual dinner of the America-Irish Historical Society at the city’s Tontine Hotel and featured a parade leading from the New Haven Green to Bay View Park. Despite pouring rains on the day of the dedication, some 700 people came out to honor the unit’s service and the men who had died for their adopted nation. After returning to the Tontine Hotel, one of the day’s speakers, William McAdoo of New York, assistant secretary of the United States Navy and president-general of the America-Irish

Historical Society, announced, “I think I can say without contradiction that there was not a battle fought during the civil war [sic] but what every county of Ireland had a representative in it.” Additional speakers present on the behalf of the “Irish Regiment” included the governor of Connecticut, Abiram Chamberlain, and the department commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Morgan G. Bulkeley.106

Numerous other Civil War memorials across Connecticut memorialize or have connections to the state’s Irish citizens.

Perhaps the most recognizable is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford (See Inventory Index), the first triumphal arch erected in the United States, which was dedicated on September 17, 1886. While the arch honors the 4,000 Hartford citizens of all backgrounds who served in the war, its architect, George Keller (1842-1935), was a nationally known architect and monument designer of Irish background. Keller was born in Cork, Ireland, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1853.

After training in the New York firm of Peter B. Wight, and Hartford office of James G. Batterson, he went on to become Hartford’s preeminent nineteenth-century architect. He designed a number of notable buildings and monuments, the latter including the Soldiers National Monument, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (1869); the Civil War Monument in Manchester, New Hampshire (1879); U.S. Soldier Monument, Antietam, Maryland (1880); the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Buffalo, New York (1882-1884); and the Major General John Sedgwick Memorial, Cornwall, Connecticut. He also designed the Garfield National Memorial, Cleveland, Ohio (1885).107


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