#OTD in 1861 – The 10th Tennessee Infantry Regiment enters Confederate service in the American Civil War.

Company D was known as the ‘Rebel Sons of Erin’ because so many of them were Irish. Indeed, the roster of Company D reads like any small town in a 19th century Irish village (every surname was Irish).

While the Fighting 69th on the Union side is the most famous “Irish Brigade,” it is estimated that at least 30,000 Irish fought on the Confederate side. Much of the enlistment was due to the geography they lived in and conscription but for many irish, the South was a more natural associate than a Northern government that was perceived as being anti-Catholic, pro WASP and anti-Irish and of course the big neighbour attempting to exert its will on the little guy was reminiscent of the English-Irish relationship.

Probably, the best known Irish soldier on the Confederate side was Cork born Patrick Cleburne who was killed in the slaughter at Franklin. General Cleburne is recognised as one of the most effective leaders on either side during the conflict.

Patrick Cleburne, the “Stonewall of the West.” Robert E. Lee referred to Cleburne as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky.”

Writing in Co Aytch, a truly interesting memoir by Confederate soldier Sam Watkins says of Cleburne at the Battle of Ringgold Gap:

“Cleburne had had the doggondest fight of the war. The ground was piled with dead Yankees; they were piled in heaps. The scene looked unlike any battlefield I ever saw. From the foot to the top of the hill was covered with their slain, all lying on their faces. It had the appearance of the roof of a house shingled with dead Yankees. They were flushed with victory and success, and had determined to push forward and capture the whole of the Rebel army, and set up their triumphant standard at Atlanta—then exit Southern Confederacy. But their dead were so piled in their path at Ringgold Gap that they could not pass them. The Spartans gained a name at Thermopylae, in which Leonidas and the whole Spartan army were slain while defending the pass. Cleburne’s division gained a name at Ringgold Gap, in which they not only slew the victorious army, but captured five thousand prisoners besides. That brilliant victory of Cleburne’s made him not only the best general of the army of Tennessee, and covered his men with glory and honour of heroes, but checked the advance of Grant’s whole army.”

Other Irish Confederates:

Confederate Chaplain John Bannon (b. Rooskey, Co Roscommon)

Confederate Colonel Joseph Kelly (b. Ireland)

Joseph Kelly would rise to the rank of colonel in the Confederate army, but would never command a rebel “Irish Brigade.” However, there is a Confederate ballad called, “Kelly’s Irish Brigade.”

Three cheers for the Irish Brigade
Three cheers for the Irish Brigade
And all true-hearted Hibernians
In the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade!

You call us rebels and traitors, but yourselves have thrown off that name of late.
You were called it by the English invaders at home in seventeen and ninety-eight.
The name to us is not a new one, though ’tis one that never will degrade.
Any true-hearted Hibernian in the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade.

Image | Patrick Cleburne Painting by Richard R. Miller

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