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The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America. David T. Gleeson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4696-0756-6, 328 pp., cloth, $35.00.

Gleeson’s treatment of the Irish in the Confederacy goes far beyond the mere cataloging of contributions and bald assertions of Irish military valor that have characterized past scholarship on this topic. The Green and the Gray [End Page 89] does indeed draw from an evidence base that stretches from one end of the southern nation to the other, and brave deeds by the Confederate Irish are duly noted, though not so much for the sake of celebration as to ask what they meant to the participants and the contemporary newspaper editors who publicized them. At the same time, Gleeson tackles the issue of desertion by Irish soldiers, whose rates exceeded the average, and then moves beyond the battlefield to an examination of patriotism and disaffection among Irish civilians. Gleeson’s analysis as a whole is justly sensitive to the role Lost Cause memory played in the selective remembering of Irish participation in the Confederacy, a process that also receives separate attention in the book’s final chapter. In Gleeson’s hands, the topic of the Irish in the Confederacy has much to tell us about Irish acculturation in America as well as the history of the Confederacy and its postwar afterlife.

Gleeson carefully handles the complexity of Irish southerners’ motivations and national identity. In a chapter on the secession crisis, he shows that most Irishmen voted for the National Democratic Party candidate Stephen Douglas because of the party’s record in opposing Know-Nothingism, but the perceived threat of Lincoln’s victory to their privileged status as white men moved them toward secession. Two chapters tease out the many layers of motivation behind Irish enlistment and military participation by analyzing company names, census data, army statistics, as well as literary sources. This evidence suggests that economic need likely influenced the decisions of the poorest Irishmen to sign up, though the poor were not overrepresented in the army, and greater personal investment in slavery seems to have inspired more lasting commitment. Confederate nationalism, however, often proved shallow, resulting in high levels of desertion and swearing allegiance to the United States. Ultimately, Gleeson finds that Irish soldiers’ ideas of manliness, camaraderie, and ethnic pride are more compelling explanations for their battlefield bravery and endurance. A fourth chapter, on the home front, further demonstrates “the equivocal nature of their new Confederate identity” by placing nationalists like John Mitchel and A. G. Magrath alongside other Irish civilians who were less willing to sacrifice everything for the faltering Confederacy (112). The Catholic faith inspired many and offered needed consolation, as Gleeson shows in a fifth chapter, but clerics’ words had greater impact on constructing a positive image of Irish patriotism that obscured the more complicated reality. The ambiguous and equivocal nature of Irish identity continued into the postwar period as many quite readily reverted [End Page 90] to old loyalties. However, Gleeson’s final chapter shows that Irish opposition to rights for African Americans during Radical Reconstruction, which the Irish found more animating than the defense of a slaveholding republic, brought them back into the fold of conservative natives. This, combined with their active participation in Lost Cause commemoration, allowed the Irish to confirm their places within the white South. The celebration of Irish participation in the Lost Cause made them into “excellent postwar patriots” and was integral to their acculturation, while it effaced the memory of wartime privation and disaffection (222).

Gleeson also uses the bellum and postbellum Irish experience to reflect on the history of the Confederacy. By paying attention to how Irish participation was perceived at different times and in different contexts, he finds that native southern newspaper editors publicized stories of Irish bravery to rally confidence but also scapegoated the Irish for the Confederacy’s failures, as when they tied the bread riots to ethnicity. That most of the rioters were actually natives, plus Gleeson’s findings about Irish participation in the Lost Cause, adds to the conclusion, which more...


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pp. 89-91
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