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Chicago's irish Legion

The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War

James B Swan

Publication Year: 2009

This thoroughly documented, comprehensive regimental history describes the battles and movements of Chicago’s Irish Catholic Volunteer Regiment in the Western campaigns of the Civil War from the regiment’s 1862 formation through its discharge in June 1865.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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pp. iv


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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

In writing the history of Chicago’s Irish Legion, I have benefited from a wealth of information contained in official records and in engrossing personal accounts and observations of the Legion’s actions as well as those of its members. Official reports, including those recorded in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, volume 5 of the Report ...

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pp. 1-4

The 90th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, known locally as the “Irish Legion,” was a special Civil War outfit, distinguished from other Illinois regiments by its formation, composition, and behavior. As Chicago’s second Irish regiment, it existed directly as a result of the efforts of the Reverend Denis Dunne, pastor of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Church. Father Dunne promoted the regiment’s formation not only ...

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1. The Raising of the Irish Legion

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pp. 5-29

The story of Chicago’s Irish Legion, the 90th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, begins with a meeting of the area’s Irish leaders in the heat and humidity of an 1862 summer evening in a crowded schoolroom of St. Patrick’s parish, a few blocks west of downtown. The chairman of this August 8 meeting, the Very Reverend Father Denis Dunne, looked out over the rapidly filling room, recognizing many ...

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2. Attention from Two Generals

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pp. 30-48

On November 29, 1862, after spending two days and nights on the train, the men of the 90th Illinois arrived in Cairo, Illinois, in amazingly good humor (Map 1). The Chicago Times reported their arrival at Cairo, describing them as “a gay, rollicking set, having on foot some sort of excitement continually.” There would be no repeat of their chaotic departure from Chicago as “they were stationed on the ...

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3. Life on “One Cracker a Day”

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pp. 49-63

Major General Earl Van Dorn’s destruction of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs, combined with Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s thorough wrecking of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad from Jackson,Tennessee, north into Kentucky, severed the communications of Grant’s army with the North for a week. Along with the rest of the Union army, the Irish Legion lived ...

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4. The Father of Waters Unvexed

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pp. 64-85

Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army had Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army bottled up in Vicksburg, and regiment after regiment of Union troops steamed downriver to make sure things stayed that way. Summoned to Vicksburg as part of those reinforcements, the troops of the 90th Illinois left their camps at Grisson’s Bridge and La Fayette and marched to Collierville on ...

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5. The March to Chattanooga

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pp. 86-96

On September 25, 1863, the men of the 90th Illinois, along with the rest of the Fourth Division of Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Army Corps, learned they would be going to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the relief of the Army of the Cumberland, just as Patrick Sloan had suspected and Margaret Stuart had feared. Confederate general Braxton Bragg held Major General William Rosecrans’s Union ...

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6. The Battle of Chattanooga

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pp. 97-116

From his vantage point in the Union defenses, Sherman viewed the encircling Confederate positions extending “from the river, below the town, to the river above,” confining the Union forces within the “town and its immediate defenses.” To break the Confederate stranglehold on Chattanooga, Major General Ulysses S. Grant developed his plan of attack, modifying it as circumstances required. In the final iteration of his plan, Grant intended to attack ...

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7. The Winter of Their Discontent

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pp. 117-129

On Thursday, November 26, 1863, officially the first national Thanksgiving Day by presidential proclamation, the men of the Irish Legion received their rations at 5:30 a.m. while immersed in a river bottom fog so impenetrable that figures remained indiscernible at a distance of six feet. Thankful mainly to still be alive, they made no recorded comment on the irony of the situation. Following breakfast, the four ...

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8. The Atlanta Campaign: Approach to Atlanta

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pp. 130-144

Along with the arrival of spring in northern Georgia came the renewal of active campaigning. The 298 officers and men of the Irish Legion, including those recovered from their wounds sustained at Missionary Ridge and returned to duty, found a number of changes in both the Union and the Confederate armies’ command structures. General Joseph E. Johnston now commanded the Confederate Army ...

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9. The Atlanta Campaign: Battles around Atlanta

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pp. 145-160

After the long stretch of time spent guarding trains, the Irish Legion at last neared the objective of the campaign, the fortified city of Atlanta. Atlanta’s formidable main defensive lines encircled the city about one and a half miles from its center. Given Major General William T. Sherman’s previous lack of success in attacking fortified positions at Kennesaw, Chattanooga, and Vicksburg and earlier at Chickasaw ...

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10. Hazen’s Summer Camp and a Stern Chase

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pp. 161-168

With the end of the Atlanta campaign, the 90th Illinois went into summer quarters with the rest of the Army of the Tennessee at East Point, Georgia, remaining there until October 4, 1864 (see Map 10, in chapter 9). Both Union and Confederate armies needed time to rest and refit. The Irish Legion had earned a respite, having marched over 380 miles during the Atlanta campaign, most of it over muddy ...

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11. An Armed Picnic

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pp. 169-176

On November 15, the Irish Legion began the great march to the sea. They and the rest of the right wing, accompanied by Brigadier General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry, followed the railroad toward Jonesborough and then McDonough, Georgia. They had orders to make a feint on Macon, cross the Ocmulgee River at Planters’ Factory, and rendezvous near Gordon in seven days (Map 12). Major ...

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12. The Handsomest Thing I Have Seen in This War

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pp. 177-190

Major General William T. Sherman’s troops ran low on supplies as they reached Savannah and began the siege of the city. In a letter to his wife, Margaret, Lieutenant Colonel Owen Stuart starkly summarized the situation the Union army faced upon reaching Savannah: “Our lines are now formed, and the Supplies all out.” In Brigadier General William Hazen’s Second Division, a First Brigade Regiment, the ...

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13. Rocking the Cradle of Secession

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pp. 191-203

In his letter congratulating Major General William T. Sherman on his successful march to the sea and his thoughtful Christmas gift, President Lincoln, ever the realist, asked the pertinent question, “But what next?” While the 90th Illinois approached Savannah and participated in capturing Fort McAllister, General Sherman and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant grappled with the “what next” ...

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14. Hail Columbia, Happy Land

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pp. 204-209

When Union troops arrived on February 17, 1865, the capital city of Columbia served as South Carolina’s educational center, a major railroad center, and an important center for manufacture and storage of war matériel for the Confederacy. It was also a tinderbox. Most structures in the city had been constructed with wood. In their hurried retreat, Confederate troops left behind artillery shells stored on the ...

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15. Leaving the Cradle

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pp. 210-215

The speed with which Major General William T. Sherman’s army traversed South Carolina’s flooded rivers, numerous swamps, and nearly impassable unpaved roads in winter lent an aura of invincibility to his troops’ northward march. They treated wading through hip-to arm-pit-deep icy water in order to dislodge Confederate defenders from entrenched positions at river crossings as standard procedure, ...

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16. Touring Tarheel Country

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pp. 216-226

Brigadier General William Hazen did his best to curtail unauthorized foraging in North Carolina by issuing orders regulating foraging and forbidding the possession of unauthorized property such as horses or any other visible means of locomotion. Thus chastened, on March 8 under a misting rain, the men of the 90th Illinois marched on the Telegraph road to Fayetteville (currently South Carolina ...

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17. Like the Lords of the World

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pp. 227-236

On April 28, before the march home began, Major General William Hazen again warned his troops that foraging and the use of animals and vehicles were prohibited. The free and easy days of their march through Georgia and the Carolinas had ended, and the men of the 90th Illinois would have to march with no opportunity to acquire alternative means of transportation. On April 29, the Irish Legion ...

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pp. 237-243

The Irish Legion had one last, sad official duty to perform. The Reverend Denis Dunne died of a heart condition on December 23, 1868, and was buried in Cavalry Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois. Under the direction of the chief marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Owen Stuart, members of the 90th and 23rd Illinois led the funeral procession from St. Patrick’s Church to the Northwestern Railroad Depot.1 ...

Appendix 1: Muster Roll Summary

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pp. 244-246

Appendix 2: Regimental Roster

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pp. 247-258


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pp. 259-260


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pp. 261-286


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pp. 287-296


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pp. 297-306

Author Bio

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386444
E-ISBN-10: 0809386445
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328901
Print-ISBN-10: 0809328909

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 17 maps, 7 b/w halftones,2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Irish American soldiers -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
  • Chicago (Ill.) -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • United States. Army. Illinois Infantry Regiment, 90th (1862-1865).
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, Irish American.
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