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  • Another "Lost Cause"The Irish in the South Remember the Confederacy
  • David T. Gleeson (bio)

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In 1877 a group of prominent Irish Americans met in Charleston to commemorate the Irish Volunteers in the Confederate States of America. The original volunteers, Company C of the Charleston Battalion, later Company H of the 27th South Carolina Infantry, had participated in all the major battles around Charleston between 1861 and 1864 before being sent to the trenches of Petersburg, Virginia, in the summer of 1864. Confederate and Union dead side-by-side, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864–April 1865

courtesy of the Collections of the Library of Congress

[End Page 50]

In 1877 a group of prominent Irish Americans met in Charleston to commemorate the Irish Volunteers in the Confederate States of America. Two companies of that name had served during the American Civil War in South Carolina, Virginia, and North Carolina. The original volunteers, Company C of the Charleston Battalion, later Company H of the 27th South Carolina Infantry, had participated in all the major battles around Charleston between 1861 and 1864, including Secessionville and Battery Wagner, before being sent to the trenches of Petersburg, Virginia, in the summer of 1864. The other company, which took the name Irish Volunteers for the War (after dropping Meagher Guards when namesake Thomas Francis Meagher organized regiments for the Union Army), became Co. K of the 1st South Carolina (Gregg's) Infantry and took part in most of the famous battles of the Army of Northern Virginia: Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg. The attendees planned to build a permanent memorial to these Carolina Confederates in the local Catholic cemetery.1

From the first meeting the organizers wanted to highlight that their memorial would combine both Irish and southern causes. In a pamphlet published to promote collection of funds they reminded potential supporters of the parallel struggles of Irish and southern independence by including a piece from an 1861 Charleston newspaper. The report described a ceremony at the local Cathedral of St. Finbar and John the Baptist, where the bishop, Patrick Neison Lynch, a native of County Monaghan, welcomed the troops of the original Irish Volunteers into his church. The Volunteers, who were just about to muster into Confederate service, were to receive their company flag, which had been made by the students of the local Sisters of Mercy. The other company of Irish Volunteers, already serving in the Confederate Army, were to be sent their new flag in Virginia. Bishop Lynch told the soldiers that "The banner I present … gives to the breeze and the light of the sun the emblems of Erin—the Shamrock and the Harp—with the Palmetto of Carolina and Stars of our Southern Confederacy." He reminded the Volunteers of the company's history of service in every American war since its founding in 1797 and concluded, "Receive [the flag] then—rally around it. Let it teach you of God—of Erin—of Carolina. Let it teach you your duty in this life as soldiers and as Christians, so that fighting the good fight of Christians you may receive the reward of eternal victory from the King of Kings." Captain Edward Magrath, leader of the Irish unit, thanked the bishop and the "young ladies of the Institution of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy for this beautiful present at their hands." Magrath vowed to protect the flag's honor and that of the ladies who had made it. He then lined up his soldiers in front of the altar before the packed cathedral and reminded them of the pledge they had made to the cause of their "adopted State" and the symbolism of the flag under which they would fight. "Dear Harp of their [End Page 51]


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The Irish of Charleston wanted their version of Confederate respectability and had gathered to unveil an Irish Volunteer memorial on March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day. (The feast day had fallen on a Sunday that year.) After their traditional parade in the morning, they reassembled in the afternoon...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 50-74
Launched on MUSE
2011-02-12
Open Access
No
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