Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I thought that I would simply make a few observations and pose some questions – or rather, one big question: What’s with the Irish Brigade?
The thing is this. In terms of Civil War imagery appearing here and there in popular culture and visitor center gift shops, the Irish Brigade seems to get more than its fair share of face time.
Now I am not in any way denying that these guys deserve accolades – they did…and still do. But I am interested in why people today find them so compelling among the many units of distinction.
Points of possible discussion include, but are certainly not limited to:
1) the fantastically maudlin scene in the film Gods and Generals, where the Irish Brigade face their Irish Confederate counterparts at Fredericksburg. You remember….they burst in to tears as they blaze away at each other – oy.
2) the imbalance favoring the Irish Brigade in the broader collection of popular Civil War artwork. Having a look at paintings by Dan Nance and Don Troiani would be a good place to start. And as a side note – I have always wondered why these paintings show the regimental and national colors flapping furiously in the wind…while none of the soldiers’ hats are flying off.
The truth of the matter….I have more questions than answers. I suppose that is what keeps this blog going.
Fág an bealach!!
Henry Archibald Allen served as a company grade officer in the Army of Northern Virginia and was captured at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 – the Pickett-Pettigrew assault would be his last action as a soldier.
Allen finished out the war as a prisoner in a number of camps across the North including Johnson’s Island, Pt. Lookout, Fort Pulaski, and Hiton’s Head. He suffered the privations of prison life and was even used as a human shield by his captors. After the war, he returned to Portsmouth, Virginia and eventually became an active member in the Immortal 600, an organization of Confederate veteran officers who had seen time in Yankee prisons.
His letters written to his wife, Sarah while serving as a prisoner of war are revealing in a number of ways. For example, he discusses little about the suffering in camp – the harsh conditions, the death, disease, and filth associated with incarceration. Was he trying to gloss over these things for the sake of easing his wife’s concern? An interesting question that is worth further investigation. He also makes a solid attempt to run his household in absentia. You can really feel his annoyance when it comes to decision making – what his wife should do about certain events and with whom. Finally, he is clearly a Confederate nationalist. Though he misses his wife and children dearly, he refuses to sign a loyalty oath and return to them.
There is a lot we can learn from Allen’s letters. Years ago, I transcribed them all and posted them HERE. Have a look and feel free to weigh in. I can see a potential project here in the near future – and an insights would be welcome.