Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The fighting Irish

An 1863 grand requiem mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for the fallen soldiers of the Irish Brigade
Requiem Mass, 1863 St. Patrick's Cathedral
for the dead of the Irish Brigade

The Irish Brigade distinguished itself in the Civil War, Terry L. Jones reminds us in today's Times that 140,000 Irish-born men served in the Union Army:
"The Irish Brigade suffered the third-highest number of battlefield casualties of any Union brigade. Of the 7,715 men who served in its ranks, 961 were killed or mortally wounded, and approximately 3,000 were wounded. The number of casualties was more men than ever served in its ranks at any one time. As a testament to the Irishmen’s bravery, 11 of the unit’s members were awarded the Medal of Honor."

The Bishop sent the volunteers off to war with his blessing at St. Patrick's Cathedral and prayed for the dead. But many were embittered by the draft and the savage war, despite its justice and necessity. Having fled poverty and oppression "a gun was shoved into our hands, saying Paddy you must go and fight for Lincoln". Alas they learned "there is nothing here but war where the murdering cannons roar", as Mary Black sings in Paddy's Lamentation, part of the soundtrack of the great PBS series Long Journey Home.

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