The Civil War pitted family against family, kinsman against kinsman. W. F. Marshall has written: “On the Confederate side, North Carolina, home of the Ulster-Irish, led all the Southern States in enlisted men, and in killed and wounded. In the North, the pre-eminence goes to Pennsylvania, peopled in great measure by folk with the Ulster blood. The bloodiest single conflict of the war was fought between two regiments at Gettysburg, the 26th North Carolina Regiment and the 151st Pennsylvania Regiment.. Both regiments were practically wiped out. Well might Colonel Johnston say in 1889:‘The greatest losses in the war occurred when the iron soldiers of North Carolina and Pennsylvania, descendants of the same race and stock, met on the field of battle, and locked arms in the embrace of death.’ ”
When in Leinster House during the Queen’s visit, as Chairman of the Somme Association, I was shown the original flag of Meagher’s Irish Brigade, who fought with such distinction in the Civil War The Irish tricolor was not adopted as the official flag of Ireland until after the country became a free state on 6th December 1921. But it had been around for nearly 80 years, albeit with its colours rearranged, having first been flown by Thomas Francis Meagher, a militant nationalist, in 1848 as the flag of the Young Ireland movement.
A monument at the Antietam battlefield was dedicated in his honour. The inscription on the granite monument reads:
“The Irish Brigade commander was born in Waterford City, Ireland on August 23, 1823; a well educated orator, he joined the Young Ireland movement to liberate his nation. This led to his exile to a British Penal Colony in Tasmania Australia in 1849. He escaped to the United States in 1852 and became an American citizen. When the Civil War broke out, he raised Company K, Irish Zouaves, for the 69th New York State Militia Regiment, which fought at First Bull Run under Colonel Michael Corcoran.
Subsequently Meagher raised the Irish Brigade and commanded it from February 3, 1862 to May 14, 1863 till later he commanded a military district in Tennessee. After the War Meagher became Secretary and Acting Governor of the Montana Territory. He drowned in the Missouri River near Fort Benton on July 1, 1867. His body was never recovered. The cicumstances of Meagher’s demise are unclear. He had made many enemies, none less than the American Indian Nations, his policies towards whom had amounted to no less than what we would now call ethnic cleansing and which have coloured his reputation.
The following United States Presidents have been of direct Ulster descent: Andrew Jackson (1829-37), James Knox Polk (1845-49), James Buchanan (1857-61), Andrew Johnson (1865-69), Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77), Chester Alan Arthur (1881-85), Grover Cleveland (1885-89 and 1893-97), Benjamin Harrison (1889-93), William McKinley (1897-1901), and Woodrow Wilson (1913-21).
Many other famous Americans have some Ulster ancestry, from writers such as Stephen Foster, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, to astronauts Neil Armstrong and James B. Irwin. John Hughes the first Catholic Archbishop of New York was born at Auger in County Tyrone, and emigrated to America in 1817, prior to that second great exodus from Ireland which occurred a century after the immigrations from Ulster, mainly composed of Irish Catholics fleeing from a land devastated by the Great Famine, an Gorta Mór. The highly influential Hughes became known as “Dagger John”, both for his following the Catholic practice wherein a bishop precedes his signature with a cross, as well as for his aggressive personality. His successor and first American Cardinal, John McCloskey, was born in Dungiven in County Londonderry.
There are many modern Americans who still take pride in their descent from Ulster-Irish families, though they often know little of Ulster itself. Not many of them are now Presbyterians, for most became Methodists and Baptists according to conscience. This was due to old-time preachers whose traditions also lived on in America’s Black community to be personified by Martin Luther King. Yet, until recently, very little about the Ulster contribution to America was taught in our schools and universities. As Harold R. Alexander has written: “The migration of the Ulster people was a diaspora similar to that of the Jews. North America provided ample scope for the national character and soaring vision of men of Ulster origin… It is sad that almost nothing of this is known in Ulster today. English ascendancy and Irish chauvinism have combined to suppress knowledge of Ulster and Ulster-American history, to deny the very concept of the Ulster nation at home or overseas, and to deprive Ulstermen of legitimate pride in their heritage and national identity.”
James G. Leyburn’s estimation of Scotch-Irish influence on the formation of the early United States includes the following assessment: “Weber’s idea of the Protestant ethic and Tawney’s of the connection between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism do not find their most convincing example in the Scotch-Irish; nevertheless, like other Calvinists, they believed in self-reliance, improving their own condition in life, thrift and hard work, the taking of calculated risks. They believed that God would prosper His elect if they, in turn, deserved this material reward by their conscientious effort. Farmers though they generally were, neither they nor their ancestors had been peasants in the sense of blind traditionalism of outlook. Their optimistic self-reliance, with a conviction that God helps those who help themselves, was to become the congenial American folk philosophy of the next century, not far removed from materialism and a faith in progress.
The Scotch-Irish were no more the originators of these American convictions than they had been the originators of the idea of freedom and individualism. What is significant is that, holding the attitude they did, and being present in such large numbers throughout most of the United States, they afforded the middle ground that could become typical of the American as he was to become. The Scotch-Irish element could be the common denominator into which Americanism might be resolved.”
To be continued