Corned Beef and a Tip of the Hat to Irish Civil War Soldiers


Ballintubber Abbey, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland. Ballintubber means ‘local well,’ and it was here that St. Patrick baptized new Christians before he ascended a nearby mountain, known as Croagh Patrick.


It would not be St. Patrick’s Day in our house without a corned beef and cabbage dinner, a little homemade Irish soda bread and a Guinness or two. This year, I’d also like to celebrate the Civil War contributions of Irish immigrants to the Union cause (they won, remember?).

So here’s a little trivia for you concerning the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, Virginia, which was fought just miles from my great-great-grandmother Caroline’s home. I imagine she could hear the gunfire ringing out early on the morning of September 10, 1861.

The generals of this Gauley River firefight were William Rosecrans (Union) and John Floyd (Confederate), who was also the former governor of Virginia. The Union was heavily represented at Carnifex by regiments of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the 10th unit of which was made up largely of Irish immigrants who mustered in at Cincinnati and trained at Camp Dennison in Columbus.

Union forces took a heavy hit at Carnifex–17 killed, including a colonel, and more than 150 wounded. Although the Confederates suffered few casualties, the battle was a decisive victory for the Yankees and they retained control of the entire Kanawha Valley from that time on. It was a pivotal win early in the war.

William Lytle, commander of what was known as “the bloody tinth,” was wounded at Carnifex Ferry but went on to lead in other battles. He was also a nationally known poet and penned, among others, the poem ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’

Back to the corned beef in the crockpot. Smithsonian Magazine asks the question, is corned beef really Irish? Maybe not, but it’s the way we toast the folks from the Emerald Isle.


‘I Hope…To See You Once More And Then I Would Die Contented’: An Irish Mother Writes to Her Son

The American Civil War was not fought by native-born Americans alone. This heart-touching letter, written by an Irish mother living in New York in 1864, is but one example of the sacrifices Irish immigrants made for this country.

Irish in the American Civil War

Bridget Burns married her husband William in Ireland on 18th August 1840. When her husband died eight years later, he left Bridget a widow and their only child, Henry, fatherless at the age of six. By the time 1861 came along, Bridget and her son were living 125 Greenwich Avenue, New York. On 19th August that year 19-year-old Henry enlisted, becoming a Private in Company D of the 59th New York Infantry. With that act, Bridget became one of tens of thousands of Irish mothers who spent each day on edge, waiting for news from the front. Over the course of the war Henry regularly corresponded with his mother; he sent his letters to neighbour Catharine Farrell who read them out to the illiterate Irishwoman.

Henry, always keen to hear from home, felt his mother didn’t write to him enough and chastised her for it- at one point in 1863 telling…

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