Civil War Myth Busting: The Fictional Confederate Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

Another anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg has come and gone. Mention of the December 1862 battle immediately brings to mind the repeated Federal attacks against Marye’s Heights that all failed to reach their objective. One of the most famous of those attacks was by the Army of the Potomac’s heralded Irish Brigade; going into action with 1,200 men, the five regiments suffered 45% casualties by the time their action was done. The story, already rife with drama, has morphed recently into a legend far more dramatic: The Irish Brigade fought Confederates who were also Irish! The two opposing sides of Irishmen, having immigrated to their new country, now found themselves on the same battlefield shooting each other to pieces.


Sometimes it’s a regiment of Confederate Irishmen, sometimes it’s even a full Confederate Irish Brigade. Sometimes the story goes so far as to suggest that Robert E. Lee himself feared the Confederate Irish would not shoot their Union brethren, and so had reserves moved up just in case. Except, there’s a problem: The whole story is fake. There wasn’t a Confederate Irish Brigade (or even regiment) at the base of Marye’s Heights. So how did the impression that there was get started?

As it happens, from an Irish Brigade veteran. Lieutenant Colonel St. Clair Mulholland, commanding the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry at Fredericksburg, later wrote a regimental history. In his section on Fredericksburg, Mulholland wrote, “And now occurred a strange and pathetic incident. . . behind that rude stone breast-work were ‘bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh’—the soldiers of Cobb’s Brigade were Irish like themselves.”

St. Clair Mulholland, 116th Pennsylvania (LOC)

According to Mulholland, the Confederates recognized the Irish Brigade and let out, “‘Oh God, what a pity! Here comes Meagher’s fellows!” That quote has been repeated ad nauseum in writings regarding Fredericksburg, but it’s important to remember it was Mulholland writing it, not a Confederate. If one inspects the various writings of Confederate defenders, there never appeared to be even an instant of hesitation before opening fire. According to a newspaper from Athens, Georgia, the Southern Watchman, regimental commander of the 24th Georgia, Robert McMillan, drew his sword and said, “That’s Meagher’s brigade. . .. Give it to them now, boys!”[1] Far from shirking away, the Georgians held fast.

Over fifty years after the battle, the Irish vs. Irish proved the foundation of the next iteration of the myth, a poem published in 1913 by John B. O’Reilly. “At Fredericksburg,” details the battle and the attacks at Marye’s Heights, but has this to say in the middle of its stanzas: “From gun-mouth to plain every grass blade in view./ Strong earthworks are there, and the rifles behind them/ Are Georgia militia—an Irish brigade—/Their caps have green badges, as if to remind them/Of all the brave record their country has made. . . ‘ O God! what a pity!’ they cry in their cover. . . /“Tis Meagher and his fellows! their caps have green clover. . . /It is green against green, but a principle stifles/The Irishman’s love in the Georgian’s blow.” It is clear from the poem that O’Reilly used both Mulholland’s writings and the reporting of the Southern Watchman, as he borrows and paraphrases language from both.[2]

The Confederate Irish at Fredericksburg myth made its jump to the big screen later in the 20th century. As part of Ken Burns’s sweeping Civil War documentary, the episode “Simply Murder” includes the throwaway line: “The Irish Brigade got within 25 paces of the wall; the men of the 24th Georgia who shot them down, were Irish too.”[3] Just over ten years later, Ron Maxwell brought the idea of a Confederate Irish regiment at Fredericksburg sparring with the Federal Irish Brigade to the big screen in his 2003 film Gods and Generals. Seen by countless Civil War enthusiasts the film has certainly had the biggest impact and reach in spreading the myth of the Confederate Irish at Fredericksburg.

Maxwell threw subtlety out the window during his scenes of the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg. As the Federals attack across the open plain below Marye’s Heights, the camera spans over Confederates firing from the stone wall and a title card flashes across the screen: “Brigadier General Thomas R.R. Cobb’s Irish Regiment, Georgia, C.S.A.” In the background hangs a Stars and Bars pattern Confederate flag with an Irish harp in the middle of the white field and “24th Georgia Vols” painted in gold lettering across the top. To top off the scene, a trio of officers see the Federals approach and cry out in Irish brogues, “That’s the Irish! Don’t they know we’re fighting for our independence? Did they learn nothing at the hands of the English?”[4] Yet the faithful Confederates open fire and after decimating the Irish Brigade, shed tears out of sadness, frustration, and despair at having to fight their own. Beyond the sappiness, two problems: 1) There was no such thing as “Cobb’s Irish Regiment” and 2) That flag is as phony as a three-dollar bill.

A still from “Gods and Generals” with the fictional ‘Cobb’s Irish Regiment’ given a title card. Note the harp on the flag. (RQ)

Reality is that the 24th Georgia Infantry did exist, but not in a form or fashion as the movie shows. The regiment was formed in 1861 and served with the Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days Battles all the way through Appomattox, where only 60 survivors surrendered. It was a tough as nails combat unit with the record to prove it. But it was never known as “Cobb’s Irish Regiment,” a moniker created entirely for the film.

Also created entirely for the film is the flag with the Irish harp. It’s shown twice, once in the film’s introduction and then again during the battle scenes, but it has no basis in historical fact. There are two known surviving flags, or pieces of flags, left from the 24th Georgia. One is a banner for Company B, held in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society. It is a similar Stars and Bars pattern flag but has no harp in the middle. The only other surviving piece of flag is in the collections of the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park; when the regiment surrendered in 1865, rather than give up their flag the survivors tore it shreds and took the remnants home. The result is a piece of fabric only a few inches tall and a few inches wide.

The only surviving piece of fabric from the real flag of the 24th Georgia. (Appomattox Court House National Historical Park)

I shared a photo of the surviving piece with a friend of mine, Josh Bucchioni, who researches flags and their history. After taking some time with it and comparing it with other known flags, Josh gave me his assessment. “Looks to me like a homemade, 2nd or 3rd [N]ational flag (most likely 2nd).” He added “from the geometry of the piece, there’s no way it’s a [S]tars and [B]ars.” Like the fake name that Gods and Generals bestowed on the regiment, the film also gave it a fake flag.

The film’s depiction of the flag has taken hold. Today one can find cheap reproduction after cheap reproduction available of Stars and Bars pattern flag with a big gold harp smack in the middle. A flag with no bearing in reality now represents the 24th Georgia, whose own real identity has been dwarfed and shadowed by its on-screen depiction.

If the regiment wasn’t Irish, and their flag didn’t look like its film depiction, why then, is there even an impression at all that the 24th Georgia was Irish? Gods and Generals, as discussed, has had the biggest impact on the public perception, but more than that, the root of the problem lies with the commander of the regiment. Robert McMillan, the regiment’s colonel at Fredericksburg, was Irish himself. Born in 1805, McMillan had immigrated to Georgia almost thirty years before the war, and when the 24th Georgia was created, Company K was named in his honor. And yet, as historian David Gleeson notes in his book The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, with the exception of McMillan and his son, “The rest of the company was decidedly American, which is not surprising considering the mountainous parts of North Georgia had very few Irish residents.”[5] Kelly J. O’Grady in his own work Clear the Confederate Way: The Irish in the Army of Northern Virginia lists just two companies of predominantly Irishmen in the entirety of Thomas Cobb’s Georgia brigade—the McMillan Guards and the Lochrane Guards (Co. F, Phillips Legion).[6] Knowing that the McMillan Guards in fact weren’t Irish, that leaves just a single company in the entirety of Cobb’s brigade that were Irish, and that company wasn’t even in the 24th Georgia.

The fictional flag of the 24th Georgia.

The myth that the 24th Georgia was predominantly Irish has even received a boost in books written by supposed academic sources. As an example, let’s look at Philip Thomas Tucker’s Irish Confederates: The Civil War’s Forgotten Soldiers, published in 2006. Within a chapter entitled “The Celtic-Gaelic Brothers’ War: The Twenty-Fourth Georgia Meets the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg,” Tucker writes that the 24th “was heavily Irish” and “provides good evidence of the ethnic clannishness of the Confederate Irish,” though he doesn’t cite any evidence to support his claim.[7] In his narrative of the fighting at Marye’s Heights (which he misdates to Dec. 12), Tucker goes so far as to write “One British observer reflected upon the scene at Fredericksburg: ‘Southern Irishmen make excellent Rebs, and have no sort of scruple in killing as many of their northern brethren as they possibly can.’” That sentence is likewise uncited, but when “British observer” gets brought up in Civil War literature, one name immediately springs to mind: Col. Arthur Fremantle. Sure enough, a scan of Fremantle’s Three Months in the Southern States finds the quote on page 232. But wait. Fremantle didn’t even arrive in the Confederacy until April 1863, four months after the battle of Fredericksburg. And his passage about the “Southern Irishmen” clearly comes from his diary dated June 24 at Winchester, Virginia as he tagged along with the Army of Northern Virginia to Gettysburg. It wasn’t just incorrect to quote Fremantle for a battle he didn’t witness, it was intellectually dishonest on Tucker’s part.[8]

With no basis in fact, it is easy to deconstruct the myth of the Confederate Irish Brigade/Regiment at Fredericksburg. And yet, because of the staying power of films like Gods and Generals and cherry-picked quotes like Tucker’s, the idea has stuck around. Those cheap nylon flags continue to sell, even if inaccurate in every detail, as do paintings and miniatures of the event. Sometimes even paintings of other Confederate regiments, like the 10th Tennessee, which had a very real green flag, get swapped as stand-ins for the 24th Georgia’s mythical Irishmen. The battle of Fredericksburg was dramatic enough and has enough real human-interest stories already—it doesn’t need the addition of fake ones that muddy the historical waters.


[1] St. Clair A. Mulholland, The Story of the 116th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion (Philadelphia: F. McManus, Jr., & Company, 1903) 72; Athens Southern Watchman, Feb. 25, 1863.

[2] John B. O’Reilly, “At Fredericksburg,” in Selected Poems (New York: P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1913), 19-21.

[3] Ken Burns, “Simply Murder,” in The Civil War. PBS, 1990.

[4] Ron Maxwell, Gods and Generals, Ted Turner Pictures, 2003.

[5] David T. Gleeson, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 105.

[6] Kelly J. O’Grady, Clear the Confederate Way: The Irish in the Army of Northern Virginia (Mason City: Savas Publishing Company, 2000), 104.

[7] Philip T. Tucker, Irish Confederates: The Civil War’s Forgotten Soldiers (Abilene: McWhiney Foundation Press, 2006), 56.

[8] Arthur Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April June, 1863 (New York: John Bradburn, 1864), 232.

48 Responses to Civil War Myth Busting: The Fictional Confederate Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg

  1. Great article. A solid lesson as to how popular culture and dishonest “research” can lead to myth-making without a basis in reality.

      1. Nice article Ryan. Well researched. Some people get confused between a Brigade a regiment and a company. Others get confused between a well researched article or book and a fictional historical account of an historical event like the movies Glory, Gettysburg, God’s and Generals etc.
        What can be said is that these fictional accounts of The Civil War got the attention of MANY people in the U.S. and overseas. It made people want to learn more and visit battlefields. That is a positive thing.
        The first episode of Ken Burns The Civil War grabbed my attention so much that I moved to Gettysburg PA.
        People should present their opinion without personal attacks on those with a different opinion. There is an old saying that says “Read one book on The American Civil War and you are an expert. Read two and you are confused.”
        Exchange ideas and information in a civilized manor and everyone benefits.
        Use knowledge as a tool, not a weapon.
        Enjoyed the article.


  2. If only the Irish Brigade had fronted up on some of the two Louisiana Brigades’ companies, then there would be a little less myth.

    1. Or possibly the 1st South Carolina Volunteers Company K (1st Reg. Irish Volunteers). I believe they were present, although probably not in the face-off fashion that is depicted like this.

  3. Thanks for writing this article Ryan. A decade ago when I began researching The Immigrants’ Civil War series I was told repeatedly about the 24th Georgia being an Irish regiment. I was skeptical. Georgia’s total Irish-born population was only 6,586 people. With only one-in-twenty immigrants settling in what became the Confederacy, there were very few Irish immigrants in any Confederate state other than Louisiana. But, I thought, I might as well try to find out about the origins of its soldiers.

    As I searched for information on the regiment I could not find any contemporary sources that described it as an immigrant or Irish regiment. After a short while I wrote this off as a “Rainbow Confederate” chimera. At the time, many Lost Cause enthusiasts were on a quest to invent a diverse Confederate army filled with Irish, Jews, Latinos, and, of course, Black Confederates.

    I did not want to spend my time trying to accumulate enough evidence to demonstrate that this was pure myth, so I am glad you did so.

    With the family at the center of Gone With the Wind being sired by a fictional Irishman, perhaps it was natural that some would think Georgia had a particularly Irish lilt. In fact, Georgia was one of the least Irish immigrant state in the Union in 1860. Only 1% of Georgians were immigrants from ANY country. By comparison, New York was 26% foreign-born, Minnesota was 34%, Wisconsin was 35% and California was 38%.

    The states that became the Confederacy were extremely toxic for mid-19th Century immigrants. Of every 20 immigrants who came to America in the decade before the Civil War, 18 went to the Free States, one went to the four slave states that stayed in the Union, and one went to the eleven states that would form the Confederacy.

    You may sometimes find references to states having an “Irish Brigade.” It was common in 1861 for those trying to recruit an Irish company to call it “The Irish Brigade.” This was done in the North as well as in the South. The name was not designed to suggest that the unit had thousands of men in it. Instead, it was a name picked because of the potent memory of the French Irish Brigade that fought for the King of France. For example, “Mulligan’s Irish Brigade” was in fact a regiment, the 23rd Illinois. There was a Confederate “Irish Brigade” in Missouri that was the size of a large company. of 125 men that was organized by Joseph Kelly. The fact that there is a song about “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” has given it more fame than its small numbers would indicate.

    The failure of modern readers to understand that the name “brigade” in these instances was either purely aspirational or simply a tribute to a famous Irish unit in the French army leads to confusion.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Pat. I thought about including “Gone with the Wind” and the inclusion of Cobb’s Legion in the movie with its Irish soldiers, but in a post that was already teetering on too long, it went the way of the Dodo Bird. Thanks for bringing it up.

    2. My Great Great Grandfather and Great Uncle were in company G of the 24th Georgia. There family were Dutch, Vandivour spelled at that time as today, Vandiver. The Vandivour’s are first mentioned in America before 1700 in Prince George county Maryland. My 4 Greats Grandfather George Vandiver fought in the revolutionary war and his son Adam fought under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Most of the 24th Georgia were of Scottish origin. I have the book on the Confederate pension rolls that has the full roster of the 24th in it.

      1. In 1814 did Andy Jackson consider himself to be Irish or American. Did he consider South Carolina “toxic”? My ancestors came to the US via Charleston and settled in S. Carolina in the 1700’s. They never considered the south as a toxic place to live and some moved into North Georgia and Tennessee and lived out their lives in that mountainous region. Some make it sound as though the Irish were waiting around for the Civil War so they would have a reason to move to America. The ancestors that did fight in the war were registered as Americans from the states and counties they from as well as the Units they fought with.

  4. Ryan,
    Excellent article- thanks so much for shedding light on this! But, of course, it won’t make much of a dent in dispelling the myth for those who are unable or unwilling to accept that it’s not true.

    I do recall reading some time ago that the story of US Irish vs. CS Irish at the stone wall was questionable as to if it actually happened. I think I read that in an article about the movie “Gods & Generals.” But I didn’t know, however, that it was so faske that the film actually created- out of whole cloth (I don’t usually pat myself on the back but did you see what I just did there)- a flag that never existed. Now I’m wondering what happened to the square, flat plastic bag it came in and if Ron Maxwell asked his wife to iron out the folds.

    Seriously, the fictional Irish regiment plays an important part in Maxwell’s movie. The film presented the “Rainbow Confederacy” that so many desparately want to believe. Yes, there were Irish and German immigrant Confederate soldiers. But it’s likely that they were unfortunately subject to xenophobia as immigrants in the North were. I recall reading that Robert E. Lee wanted Southern Independence to be won as much as possible through isolationist Confederate nationalism (with the help of Black slavery, of course).

    In his book on CIvil War movies, Gary Gallagher said that films are usually a reflection of the current time period they are released in. “Glory,” for example, was the product of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. But he said that “G&G” was not really a reflection of current events. But I think it absolutely is. That film, I think, is a literal “Confederate Fantasy Island” and it is a salve to some people who can’t deal with the multicultural, multiethnic world that they are living in.

    1. It would take a few pages to list the errors, fictions, and fantasies in G&G. There are a lot of reasons for the fundamental public misunderstanding of the Civil War and its many aspects, but Maxwell’s gem plays its role.

    1. To Searles O’Dubhain, in the 1860 Census there were 6,586 people who were born in Ireland. out of a population of 1,057,286. Irish immigrants made up .6% of the population of Georgia at the time of Secession. The article you cite from the Atlanta Journal Constitution is based on statistics from 2017, not 1860. In addition, they are for people who “claim Irish heritage,” not for immigrants born in Ireland. I “claim Irish heritage” because I have Irish ancestors, but I am not an Irish immigrants because I was born in the U.S.

  5. One problem in discussing Irish immigrants in Georgia in 1860 is the oversized role some assign to the Irish community in Savannah. Because the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration there is one of the largest in the region and because, as the AJC article claims, “as many as one in three white households in Savannah in 1860 were from Ireland.” While this seemingly large number of Irish in Savannah might be thought to support arguments that Georgia’s Irish population was large, a closer look at the statistics indicates otherwise.

    Savannah was a small city in 1860, with only 22,302 total population. 38% of the city’s people were Blacks. The leading source on Irish in the South, David Gleeson’s “The Green and the Gray” says that “over 20%” of the white population of Savannah was Irish-born in 1860. Doing simple math that is a pretty small number of people in a state with over a million residents at the start of the war.

  6. Phillip Thomas Tucker. All anyone need do is take a gander at his Amazon page bio.

  7. I love Young’s description of the Southern states being “toxic” to Irish immigrants, using it as an explanation for the relatively low immigration figures. Of course, the fact that the greatest port in America, New York, was situated closer to Great Britain, and therefore cheaper, had NOTHING to do with the skewing of the figures. And the Irish immigrants in New York and Boston would of course found Patrick’s imputation of those points of settlement as “non toxic” would not have been able to stop laughing. Between their tears

    1. To John Pryor:

      In 1860 more Irish immigrants lived in Manhattan (200,000) than in the entire Confederacy (84,763). John would have us believe that Irish who travelled all the way across the Atlantic Ocean were incapable of going another few hundred miles to the South! But even if we were to accept Mr. Pryor’s contention that being a large port gave New York an unmatched advantage over the entire South, we have only to look at other Northern states more distant from the Atlantic to demonstrate the incorrectness of his contention.

      In 1860, Illinois had a total population of 1.7 million, of whom 85,000 were born in Ireland! In other words, even Illinois, far from any Atlantic port, had about the same number of Irish immigrants as the entire Confederacy combined.

      Virginia with 1.2 million people had an Irish-born population of 5,800, while distant Minnesota with only 172,000 people was home to 12,000 Irish immigrants. North Carolina, with 632,000 total population, was home to fewer than 3,000 Irish immigrants, while Iowa with 675,000 people had 35,000 Irish-born. Are Minnesota and Iowa closer to ports of entry for Irish coming to the U.S. than Virginia and North Carolina?

      Immigrants found the South toxic and did not settle there. They settled in the Atlantic ports of New York and Boston, true, but they also settled in the Midwest and even on the Minnesota Prairie, but they did not settle in the Slave States that would later form the Confederacy.

      Here is a useful tool for examining historical census data

  8. Right. Again, Patrick, the direction of the existing railroad and road infrastructure played no part in this. You continually draw the conclusions you wish to from results, not causes.

    1. To John Pryor: Really? You first claimed that the lack of Irish immigrants in the states that later formed the Confederacy was due to the fact that “New York, was situated closer to Great Britain” than the Southern states. When I demonstrated that Irish immigrants were more willing to travel 1,200 miles west of New York City to settle in Minneapolis rather than in much nearer Southern states you now respond that I have ignored the “existing railroad and road infrastructure.” Was it really easier to get to Minneapolis from New York City than it was to get to Arlington, Virginia which is only 232 miles away and easily accessible by railroad or coastal ship?

      What John also ignores is that Baltimore was the third largest port of entry for Irish immigrants in the 1850s and 1860s. Baltimore is only 45 miles from the Virginia border and there was daily train service to Washington and transfers to points South. Heck, an immigrant could have walked to Virginia from Baltimore in just three days. Yet, while some Irish stayed in Baltimore, most headed from that port to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. They did not go South. Not even to Virginia.

      As this map of railroads at the time of the Civil War shows, an immigrant arriving in Baltimore in the 1850s could take a train to Washington and transfer to a train heading to Harpers Ferry (then part of Virginia), or take a ferry to Alexandria and board a train travelling through central Virginia and onward to Lynchburg, or take a train to the Valley. A steamer could easily take the immigrant down the Potomac to board a train to Fredericksburg or Richmond. Here is a link to the map:

      The point I am making is that it was not lack of transportation that stopped Irish immigrants from settling in a state like Virginia.

  9. The 24TH did have a large number of Irish in it’s ranks. I can not argue the point of whether or not it was or was not known as the “Confederate Irish Brigade”. The soldiers from Northeastern Georgia were in large part Irish for example, Franklin County (Currahee Rangers) were mostly Irish. I know this as I have more than a few relatives that were part of that particular company. I am in my Forties and was lucky enough to have my Great Grand Parents and Grand Parents until I was close to adulthood with the last passing away when I was in my late twenties. I heard stories that had been passed down of the Northern Irishmen charging our Irish companies. I heard from other ancestors the horrors of the Union POW Camps who were well supplied in contrast to the poorly provisioned Confederate POW Camps toward the end of the war. I had a GGG Uncle who was released from Elmira, Ny’s POW camp and had to walk home to the Georgia Mountains bare footed and wearing tatters. He made it to what was left of the barn after Sherman had burned the farm out and called out to a passerby to please bring him water to clean up with and what clothes that could be so he could clean up not wanting the family to see him in the state he was in upon arrival. It is said he could barley carry himself and that he was skeletal. His beard was falling out along with his nails and teeth from what he had been put through imprisoned and then walking home from Elmira some 800 miles. I hope your time spent myth busting was worth it to you. I wouldn’t pay a bent nickle for your opinion sir.

    1. I pose the same question to you that I did to Kenny.

      How do you know your ancestors were Irish and not Ulster Scots or Anglo-Irish?

  10. All very interesting indeed. But just a question – where does all that leave us when we read in “The Irish American Weekly” (New York) of December 24th, 1887, of the song “Ireland Boys Hurrah” (published 1857) being sung, in refrained chorus, by groups of Irish-born soldiers serving on both sides, from the respective banks of the Rappahannock River?

    1. Hi Kieran, thanks for the question. I am not suggesting or claiming there weren’t Irish-born Confederates in the Army of Northern Virgiinia– we know for sure there were. But they weren’t in any form or fashion as presented in things like “Gods or Generals” which is what I set out to disprove in my article. The Irishmen in the Army of Northern Virginia were scattered throughout formations of the entire army, and weren’t brigaded together in any way resembling the Federal Irish Brigade.

      1. True, “one didn’t HAVE to be Irish” to sing that song – but it sure as hell helped….even when you were PRETENDING to be “from one bright island flown” (as the lyrics of the song say). Sadly, even today, some from the “bright island” prefer not to wish to identify as such. And look where that’s (still) getting us…..

  11. Great article, Ryan. I had to explain to several visitors to the Fredericksburg Battlefield that there was no Confederate Irish Brigade firghting the Union Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg. However, because of the movie “Gods and Generals” the myth lives on.

  12. You know it cracks me up how people will lie just to sell a book I had family on both sides in Fredericksburg in the Irish brigade and they were there and they were at the wall I’ve got actual writings from that period from my relatives back then if he will nowadays had to balls that the Irish brigade had back then this country were being a whole lot better shape you couldn’t give me your books of lies

    1. Who says your family was Irish? Maybe they were Anglo-Irish or Ulster Scots? Neither of which is Irish.

    2. When western writer Larry McMurtry asked Movie mogul John Ford how to improve his historic writing, Ford told him: “when fact becomes legend, print the legend”

      1. Really good information. There is some (?) validity to the notion of a Confederate ‘Irish Brigade’, but it wasn’t really a Brigade. There was a St. Louis, Missouri militia group called the “Washington Blues” in the late 1850’s, which was roughly company strength (60-80 men). The organizer and Colonel of the ‘Blues’ was a fellow named Patrick Joseph Kelly. The “Blues” were made part of the Missouri State Guard in 1861 under General Sterling Price; the MSG was then incorporated into the Confederate Army (1862), with Kelly becoming a Confederate officer. The Blues were often referred to as “Irish”, not only because of Kelly, but also to segregate them from the German/American militias extant in Missouri at that time. My great-great grandfather was a member of the “Blues” and fought through the war until 1864 when he was wounded, dying in 1871 from his injuries. Colonel Kelly was also wounded, and died in 1870. Only 25 of the original company of the “Blues” survived the war according to the sources I was able to review.

  13. Thank you for writing this, Ryan.

    There has been a particularly poisonous sharp uptick of anti-Irish sentiment lately in the US that uses lies like these to paint the Irish as every bit as responsible for slavery and every bit as racist as the largely Anglo and French Confederates were all because of the white skin that somehow never gave them any privileges back then nor made people actually see them as white.

    First we have the very same neo-nazis who originally hated the Irish and considered them to be subhuman taking this whole “Irish slaves” thing as a way to call black people lazy, and now we have black people and especially classist, xenophobic white liberals and leftists trying to claim the Irish had slaves too just so they can dehumanize our ancestors and us and lump us in with the very WASPs who persecuted and terrorized our ancestors.

    We have to push back against these lies everywhere they sprout, and I thank you and Patrick for the work you have done just by putting these refutations out there.

  14. Why would poor Irish immigrants choose to sell their labor in a slave based economy vs a free labor system. No immigrants were flocking to Charleston to compete against the lash. Try selling that ticket overseas.

  15. The many Irish soldiers in the Confederate Army, were not invented for WOKE appeasement or diversity; ask my family, MD, VA, GA. As for G&G following Mulholland’s line, sounds like an honest MISTAKE in the use a of a primary source for dramatic effect, an eyewitness who was WRONG. Happens ALL THE TIME. As for most Irishman going North, you do what immigrants still do, you head for the nearest ports at the cheapest fare, Boston and New York, etc., after you bury the ship’s dead in Halifax. More importantly, you do what immigrants also still do, you settle where you relatives settled or where your townies settled. I personally think the BIGGEST REASON they stayed North & East or migrated due West was THE WEATHER, they came from a TEMPERATE CLIMATE, and most of them settled in a temperate climate, fortunately, with less tropical diseases. The largest concentrations of Irish born in the South were in or near port cities like Savannah and New Orleans or river cities like Memphis. Let’s not forget many of the songs of the Civil War were Irish tunes used by all sides. PS One Irish Brigade of five regiments, one of which wasn’t Irish in a 1,000,000-man Union Army ain’t spit, although 180,000 served. Likewise, an estimated 20,000-40,000 estimated served in southern armies, most of all who served were in the lowest castes pf their societies.

  16. 1. I had the opportunity several years ago to speak with Jeff Shaara, the author of the book “Gods & Generals”, at a reenactment of the Battle of New Market. Shaara’s take was that Maxwell’s movie used the title, characters and events, to basically tell the Stonewall Jackson story as Maxwell would have it. He was visibly dismayed as we talked, saying Maxwell would not listen at all, completely excluded him from any input into the film. He recounted how Maxwell wasted so much of Ted Turner’s money on luxury and frivolities like overstaffing production crew, catering, accommodations, turning out a way-too-long product that would appeal to only hardcore CW enthusiasts. It was a great opportunity to tell a great story, and Maxwell’s botching of it resulted in Turner pulling the plug, ensuring that the final work in the trilogy, “Last Full Measure” would not be funded for cinema.

    2. It is accurate to say there was no official Confederate Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg. However, as you concede, there was a company with an Irish Commander, at least one other Irish (his son) under his direction: The Guard that Gleeson says wasn’t Irish, but O’Grady says it was. So, it is quite possible Mulholland spoke truth, you provide no proof to the contrary. That Maxwell took great liberty in illustrating Irish vs.Irish combat is probably his most understandable embellishment, given that the work is NOT offered as a documentary but as historical fiction entertainment. It appears you are as enthusiastic in your desire to disprove their wasn’t ANY possibility of substantial Irish vs. Irish conflict and regret thereof, that Mulholland is a liar, as is the other side in its fervor to spread Maxwell’s version as the Gospel truth.

  17. I see the Gospel has now been introduced into this battle of whether there was/there wasn’t an Irish (Brigade or otherwise) presence on both sides. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the Gospel(s) being introduced by all sides in this debate. Why don’t we all just calm down a bit and acknowledge the very high possibility that there were, in fact (a delicate choice of word, I admit), Irish soldiers present on both sides (and not just at Fredrickburgh/ Rappahannock. What would be strange/odd if there were NOT Irish fighting on both sides in whatever numbers one likes to trot out. That hold particularly true in the American context as much as in the greater European picture of the times we speak of. We Irish, for good or bad, have the knack of being, too often, in the midst of other people’s quarrels, God help us – as if we hadn’t enough on our own doorstep.

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  19. After doing a lot of research, I believe the ‘Confederate Irish Brigade’ was a militia group originally organized as the “Washington Blues” in St. Louis, MO, by one Patrick Kelly. The ‘Blues’ were one of the best drilled militia units, and were integrated into the Missouri State Guard in 1861, where they fought under General Sterling Price, and then morphed into the Confederate Army in about 1862. The ‘Blues’ were never more than ‘company’ strength, about 125 men. Patrick Kelly became a Colonel in the Confederate Army, was wounded, and died in St. Louis in about 1870 as the result of his wounds. My great-great grandfather was a member of the Blues, and along with Kelly was one of about 25 survivors of the original group at the end of the war. My great-great grandfather, Nicholas Lanier, also died as the result of his wounds in 1871 in Corydon, IA, at the age of 49.

  20. The roster of the 24th Georgia Infantty is available on the website If the 24th really was an Irish regiment, that’s interesting because there was no one named McCarthy or O’Brien in the unit. There were five men named Collins, though.

  21. I’m sorry my Irish ancestors were at Fredricksburg and in Company A 24th Georgia I have the papers to prove it and there was a battle between CoA 24th Georgia and the 69th Irish Brigade. So what was said here is fictitious and I’m proud to honor my Irish who fought at Fredericksburg and the 69th Irish Brigade. Why do I have a 24th Georgia uniform from my Irish ancestor

    1. As I have said repeatedly, I never made the claim that the Irish didn’t fight for the Confederacy, or in the 24th Georgia. What I did say was that there was no such thing as a Confederate Irish Brigade, or a Cobb’s Irish Regiment. They are made up fictional things. Thanks for reading.

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