Between 1801 and 1921, over eight million people emigrated from Ireland to North America. This phenomenon is known as the Irish Diaspora. As a result, over 10% of Americans in 2020 can claim Irish ancestry. In 1861-1865, over 200,000 of them fought in the American Civil War. Fought and sang, apparently, because the legacy of Irish music bodes large in the early history of American music. “Paddy’s Lament,” tells the story:
Well, me’self and a hundred more
To America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be making
We were thinkin’
When we got to Yankee land
They put guns into our hands
Saying “Paddy, you must go
And fight for Lincoln.” 
Author Catherine V. Bateson, an associate lecturer in American history at the University of Kent, gives readers an in-depth look at songs that defined the contribution of the Irish to the Union and, to a lesser extent, the Confederacy in her new book Irish American Civil War Songs.
Irish emigrants seem much different than others who came to live permanently in America. This is profoundly reflected in their music. Rather than holding on to an identity that was purely Irish, they embraced the idea of being “Irish American.” They proclaimed their devotion to America (mainly Union) and demonstrated their willingness to stand behind their words with their fists, guns, etc. Bateson illustrated this phenomenon by including examples of songbooks, individual lyrics, and well-considered reasoning in her latest publication. The volume is nicely illustrated with examples of broadsides, songsters, and formal publications of Irish songs proclaiming such loyalty.
The songs are broken into similar parts: broadsides (which share news of battles, deaths, and victories), camp songs (which begin with lyrics that ask listeners to “gather ‘round,” “lend an ear,” “hear the tale,” etc.), and mournful compositions (asking to be remembered by loved ones, especially mothers and sweethearts). The experiences of one Irish soldier easily stand in for the broader communal Irish experience commemorated by the lyrics. Songs that celebrate “The Irish Brigade” do not always refer to the 69th New York but to many ethnically Irish groups from states other than New York.
One interesting detail is the switching of the results of First Bull Run. In Union-based Civil War Irish music, the battle of First Manassas is not seen as a defeat for Irish units. It was the first battle of the war, and their reputation as brave, resilient fighters is carefully curated. Retreat is not defeat! Instead, it shows the strength and coordination of ethnically Irish units. Many songs refer to First Bull Run, which inspired even more Irishmen to join the Union army in 1863. Another type of song that encouraged enlistment is referred to as the “No Irish Need Apply” pushback. Specifically aimed toward the nativist resistance to the Irish emigrants, these songs encouraged the Irish to do the opposite—apply to fight for the Union! This is noted, as an aside, as it also relates to WWI. “If we did it then, we can do it again!” emphasizes the acceptance of America as the home for many displaced Irish.
What was the difference between Confederate Irish songs and those of the Union? Both certainly concerned “my sweetheart (or mother) waiting for me at home.” Confederate songs, however, also worked to create feelings for Southern Nationalism rather than the ready acceptance of Union enthusiasm. Unlike emigrants in other parts of the United States, the Irish in the South had to fit into a regional culture as well as American culture in general. Irish families lived in the southern states but were outnumbered in their participation in the Civil War. Of the over 200,000 Irishmen who fought, 30,000-40,000 fought for the Confederacy.
Bateson has thoroughly interpreted Irish lyrics and explained the multiple usage of specific Irish tunes. She has shown how the importance of Fenian sentiments was woven into songs calling for freedom from oppression in general, and she has enhanced a reader’s understanding of the place Irish music has in the development of American music, from very early vaudeville to today’s obsession with Irish pub music. America is a land of emigrants, after all. Perhaps the relatives of that 10% of us who claim Irish blood have contributed more than 10% to American culture overall.
Oh! Long may our flag wave in Union together.
And the harp of green Erin still kiss the same breeze
And brave ev’ry storm, that beclouds the fair weather,
Till our harp, like the Stars, floats o’er river and seas. 
Irish American Civil War Songs: Identity, Loyalty, and Nationhood
By Catherine V. Bateson
Louisiana State University Press, 2022, $45.00 hardcover
Reviewed by Meg Groeling
 Irish Civil War Songs, 132.