Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War
Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War

Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War

Matthew - January 26, 2017

Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War
General Patrick Cleburne. Franklin Home Page

Patrick Cleburne

Unlike Generals Smyth and Sweeny, Irishman Patrick Cleburne became a commander for the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Cleburne was born in 1828 in Ovens, County Cork. He served in the British Army, rising to the rank of Corporal. Cleburne crossed the Atlantic and settled in Helena, Arkansas in 1849. There, he found work as a pharmacist, and he also started a newspaper. Cleburne believed in the Confederate cause, and he joined up with a local militia.

In March 1862, nearly a year into the Civil War, Cleburne was named a Brigadier General. Throughout the course of the conflict, Cleburne would rise to the rank of Major General, and he remains the highest-ranking Irish-born officer in American military history. During the war, Cleburne commanded his men in several battles, including Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Pickett’s Mill. He was shot in the face and wounded at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky in August 1862.

Cleburne returned to the battlefield and earned the nickname “Stonewall of the West” due to his bravery, strength, and his use of key strategic points such as hills and ridges in battles in Tennessee and Georgia. General Robert E. Lee called Cleburne “a meteor shining from a clouded sky.”

In 1864, the Confederate forces were clearly in trouble, and General Cleburne proposed freeing and arming slaves to help the South’s war effort. His proposal fell on deaf ears, however, and the fight raged on. On November 30, 1864, at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville, Cleburne was shot and killed as he led a charge against a Union position. Patrick Cleburne’s legacy is very evident throughout the South. Counties are named after him in Alabama and Arkansas, as well as the town Cleburne, Texas.

Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War
Statue of Cleburne in Ringgold Gap, Georgia. Pinterest

Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War
Michael Corcoran, far left, with members of the Fighting 69th. Library of Congress

Michael Corcoran

Although Michael Corcoran had lived in the United States for over a decade by 1860, his heart still belonged to his native Ireland. That year, Corcoran was a Colonel in the 69th New York Militia, and he refused to march in a parade honoring the visiting Prince of Wales in New York City. The feisty Irishman’s refusal, due to his opposition of British treatment of his homeland, made him a bit of a minor celebrity in New York. Before grabbing headlines, Corcoran was born in County Sligo in 1827, the son of a British Army officer.

He settled in the U.S. in 1849 and worked at a tavern in New York City. Corcoran enlisted as a private in the 69th New York Militia, and was a Colonel by 1859. The famed 69th went on to become known as “The Irish Brigade.” Corcoran became involved in local politics during the 1850s. Democratic leaders in New York knew that the influential Corcoran could help deliver the important Irish vote in elections, and his services were relied upon.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Corcoran was named General and he led his regiment to Washington, D.C. to help protect the capital. Although Corcoran had great admiration for his native Ireland, he also dearly loved America. He was quoted as saying, “One half of my heart is Erin’s, and the other half is America’s. God bless America, and ever preserve her the asylum of all the oppressed on the Earth, is the sincere prayer of my heart.”

Corcoran was captured during the First Battle of Bull Run, and was held prisoner until an exchange in August 1862. He recruited many more Irish soldiers into his unit and other New York regiments, which became known as the Corcoran Legion. Corcoran led his men at the Siege of Suffolk, Virginia and at the Battle of Deserted House, also in Virginia. On December 22, 1863, General Corcoran was thrown from his horse near Fairfax, Virginia. He sustained a fractured skull and died at the age of 36.

Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War
Monument to the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg. Wikipedia

Fighting Irish: 5 Irish Generals of the American Civil War
Painting of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 1862. Rare Maps

Walter P. Lane

Walter Paye Lane was another Irish-born man who went on to become a General for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Lane was a native of County Cork, and he emigrated to the U.S. as a young boy in 1821. His family eventually ended up in Kentucky. When he was not yet 20-years-old, Lane relocated to Texas, along with many other men who were inspired by the call for Texas independence in 1836.

Lane stayed in Texas after the Lone Star State gained its independence, and he fought in the Mexican-American War, rising to the rank of Major. When the Civil War began in 1861, Walter Lane was one of the first Texans to call for secession from the United States. Lane joined the 3rd Texas Cavalry, and fought in many clashes, including Pea Ridge, Chustenalah, as well as other battles in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He was badly wounded during the battle of Mansfield, Louisiana on April 8, 1864. Walter Lane was promoted to General on the last day the Confederate Congress met, March 18, 1865.

Lane settled in Marshall, Texas after the Civil War, and helped establish the Texas Veterans Association. He became active in local politics, and with the help of his brother, formed a white citizen’s party that ran all African-Americans out of Marshall and Harrison County. Lane claimed the town was now “redeemable.” The former Civil War General remained in Marshall until he died in 1892 at the age of 74.

All 5 of these Civil War Generals were born across the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland. But, they, along with tens of thousands of their countrymen, fought for their adopted country because of their belief in what they regarded as a new, free way of life, whether they took up arms for the Union or for the Confederacy.

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