Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Irish Brigade in the American Civil War

Cavan Callaghan, the hero of my recent release from Highland Press, Coming Home, is a veteran of the Irish Brigade who fought bravely at Antietam. I’ve always found the Irish Brigade fascinating because it was comprised of immigrants who fought for a country that offered them refuge from famine and tyranny. There’s too much history to put it all into one blog post, so I’ve pulled together some fun facts about the Irish Brigade.

Over 150,000 Irishmen fought in the American Civil War (1861-1865), accounting for one in sixteen of the combatants.
The famous phrase “War is Hell” is attributed to the Cavan-born American Civil War General Phil Sheridan.
One of the oddest military escapades in history took place in 1866 when Irish Fenians, veterans of the U.S. Civil War, invaded Canada with the intention of holding the entire country (all four million square miles of it) hostage to exchange for the freedom of Ireland.
 The Irish Brigade never lost a flag in battle. One motto of the Brigade is “47 times to the line of battle and never a flag to lose”. Losing the unit flag was a major disgrace in that era
At Fredricksburg, the heroic charge of the Irish Brigade so impressed Confederate General George Pickett that he wrote home, “Why, my darling, we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines.”

The idea of an Irish Brigade was not a new one. Irish units fought under many foreign flags, including that of Spain and Mexico.

From Coming Home:

“Tell me about the battle.”
A cold shudder shot through him, and all of a sudden he was back on that battlefield, guns pounding, horses and men screaming, his friends and comrades falling all around him. But what had really terrified him was knowing that somewhere on that battlefield, his little brother was alone and unprotected…
…”The battle was total confusion.” He squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated on Ashleen’s nearness in an effort to tell the story without breaking down. “It was hot — so hot — and humid, though it was already September.” He paused, the poignant memory knifing through him. “At home, the leaves would have started to turn, and frost would have been dusting the fields.”
And the stench of death had been in the air. So different from the smells of crisp northern breezes and freshly baled hay he’d been used to.
“We came up to the top of the ridge. We were to pause at the crest of the hill and fire two volleys, then rush the Rebs with bayonets. They were waiting for us – troops from North Carolina. There was a huge sound, like a thunderclap. Gunfire. Lots of it.”

Confederate Memorial Day

A few weeks ago, my husband and I visited Charleston, SC for a family gathering. Several of us rented a beach house together in Folly Beach. We chatted, ate seafood, enjoyed the ocean, and toured the charming city. It was on a carriage ride through Charleston’s historic district that we came upon an event we, as Northerners, found enlightening.

A block or so from Battery Park, we saw a group of smartly-dressed folk gathering with Confederate flags. Some wore dress suits and hats while others sported Confederate uniforms. Our guide told us they were celebrating Confederate Memorial Day. In South Carolina, the day occurs annually on May 10. In other states it is held on other days, generally in the spring. Regardless of timing, it is held as a day to honor the memory of southerners who died during the Civil War. The day was especially chosen for Stonewall Jackson who died May 10, 1863 after being wounded at Chancellorsville.

From the 1880’s until his death in 1926, my husband’s great-grandfather and his family lived in Charleston. On census forms, we’d found his address and tracked down the house where he once lived. We also found his church, and because we had a copy of his death certificate, learned he’d been buried in Magnolia Cemetery. My sister-in-law called the cemetery for more information.

Just before we arrived at the Magnolia Cemetery Office to pick up a map, we passed by the start of another large gathering of folk, coming to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day. A tent had been erected and chairs lined up. Scores of graves surrounding the tent were marked with Confederate flags. The event would soon start.

We proceeded to Great-Grandfather’s gravesite. Not far away, was the burial site of the men of had died on the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in wartime. In the resulting explosion the Hunley also sank and remained at the bottom of the Charleston Harbor for 131 years. (See this link for a brief history and some incredible photos of Charleston.) The men from the Hunley were interred in Magnolia Cemetery in 2004.

Through the years there has been a lot of controversy over Confederate Memorial Day, particularly when it became a state holiday in South Carolina. Still, it is a day to honor those who died in battle fighting for a cause they believed in. A day to remember the Civil War and the history that made America.

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From the comments received for this post, I’ll hold a drawing for a lovely hand-crocheted bookmark. Drawing to be held Saturday evening, May 28th. Be sure to leave a link with an e-mail address where you can be reached.

Posted by Debra Maher.

Please visit my blog at debmaher.com

Civil War Trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a timely subject, considering how many young men and women are serving in the military all over the world today. But what of the men who fought during one of the bloodiest conflicts of the time, a war that pitted brother against brother, father against son?

What of the American Civil War? Surely the suicidal frontal assaults, troops marching forward in formation to be decimated by rifle and artillery fire, battlefields littered with the dead and dying, must have had a horrific effect on those soldiers. Yet surprisingly little has been written on the subject.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological syndrome which results when a person is exposed to a traumatic event such as warfare. Although PTSD only really emerged as a psychiatric diagnosis in the 1970s, it’s clear that veterans of the Civil War also suffered from it. Its symptoms include anxiety, a dread of calamity, depression, flashbacks and nightmares; emotional numbing or apathy. PTSD can include social pathologies, as well, including suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.

One study states that among the typical symptoms of PTSD in Civil War soldiers, the most common is fear, specifically the fear of being killed. This fear would often lead to a man barricading himself in his house, often at night, and stay up watching and waiting for the imagined foe to appear. Others would keep weapons at their side at all times, and sometimes sleep with an axe or other such weapon under their beds. The usual treatment of the day was heavy doses of sedatives to keep them calm.

In Coming Home, my new release from Highland Press, my hero, Cavan Callaghan, is a veteran of Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade who fought at Antietam. He’d lost a lot even before joining up, and I knew he couldn’t have come through that bloody conflict without at least a few scars. But I decided to make his scars the internal, rather than the external type. Cavan’s PTSD manifests itself in an extreme possessiveness of those he loves, even as he tries to deny the extent to which he cares for them. He’s sure my heroine, Ashleen, will eventually betray him. And he’s pursued by the fear that the fragile happiness he’s discovered in Ireland will be snatched away

“The more things change, the more they stay the same…”

~ Alphonse Karr, 1808-1890

Here’s an excerpt from Coming Home:

The Atlantic Ocean, 1867

He was going home.

Home. Such a simple word. And for so long now, such an unattainable dream.

Yet as he stood on the deck of the Mary O’Connor, he thought maybe he’d finally find a real home once again.

When Johnny comes marching home again . . .

He looked seaward. The salt wind tugged at his hair. Spray stung his eyes. Gulls wheeled and shrieked overhead. Open water lay beyond the horizon, and beyond that still, his new life. In a few weeks, the Mary O’Connor would dock in Galway Bay, and from there he’d head for the small village his parents had spoken of with such love. He felt a stirring of emotion, the first spark of excitement since—

Deliberately he cut off the thought. He was no longer a soldier. There would be no more Rebel yells, no more guns, no more battles. He was no longer Captain Callaghan, so-called hero of the Irish Brigade.

He was just plain Cavan Callaghan, an Irishman searching for peace.

What would Ireland be like? For as long as he could remember, he’d heard his parents speak wistfully of the country they’d left behind. The green fields and sea-swept coast. The heather-strewn countryside filled with wild strawberries and prickly gorse. They’d spoken of the people, too, but especially of his father’s brother.

The last of the Flynns now, except for himself.

His mother had said the village of Ballycashel lay some nine miles from Galway City. What would he find there? He knew about the Hunger, of course. Had any of his family survived?

Or would he find the same devastation he’d confronted on his return from the war?

A ripple of sound floating on the briny breeze told him he wasn’t alone. Recognizing the delicate notes of a penny whistle, he glanced around. One of his fellow passengers, obviously an Irishman, lowered the instrument from his lips and smiled, his foot tapping in jig time.

The piper began playing anew, and a raw slash of anguish ripped through Cavan’s gut. He knew the words well, and the tune the man played so effortlessly and with such emotion.

He’d prayed never to hear them again.

The minstrel boy to the war has gone,

In the ranks of death you’ll find him . . .

He squeezed his eyes shut, the ‘ranks of death’ marching through his memory. So many friends, his comrades-in-arms, who would never return . . .

His brother.

With a hard shake of his head, he strode away from the haunting melody.

He was going home. And there he would find peace.

There would be no more war.