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The Immigrants’ Civil War Award is given every year to an academic, author, public historian, scholar, or artist who has contributed to our understanding of immigrants during the Civil War Era. This year’s honoree is Damian Shiels. Mr. Shiels is an archeologist and historian who has written extensively on the Irish experience during the Civil War Era.
The work of Mr. Shiels would not have been possible before the Internet Age. Although his writing focuses on New York’s Five Points and the battlefields of Virginia, he conducts most of his research from his native Ireland. He has developed a unique transnational following based on his blog Irish in the American Civil War. Before he wrote his first book or gave his first lecture in the United States, Mr. Shiels was conducting electronic research into the pension files of Irish veterans and winning over thousands of readers through his web site Irish in the American Civil War.
Damian’s careful research in the pension files of the National Archives has uncovered hundreds of letters from soldiers and their families describing Irish immigrant military service in the Union army and navy. These provide insights into the lives and suffering of men who became too feeble through age or wounds to support themselves. Most poignant are those letters he has culled from the Widows and Dependents Pension Files. He writes that “In reading each one, I always do so in the awareness that the story ultimately did not have a happy ending- in every case the soldier died as a result of his service.” These are often tearful letters from homes in New York or Boston to men dying in Virginia hospitals. One letter from a New York Irish woman to her wounded son that Damian uncovered read;
Dear son i rote to you twice and i recieved no answer yet and if you are alive i hope you will rite to me_dear son aint you got any one to rite for you_dear son i expected you in New York the rest of your regiment came to New York that was wounded_for god sake dear son write to me
When she wrote the letter, her son was already two weeks dead..
Damian’s first book, The Irish in the American Civil War, is a lively yet scholarly account of Irish involvement in the Civil War as told through the individual life stories of Irish men and women. The book provides what Lincoln called the “annals of the poor,” the stories of ordinary men and women, as well as sketches of more prominent immigrants. It rescues from obscurity the immigrant voices that never seem to get heard in American history.
Last year Mr. Shiels began lecturing in the United States on the history of the Irish during the war. One historian called him a “rockstar,” another referred to him simply as “our Irish guy.” Through his tireless work, Mr. Shiels is exciting new interest in our shared immigrant history in the United States. Equally important, he is working in Ireland to raise awareness of the 19th Century Irish diaspora. Immigration, by its nature, always involves at least two countries. Immigrants, with feet in two worlds, are often forgotten by both.
For his passion for telling the story of a despised and discriminated against immigrant group thrown into the greatest crisis in American history, I am happy to present this year’s The Immigrants’ Civil War Award to Damian Shiels.
Past Winner: Joseph Reinhart
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South
7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War
8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union
9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?
14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?
15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army
16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri
19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri
20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply
21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead
22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation
23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains
24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation
25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built
26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing
27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings
28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America
29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse
30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.
31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.
32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.
33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War
34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico
35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?
36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde
37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy
38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?
42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans
45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade
46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army
47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American
48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign
52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles
53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery
56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day
57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?
58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland
59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam
62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade
63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln
64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat
65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat
66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White
67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan
68. General Grant Expells the Jews
69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.
70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade
71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863
72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg
73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg
74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War
75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews
76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order
77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews
78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg
79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade
80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade
81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?
82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory
83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause
84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy
85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge
86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves
87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked
88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge
89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps
90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville
91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville
92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville
93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville
94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg
95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee
96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg
97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg
98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863
99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg
100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863
101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863
102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots
103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division
104. The New York Draft Riots Begin
105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots
106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.
107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings
108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence
109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General
110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”
111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address
112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation
113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery
114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal
115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga
116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga
117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga
118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle
119. Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga
120. German Immigrants Pinned Down at Chickamauga
121. Hans Heg: To Die for His Adopted Country at Chickamauga
122. Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness
123. Immigrants March Out of The Wilderness and Into a Wicked Hail of Gunfire
124. Peter Welsh in the Irish Brigade’s Purgatory at Spotsylvania
125. Peter Welsh: What Sacrifice Must the Immigrant Make for His Adopted Land?
126. A Second Irish Brigade’s Catastrophe at a Forgotten Fight Near Fredericksburg
127. An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor
128. Two Irish Brigades Swept Away by a Hurricane from Hell at Cold Harbor
129. Petersburg: The Start of a Ten Month Siege that Devoured Men and Disabled the Irish Brigade
130. A Volcano in Virginia: The Battle of the Crater
131. 1864 Election: The Immigrant Voter & Abraham Lincoln
132. August Belmont: The German Jewish Immigrant Who Led the Opposition to Lincoln’s 1864 Reelection
133. Lincoln and the Superiority of the “Negro” over the Irish
134. Lincoln’s Germans and the Election of 1864
135. Lincoln’s German Lawyer Comes Out Swinging in the Election of 1864
136. Lincoln Wins the Election of 1864 With Immigrant Votes
137. American Refugee Camp in Civil War Kentucky Destroyed by Union Soldiers
138. Kentucky Civil War Refugee Camp Reborn and Reconstructed After Expulsions
139. Immigrant German “Hamburgers” Tormented and Captured at Petersburg
140. German General Weitzel and His African Canadians at Petersburg
141. Irish Regiment at the Beginning of the End of the Confederacy at Five Forks
142. Richmond Burning: The German Immigrant and Black Troops Who Saved the City
143. Appomattox: The Capture of a Confederate Army & the Fall from Grace of an Immigrant General
144. Lincoln Assassinated: John Wilkes Booth’s Immigrant Conspirators
145. Immigrants Hunt Lincoln’s Killers and Help Capture the Confederate President
146. Lincoln’s Murder and the New York Irish American