Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness

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1960

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Patrick Guiney was 26 when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in April of 1861. Although he came from modest circumstances, the Irish-born young man had studied law and been admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. He was among the first wave of volunteers to enlist to defend the Union against the breakup of the United States and he quickly rose to become an officer, and later the colonel commanding the Irish 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.1

To his men, Guiney was an intelligent and courageous leader and a strict disciplinarian. He was willing to die to preserve the Union, and he came to advocate the abolition of slavery as well.

However, away from his men, Guiney had his doubts about how the war was progressing. In 1863 he wrote that “I hope for success. I fear defeat,” and he knew who would be responsible for defeat; “If the nation dies, the monument…to commemorate its fall should be inscribed ‘The Republic…expired for want of a General to lead its armies.’” The possible defeat of the army was a source of anguish for him. He wrote after the Union loss at Fredericksburg “even now the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ sounds like a wail to me.”2

The incompetence of Union generals did not just jeopardize the future of the country, it also prolonged the war and kept Guiney away from his beloved wife Jennie. He wrote to her that “what my heart has wished is to love and be loved” by her. He wrote “I had been thinking for a long time of seeing you—you only. In all the wretched moments…I thought of the time when I could see you… You Jennie were all I could ask for or my heart ever craved…”3

Jennie’s visits to Guiney in camp did not slake his need for her. When she inevitably went back to Boston after a visit, he wrote her; “I miss you so much that I must commune with you tonight again… I am so lonesome at night…my heart still hovers around you-My Darling.” He understood that his wife was experiencing the same sense of separation, writing that “I do not wonder, Love, that you are lonely. I am so, and it cannot be otherwise for either of us…This separate existence is becoming unreasonable and unbearable…I must confess that I need you near me…” While the stereotype of the Irish immigrant soldier is of a tough, battle-hardened man, Guiney confessed to his wife; “My Darling, if you knew how my heart is bound up in you-how tenderly I cherish you in my inmost soul…how wholly I rely on you for my happiness.”4

At the start of 1864, Abraham Lincoln took a step towards resolving the problem of poor generalship that Guiney had bemoaned the year before. The president made Ulysses S. Grant, the most successful general in the Union service, the commander of all the armies. With the great campaign of the war about to begin, Colonel Guiney was reminding his wife that he would one day be able to leave the army and return to her. On April 7, 1864 he wrote Jennie to remind her that in a year his term of service would be up and he would be coming home, but he added “a campaign is coming on and who can tell its results.” Guiney would soon be in the Virginia Wilderness where his dreams of coming home would become an awful reality.5

Video: The Battle of the Wilderness

Sources:
1. Commanding Boston’s Irish 9th: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick Guiney edited by Christian Samito published by Fordham University Press (1998) from the Prologue; The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle; or Virginia and Maryland Campaigns by M.H. Macnamara (1867).
2. Commanding Boston’s Irish 9th: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick Guiney edited by Christian Samito published by Fordham University Press (1998) p. 161.
3. Commanding Boston’s Irish 9th: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick Guiney edited by Christian Samito published by Fordham University Press (1998) p. 166-168.
4. Commanding Boston’s Irish 9th: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick Guiney edited by Christian Samito published by Fordham University Press (1998) pp. 170-171; 206; 239.
5. Commanding Boston’s Irish 9th: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patrick Guiney edited by Christian Samito published by Fordham University Press (1998) p. 243; The Battle Of The Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea published by LSU Press (1994)

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

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