By 1860, a year before the Civil War broke out, well over 1.5 million people born in Ireland were living in the United States; they constituted about 6 percent of the country’s total population and about 40 percent of its foreign-born population. New York State held the greatest number of Irish immigrants. Its 500,000 Irish residents made up about 13 percent of its entire population. More than 200,000 Irish immigrants lived in New York City alone, and Brooklyn, then still separate from NewYork City proper, washometo another 60,000.
Massachusetts had the second-largest number of residents who had been born in Ireland in 1860. Its nearly 200,000 Irish immigrants accounted for just over 16 percent of the whole population of the state. The city of Boston in Massachusetts held nearly 50,000 Irish-born people One out of every five of the people in tiny Rhode Island in 1860 had come from Ireland.
Although most of the Irish immigrants settled in the northeast, they could be found in almost all U.S. states. The southern states that were about to secede from the Union were home to about 100,000 Irish-born people. Louisiana alone was home to more than 26,000 people from Ireland during the last year before the war. The Irish were living on both sides of the divide when the Southern states attempted to secede fromthe Union, but they were more heavily represented in the North. An estimated 150,000 Irish served in the Union Army, while about 30,000 are believed to have fought for the Confederacy.
The best-known Irish fighting force during the CivilWar was theNewYork Irish Brigade, which saw service from the time of the Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861. Nearly forty other Union regiments had “Irish” in their names. On the Confederate side, Irish fighting forces included the First Virginia Battalion and the Tenth Tennessee Regiment. Irish immigrants and descendants of Irish immigrants also served as individual soldiers in most of the other forces of both sides.
The heavy representation of the Irish in the Civil War was not always voluntary. Both sides drafted soldiers, drawing most heavily among poorer people, such as the Irish. In the North, the Enrollment Act of 1863 enabled any drafted person who paid a fee of three hundred U.S. dollars to hire a substitute draftee. Many low-income Irish immigrants believed that they were fighting on behalf of rich men.
Congress passed the Enrollment Act at a time when many Irish in northern cities were already becoming disenchanted with the war. Irish soldiers had suffered heavy casualties by 1863. As urban laborers, Irish workers were also competing with black workers. When President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, many of these workers began to believe that the primary goal of the war was to free black slaves, rather than to preserve national unity. When local authorities used black workers to break a mainly Irish dock strike in New York in the spring of 1863, the anti-war and anti-black feelings of many New York Irish intensified.
On July 10, 1863, government officials posted the first list of draftees under the Enrollment Act. In New York, it seemed evident that the Irish wards were supplying more conscripts than other parts of the city. In response, protesters marched on the city recruiting station. The protests turned into riots, during which blacks became especially targeted. The rioters burned the Colored Orphan Asylum and beat up and lynched a number of New York’s black residents. During the week that followed, more than one hundred riot victims died, and another 1,500 suffered serious injuries. The New York draft riots ended only after Union troops returned from the Battle of Gettysburg to reestablish order, and the city voted $2.5 million to buy exemptions.
Despite the draft riots and the resentment they revealed, Irish immigrants fought in every battle of the Civil War. With the end of the war, the United States entered a new period of rapid industrialization and soon began welcoming a great tide of new immigrants. The Irish continued to be a significant part of immigration after the Civil War; however, the vast numbers of immigrants coming fromother countries meant that Ireland no longer dominated international movement to the United States as it had done before the Civil War.