A Damn Yankee, Am I? Thanks!
Portraits of the Irish in the era of the civil war
About the book
The era of the Civil War is assessed as being from the start of abolitionism in the 1830s, through the war itself and its aftermath. The book deals with the Ireland the emigrants left at this time, their arrival in America and how they fared, and their involvement in the civil war and afterwards.
Irish immigrants to the United States in the nineteenth century met with prolonged prejudice from native-born Americans because they were foreign, numerous, poor, and mostly Roman Catholic. By taking part in the Civil War, they hoped it would help diminish the negative stereotyping they had been experiencing.
The aim in writing this book is to share with readers the fruits of my research into what happened Irish people who were caught up in the rapidly changing political and social life in America during of the turbulent era of the American Civil War. Irish Catholics in particular had to struggle hard “to force open the doors of American life so zealously guarded by those who had first settled the land” and although it took a long time to do so, they eventually succeeded.
“We lay in the pit dug for us, and the first we knew the rebels came rushing over and said, ‘You damned Yankee, give me that flag.’ Well, I said, it is twenty years since I came to this country, and you are the first man who ever called me a Yankee. You can take the flag for the compliment.” On being called a Yankee, Mike Scannell’s succinct response summed up vividly the experience of the poor immigrant Irish who longed for acceptance in the New World having lived with “a legacy which encompasses poverty, prejudice and a very long hard struggle to achieve economic competence and some degree of respectability.”
In focusing on the apparent contradictions she saw in their make-up, this Yankee Protestant woman (Asenath Nicholson) was reflecting the curiosity of many Americans – their preoccupation, even – with these strange Irish who had been coming to their shores in ever-increasing numbers since the economic decline in
Ireland following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. But while thousands of her compatriots would be content to rely on popular narratives and prevailing stereotyping to inform their views of the Irish, she would go to the very source itself, “the Emerald Isle of the ocean” and having lived among them for as long as it took, set down in writing all that she saw and heard.
Perhaps the recent findings in the published works of academics, new centres of migration studies, and the proceedings of summer schools and seminars will include a long-overdue recognition of the participation of Irish emigrants – many of them Famine survivors – in the American Civil War, in which an estimated 200,000 of them fought. Some of the young men indeed had hopes that their military experience might stand to them someday when they would return home and strike a blow for “the ould dart” (“the ould sod” or Ireland). . . It is a sad fact that their hopes and the sacrifices they and their families made in that great American conflict hardly feature today in the consciousness of Irish people at home.
A Damn Yankee, Am I? Thanks! is currently being edited and once type-set the book will be published in 2022. Please email Aidan with any questions regarding the publishing of this important historical work.