In the Review Queue: Chicago’s Irish Legion

by Brett Schulte on March 14, 2009 · 0 comments

The “In the Review Queue” series provides TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog readers with a brief look at books Brett Schulte is planning to review here on the blog.  These will be very similar to Drew Wagenhoffer’s “Booknotes” series at Civil War Books and Authors.

Chicagos Irish Legion: The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War by James B. SwanThis nicely put together hardcover is a regimental history of the 90th Illinois Volunteers, the “Chicago Irish Legion”, in the western campaigns of the Civil War.  The regiment was an ethnic one, composed mainly of Irish Catholics, so that is another facet of the book which I’m sure will be explored in detail by the author.  The dust jacket mentions Swan will be exploring how these Irish immigrants reacted to the Emancipation Proclamation and their views on race.  Upon first glance, the maps look like they were made specifically for the book, which is a good sign.  I’ve read a lot of regimentals which use generic maps or no maps at all!  There are illustrations, mostly photos of unit members, scattered throughout the book as well.  The Chicago Irish Legion participated in some of the toughest fighting in the Western Theater, and I look forward to reading this one in the near future.

Check out Patricia Swan’s two new websites on the Chicago Irish Legion!  Patricia is the wife of author James B. Swan.

Drew received a copy of Chicago’s Irish Legion as well.

Chicago’s Irish Legion was published by the Southern Illinois University Press (near my neck of the woods down here in Egypt).  The publisher’s information on the book is included below:

Cloth, 0-8093-2890-9
978-0-8093-2890-1, $32.95t
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, 26 Illus.
American History / Civil War / Illinois


Presenting the first comprehensive regimental history of Chicago’s Irish Volunteers
Extensively documented and richly detailed, Chicago’s Irish Legion tells the compelling story of Chicago’s 90th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the only Irish regiment in Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Army Corps. Swan’s sweeping history of this singular regiment and its pivotal role in the Western Theater of the Civil War draws heavily from primary documents and first-person observations, giving readers an intimate glimpse into the trials and triumphs of ethnic soldiers during one of the most destructive wars in American history.

At the onset of the bitter conflict between the North and the South, Irish immigrants faced a wall of distrust and discrimination in the United States. Many Americans were deeply suspicious of Irish religion and politics, while others openly doubted the dedication of the Irish to the Union cause. Responding to these criticisms with a firm show of patriotism, the Catholic Church and Irish politicians in northern Illinois—along with the Chicago press and community—joined forces to recruit the Irish Volunteers. Composed mainly of of foreign-born recruits, the legion’s heroic endeavors for the Union rapidly dispelled any rumors of disloyalty. The volunteers proved to be instrumental in various battles and sieges, including the marches to the sea and through the Carolinas, suffering great casualties and providing indispensable support for the Union. With a meticulous eye for accuracy, Swan traces the remarkable journey of these unique soldiers from their regiment’s inception and first military engagement in 1862 to their disbandment and participation in the Grand Review of General William T. Sherman’s army in 1865.

Enhancing the volume are firsthand accounts from the soldiers who endured the misery of frigid winters and brutal environments, struggling against the ravages of disease and hunger as they marched more than twenty-six hundred miles over the course of the war. Also revealed are personal insights into some of the war’s most harrowing events, including the battles at Vicksburg and Chattanooga and Sherman’s famous campaign for Atlanta. In addition, Swan exposes the racial issues that affected the soldiers of the 90th Illinois, including reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation and the formations of the first African American fighting units as well as the effects of widespread anti-Irish sentiment on the lives of the volunteers. Swan rounds out the volume with stories of survivors’ lives after the war, adding an even deeper personal dimension to this absorbing chronicle


James B. Swan is an independent historian and retired professor of agronomy at Iowa State University.

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