Many Irish and Scottish immigrants served in the Union Army during America’s Civil War. These soldiers proved themselves during every major campaign from the onset of the conflict in 1861 to the final surrender at Appomattox in 1865, but now faced a new enemy on the country’s western frontier. Their adversaries wore neither Yankee blue nor Confederate grey; they were the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho and the Apache.
Of the many immigrant units formed during the war,the most prominent was the 69th Infantry Regiment, one of five regiments comprising the Irish Brigade that fought for the Union. Renown for its courage and tenacity, it was always at the forefront of campaigns against the Confederacy suffering huge losses over the course of the war.
The number of dead and wounded led many to believe that Irish immigrants were being used as “cannon fodder.” Spearheading the Army of the Potomac’s advances resulted in casualties disproportionate to the rest of the service. By 1863 riots broke out in New York over new conscription laws that required the working-class to replenish the ranks. Irish immigrants felt that they were being forced to fight the “rich man’s war.” Federal troops would eventually be called in to quell the riots. However, while individual Irishmen would continue to serve, organized Irish participation on behalf of the Union effectively ended.
Those not killed, maimed, or ushered out of the Union Army at war’s end found themselves garrisoned in places like Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They formed the backbone of the troops tasked with subduing the Southern Plains Indians.
Sergeant Major [Timothy] O’Shannon was a big man and a stereotypical Irishman if ever there was one. He could be gruff if the situation required, invoking “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary” as the circumstances dictated, but he was also fair and genuinely caring when it came to the men. He was the counterpoint to [Colonel Ranald] Mackenzie’s demanding and uncompromising leadership style. The Sergeant Major had served with the Sixty-Ninth Regiment, the Irish Brigade, during the war and had seen action at the Battle of First Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. As a result he and Mackenzie shared a mutual respect for one another that only survivors of the carnage they had witnessed over the course of the war could possibly forge or understand. This respect even ignored what should have been a natural impediment to working well together… O’Shannon’s Irish and Mackenzie’s Scottish heritage. – excerpt from Palo Duro.