About the Book
This is what you will like about the book, The Irish Boys.
The Irishes are a brave and distinguished American family. Eight generations of their experience is known. Not many families are in possession of that much of their history.
Their story begins in the 1650's with William Irish, a sugar planter on the island of Montserrat in the West Indies. One of his sons, Nathaniel Irish, emigrated to the Province of Pennsylvania in the 1730s and was involved in the development of the Pennsylvania wilderness. His son, another Nathaniel Irish, was an ironmaker, Philadelphia carpenter, Revolutionary War veteran and pioneer Pittsburgher, an extraordinary individual. His son, William Beckford Irish, was U. S. Marshall for the Western District of Pennsylvania, appointed by President Monroe, and the father, with two wives, of five sons. These sons are The Irish Boys noted in the title. One of the five, "Willie," would die at age 18 in 1853, seeking his fortune during the gold rush in Australia, an interesting tale in itself, but the four remaining brothers and their mother and sister and a couple of cousins are the ones who generated the 136 letters that have survived to inform us about the Civil War. The family lived in New Brighton, Pittsburgh and New Castle in Western Pennsylvania during this period.
Franklin Irish was Surgeon of the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He writes about battles at Shiloh, Liberty Gap, Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Dallas Irish was with the 13th U. S. Regulars. William Tecumseh Sherman was their first Colonel. Dallas fought at Arkansas Post, during the Vicksburg campaign and at Chattanooga. Nathaniel Irish, the sixth of that name in the family, was with Hampton's Battery F and mentions First Kernstown, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He became Captain of Battery F, despite getting himself into trouble for preferring charges against his superiors, a very risky proposition in any army. That whole story, Nathaniel calls it "the wrangling of men," is told in the letters, as the one stay-at-home Irish brother, Senator Elias Irish, bails out his brother Nathaniel through the exercise of his influence. An entire court martial record of the affair may also be found in the Appendix. Another soldier, a cousin, Tom Cadwallader, is represented in the correspondence. He was in combat with Cooper's Battery B until his death at the battle of New Market Cross Roads in June 1862. The ladies are poignantly present as Lydia Irish the mother and Ellen Irish the sister and a cousin, Ellen Cadwallader Hoopes, try to comfort their men and to make sense of the war.
The wills and last testaments of many of the principals are in the Appendix. They make interesting reading. The patriarch William Irish Sr. of Montserrat can give his daughter "one negro girl named Molly and one cow called Molly" in a single phrase, without pause, in a world so different from our own. The Caribbean was a dangerous place in those days, evinced by his son William Irish's speaking in his will of his "estate real and personal be[ing] taken, burnt, plundered, carried away or destroyed." The French were the main villains, but even the Carib Indians raided sometimes. There are many mourning suits and mourning rings and silver spoons being passed down. It is instructive to follow in the wills the accumulation of wealth by the family. The Irishes made investments, primarily in real estate, in every generation. The Revolutionary period Nathaniel Irish well provided for by his father, accumulated property on his own in Eastern Pennsylvania before moving across the mountains to live in Pittsburgh. There he gained possession for his war service not only of 500 acres of land in what would be New Castle, Pennsylvania, but invested in other properties, most lucrative of which would be a prime block in what would become downtown Pittsburgh. The later wills become progressively more dry and concise in disposing of appreciating assets.
The Quaker connection within the family is noteworthy. William Beckford Irish was instructed in the faith by the famous preacher Elias Hicks, presumably to make him worthy of his two Quaker wives, Hannah and Lydia Cadwallader, who were cousins. It is curious to see the orthodox Quaker practices of Mother, Lydia Irish, waver, as she forgets to say "first day" etc., and even the thee's and thou's slip in the urgencies and expedience of the war years. The close relationship between the Quakeress and firebrand Anna E. Dickinson and shy Elias Irish is interesting for its power yet understated subtlety.
It would be most satisfying to meet Major Franklin Irish, the Civil War surgeon. He is so amusingly garrulous in his spouting of Shakespeare, especially from Henry IV, Part One. He is the eldest Irish son, and even though he is a half-brother, he is the father substitute; their father, William Beckford Irish, having died in 1850. And he must have been very skilled in his trade, as he was often chief operating surgeon.
The 13th Infantry, to which Dallas Irish belonged as Captain and company commander was, is, a famous regiment in the Army. They won the honor "First at Vicksburg" by planting their flag on the parapet of Stockade Redan in a May 19, 1863 assault. They enjoyed an especially close relationship with General Sherman as his Headquarters Guard and saved him at the little known battle of Colliersville in October 1863.
All the brothers make it through the Civil War. Immediately upon discharge, Nathaniel Irish the artilleryman was way up beyond Lake Superior fishing for giant speckled trout, which he brought home on ice on the train, fresh as from the stream. He died out in Iowa five years later in 1870, cause unknown. Elias, who had tuberculosis, had died in 1866. Frank, the doctor, health broken by the war, also had died in 1869. Their mother Lydia died in 1870. Sister Ellen married in the same year and later had a daughter. Dallas, who stayed in the Army postwar, stationed on the plains fighting Indians until resignation in 1866, married and had beautiful children. These future generations of Irishes are interesting also.
Franklin Cadwallader Irish, the younger son of Dallas, though a comfortable businessman, impressed everyone by equipping an ambulance and driving it himself for the American Friends Service Committee in France during World War I. Note the Quaker connection. His wife was a Harper, from another fascinating family.
But this teaser grows as long as a book and must end. And not even mentioned are things like the fact that the first Nathaniel Irish, the one who moved to Pennsylvania from Montserrat, bore the brand "M" for manslaughter on his thumb, because he killed a man with a sword in self-defense in London in 1723. And this Nathaniel Irish, in the iron business among a myriad of others, was buried at his death in New Jersey in 1747 beneath a 200-pound iron tombstone, and that later in 1961, his remains and his tombstone were moved to lie in Trinity Churchyard in Pittsburgh. There are precious artifacts to be seen, letters written on scraps of paper by Captain Nathaniel Irish on the battlefields of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. And lastly there is the one-armed filibuster and scoundrel Parker H. French, who served as a lawyer at the courts martial mentioned in the Appendix, who had not long before been imprisoned for building a blockade runner for the Confederacy. There is a lot of interesting stuff.