European Mercenaries to Subdue Americans
Lincoln’s endless levies for more troops to subdue the American South forced him to scour Europe for mercenaries, sending agents with cash and promises of government land to attract cannon-fodder. The editor of the Ulster Observer cited below pointed out that the Southern army was full of Irishmen and “asked on what principle the Irish people could leave their homeland to steep their hands in the blood of those who were their kith and kin.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
European Mercenaries to Subdue Americans:
“…[T]here had begun to be opposition to the departure of Irishmen from the country by the thousand, a migration greatly aggravated by the economic distress of the island. As early as January, 1862, the Liverpool Reporter observed that for several months young men loaded with gold watches and large bounties had been leaving Ireland, ostensibly to emigrate to America, but actually to serve in the Federal army, for which they were engaged by Northern agents.
An extract from the Ulster Observer of Belfast is typical of the comments appearing in the opposition press: “We have more respect for our country and our countrymen than to see them wearing the livery of a foreign state in a cause which involves no principle with which they can be identified….[but America] cannot, and should not, expect our countrymen to be her mercenaries in the present fratricidal struggle. Already the battlefields are white with the bones of their brethren. Thousand of Irishmen have, thanklessly, it would appear, laid down their lives for the North…and if President Lincoln still stands in need of human hecatombs, he should look elsewhere than to the decimated home of Ireland for the victims.” In general, it can be stated that the public journals were loud in denouncing “Federal agents” and clamorous for their prosecution and punishment.
“…One might say that [Secretary of State] Seward did everything he could to encourage…[foreign enlistments]…the Homestead Act of May, 1862, which provided free farms to all aliens who had filed declarations of intention to become citizens of the United States. It further provided that foreign-born residents might become full citizens after one years’ residence on condition of honorable service in the army. By an act approved July 4th, 1864, the Office of Commissioner of Immigration was created under the Secretary of State; the duties imposed upon him were to gather information as to soil, climate, minerals, agricultural products, wages, transportation, and employment needs. This information was to be disseminated throughout the countries of Europe.”
(Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy, Ella Lonn, LSU Press, 1951, pp. 412-418)