“To Pause And Remember All They Gave”

Note: This post is for my friend, Patrick Young, who constantly reminds me that for most everything I write about on this site there is an immigrants’ perspective. Thanks, Pat.

Tollgate Cemetery MonumentYesterday morning I took a slightly different jogging route through my neighborhood and stumbled on a small neglected cemetery. The Toll Gate Cemetery is located just off Hyde Park Avenue, just a block from the Forrest Hills T Station in Jamaica Plain. It is nestled between the street and tracks and is very easy to miss. Since I can’t resist old cemeteries I decided to check it out hoping that I might stumble on a few Civil War soldiers. I did.

As the article linked to above indicates the cemetery serves as the final resting place primarily for local Irish residents and a few German Catholics. Forrest Hills Cemetery is just a stones throw away and Catholics are interred there, but there is some evidence that a separate burial plot was desired by the Diocese.  At the center is a monument to Irish Americans who fought and died in the Civil War, which was dedicated in 2000. Around this marker lay the remains of five soldiers.

It is clear that this cemetery does not see much traffic. With that in mind I think it is appropriate to begin the new year with a post that reflects the central theme of this blog.

Happy New Year!

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22 thoughts on ““To Pause And Remember All They Gave”

  1. M.D. Blough

    Thank you, Kevin! It’s a moving and remarkable find. I’m glad that these veterans are being honored by your column.

    Reply
  2. Patrick Young

    What a moving way to start the New Year. Thank you Kevin for posting it.

    Roughly a quarter of the Union dead were buried in a land different from the one they were born in. Their memory rarely intrudes on consciousness beyond the precincts of “ethnic history.” While we sometimes call ourselves “a nation of immigrants”, we rarely remember those immigrants.

    Yet immigration is a central factor in the shaping of the American republic, our democratic politics, both our popular and high cultures, and the way we experience our lives every day. If you don’t believe it, think of something as mundane as a family discussion of where to eat out. “Mexican? Chinese? Italian? Korean chicken wings? Let’s try Afghan for a change.”

    While I have been reading about the Civil War and visiting Civil War sites since I was a small boy, I have only been participating in the online Civil War community for the last three years. In conversations with enthusiasts on message boards and on facebook I am struck by how little people know about the Civil War immigrant’s experience. Aside from broad statements like “the Germans ran away” or “the Irish Brigade was brave”, both of which statements are then fed through outdated ethnic stereotypes, basic awareness is lacking. I am afraid this reflects a broader, and dangerous, ignorance of immigration history generally. On a discussion recently on Civil War Talk on German soldiers, for example, it became apparent that several commenters did not realize that German immigrants joined German regiments, in part, because they could not speak English and that these units were bilingual. How can current immigration practices be evaluated if Americans don’t realize that their own ancestors had language accommodations made for them?

    Much of what we do remember about immigrant participation in the Civil War deprives immigrants of agency and consigns them to a role as ignorant pawns.

    For example, let’s look at the question of why the foreign-born fought. Typically when a war breaks out, the foreign born either leave the country or they avoid participating in the war. Think of the foreign workers fleeing Libya during the uprising there recently. During the Civil War roughly half a million immigrants fought for the Union, more men than were in the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Tennessee, combined, at any one time. Lincoln’s accomplishment in mobilizing so many men who in other wartime situations would have sat out the war is often completely overlooked and the immigrants’ motives for joining are misunderstood.

    The only two motives that I hear cited consistently by CW enthusiasts for immigrant enlistment in the army are “money” and “to prove they were good Americans”. “Money” overlooks the fact that when the immigrant regiments were formed in 1861 and early 1862, bounties were small or non-existent and pay was erratic at best. As far as a desire to “prove they were good Americans”, while I did find a few immigrants who said they hoped immigrant service would finally shut the Know Nothings up, I don’t think most immigrants risked their lives to prove themselves to nativists whom they considered ignorant bigots and bullies.

    Instead, the immigrant enlistees had enlistment motives different from, but every bit as diverse, as native-born enlistees. Some were abolitionists, others felt that after the collapse of the democratic revolutions of 1848 the US was the last best hope for the “common people”. I have discussed their motives in a series of articles, beginning with this one:

    http://www.longislandwins.com/columns/detail/immigrants_rush_to_join_the_union_army_-_why

    Peter Welsh, the New York carpenter who joined the 28th Mass. of the Irish Brigade provided an insight in his own decision to join in a letter to his wife. In his simple uneducated prose he asserts ownership over the United States and insists that the immigrant has as much right to shape the course of its history as any man born to United States Citizenship:

    “This is my country as much as the man that was born on the soil and so it is to every man who comes to this country and becomes a citizen…I have as much interest in the maintenance of the government and laws and integrity of the nation as any other man… This war, with all its evils, with all its errors and mismanagement is a war in which the people of all nations have a vital interest. This is the first test of a modern free government in the act of sustaining itself against internal enemies and matured rebellion. All men who love free government and equal laws are watching the crisis to see if a republic can sustain itself in such a case. If it fail then the hope of millions fail and the designs and wishes of all tyrants will succeed…There is yet something in this land worth fighting for.”

    The complexity of the Civil War immigrant experience, from Grant’s order expelling the Jews to the organization of medial care by Irish women religious, to the struggle to allow Jews to be chaplains and attempts to make the army “English-Only” provide fascinating insights into our shared history.

    For anyone interested, here is an article that I wrote on reasons German immigrants gave for enlisting in 1861 and 1862:
    http://www.longislandwins.com/news/detail/why_the_germans_fought_for_the_union

    Here is a similar article on the Irish:
    http://www.longislandwins.com/news/detail/why_did_the_irish_fight_when_they_were_so_despised

    Again, thanks Kevin for making my day.

    Reply
      1. Patrick Young

        It’s funny. After I posted I had to run out with my son for a quick breakfast at the Kosher bagel bakery. Then I had to drop my other son off at the Catholic Church built by Irish immigrants 100 years ago for the New Year’s Multicultural Mass in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Italian. On the way home, my aunt Mary, an immigrant from Barbados, spoke to me over the phone to tell me to come over this afternoon for Sauerbraten, using a recipe that my German great-grandmother brought over from the old country.

        This was all over the course of about 60 minutes.

        It is easy to miss the immigrant connections in our daily lives, let alone in our country’s history.

        Thanks again Kevin for today’s great post, and for your work throughout the last year.

        Reply
  3. Patrick Young

    Kevin, a passage in the article you link to on the background of Catholic burials is intriguing:

    “While Forest Hills Cemetery served the rich and Protestant, Toll Gate Cemetery was founded around 1850 to serve an unwelcome Catholic community.

    Of course, times have changed. Today Forest Hills Cemetery welcomes burials from anyone.

    “Catholics weren’t allowed in city cemeteries back then,” remembers local resident Paul Davis, “so the Catholic church purchased land to bury their dead.””

    When I was doing research on the burning of the Ursiline Convent in the Boston area, I found references to legal bans on Catholic burials. The anti-Irish pogrom was of course set off by Lyman Beecher, but the burial of Catholic children was a contributing cause. I wrote in my article:

    “Lyman Beecher, one of Boston’s most prominent ministers, delivered a week of violently anti-Catholic sermons in 1834 at churches throughout the city. Rev. Beecher, whose daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe would write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was also a leader of the anti-slavery movement, as were other Boston ministers. New immigrants would soon come to identify the abolitionists with brutal anti-immigrant violence.8

    Protestants were already angry at the Catholics when Beecher began his sermon series because the Catholic Church had violated a law banning the burial of Catholics in the city of Charlestown. The bishop of Boston had buried two young boys there in violation of a health ordinance allowing only Protestants to be buried inside the city. On August 11, 1834, a well-organized mob shouting “No Popery” marched to the Ursuline Convent and burned it. Over the next week, the mob roamed through Boston destroying Church property and burning the homes of poor Irish immigrants in the ghetto now known as the North End.”

    Here is the full article:

    http://www.longislandwins.com/news/detail/the_evolution_of_the_know_nothings

    Segregated in life, segregated in death.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the link. I remember reading about the Ursuline Convent fire in Christian Samito’s book.

      Reply
    2. M.D. Blough

      Thanks for the article, Patrick. As a Unitarian by adoption (I was raised Church of the Brethren), I am proud of how early the Unitarian support for religious diversity manifested itself. You’re right about how little attention is given to the immigrant experience in the Civil War. Until Hatcher and Piston’s “Wilson’s Creek” was published, I had no idea that German refugees from the 1848 revolutions and the organizations they formed played a critical role in keeping Missouri in the Union.

      Reply
      1. Patrick Young

        Thank M.D.

        “Wilson’s Creek” is a great book for me because it fully incorporates immigrant perspectives into its narrative and analysis while remaining a general work on the battle. Hennessey’s Return to Bull Run and Guelzo’s new Gettysburg book are examples of different, but still admirable approaches to incorporating immigrant stories.

        BTW, this article I wrote on the Irish in New Orleans also cites a Unitarian effort to bridge the divide between immigrants and native-born:

        http://www.longislandwins.com/news/detail/the_irish_tigers_from_louisiana

        Reply
        1. M.D. Blough

          Thank you for the article, Patrick. In addition to the Unitarian reference, which I appreciate, it was eye-opening. I had no idea that the issue of immigration had so bitterly and violently divided New Orleans prior to the Civil War.

          Wilson’s Creek means a lot to me and not just because I know William Garrett Piston through the movement to erect the Longstreet statue at Gettysburg NMP. It came out when the astonishingly bitter battle of words over expanded interpretation v. strictly who shot who where (and they were all honorable people fighting for their rights) in developing the current GNMP management plan resonated. To me, Wilson’s Creek is one of those books, beginning with McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom”, that show that one can not only expand to include the political/social without slighting the military but that the discussion can be integrated into a seamless web. In the case of Wilson’s Creek, I don’t see any way that one can intelligently discuss the battle WITHOUT getting into the political/social. Without the Germans and their paramilitary organizations as a counterbalance to the secessionist dominated state forces, I don’t know what Lyons could have done to counteract the governor. (BTW, my first name is Margaret; WordPress gave me M.D. as a user name).

          Reply
          1. Patrick Young

            Cool Margaret. I had just put “Wilson’s Creek on my list of 5 Greatest Civil War Books over at CWT. I always tell people to read it.

            There is also quite a bit of info in there to counteract the myth that all the Irish slipped out of St. Louis to join the Confederacy.

            And thanks for your kind words on my articles.

            Reply
  4. Patrick Young

    Two of the five soldiers whose graves are pictured were members of the 28th Mass. of the Irish Brigade. These two were John Bowen and Michael Corbett.

    One, Michael Mangan, was in the Vermont Brigade. Since he died in 1902, he may have settled in Boston after the war, or moved there to be with family at the end of his life.

    Michael Downey was in the 8th Ind. Battery, a six month unit organized in 1862.

    William Cochrane rose to be captain of Company A 1st Mass Inf died May 20th 1864. He is also listed on the website of the 28th Mass as having served as a captain in that regiment as well.

    Two of them, Cochrane and Bowen died during the war. One, Corbett, died soon after the war at the age of 28. One lived to a ripe old age.

    Three enlisted in the Irish Brigade. One apparently moved later to a non-immigrant regiment. Two enlisted in non-immigrant regiment.

    There is a decent chance that three of the men knew each other.

    A small slice of Irish American life (and death) in New England’s Irish community.

    Reply
  5. Damian Shiels

    Thanks for posting these images (and also thanks Patrick for the follow ups, fascinating as ever!). It is nice to see that a number of these graves are remembered with the Stars and Stripes. An area of Civil War Memory that is of increasing interest to me is how Ireland and Germany are remembering (or not remembering) their emigrants who fought in the Civil War. In the case of Ireland, the Civil War saw more Irishmen in uniform than any other conflict in our history barring World War One, yet there has been virtually nothing in the way of remembrance of them in Ireland or by the Irish State during the course of the 150th. This in stark contrast to the number of events planned here to commemorate World War One. I have written about why I think this is on a number of occasions, but the two major ones are that most of these emigrants never came back to Ireland, and there is a general lack of knowledge (in Ireland) about the sheer scale of Irish involvement. Our President Michael D. Higgins spoke extensively about the Irish immigrant experience in Boston at Faneuil Hall in 2012 as part of our annual Famine Commemoration, yet he failed to make a single reference to the war that many Famine emigrants found themselves in just a few years after landing in the U.S. His speech took place 150 years after Massachusetts Irish Regiments like the 9th were being mauled at places such as Gaines’ Mill. His was not an intentional omission- he is simply unaware of the significance of the link or of the extent of Irish involvement.

    I think it is important to remember that many of these people often had traumatic experiences before they even arrived in the U.S.; some had escaped Famine only to lose husbands or children to the Civil War. We often have a tendency to break peoples lives up in the past- Irish historians (and history) often leave emigrants ‘at the port’ and fail to explore what happened to people after they left the island. Equally, to understand how immigrants acted in the United States it is important to understand their experiences before they landed in New York or Boston.

    It is important for country’s such as Ireland to remember the impact the American Civil War had on Irish people. In 1870, 35% of everyone who had been born in Ireland lived in a different country. As a result the history of the Irish diaspora is a major component of the Irish story, and the American Civil War should be regarded as a major event in Irish history. In Ireland we have yet to embrace that fully, but hopefully in the future awareness of our diaspora’s history and heritage will increase.

    Reply
      1. Patrick Young

        More seriously, since many Irish soldiers who fought for the Union explicitly framed their service as aiding the cause of the Irish people worldwide, this is an extremely appropriate subject of commemoration in Ireland.

        While the Fenian connection is pretty well known, many Irish volunteers who were not Fenians saw the hand of Britain behind secession. In fighting Virginians at Gettysburg, they were really undermining British designs in Ireland in their minds.

        Reply
        1. Damian Shiels

          I think you just need to find the right 55 year old woman Patrick :-) Thats absolutely true and recruiters such as Meagher played on that- they painted Britain and the Confederacy as de facto allies, and even drew comparison between the ‘aristocratic’ society of the South and what they had left behind in Ireland. Also the desire to have the United States as a strong bulwark against Britain, to preserve a Republic on which to model a future free Ireland and to protect the country as a refuge for Irish emigrants all fed into a similar theme.

          Reply
  6. Craig L.

    I think I’ve developed a fairly clear sense of why my German immigrant Civil War ancestors took part in the conflict. It’s certainly generational in one sense and a matter of social and family dynamic in another. My dad’s ancestors emigrated in 1855 and 1856 to Wisconsin from East Brandenburg. My great great great grandparents, William and Dorothea Ebert, brought with them two grown daughters, two not yet teen-aged sons, a son-in-law and two grandchildren. A year later they were joined by their oldest daughter, her husband and their two small sons. It appears their departure was delayed a year to avoid traveling while my great great grandmother was pregnant with my great grandfather.

    The family successfully avoided entanglement in the war until February 22nd, 1864, when the younger William Ebert enlisted in the 12th Wisconsin at age 19. Nearly everyone in their community (comprised in roughly equal parts of German immigrants and Scot-Irish Americans transplanted from upstate New York) who had enlisted to that point joined the 27th Wisconsin, which consisted of recruits from Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties, many of them, perhaps a third or more, German. The 12th was from Washington County to the south, halfway to Milwaukee. It had some Germans in it, but generally Germans who were fluent enough in English to function in an English speaking chain of command. Both the 12th and the 27th had been at Vicksburg, but the 12th had been in service longer and was being ‘veteranized’ in February,1864.

    Anyone in the 12th who had not reenlisted by early 1864 was deemed a ‘copperhead’ and denied furlough, left behind to languish in the Vicksburg swamps, while all those who had reenlisted were sent home to Madison for a month or two to recuperate while helping to enlist and train new recruits and welcome veterans from combat hardened units too decimated to continue with their original regiments. The old 12th and the new 12th reunited in April in Tennessee, marching across northern Alabama into Georgia to take part in the Battle of Atlanta as part of Sherman’s army.

    Three months later William was wounded at Bald Hill, shot in the left shoulder. It was only his second battle. His first battle had mostly involved watching several companies from his unit attacking, taking and briefly holding a well-fortified position at Kennesaw Mountain, before retreating in the face of greater numbers. The same maneuver was essentially repeated at Bald Hill a few weeks later, except this time the ground they gained was not relinquished . William was evacuated, sent home to a hospital at Madison, Wisconsin, for about six months of convalescence and discharged with a disability pension that paid more than what he’d earned as a soldier.
    I suspect this made an impression on the husbands of his older sisters. They enlisted as replacement troops for the 27th in late October that year and that’s how my great great grandfather came to enter the war. They were shamed into enlisting by their wives whose younger brother had become a war hero.

    The 27th was only about one third German, but it was commanded by a German colonel and was part of a German chain of command. They mostly occupied Little Rock, alongside another regiment commanded by a German, Adolph Dengler, whose 43rd Illinois was still known as the Koerner Regiment, though by this time the unit had essentially become the Koerner Brigade, as Adolph Engelmann, Koerner’s brother-in-law, had been promoted to general and placed in charge of an entire brigade. His chain of command involved the Salomon brothers, Frederick and Charles, both generals who were brothers to Wisconsin’s acting governor, Edward Salomon, like Engelmann, a former Prussian army officer.

    Germans in Illinois and Wisconsin had Arkansas under martial law through Frederick Steele’s command of the Department of Arkansas and for the last two years of the war they had the left bank of the Mississippi locked down tight as a drum all the way to Louisiana. I understand Steele corresponded extensively with Lincoln, particularly in the early months of 1864, when maintaining control of Arkansas was a top priority for the administration as it rolled into the election campaign. Steele’s correspondence with Lincoln is in an archive at Stanford as part of the Hoover Institute. Steele’s key role in 1864 has been largely expunged from the overarching narrative of the war. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

    Reply
  7. Julian

    Kevin – here is a link that is congruent to a number of things that interest you – ensuring that public memory captures the fullness of the human contribution to the ACW, the sometimes vulnerable state of material history relating to less popular ACW narratives – and cemeteries not only as places for honour and reflection post Memorial Day in the US, but also as documentation of less familiar aspects of the war for the public

    http://www.eveningsun.com/ci_25957540/historians-reflect-gravesites-black-soldiers-adams-county

    Reply

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