Civil War Ballads: Kelly’s Irish Brigade

Songs singing tribute to Irish soldiers are popular, and since nearly 200,000 Irish immigrants fought in the American Civil War, it’s no surprise so many versions of songs like “Paddy’s Lamentation” and “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” have been recorded. Research suggests “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” was written early in the war, and that there is a Northern and Southern version. The following lyrics are decidedly pro-Southern, and this version was recorded by David Kincaid for his album The Irish-American’s Song (2006).

Colonel Joseph M. Kelly’s Washington Blues regiment was considered the Confederacy’s “Irish brigade”

Listen all ye that hold communion
With southern Confederates bold
While I tell you of some men who for the Union
In the northern ranks were enrolled;
They came to Missouri in their “glory,”
And thought, at their might, we’d be dismayed;
But they soon made them tell a different story

When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade, me boys
When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincoln-ites tremble
When they met with the Irish brigade?

They have called us rebels and traitors
But themselves have thrown off the name of late
They were called it by the English invaders
At home in the eve of ninety-eight
The name to us is not a new one though
Tis’ one that shall never degrade
And each blue-hearted Irishman
In the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade

When they met with the Irish Brigade, me boys
When they met with the Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincoln-ites tremble
When they met with the Irish brigade?

Well they dare not call us invaders
‘Tis but state rights and liberties we ask;
And Missouri, we will ever defend her
No matter how hard be the task
Then let the Irishmen assemble
Let the voice of Missouri be obeyed;
And northern fanatics may tremble

When again they meet Kelly’s Irish Brigade
When they met with the Irish Brigade, me boys
When they met with the Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincoln-ites tremble
When they met with the Irish brigade?

Technically, the Confederacy had no “Irish Brigade.” That distinction was reserved for the Union’s Irish Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher and later Colonel Patrick Kelly. This is confusing, since this song refers to a Confederate Irish Brigade commanded by someone named Kelly.

The song celebrates a regiment of Irish immigrants from St. Louis, Missouri called the “Washington Blues,” commanded by British Army veteran Captain Joseph Kelly. It participated in the First Battle of Lexington, where it defeated “Mulligan’s Irish Brigade,” the 23rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

The song also references the Irish Rebellion of 1798. “They have called us rebels and traitors, but themselves have thrown off the name of late. They were called it by the English invaders, at home in the eve of ninety-eight.” The lyrics liken the Southern rebellion against the Union to the Irish rebellion against the British Crown.

In all, about 20,000 Irish immigrants fought for the Confederacy, versus approximately 180,000 for the Union.

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About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and freelance columnist. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He lives in Rockford, Illinois, where he was the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor.

Posted on May 18, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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