Fri, Oct

Chicago's Irish Legion

Historical Fiction


This title presents the first comprehensive regimental history of Chicago's Irish Volunteers. Extensively documented and richly detailed, "Chicago's Irish Legion" tells the compelling story of Chicago's 90th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the only Irish regiment in Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's XV Army Corps. Swan's sweeping history of this singular regiment and its pivotal role in the western theater of the Civil War draws heavily from primary documents and first-person observations, giving readers an intimate glimpse into the trials and triumphs of ethnic soldiers during one of the most destructive wars in American history.

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  At the onset of the bitter conflict between the North and the South, Irish immigrants faced a wall of distrust and discrimination in the United States. Many Americans were deeply suspicious of Irish religion and politics, while others openly doubted the dedication of the Irish to the Union cause. Responding to these criticisms with a firm show of patriotism, the Catholic Church and Irish politicians in northern Illinois - along with the Chicago press and community - joined forces to recruit the Irish Volunteers. Composed mainly of foreign-born recruits, the legion's heroic endeavors for the Union rapidly dispelled any rumors of disloyalty. The volunteers proved to be instrumental in various battles and sieges, including the marches to the sea and through the Carolinas, suffering great casualties and providing indispensable support for the Union. With a meticulous eye for accuracy, Swan traces the remarkable journey of these unique soldiers from their regiment's inception and first military engagement in 1862 to their disbandment and participation in the Grand Review of General William T. Sherman's army in 1865. Enhancing the volume are firsthand accounts from the soldiers who endured the misery of frigid winters and brutal environments, struggling against the ravages of disease and hunger as they marched more than twenty-six hundred miles over the course of the war. Also revealed are personal insights into some of the war's most harrowing events, including the battles at Vicksburg and Chattanooga and Sherman's famous campaign for Atlanta. In addition, Swan exposes the racial issues that affected the soldiers of the 90th Illinois, including reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation and the formations of the first African American fighting units as well as the effects of widespread anti-Irish sentiment on the lives of the volunteers. Swan rounds out the volume with stories of survivors' lives after the war, adding an even deeper personal dimension to this absorbing chronicle



A retired professor of Agronomy from Iowa State University with a lifelong passion for the Civil War and an Irish heritage, Swan tells the story of Chicago's Irish Legion in a style that reflects both his scholarship and his understanding of the Irish.  Although Swan never knew his grandfather, the presence of Simon Swan in the 90th Illinois gave his grandson additional grounds for examining the experiences of this regiment. 

The 90th Illinois is frequently overlooked by historians, but as the only Irish regiment in W.T. Sherman's XVth Corps, it was often noticed and mentioned by members of other regiments who served alongside the Legion.  One of these, Theodore Upson of the 100th Indiana, described the Legion's tumultuous arrival at their 1863 summer camp in Mississippi where they got into a big ruckus while putting up their tents.  It required Colonel O'Meara's using the side of his big broadsword over the men's heads to settle them down, but Upson noted that they adored their colonel.