Seven Irishmen, The
DESCRIPTION: The singer warns of what happened to seven Irishmen who sailed to America. They land in New York. They are tricked into the Army. They fight the soldiers who would train them. A "gentleman from Ohio" comes to their aid
EARLIEST DATE: 1973 (Sing Out!)
KEYWORDS: Ireland soldier emigration fight Civilwar
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
ADDITIONAL: _Sing Out_ magazine, Volume 22, #1 (1973), p, 3, "The Seven Irishmen" (1 text, 1 tune, the Joe Heaney version)
NOTES [353 words]: The notes in Sing Out! say that "60% of the Union Army was Irish or of Irish descent and 30% of the Confederate Army." It is true that the Civil War army had a lot of Irishmen -- but there weren't enough Irishmen in America to supply 60% of the Union army! (This would call for roughly 1.25 million Irishmen of military age in the North alone. That's out of a total population -- men, women, children, and the elderly -- of 22 million).
I suspect there is more going on here than the Irish singer understood. Many Irishmen, it is true, were recruited "off the docks" as they came to America (see "By the Hush" for an example of this). But the song seems to describe something like taking the King's Shilling (Lincoln's Shilling?). This would not be normal -- bounties flowed freely at the end of the war, but they were cash, not drink.
My guess is that the men were recruited not by army officials but by a substitute broker -- the Union draft allowed a man who was drafted to recruit another man to take his place -- a "substitute." The substitute broker was a man who swept the streets and alleys to find someone to sell to the reluctant conscript. The substitutes so hired were notorious for their lack of suitability -- many were drunks or cripples, and the substitute brokers would bribe doctors or recruiting officers to get them in.
The "gentleman from Ohio" who seeks to get them off is also interesting. I have to think this is Clement L. Vallandigham (1820-1871), a lifelong Ohioan who became a congressman in the late 1850s and argued strenuously for States Rights. He was the foremost "Copperhead" (Democrat who favored letting the South leave the Union) -- his opinions were so strong that he was for a time imprisoned, and at another time exiled to the Confederacy. Many "Peace Democrats" simply didn't think it was proper to fight the South, but Vallandingham, by the end, seemed actively pro-Southern; it would be no surprise to find him doing whatever he could to weaken the Union armies.
Adding it all up, I suspect that, somewhere behind this song, there is a political text. What, I do not know. - RBW
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