Book review

Commanding Boston's Irish Ninth

The Civil War Letters of Colonel Patric R Guiney, Ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

 

Edited by Christian G Samito

 

(ISBN 0-8232-1813-9 Published by Fordham University Press New York 263 pages)

 

Reviewed By Rees Taylor

 

This is the sixth in the series of books published by Fordham entitled 'The Irish in the Civil War', and the first I have read. In relation to the subject of the Irish volunteer in the Civil war this book offers a different perspective to the normal portrayal of the social and political background of the Irish ex-pat. At the outset of the war Guiney had been a Democrat supporter, as most of the Irish community in the United States were and remained. The book is very strong on the reasons and logic behind this communal stance. However, unlike his community, Guiney moved from being a staunch Democrat to a Republican supporter in the early war years and he suffered for it, both in the community of the regiment and in the regiment's home town of Boston.


When we dismiss the political generals of the Civil War having an eye to the main chance for the future, we need to remember that the war was fought by communities. Regimental and line officers were subject to all sorts of pressures unknown to the regular army officer.

 

Guiney's correspondence dwells a great deal on the politics which went on in the regiment and their community in Boston. The book itself is supported by good notes covering the Ninth's battles, its members and events affecting the Army of Potomac, it suffers from a lack of maps but is supported by some interesting photographs of Guiney, his family and officers of the regiment.

 

The big question is would I buy it?

 

The answer must be, only if it fitted a particular interest. It lacks too much for me, it compares badly with contemporary writings by, say Elisha Hunt Rhodes and Charles Wainwright, which have a fund of interesting anecdotes and observations. Guiney's letters cannot compete.