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Chicago's Irish Legion

Chicago's Irish Legion

The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War

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James B. Swan


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
6.125 x 9.25, 26 illustrations


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About the Book

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.

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 clergy and Irish politicians in northern Illinois—along with the Chicago press and community—joined forces to recruit the Irish Legion. Composed mainly of foreign-born recruits, the Legion rapidly dispelled any rumors of disloyalty with its heroic endeavors for the Union. The volunteers proved to be instrumental in various battles and sieges, as well as the marches to the sea and through the Carolinas, suffering severe casualties and providing indispensable support for the Union. Swan meticulously 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 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 battle at Chattanooga and Sherman’s famous campaign for Atlanta. In addition, Swan exposes the racial issues that affected the soldiers of the 90th Illinois, including their reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation and the formations of the first African American fighting units. Swan rounds out the volume with stories of survivors’ lives after the war, adding an even deeper personal dimension to this absorbing chronicle.


James B. Swan is an independent historian and retired professor of agronomy at Iowa State University.


“With Chicago’s Irish Legion James B. Swan is offering more than just another history of an Irish regiment in the Union Army—this is an overlooked unit whose story provides great insights into the motivations and experiences of Civil War soldiers.”—Susannah Ural Bruce, author of The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861–1865

"Swan does credit to the regiment and to the field of Civil War historiography with this volume, the first comprehensive regimental history of the Irish Legion. Swan carefully details the regiment from the inside. . . . [and] appears to have used every available resource in compiling this regimental history. One gets the feeling that he is inside the regiment while reading this volume."—Robert I. GirardiThe Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“In content and presentation, Swan's Chicago's Irish Legion is a fine regimental history of the 90th Illinois, a notable contribution to the military and ethnic Civil War literature.”—Civil War Books & Authors

“[Swan] is to be commended for giving readers as much information as possible on this interesting unit while keeping their story compelling and enjoyable. Highly recommended.”—Brett Schulte, TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog
“This is well-researched, well-written piece of scholarship about the Irish-Catholic role in the Union cause. It will be of interest to-students studying the war, race relations, and immigration in the mid­nineteenth century.”—Terry Golway, American Catholic Studies
“The 90th Illinois did not achieve the fame or glory of some other regiments on the field of battle, which is one of the reasons this book is so appealing. The absence of large-scale encounters for much of the history allows Swan to focus on the more mundane and everyday aspects of regimental life, often missing from other histories. . . . James Swan’s book is more than simply a history of the battles in which the Irish Legion fought, it is a history of the war they experienced.”—Damian Shiels, Irish in the American Civil War