This dissertation marks the first full-length study to examine how Irish Catholics in the Northern United States remembered the American Civil War Era. The narrative begins in the war’s immediate aftermath and continues up to 1925, after which time interest in memorialization ebbed as a new generation who came of age during World War I took on leadership roles within Irish America. Drawing upon an array of sources, including newspapers, monuments, textbooks, published reminiscences, and private letters, the dissertation argues that Catholics of Irish birth or descent, much like other groups in society, claimed that the war vindicated their varied – and at times competing and contradictory – understandings of the American nation. Through the course of four chapters, this study reveals how politics, religion, gender, and race fed into irreconcilable views of the nation. In this way, the dissertation presents Irish America as a microcosm of the United States, which remained deeply divided even after some veterans and political leaders proclaimed that North and South had fully reconciled.
By placing Irish Catholics at the center of analysis, this study further advances the scholarship on Civil War memory in three significant ways. First, it draws attention to the importance of religion. Second, it adds nuance to accounts of race and national reunion by stressing how memorialists drew racial distinctions between various white groups. Third, it pushes beyond World War I to incorporate the late 1910s and early 1920s into its narrative. In sum, while this study comes to a close in 1925, it examines questions of national identity and belonging that remain profoundly relevant in the present.