Celebrating Thanksgiving Aboard Union Ironclads, James River, 1864

Irish in the American Civil War

In November 1864 a number of Union Ironclads were to be found on the James River in Virginia, supporting Federal ground operations there.A large number of the men on board the vessels of the James River Flotilla were Irish; indeed they made up an estimated 20% of all Union sailors. How did they and their comrades celebrate Thanksgiving 150 years ago?

Officers on the deck of the U.S.S. Onondaga. The identity of the Irish correspondent, 'Garryowen', has not been established (National Archives) Officers on the deck of the U.S.S. Onondaga with their dogs. The identity of the Irish correspondent, ‘Garryowen’, has not been established (National Archives).

We are fortunate that one of them has left us an account. He was a sailor on the U.S.S. Onondaga, one of the Union monitors on the James. Corresponding under the pen-name ‘Garryowen’, he wrote frequently to the New York Irish-American newspaper, who regularly published his letters. His account tells how the ‘sturdy sons of Neptune’ began their day by dispatching some unfortunate…

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