Kelly's Irish Brigade

Melody - "O Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" variant

Joseph Leddy

Come all you that hold true communion with southern Confederates bold,
I will tell you of some men who for the Union in the northern ranks were enrolled;
Who came to Missouri in their glory, and thought by their power we'd be dismayed;
But we soon made them tell a different story when they met with Kelly's Irish Brigade.
|: Three cheers for the Irish Brigade :|
And all true-hearted Hibernians
In the ranks of Kelly's Irish Brigade!

2. You call us rebels and traitors, but yourselves have thrown off that name of late.
You were called it by the English invaders at home in seventeen and ninety-eight.
The name to us is not a new one, though 'tis one that never will degrade
Any true-hearted Hibernian in the ranks of Kelly's Irish Brigade.

3. You dare not call us invaders, 'tis but state rights and liberties we ask;
And Missouri, we ever will defend her, no matter how hard be the task.
Then let true Irishmen assemble; let the voice of Missouri be obeyed;
And northern fanatics may tremble when they meet with Kelly's Irish Brigade.

Text taken from: St. Louis Irish in the Civil War.

While most Irish immigrants in the U.S. fought for the Union during the Civil War, others sided with the Confederacy, seeing the secession of Southern states as a reflection of Ireland´s efforts to win independence from English dominance. Nativist sentiments in Missouri, and the anti-Catholic mood of a number of Unionist German immigrants in St. Louis also contributed to Irish pro-Southern sympathies.

Capt. Joseph Kelly, an Irish immigrant and a grocer in St. Louis in the years before the war, organized the Washington Blues in 1857, the city's finest militia unit, closely tied to Fr. John Bannon's Catholic Total Abstinence and Benevolence Society. In fact, a drill performance by the Blues helped raise money for Bannon to build St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Church, which stands today.

In November 1860, Kelly's men went to western Missouri to repel Kansas invaders, and were among the earliest volunteers in Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard. In 1861, as a regiment in the 6th Division of the Missouri State Guard, Kelly's men participated in the battles at Carthage, Wilson's Creek (where Kelly was wounded) and Lexington; in 1862 they were at the Battle of Pea Ridge. Later, most of the regiment joined the 5th Missouri (CSA), w hich fought in Mississippi and other western battles, including the Atlanta campaign. St. Louis researcher Doug Harding, who has traced much of the history of "Kelly's Boys," says that only 23 of the 125 men who enlisted in Kelly's regiment in 1861 returned to St. Louis at the end of the war.

Kelly's fate is uncertain. He commanded a regiment (not a brigade, as the song says) in 1861 and was appointed to Gen. Mosby M. Parsons' staff, in 1862. We do not know what happened to him after this point in time, but he apparently did not return to St. Louis after the war, nor did he accompany Parsons to Mexico at the end of the war to join Price and Shelby in their ill-fated attempt to offer themselves as mercenaries to Maximillian.

This song is really a conversation between Irish immigrants, claiming that "true Irishmen" should be fighting for the Southern cause. The second verse refers to the Irish uprising against English rule in 1798, an event that saw the birth of the Irish flag, a gilt harp on a green field, and the phrase, "Erin go Bragh."

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