Memorial Day: What Did You Do In the War, Great-Great Gran’daddy?

Political Correctness and the Confederate Dead 

Behind the Moss Curtain and Other Great Savannah Stories, by Murray Silver

I have to go back a long, long way to find a military hero in my family. Silvers are famous for shootin' off their mouths, but when it comes to guns, um, not so much. I had an uncle in the Navy during WWII, but what he did thereafter makes it kinda hard to be proud of him even for the good stuff he did, like military service. My grandpa was a bootlegger and the only war he ever fought was against Prohibition. While the rest of you are properly honoring your daddies and gran'daddies for what they did in the war, I gotta go all the way back to the Civil War to find someone in my family to salute. Which brings me to the all-important question of the day: Is it politically incorrect to honor a man who fought for the Confederacy?

Patrick McCabe was born in Meath, Ireland, on St. Patrick's Day 1840, and came to America during the Great Migration at a time when the Irishmen of Savannah were forming their own militia. The Irish were as separate and apart from the rest of this melting pot as the Chinese and Africans. Nobody wanted to hire them and the military treated them like dogs so they formed their own unit, the Irish Jasper Greens, and took their name from the Revolutionary War hero of the Battle of Savannah, Sgt. William Jasper. They wore a uniform of blue trimmed in Kelly green, with shamrocks in their hats and harps on their buttons. And they fought under the Irish flag, not the Confederate.

The logs of the IJG are kept on file at the Georgia Historical Society, where I pored over them only long enough to find my great-great grandfather's name alongside his brother Edward in the muster. I discovered that they were stationed at Fort Pulaski on the outskirts of Savannah, protecting the approach to the city from the ocean. I learned that the Irish Jasper Greens got high on whisky before going into battle whereupon they would shoot anybody who wasn't one of them. The Greens didn't care which side you were on. When the fightin' started, they'd shoot everybody that wasn't in the IJG. No one wanted to be anywhere near the Greens when the bugle sounded. Then I came to the part where Edward McCabe was listed as a deserter, and I put the log down. My great-great grandfather, however, fought in a number of Georgia campaigns until he was captured at Golgotha and imprisoned in New Jersey.

There is a famous account of the Irish Jasper Greens going against the Irish Brigade from New York. The night before the battle, the kinsmen got together for a hooley. They got drunk and sang Irish folk songs all night long. The next day they went at it tooth and nail and killed each other with their bare hands. And that is how the Fightin' Irish got their well-deserved reputation. I will also point out, parenthetically, that more men of Irish descent have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor than all the other races, creeds and colors combined. But I digress.

But now it's 2014 and it's Memorial Day and the only military hero in my family lies in Catholic Cemetery next to the monument to the Irish Jasper Greens with a cross formee marking his final resting place; the Confederate In the Attic is my great-great gran'daddy, Patrick McCabe. I visit the family plot of my paternal grandmother's people frequently, where Confederate flags are seen in practically every other plot at various times of the year. I am fully aware that the war was fought 150 years ago over topics that are still hot today and that to hear history tell it, the Irish Jasper Greens were on the wrong side of the proposition. But I can't stand at Patrick's grave site and argue those points with him now. All I can do is acknowledge what he was made to do in service to his adopted nation, whether he wanted to or not. That his great-grandson was Martin Luther King's attorney is probably something Patrick would have something to say about, so perhaps it's best that we not argue about matters past their date of expiration.

But here's the reason why I continue to honor my great-great grandfather: every time I visit his grave in Catholic Cemetery, he comes out to say hello. By that I mean that I can see him or what's left of him: a ball of light that floats around me and can be seen with the naked eye. Ghost hunters call such apparitions "orbs" and their nature is debatable. Some photographers try to explain away these appearances in photographs as dust or reflections. All I know is that every time I go to Patrick's grave, the same ball of light follows me around like a puppy dog and I've photographed it a million times under all conditions. Orbs are almost always white. This one is green, which is what you'd expect of a ghost of a man named Patrick who was born in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day.

I don't care whether or not you believe me. I share this story with you at the great risk of shading my credibility. But he's my great-great gran'pa and he's all I got when it comes to war heroes in my family tree. Depicted here: Me and What's Left of Patrick McCabe (lower right). The monument to the Irish Jasper Greens can be seen over my shoulder to the left.

More Savannah stories in "Behind the Moss Curtain and Other Great Savannah Stories" and in my book page.

Comments

  1. Matt Brown says:

    I am a member of the Washington Civil War Association and my unit portrays the Irish Jasper Greens in the field. I find it more than appropriate to portray and honor our Confederate veterans. We cannot change history today and times were very different then. The war was over more than slavery. Those with a politally correct opinions today would do well to gain some education on the subject. (There were blacks who owned slaves. There were slaves other than those of African descent. There were blacks who served in the Confederate services and even went on to get a pension from their states).

    Many of us have family who deserted as the war dragged on and their families wrote with pleas for them to come home. I can't imagine what it must have been like for them but I will honor their memory and courage and try to educate people along the way.

    Thank you for your story. I hope that your ancestor's spirit never leaves you.

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