The American Civil War: The Celts' Last Stand

In April, 1865, General Lee’s troops surrendered their arms at Appomattox. The Civil War was almost over. It is ever fascinating, and ever more horrible to look at.  Recent historians have noted that the death toll was larger than originally estimated.

But in 2011… [an] in-depth study of recently digitized census data concluded that a more accurate estimate of Civil War deaths is about 750,000, with a range from 650.000 to as many as 850,000 dead. -- History

Not only has recent examinations of the casualties resulted in higher numbers, but a look at immigration patterns in the United States indicates that the America might have been more ethnically diverse than many realize, and that this difference might have been sharper than previously suspected, and contributed to the nature of the Civil War.

In fact, this war might have been the last stand of a civilizational war, one that was not recognized until recently.

If one looks at the settlement in the North of the United States, one notices a pattern. One sees the Puritan stock of East England -- essentially descended from Anglo-Saxons, who themselves primarily came from Denmark and the areas of northwest Germany adjacent to Denmark.

These were North Germanic peoples.

Other Germanic peoples also settled in the North. The Dutch had been in New York since the beginning of European colonization. Starting in the 1820s, Scandinavians started coming to America.

Then there were the continental Germans proper. These had been concentrated in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, such as the German Flatts, since before the Revolution. Another prominent second wave of Germans came over in the 1840s after the failure of democratic revolutions in Europe.

One might add the English-speaking mislabeled Scots-Irish (originally from Lowland Scotland). Despite their name, these were often descended primarily from the English who had drifted into southeast Scotland, along with Vikings, Danish, and Normans (the descendants of Vikings). Another Germanic people group.

The only significant outlier in this primarily Germanic group were the Irish-Catholics. They had been in America since before the Revolution (in small numbers), but the potato famine drove roughly two million over in the 1840s -- the vast majority to the North, and this may be critical, as we shall see.

These Irish Catholics were Gaels… Celts, but between 1840-1861, most had been absorbed -- with a degree of social friction -- in to the urbanizing North. Apart from that, the North was primarily a pan-Germanic group. Again, this may be critical.

Originally, the South was considered by historians to be similarly settled, chiefly by the English. However, the South was not affected that much by the Dutch or later Scandinavian/German immigrations.

While historians note a large Scots-Irish immigration to the South, even that has come under re-examination. This has produced surprising insight. The South was not quite as Anglo-Saxon as it claimed to be.

There is North Carolina, which was settled by Highland Scots, Gaelic Celts, after failed rebellions in the 17th and early 18th centuries. They have Highland Games annually.

The Louisiana French were heavily descended from the seafarers of Brittany who themselves descended from Celtic Britons (precursors to the Welsh) who had fled the Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain in the 5th - 8th centuries.

Louisiana was not so much classic French as heavily Breton Celt. The South’s General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was also part-Welsh, came from Louisiana.

The historian Grady McWhiney noticed that a large part of the indentured servants who went South, where there was a demand for field hand labor, came from Ireland.  And these were not merely plantation settlers from Ulster of English descent. Rather, they had Gaelic names.

Simpkins and Roland highlight a recurring problem in Southern scholarship: The automatic labeling of any non-Irish-Catholic Southerner whose ancestry derives from any part of the British Isles as ethnically and culturally Anglo-Saxon. To do so means not only that an unreservedly anti-English, Scots-Irish family like that of Andrew Jackson would be lumped under the cultural heading Anglo-Saxon but so would Scottish Gaelic and Welsh speakers and any recent “converts” from Irish Catholicism to any form of Protestantism. -- Celts in the South, p. 34

It seems that many Gaelic Irish left Ireland from Ulster, only to be mislabeled as members of the Anglo-Ulster plantation. Moreover, it was a common practice for the English to “enslave” young waifs and ship them off as indentured servants to the tobacco fields of the South. A large portion of these would be Celtic Gaels or Welsh, who, after being released from indentured servitude, may have adopted the surnames of their English masters.

[T]he basic cultural patterns of the South were in place roughly by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales came from lands in which the majority of people were fluent in a Celtic language… -- Celts in the South, p. 34

A lot of coincidences start creeping up.

By the 19th century, it was fashionable to claim an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and so Southerners did so, many of them unwittingly -- maybe unawares that their surname came from a Celtic ancestor indentured to an English master.

But recent scholarship is starting to show that if the North was heavily Germanic in ancestry -- and it was -- the South may have been primarily Celtic, much more so than previously thought.

Because there was a plantation aristocracy among the slaveholders, which were descended from the English, and because the slaveholders (the Fire-Eaters) fomented the rebellion, it was erroneously assumed that the rest of the South was as English as the plantation owners.

Yet, anyone who has heard country music will immediately recognize it as the offspring of Irish and Scottish Celtic music.

But what about the mislabeled Scots-Irish?  Aren’t they actually Germanic from Lowland Scotland?

Well, yes, many are. If they came from the eastern Lowlands.

However, the Lowland Scots were further split. While those on the east were Germanic, genetically Anglo. Those on the west coast of Scotland were descended from Gaels, and should have been labeled Highlanders.

It turns out that in 1641, when the Irish revolted against England’s colonization in Ulster and tried to drive out the Ulster Plantation Settlers, they preferentially went after English speakers. However, some of the Plantation Settlers were Gaelic speakers, descended from Scottish Gaels, who had converted to Presbyterianism, and these were often left alone.

This resulted in the targeting of English settlers in 1641, with some recorded instances of the Scots also taking an active part. However, when order was restored, it was the Irish who suffered, while the Scots would simply acquire extra land left by the absent Irish and English. -- Irish Origenes

It turns out that the issue in Ulster was not religion -- as the English like to claim for justification -- but nationality. The rebel Irish wanted the English out, but cut some slack with fellow Gaelic Celts, even if Scottish Gaels.

So while the Lowlanders who went to Ulster were heavily Germanic, many of those who stayed on in Ulster were of Gaelic stock, and from these came a large part of the Southern Scots-Irish.

The North was heavily ethnically and culturally Germanic -- except for recent Irish Catholic arrivals.

The South may have been considerably more ethnically Celtic than it realized. Because of indentured servitude, and forced language acquisition, a lot of Southerners who fancy themselves Anglo-Saxon may be more Gaelic, Welsh, or Breton than they know.

The Celts were famous for their music, their love of alcohol (the Romans thought the Celts were drunks), clan feuding, and their religious fervor.  The Gauls were frightfully pagan. The Irish were super Catholic, while the Scots were extreme Presbyterian.  Also the Celts were famous for strong women (Boudicea and Grace O’Malley).  The Celtic God of War was a goddess.

And what do we see in Southern Culture:  Celtic music, a love of whiskey, clan feuding, the Bible belt, and strong women.

Some scholars dismiss this as fanciful, as did I at first. After all, much of the leadership of the South was descended from English Cavalier stock. But those were the elites, and a small group at that. It turns out that the base population were indeed descended from Scottish Gaels, the Welsh, Irish Gaels, and the Bretons -- many of whom may have adopted English names and be unaware of their true ancestry.

If one doubts this, look at this recreation of the Battle of Bull Run from the movie Gods and Generals. The Southerners seems to be staging a Highland Charge.

Putting this all together, it turns out that the American Civil War may have been the last stand of Celtic civilization. The Celts were tragic warriors who won every battle except the last, and lost every war, Between the Romans, the Germans, and the English, the Celts were overrun.

The American Civil War may have been a tragic echo of that pattern.

Image: Public Domain

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