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Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray: Italians in the American Civil War By Frank W. A ...

Chapter 1:  The Early Italian American Experience
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Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray:

Chapter 1

The Early Italian American
Experience

Historians have often viewed the American Civil War as an internal struggle in which native-born son fought native-born son to either defend the Confederacy or to preserve the Union. Frequently overlooked in the most traumatic event in American history is the role of immigrants. During the antebellum era, the United States had already begun the great industrial transformation that inalterably changed its economy and society, as well as its place in world history. Helping to fuel this industrial revolution was a flood of immigrants.

As the United States evolved from an agrarian to an industrial, urbanized society, immigration became an integral part of the nation's social fabric. An insatiable need for labor attracted more and more newcomers to the United States. Between 1845 and 1854, approximately 2.4 million immigrants, comprising nearly 14.5 percent of the total United States population at that time, arrived on America's shores. More than one in eight Americans during this time was foreign born; chief among these were the Irish and the Germans. Yet immigrants of many other nationalities, including about 12,000 Italians, had arrived in American ports by 1860.1

The Irish migrated to America out of brutal necessary. Beginning in 1845, a devastating fungus destroyed most of the potato crop in Ireland. This tragedy plagued Ireland for several more years. Historians believe that the Irish Potato Famine claimed perhaps one million victims. Another