Colonel James Quirk was instrumental within the Fenian Brotherhood in Chicago. He was the Lt. Col of the 23rd Illinois Infantry.
Born in Castlegregory, County Kerry, Ireland on April 27, 1832, he came to America as a boy with his family.
Before the Civil War, James Quirk was a a clerk in the old Court House and by 1854, he joined the State militia, in a company known as the Shields Guards, belonging to the Sixtieth Regiment, Illinois National Guard, in which five of his brothers also served.
When the Civil War broke out he was commissioned Lt Colonel of the 23rd Illinois where he participated in the Siege of Lexington, Missouri. The regiment was captured and paroled, and sent to Benton Barracks, Missouri, to await exchange. Owing to the supersedure of General Fremont by General Halleck, the regiment was mustered out of the service by order of the latter. This provoked the leading officers of the regiment, and Colonel Mulligan, Major Moore and Lieutenant-Colonel Quirk to visit General McClellan and President Lincoln at Washington, and secured the countermanding of General Halleck’s order.
The regiment went East in June, 1862, and joined the Eighth Army Corps in Virginia. Colonel Quirk remained with his regiment, participating in its active service, until September 28, 1864, when he resigned and returned to Chicago. He had been in command of the regiment nearly three years, as his superior, Colonel Mulligan, was most of the time in charge of a brigade or division.
After the war, Quirk became the colonel of the 2nd Illinois National Guard infantry, a position he help right up until his death. Quirk also held many prominent civil positions in Chicago. He entered the Custom House service as inspector, and was connected with the United States Custom House of Chicago about twenty years. For some time he was in the auditor’s department, later in the clearance department, and organized the weighing department, of which he was chief. Later, he was gas inspector.
Commissioned a colonel in the Robert’s Wing of the Fenian Brotherhood’s Irish Republican Army, he oversaw the Fenian troops passing through Chicago on their way to the Canadian Frontier to participate in the June 1866 Fenian Raid from Buffalo, NY. He was to lead a contingent of Irish Veteran solders from Chicago, however because of funding, (money set aside for his own troops was now being spent unexpectedly on feeding and caring of those Fenians arriving from other parts of the county) as well as lack of proper orders, he didn’t arrive in time, as the expedition had started and failed before his departure. He continued to be a member of the Fenian Brotherhood leading their Chicago Fenian Regiment as well as continued his involvement in the Illinois National Guard up until his death in Chicago on December 13, 1898. He was buried with full military honors at Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois.
During the Civil War, the 23rd Illinois was called the “First Irish” and the “Irish Brigade of the West”. The regiment carried a green flag with a harp in the middle and many of their men belonged to the Fenian Brotherhood.
Their Colonel, James Mulligan, supported the Fenian Brotherhood, donating generously to the Fenian Irish Fair held in Chicago in early 1864, but openly claimed he was not a Fenian, for religious reasons since the Catholic Church at the time condemned the Fenians Brotherhood. Mulligan was wounded at the Battle of Kernstown, VA, July 23rd 1864 and died three days later. He was brevetted Brigadier general posthumously from the date of his wounding for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Winchester Va.