Foreign enlistment in the American Civil War

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Far more successful in attracting international volunteers, Foreign enlistment in the American Civil War was largely dominated by the Union, although a significant number of immigrants and mercenaries served with the Confederacy numbering in the thousands.

Union enlistment[edit]

Although its largest foreign contingents were made up of Irish and German-Americans, over 60,000 Canadian and British volunteers served in the Union Army. Regiments such as the 79th New York Infantry Highlanders, originally formed in the 1850s, consisted completely of Scottish immigrants before accepting Irish, English and others into its ranks during the early years of the war. As the war continued, volunteers including Frenchman, Hungarians, Scandinavians, Mexicans and others (including a small number from Asia) would eventually enlist in Union service.

Communication difficulties, especially in Union regiments, were a constant problem in divisions made up of varied nationalities including volunteers from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland and other European countries. One regiment in particular was made up of both officers and soldiers from 15 different nations and the commanding officer's orders having to be passed down through seven different languages. Major General Franz Sigel had his orders translated from his native German, to Hungarian for his officers, then to English for the rest of his command and finally to German again when Sigel received reports.

Confederate enlistment[edit]

While less successful in attracting foreign recruits to the Southern cause (which the naval blockade made much more difficult), thousands of immigrants and mercenaries served in the Confederate Army with its own Irish Brigade and Polish Legion as well as several German and Mexican divisions. The most notable volunteer division was formed from various European countries in Louisiana under the command of French Major General Count Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac. Other prominent volunteers included Scottish born blockade runner Captain William Watson.

See also[edit]


  • Linedecker, Clifford L., ed. Civil War, A-Z: The Complete Handbook of America's Bloodiest Conflict. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002. ISBN 0-89141-878-4

Further reading[edit]

  • Early, Curtis A. and Gloria J. Early. Ohio Confederate Connection: Facts You May Not Know about the Civil War. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2010. ISBN 9781450273732 Despite the title, this book does contain information on foreign-born Confederates.
  • Mahin, Dean B. The Blessed Place of Freedom: Europeans in Civil War America. Dulles, Virginia: Brassey's Inc., 2003. ISBN 1-57488-523-5

External links[edit]