Foreign enlistment in the American Civil War

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Foreign enlistment in the American Civil War was largely dominated by the Union, which was far more successful in attracting international volunteers. Nonetheless, thousands of immigrants and mercenaries served with the Confederacy.

Union enlistment[edit]

Although the Union Army's largest foreign-born contingents comprised Irish- and German-Americans, regiments such as the 79th New York Highlanders, originally formed in the 1850s, consisted completely of descendants of Scottish immigrants before accepting Irish, English and others into its ranks during the early years of the war. It should be noted that these immigrants had been living in the US for years prior to the war and did not come to this country to fight in the war.

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

The US, especially in the North, had received a large influx of European immigrants in the 1850s, due to people leaving Europe to avoid the ongoing wars and rebellions there. Europe had been in the midst of a pro-republican transformation with people such as Garibaldi, in Italy.

Confederate enlistment[edit]

Thousands of pre-war immigrants served in the Confederate Army, which had its own Irish Brigade and Polish Legion, as well as several German and Mexican divisions. These units were composed of men who had lived most of their lives in the USA. The most notable volunteer division comprised descendants of people from various European countries then living in Louisiana, under the command of French Major General Count Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac. Another prominent volunteer was the Scotland-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]