German Americans in the American Civil War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

German-Americans were the largest ethnic contingent to fight for the Union in the American Civil War. More than 200,000 native-born Germans, along with another 250,000 1st-generation German-Americans, served in the Union Army, notably from New York, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Only a few hundred served in the Confederacy, being primarily 3rd- and 4th-generation descended from those who had migrated to the Carolinas in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Union Army[edit]

German-American army units[edit]

Approximately 516,000 Union soldiers, or 23.4% of all Union soldiers, were immigrants; about 216,000 of these were born in Germany. New York supplied the largest number of these native-born Germans with 36,000. Behind the Empire State came Wisconsin with 30,000 and Ohio with 20,000.[1]

Scores of individual regiments, such as the 52nd New York, 9th Ohio, 74th Pennsylvania, 32nd Indiana (1st German), and the 9th Wisconsin, consisted entirely of German Americans. Major recruiting efforts aimed at German Americans were conducted in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, among many other cities.

Commonly referred to as "Dutchmen" by other Union soldiers, and "lop-eared Dutch" by Confederates, German-American units in general earned a reputation for discipline.[2] Some of them had previously served in European armies, and they brought valuable experience to the Union Army.

German-American commanders of note[edit]

St. Louis Turnverein, 1860

A popular Union commander and native German, Major General Franz Sigel was the highest ranking German-American officer in the Union Army, with many Germans enlisting to "fight mit Sigel." Sigel was a political appointment of President Abraham Lincoln, who hoped that Sigel's immense popularity would help deliver the votes of the increasingly important German segment of the population.[3] He was a member of the Forty-Eighters, a political movement of revolutionaries in German states whose failure led to thousands of Germans emigrating to the United States. These included such future Civil War officers as Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz, Brig. Gen. August Willich, Louis Blenker, Max Weber and Alexander Schimmelfennig.

Schurz was part of the socio-political movement in America known as the Turners, who contributed to getting Lincoln elected as President. The Turners provided the bodyguard at Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, and also at Lincoln's funeral in April 1865.

Other prominent German generals included Peter Osterhaus, Edward S. Salomon, Frederick Salomon, August Kautz and Felix Salm-Salm. Hundreds of German-born officers led regiments during the war, including Col. Gustav Tafel, Col. Paul A. Frank, Col. Friedrich Hecker, Col. Leopold von Gilsa, and Maj. Jurgen Wilson. Among the very best Union artillerists was German-born Capt. Hubert Dilger, who had been trained at the Karlsruhe Military Academy.

Another famous German American, though not an immigrant, was Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer (Küster). He fought against the Confederate cavalry of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart at Gettysburg and famously died in the Battle of Little Big Horn during the Indian Wars.

Medal of Honor Recipients[edit]

Among those German immigrants who received the Medal of Honor for valor during the war include:

Confederate States Army[edit]

Although the Confederacy had general officers born in Ireland, France, and England, no German-born soldiers reached that rank in the Confederate Army. Colonel Adolphus Heiman, a Prussian-born veteran of the Mexican–American War who commanded the 10th Tennessee Infantry and later a brigade; and Colonel Augustus Büchel, a native of Hesse and commander of the 1st Texas Cavalry,[4] were probably the highest ranking German-Confederates.

Lt. Col. Heros von Borcke, who served on the staff of Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart, is the most famous German officer in the Confederacy. Von Borcke, a Prussian cavalry officer, slipped through the Union blockade into Charleston Harbor and eventually became one of Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's closest confidants and his Adjutant and Chief of Staff. In 1866, he returned to Prussia to fight in the Austro-Prussian War.

German immigrant Simon Baruch served 3 years as a Confederate army surgeon, before becoming a leading advocate of hydrotherapy and bath houses in New York City. His son was famous Presidential advisor Bernard Baruch.

Noted incidents[edit]

Camp Jackson Affair[edit]

In neutral Missouri on May 9, 1861, Union Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, curious of the Missouri State Guard's intentions for Camp Jackson, engaged in a covert operation to uncover the Guard's plans. Disguised as a woman, Captain Lyon scoured the camp, searching for evidence of any secessionist threat. Lyon and his agents discovered falsely labeled crates containing a number of siege guns to be used for assaulting the Missouri arsenal, sent by the Confederate President Jefferson Davis himself.[5] On May 10, 1861, Lyon, a Radical Republican, marched a large contingent of pro-southern Missouri militia prisoners-of-war through the streets of St. Louis. The men had been captured by a large force composed mostly of German volunteers during an unsuccessful attempt by the pro-southerners to seize the Federal arsenal in St. Louis.[6] The prisoners were guarded by two lines of German-American Union soldiers, who were unpopular with many native-born Missourians, who resented their anti-slavery and anti-secessionist political views. Many people in St. Louis, having moved to the area from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia,[7] had southern sympathies.

Tensions quickly mounted on the streets as civilians hurled fruit, rocks, paving stones, and insults at Lyon's Germans. Shots rang out, killing three militiamen. The soldiers fired into the nearby crowd of bystanders, injuring or killing numerous civilians. Angry mobs rioted throughout the city for the next two days, burning a number of buildings. At least seven more civilians were shot by Federal troops patrolling the streets. The final death toll was 28.[citation needed]

Nueces Massacre[edit]

In the spring of 1862, German Texans from Central Texas and the Texas Hill Country, mostly Unionist or neutral in their political views, were drafted into the Confederate Army over their strong objections. Confederate authorities took their reluctance to serve as a sign of rebellion and sent in troops. A violent confrontation between Confederate soldiers and civilians took place on August 10, 1862, in Kinney County, Texas, leading to the deaths of 34 German Texans who were fleeing to Mexico to avoid the draft.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Faust, Albert Bernhardt (1909). The German Element in the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 523. Quoting from an 1869 ethnicity study by B. A. Gould of the United States Sanitary Commission.
  2. ^ William Monks (1907). A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas. West Plains Journal Company. pp. 38–39.
  3. ^ Pearlman, Michael D. (2016-04-11). "The Union at Risk: How Lincoln and Grant Nearly Lost the War in 1864". HistoryNet. Retrieved 2020-01-02.
  4. ^ Stephens, Robert W. "Buchel, Augustus Carl (1813–1864)". Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association.
  5. ^ Rowan, Steven, ed. (1983). Germans for a Free Missouri: Translations from the St. Louis Radical Press, 1857-1862. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-0410-4.
  6. ^ Scott Williams. "The Role of German Immigrants in Civil War Missouri". The Missouri Civil War Museum. Archived from the original on March 3, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2011.
  7. ^ Rickie Lazzerini (2005). "Missouri History: Life in Missouri".

Further reading[edit]

  • Allendorf, Donald (2006). Long Road to Liberty: The Odyssey of a German Regiment in the Yankee Army; The 15th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873388719.
  • Baron, Frank (2012). Abraham Lincoln and the German Immigrants: Turners and Forty-Eighters (Yearbook of German-American Studies, Supplemental Issue, Vol 4). Lawrence, Kan.: The Society for German-American Studies. ISSN 0741-2827.
  • Bearden-White, Christina (2016). "Illinois Germans and the Coming of the Civil War: Reshaping Ethnic Identity". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. 109 (3): 231–251. doi:10.5406/jillistathistsoc.109.3.0231.
  • Burton, William L. (1988). Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union's Ethnic Regiments. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-1115-5.
  • Efford, Alison Clark (2013). German Immigrants: Race and Citizenship in the Civil War Era. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781316025734.
  • Engle, Stephen D. (1993). Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-273-0.
  • Faust, Albert Bernhardt (1909). The German Element in the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Kamphoefner, Walter D. (1991). "German-Americans and Civil War Politics: A Reconsideration of the Ethnocultural Thesis". Civil War History. 37 (3): 232–246.
  • Kamphoefner, Walter D. (April 2012). "Missouri Germans and the Cause of Union and Freedom". Missouri Historical Review. 106 (2): 115–36.
  • Kamphoefner, Walter D. (1975). "St-Louis Germans And The Republican-Party, 1848-1860". Mid-America-An Historical Review. 57 (2): 69–88.
  • Kamphoefner, Walter D. (1999). "New perspectives on Texas Germans and the Confederacy". Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 102 (4): 440–455. JSTOR 30242540.
  • Kaufmann, Wilhelm (1999). Tolzmann, Don Heinrich; Mueller, Werner D.; Ward, Robert E. (eds.). The Germans in the American Civil War, With a Biographical Directory. Translated by Rowan, Steven. Carlisle, Pa.: John Kallmann. ISBN 9780965092678.
  • Linedecker, Clifford L., ed. (2002). Civil War, A-Z: The Complete Handbook of America's Bloodiest Conflict. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-89141-878-4.
  • Lonn, Ella (2002) [1940]. Foreigners in the Confederacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807854006.
  • Öfele, Martin W. (2004). German Speaking-Officers in the U.S. Colored Troops, 1863-1867. University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-2692-3.
  • Reinhart, Joseph R. (2010). A German Hurrah: Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 9781606350386.
  • Reinhart, Joseph R. (2006). August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873388627.
  • Reinhart, Joseph R. (2004). Two Germans in the Civil War: The Diary of John Daeuble and the Letters of Gottfried Rentschler, 6th Kentucky Infantry. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 9781572332799.
  • Reinhart, Joseph R. (Autumn 2019). "Louisville's Germans in the Civil War Era". Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. 117 (3 & 4): 437–484. doi:10.1353/khs.2019.0096.
  • Rosengarten, Joseph George (1890). The German Soldier in the Wars of the United States. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott..
  • Tafel, Gustav (2010). The Cincinnati Germans in the Civil War. Translated and edited with Supplements on Germans from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana in the Civil War by Don Heinrich Tolzmann. Milford, Ohio: Little Miami. ISBN 9781932250862.
  • Valuska, David; Keller, Christian (2004). Damn Dutch: Pennsylvania Germans at Gettysburg. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-0074-7..
  • Williams, R. H.; Sansom, John W. The Massacre on the Nueces River; story of a Civil War tragedy. Grand Prairie, Texas: Frontier Times – via University of North Texas Libraries.
  • Wittke, Carl (1952). "In Defense of the Union". Refugees of Revolution: The German Forty-Eighters in America. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 221–43. JSTOR j.ctv4s7m9n.19.

In German[edit]

  • Richter, Rüdiger B.; Balder, Hans-Georg (2013). Korporierte im amerikanischen Bürgerkrieg (2nd extended ed.). Hilden: WJK Verlag. ISBN 9783933892270.
  • Kaufmann, Wilhelm (2015) [1911]. Die Deutschen im Amerikanischen Bürgerkriege. Hamburg: Nikol Verlag. ISBN 978-3-86820-236-6.
  • Richter, Rüdiger B. (2004). "Corpsstudenten im Amerikanischen Bürgerkrieg". Einst und Jetzt, Band 49, Jahrbuch des Vereins für corpsstudentische Geschichtsforschung.

Primary sources in English[edit]

  • Kamphoefner, Walter D.; Helbich, Wolfgang Johannes, eds. (2006). Germans in the Civil War: the letters they wrote home. Translated by Vogel, Susan Carter. U of North Carolina Press. doi:10.5149/9780807876596_kamphoefner. ISBN 9780807830444.
  • Kamphoefner, Walter D.; Helbich, Wolfgang; Sommer, Ulrike, eds. (1991). News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home. Translated by Vogel, Susan Carter. Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801425233.
  • Rowan, Steven, ed. (1983). Germans for a Free Missouri: Translations from the St. Louis Radical Press, 1857-1862. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-0410-4.

External links[edit]