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Civil War and Reconstruction(Part2)

The Volunteer Army

The whole amateurish procedure of raising a volunteer army at the beginning of the war delighted German liberal and radical leaders, for they would share in politically motivated generalships and brevets. In the course of the war, four Germans became major generals, Franz Sigel, Carl Schurz, Peter Joseph Osterhaus and Adolph Steinwehr. Nine advanced to the rank of brigadier general.

Franz Sigel (1824-1902) was undoubtedly the favorite of German-Americans. A graduate of the Karlsruhe military academy, he had led the revolutionary forces In Baden in the skirmishes of 1848/49. During the Civil War, Sigel turned out to be less effective as a field commander than as a magnet drawing large numbers of Germans from Missouri and elsewhere Into the Union ranks. While the North remembered him chiefly for his defeat by teenage Virginia Military Institute students at New Market, he long remained an idol of German-America.

The other well-known political appointee, Carl Schurz, also had his reverses as a general but, by and large, was a true leader of men and performed better than some of his more experienced peers. Osterhaus and Steinwehr both adjusted their Prussian military know-how to American conditions and, after two years of obscure roles, distinguished themselves and their largely German troops in the Army of the Tennessee.

Among the brigadier generals, Alexander Schimmelfennig put his solid Prussian army training to good use and also rallied the Pittsburgh Germans to the Union flag. Fellow Forty-Eighter Louis Blenker, a pompous gentleman, had a personal staff of 80 hangers-on and was speedily retired from service after he led 2000 men in a torchlight procession through Washington in honor of General George B. McClellan. By contrast, Frederick Salomon, a brother of Wisconsin governor Edward Salomon, both Forty-Eighters from Halberstadt, had a distinguished career in the western and southern campaigns. An early disciple of Karl Marx, Brigadier General August Willich of Ohio was one of few really brilliant officers. This "communist with a heart," as Marx called him, was a former Prussian nobleman and artillery captain, who had learned the carpenter's trade in order to live closer to his ideals. Another Marxist, Joseph Weydemeyer, commanded the Fortieth Missouri Regiment. Hundreds of other officers, many with a soldiering past in Austria or Prussia, numerous engineers and surgeons all did their duties well.

Statistics show that about 177,000 German born men were on the rolls of the Union Army. There were many more of German parentage, of course. Some served out of sheer patriotism, some to gain acceptance from their fellow Americans. Others found the enlistment bonuses irresistible, especially poor immigrants or those recruited as they stepped off the boat at Castle Garden, Manhattan lsland's new immigration depot. Whatever their motives, they served and the rows of German names in national cemeteries provide the most eloquent testimony to their participation in the struggle. German sacrifices were especially noteworthy and valuable in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland, where much of the Union sentiment crystallized around German communities.

To many of the 75,000 Germans living in southern states at the time of secession, mostly in Texas, New Orleans, Richmond and chariest on, the war posed a dilemma. Few had anything to do with slavery and most disliked the institution. Some fled north, often at great risk, and one band of young German Texans tried bravely and vainly to fight its way to Mexico. But most stayed and served the states that had become their home. German units were raised in several cities of the South and more than once faced Yankee Germans on the battlefield. Prominent Germans in the Confederacy included Charles Minnigerode, a liberal refugee of the 1830's, then rector of St. Paul's in Richmond where Jefferson Davis worshipped. Württemberg-born Christopher B. Memminger held the thankless post of Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederate States. Swiss-born Captain Henry Wirz was superintendent of the notorious Andersonville prison camp. (After his capture, he was defended by Forty-Eighter Louis Shade of Washington.)

Immediately after the war, numerous Germans joined the carpetbaggers who swarmed over the South, despised by the local Germans as much as by other Southerners. Joined by genuine German Unionists who had suffered fierce persecution, they occupied government posts under Northern military rule. New Orleans lawyer Michael Hahn, born in the Palatinate, was Reconstruction Governor of Louisiana.

All over the Midatiantic and Midwestern states German veteran officers lined up for appointments to small federal posts. Others entered state and local politics. In most cases they still needed a German constituency for any appreciable success. Few, as yet, had so completely surrendered to their new nationality that they could appeal to all voters regardless of origin.

SPAN200 by Klaus Wurst and Norbert Muehlen. Published in behalf of Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart

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