I recently received a long and interesting email from TOCWOC reader Joseph R. Reinhart about my review of Christian Keller’s book Chancellorsville and the Germans: Nativism, Ethnicity, and Civil War Memory. Mr. Reinhart has been researching German-American involvement in the Civil War for over 15 years. He is the editor of August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry and Two Germans in the Civil War: The Diary of John Daeuble and the Letters of Gottfried Rentschler, Sixth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, and the author of A History of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S.: The Boys Who Feared No Noise. His book on the 9th Ohio, entitled A German Hurrah, is due to be released in the fall/winter of 2009 bt The Kent State University Press. I asked Mr. Reinhart if he would allow me to post his response in full here at TOCWOC, and I was delighted when he agreed to my request. What follows is an interesting look at the question of “Americanization” of predominantly German regiments as the war moved on. In my review, I questioned Christian Keller’s assertion that German units which received non-German replacements late in the war never really became Americanized. Mr. Reinhart sides with the author, and backs this up with concrete examples from his own research. I want to thank Mr. Reinhart again for his generosity in allowing me to post his full email. It follows below:
I just read your review of Christian B. Keller’s excellent book entitled Chancellorsville and the Germans. I have been studying Germans in the Civil War for over 15 years and translated hundreds letters of Germans serving in the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S. (4 German companies), August Willich’s 32nd Indiana, the 9th Ohio (McCook’s Dutchmen) and the 82nd Illinois (2nd Hecker Regiment). My books are A History of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S. (2000); Two Germans in the Civil War, 6th Ky. Inf. (2004) August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen (2006) and the forthcoming A German Hurrah, 9th Ohio (fall/winter 2009). I have translated about 100 letters of Germans in Col. Friedrich Hecker’s 82nd Illinois and am beginning the editing process.
I come down on the side of Chris Keller regarding Germans in German regiments not being significantly Americanized by Anglo-Americans added to their regiments later in the war. In his Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union’s Ethnic Regiments, William L. Burton asserted that the Anglo-Americans added to German regiments later in the war diluted the Germanness of the regiments and Americanized the Germans. My research does not support Burton’s conclusion. I do not believe he has sufficient primary sources to support his statements.
In the 6th Ky. there were few recruits added to the German companies after the original muster in and only one was an Anglo-American. He was killed at the Battle of Stones River. The colonel was elected to the Ky. Senate in 1856 as a Know Nothing and reelected as a Union Man in 1860. He had no love for his Germans but praised their fighting skills. One letter of a German indicates the Germans in the 6th Ky and other Germans were discriminated against in many ways. Many of the Germans could not speak English and I do not believe there was much mixing between the Anglo-Americans and German-Americans.
In the 32nd Indiana there were few Anglo-Americans in the ranks until after the original 3-year men mustered out. After the 3-year men mustered out in August 1864 there were still about 250 Germans whose enlistments had not expired and had more time to serve. They were organized into three companies and in September 1864 a new company of mixed nationalities was added by the Governor (many draftees and subs). This brought the Anglo-American names in the regiment to about 25% of the total battalion; most Anglo-Americans were in the new company. Germans commanded the three German companies and the battalion commander ( a Lt. Col.) was a German. Thus the non-Germans were segregated into a separate company. I found no evidence of social mixing of the Germans in the 3 companies with the non-Germans in the new company, although this may have occurred. Burton quotes Pvt. Michael Frash of the 32nd Indiana saying: “We were called Germans (Dutch by the enemy) but the majority of us were born or raised under the flag which we served-the stars and stripes. . . We were all American citizens.” I could not find Frash’s diary cited by Burton at the Indiana Historical Society. I found nothing in my research to indicate the majority of the members of the 32nd at any time were born in the U.S. The original regiment received its commands in German not English. In addition not only the Confederates called the Germans dutch or Dutchmen. The Yankees called them Dutch and Damn Dutch and worse.
The 9th Ohio received few recruits of any nationality after its organization. It contained 1,155 officers and men, of which only 55 we born in the United States. I expect most or all the 55 born in the U.S. were sons of German parents because few if any Anglo-American names appear in the roster.
The large majority of men in the 82nd Illinois Regiment were native Germans. There was a Scandanavian company forced into the regiment by the Governor and minorities of other nationalities in the other companies but few Anglo-Americans. It was truly a regiment of immigrants. Few of its post-organization recruits were Anglo-Americans and most were Germans. Burton wrongly claims: “Its ranks increasingly diluted by native-born replacements, the Eighty-second Illinois Infantry completed its Civil War service only a shadow of its original Germanic self.” Burton does not give a reference for his conclusion. My information comes from examination of the muster rolls for almost 1,000 men in the regiment.
I am not writing this to criticize you review because I found it to be excellent. I just wanted to let you know what I have discovered in my work. Unfortunately there has been so little study of primary source materials about Germans (and so little primary source materials available) that Burton and Ella Lonn (Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy) were thus handicapped in their work and I believe made assumptions. I started my work believing the war accelerated Americanization and created a bond between Germans and Americans because that is what the available books said at the time I started. Even some books authored by Germans stated that but I believe these authors had self-serving purposes in writing that. My idea regarding Americanization of the Germans has changed.
My work covers three Germans regiments and a mixed regiment with four German companies and Chris Keller’scovers four Pennsylvania German regiments. A review of the roster of the 26th Wisconsin revels few non-German names. There were roughly thirty German Regiments in the Union army. All German regiments have not been examined, but the ones that have do not support Burton’s claim. Burton presents no primary sources to support his claim.
If you have any information indicating that the Germans in specific German regiments were Americanized by the addition of Americans to their regiments I would love to hear about it because it is a subject in which I am highly interested.
UPDATE: Since sending the initial email, Joe also did research on the mostly German 24th Illinois and found almost no non-German names added to the regiment after its initial muster in.
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