Joseph R. Reinhart Responds to Chancellorsville and the Germans Review

by Brett Schulte on March 25, 2009 · 17 comments

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:

Brett

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.

Joe

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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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Will Hickox March 25, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Fascinating stuff. Mr. Reinhart mentions that “There were roughly thirty German Regiments in the Union army.” According to a 1909 study over half a million German-Americans served the Union in the war. Those 30 exclusively ethnic regiments would have accounted for probably 40,000 at the most. They and the Irish were on different sides of the ethnicity coin: the Irish units generally gained a reputation for courage and hard fighting, while the German units (unfairly in most cases) were accused of cowardice. Joe’s basic premise that the comparatively few German regiments largely remained “undiluted” is convincing, but surely their 476,000 brothers in “yankee” units had an easier time acclimating.

For what it’s worth, one of my ancestors served in the “Yankee” 121st New York and could only speak German. Twenty years later his pension application is written in very articulate English and the signature has no hint of traditional German script.

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admin March 25, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Will,

As a fellow descendant of German-Americans, I also find this topic fascinating. Thanks for the additional information. I think your point about Germans who served in “Yankee” regiments is a good one. Offhand, I know of know books focusing on or even touching on their experiences. Does anyone have any recommendations for me?

I’ll get Joe to subscribe to this thread as well so he can follow along and respond.

Brett

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Will Hickox March 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm

“Like Grass before the Scythe” is the only primary source I can think of off the top of my head. It deals with another German in the 121st NY. This particular soldier had little time to enjoy acclimation as he went missing at Cedar Creek.

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Joseph R. Reinhart March 26, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I am pleased to respond to Mr. Hickox’s statement, “According to a 1909 study over one-half million German-Americans served in the Union army,” etc.

The number of native Germans in the Union army have been estimated at between 177,000 and 217,000. Benjamin A. Gould in his study, Investigations in the Military and Anthropological Statistics of American Soldiers (1869 reprint; New York: Arno Press, 1979), p. 27, arrives at 177,000 native Germans in the Union army. Wilhelm Kaufmann, in The Germans in the American Civil War trans. Steven Rowan, ed. Don Heinrich Tolzmann with Werner D. Mueller and Robert E. Ward, (1911 reprint; Carlisle, Pa.: John Kallmann, Publishers, 1999), pp. 70–74, challenges Gould’s number as too low and arrives at a number of 216, 000. Albert B. Faust in The German Element in the United States, I, 524ff. asserted that an estimate of over 200,000 native Germans was not exaggerated. Ella Lonn in her classic work Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy (1951), p. 577–588 arrives at 200,000 native Germans in the Union army, after taking into account known understatements in Gould’s analysis and overstatements in Kaufmann. I and most other modern scholars usually accept the 200,000 number.

The half-million number for German-Americans Mr Wilcox cites would include not only native Germans living in the United States but also their offspring born in the United States. The offspring usually, but not always, retained the German language for conversation at home and with other Germans and followed German customs. Many Germans became bi-lingual. I have seen estimates as high as 750,000 German-Americans in the Union Army.

My original comments focused on “Germans in German regiments not being significantly Americanized by Anglo-Americans added to their regiments later in the war.” However, I also believe that Civil War service did not significantly accelerate the assimilation of the vast majority German Americans who served in the Army. Why? Because of Anglo-American nativism in the 1850s, followed by more of the same in the Union army. Chris Keller covers this excellently in his book Chancellorsville and the Germans. I also address this in my August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen. Nativism was present at all levels in the Union army and placed America’s Germans on guard to protect their Deutschtum (i.e., to preserve their culture) and they remained on guard even after the crisis passed, in case the threat might rise again. After the war they constructed a national German-American identity that lasted until it was shattered by the anti-German outcries of World War I.

As Kamphoefner and Helbich state (including in Anglo-American dominated regiments) in Germans in the Civil war: The Letters They Wrote Home, (2006). P. 32.
“It is evident that in the Union army general fraternization across ethnic lines simply did not happen.” . . . There are precious few examples of well-meaning attempts to overcome cultural difference or promote tolerance and no indication of friendly conviviality with—let alone admiration for—for soldiers or officers of different ethnic backgrounds.” Germans in the Civil war: The Letters They Wrote Home, (2006). P. 32.

Many Germans did learn English after the war to conduct business, read English language newspapers, correspond with businesses and government agencies, etc. and many participated in American institutions but they also retained their language and customs. Also the soldiers normally married other Germans.

I have read Like Grass before a Sythe. The soldier appears to have been Americanized before he joined the army. His letters, as I recall, revealed little to identify him as a German. I do not recall if he came to the U. S. as a young child or not.

My message above contains a listing of sources you can consult about Germans in the Civil War.
Another one is William L. Burton’s Melting Pot Soldiers; The Union’s Ethnic Regiments (1998). In a separate e-mail I will provide additional sources.

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Drew W. March 26, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Joe,
Remmel was almost 8 when he arrived in the states.

DW

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Will Hickox March 26, 2009 at 7:01 pm

It had been my understanding that the 516,000 number included American-born children of Germans. Your revealing post reminds us however that exact, foolproof statistics are not available.

I thought of another primary source for a German serving in an “American” unit. In photography historian William Frassanito’s “Grant and Lee” there are some reprinted letters from a very young German soldier, Frederic Kronenberger, from New York City. Only about 5 letters were featured and again there was little to identify him as a German.

Regarding “Germans in the Civil War:” this book is ridiculously expensive and I haven’t yet gotten a copy. I would be interested to hear if the quoted letters came from a fairly representative sample of German soldiers or mainly those serving in the small number of famous all-German units. Obviously opportunities for assimilation would have been fewer in the latter case.

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Will Hickox March 26, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I’ve dragged this post away from its subject matter–alleged Americanization of German units–to the opposite: Americanization of Germans in American units! I hope you can both forgive me and agree that this area has not been studied nearly enough, at least when compared with the huge amount of attention afforded the more glamorous Irish. Thankfully some fine scholars like Mr. Reinhart are rectifying that. If the figure of 750,000 is reliable then almost a third of the Union Army was composed of German-Americans.

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Joseph R. Reinhart March 27, 2009 at 5:27 am

Regarding Mr. Hickox’s question: Germans in the Civil War by Kamphoefner and Helbich contains substantial excerpts from 343 letters written by 78 individuals. The majority of the letters were written by soldiers, but some were written by civilians. The letters came from an archive in Germany; they were letters sent to family and friends in Germany. A few writers served in German regiments but most did not. The authors have done much research on Civil War era Germans and their letters, besides those in this book. Sadly there is a significant lack of letters, journals and diaries written by German-America available.

The above-named book and Chris Keller’s book are in the $55–65 range. I own both. If you want to read them without buying them I recommend you ask your local library to purchase them or obtain them for you by interlibrary loan. Most public libraries will obtain them for you from another library for a couple of weeks use at no charge; some might charge a small fee for this service. I use this service frequently, especially for out of print and very old books.

I am glad you extended the subject to German Americans in Anglo-American regiments. I apologize for my inadvertent error in calling Mr. Hickox Mr. Wilcox in an earlier post.

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Craig March 27, 2009 at 10:08 am

I’ve wondered if the perception of the German units varied due to theater or region. For instance one of my ancestors served in the predominately German 29th Missouri. The regiment complied a rather envious list of battle honors serving in the west, almost always under Sherman’s command, including the march to the sea and Carolinas Campaign.

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Joseph R. Reinhart March 27, 2009 at 11:08 am

Craig
I do not think the German regiments that fought in the West suffered ridicule like the ones in the East, because they were not massed together like in the Eleventh Corps in the East and the Union won most of the battles in the West. A scapegoat was not needed. Keep in mind also that the Eleventh Corps was a little less than 1/2 German and not pure German. Germans who fought in the west felt the stings of nativism and were upset about the situation after Chancellorsville.
In the regimental history of the 9th Ohio, which fought in the West, published 42-years after the war ended there is condemnation of the nativism Germans experienced. I am currently working on a collection of translated letters of the 82nd Illinois, a German regiment that fought in the Eleventh Corps at Chanvellorsville and Gettysburg and shifted to the West with its corps. The regiment was not dominated by cowards.

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Craig March 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Joe,
Are you familiar with Osterhaus’ “Turner Brigade” that served in the west? If I recall right, most of one division that fought at Pea Ridge were Germans. Interesting that some of those regiments served under Sigel before he was transferred east.

I’ve also read a few accounts from XI Corps veterans who served in the west in XX Corps after the fall of 1863. Certainly interesting perspectives also. As you say, certainly not cowards.

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Joseph R. Reinhart March 28, 2009 at 5:05 am

Craig
At the Battle of Pea Ridge, Brig. Gen. Peter Osterhaus commanded the 1st Div and is listed as brigade commander of its 1st Brigade. The 1st Brigade consisted of the 17th Mo., (called the Western Turner Rifles), 25th Ill. and 44th Illinois. The 17th Mo. was a German regiment; the 25th and 44th Illinois were not German regiments but had a large number of German-Americans officers and men in them. The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division comprised the 12th Missouri (a German regiment) and the 36th Ill. a partially German regiment. Franz Sigel under whom the two divisions fought claimed that of 11,500 men in his command 5,000 were Germans. Research indicates that Turner regiments were not composed 100 percent of Turners. If a regiment had one company of Turners it might be called a Turner regiment. I am not sure if Osterhaus’s brigade was called a Turner brigade or not but very well may have been. I am away from my home and library, and cannot check this further now.
Joe

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Joseph R. Reinhart March 31, 2009 at 5:25 am

As promised I am submitting a list of books containing collections of letters written by Germans fighting in the American Civil War. If you know of any others, please let me know.
Joe

Books of Civil War Letters of Germans

Robert Patrick Bender, ed., Like Grass before the Scythe: The Life and Death of Sgt. William Remmel, 121st New York Infantry (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2007).

Frank L. Byrne and Jean Powers Soman, eds., Your True Marcus: The Civil War Letters of a Jewish Colonel (Kent, O., Kent State Univ. Press, 1985).

Minetta Altgelt Goyne, trans. and ed., Lone Star and Double Eagle: Civil War Letters of a German-Texas Family (N. p.: Texas Christian Univ. Press, 1982).

David T. Hedrick and Gordon Barry Davis, Jr., eds. I Am Surrounded by Methodists: Diary of John H. W. Stuckenburg, Chaplain of the 145th Pennsylvania (Gettysburg, Pa.: Thomas Publications, 1995).

Antonius Holtmann, A Lost American Dream: Civil war Letters (1862–1863) of Immigrant Theodor Heinrich Brandes in Historical Coxtext. Eberhard Reichmann, trans. and ed. of American Edition (Indianapolis: Max Kade German-American Center & Indiana German Heritage Society, 2005).

John B. Horner, Captain John M Sachs: His Long Road Back to Gettysburg (Gettysburg, Pa.: Horner Enterprises, 1994).

Paul Janeski, comp., A Civil War Soldier’s Last Letters (New York: Vantage Press, 1975).

Walterm D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, eds. and Susan Carter Vogel, trans., Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006).

Kenneth Lyftgot, ed. Left for Dixie: The Civil War Diary of John Rath (Parkersburg Iowa: Mid-Prairie Books, 1991).

Joseph R. Reinhart, trans. and ed. Two Germans in the Civil War: The Diary of John Daeuble and the Letters of Gottfried Rentschler, 6th Kentucky Infantry (Knoxville: Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2004).

Joseph R. Reinhart, trans. and ed. August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen: Civil war Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry (Kent, Ohio: Kent, State Univ. Press, 2006).

Joseph R. Reinhart, trans. and ed. A German Hurrah: The Civil War Letters of Friedrich Berstch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry (Kent, Ohio: Kent, State Univ. Press, (est. Fall 2009).

Charles Wickesberg, Civil War Letters of Sergeant Charles Wickesberg (Milwaukee: A. Wickesberg, 1961).

William K. Winkler, ed, Letters of Frederic C. Winkler 1862–1865 (N. p.: William K. Winkler, 1963).

See also Earl J. Hess, ed., A German in the Yankee Fatherland: The Civil War Letters of Henry A. Kircher (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1983) for an outstanding collection of letters authored by a soldier born in Illinois of German immigrant parents.

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John August 26, 2009 at 8:34 am

My great-grandmother’s uncle served in McCook’s Dutchmen and came out with a bullet through his face that knocked out a lot of his teeth at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in Tennessee. The fact that he later married a non-German girl shows that the war experience made him very leery about remaining an immigrant for the rest of his life. In fact, those Germans who wanted to assimilate did, and quickly.

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Joseph R. Reinhart August 27, 2009 at 5:24 pm

John
Yes, those Germans who wanted to Americanize quickly did so, however based on what I have read and seen scanning census records Germans tended to marry Germans. One story I know is that a German, I believe from Madison Indiana, married an Anglo-American widow and took her family name Mansfield. He later had a high position during the Civil War in Indiana. It may have been head of the state militia.

I believe that in the major cities where large numbers of Germans lived there was less mixing with Anglo-Americans than in places where the Germans were fewer in number. Cincinnati was about 25% German in 1860.

Have you seen my 9th Ohio web site. I have a roster of the 9th Ohio and over 100 photographs of its members.

I would like to know the name of your ancestor and where he was born in German to add to the website. You can respond on this blog or privately to me at sixthky@bellsouth.net

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Chet Wold February 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Joe,

How can I find information about the Scandinavians of Company I, 82nd Illinois being included in a predominately German regiment. You mention that it was ordered in by the Governor. We have just uncovered a collection of 80+ letters written home by Ole K Halverson, 1st Sgt. and would like to know how Halverson and other boys from Leland, IL enlisted in the 82nd.

Thanks!

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Brett Schulte February 11, 2010 at 9:08 am

Chet,

I forwarded your post to Joe and he responded as follows:

“Chet,

The letters are a great find and certainly rare. Are they in English?

You can find detailed information on most soldiers in the regiment at http://www.ilsos.gov/genealogy/

Select 82nd Illinois Infantry from drop down menu. Usually includes physical description, residence, place of birth, muster in date. and more. The roster is in alphabetical order,and shows company, so you can select Company I men.

The men of Company I were not recruited for the 82nd Illinois but for the Third Board of Trade Regiment organizing in Chicago.
The 82nd needed 2 companies to complete its organization, so the Governor assigned a German company and Scandinavian company from the TB of T regiment to the 82nd. The Scandinavians did not want to be in a German regiment. The captain of Company I wrote the Governor and said that Scandinavians and Germans had been enemies in Europe for a hundred (or hundreds of years?) and the company was loathe to serve in a German regiment. One or two others wrote similar messages to the Governor. The Scandinavians were thus forced into the 82nd.

I did not find any specific information about how the two nationalities got along or problems with non-German speakers in the regiment. I hope the newly-discovered letters shed light on this.

I am about half-way through preparing a manuscript containing about 100 translated letters from Germans in the 82nd Ill.

Joe”

Brett

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