German-Americans in the American Civil War were the largest ethnic contingent to fight for the Union. More than 200,000 native Germans served in the Union Army, with New York and Ohio each providing ten divisions dominated by German-born men.
German-American army units
Approximately 516,000 (23.4% of all Union soldiers) were German Americans; 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 Missouri with 30,000 and Ohio with 20,000.
Scores of individual regiments, such as the 9th Ohio, 74th Pennsylvania, 32nd Indiana (1st German), and the 9th Wisconsin Infantry, 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 "lopeared Dutch" by Confederates, German-American units in general earned a reputation for discipline and ruthlessness. Many of the estimated 177,000 Germans who fought for the Union during the Civil War were Forty-Eighters who had left various German states after the defeat of the attempted revolutions of 1848.
German-American commanders of note
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. He was a member of the Forty-Eighters, a political movement of the revolutions in German states that 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 politico-social 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-born generals included Godfrey Weitzel, Adolph von Steinwehr, Edward S. Salomon, Frederick C. Salomon, August Kautz, Felix Salm-Salm, and Peter Osterhaus. 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.
Veteran Prussian military officer Heros von Borcke 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 Chief of Staff and Adjutant. In 1866, he became one of the few former Confederate officers to fight in the Austro-Prussian War.
Another famous German American, George Armstrong Custer, fought against the Confederate cavalry of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and Heros von Borcke at Hanover and Hunterstown, on the way to the main event at Gettysburg. A Missouri man had once written the Confederate authorities that all they had to do to get rid of the Saint Louis Unionists was destroy the local breweries and seize all the beer: "... By this means the Dutch [Germans] will all die in a week and the Yankees will then run from this State.
— M. Jeff Thompson of Missouri
Medal of Honor Recipients
Among those German immigrants who received the Medal of Honor for valor during the war include:
- Pvt. Frederick Alber
- Cpl. William J. Archinal
- Sgt. Richard Binder
- Sgt. Maj. Abraham Cohn
- Cpt. Hubert Dilger
- Musician Richard Enderlin
- Pvt. Peter Kappesser
- Pvt. Harry Kline
- Musician J. C. Julius Langbein
- Lt. Theodore Schwan
- Qm. William Wells
St. Louis massacre
Main article: St. Louis massacre
In neutral Missouri on May 10, 1861, Union Capt. Nathaniel 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. 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, had southern sympathies.
Tensions quickly mounted on the streets as civilians hurled fruit, rocks, paving stones, and insults at Lyon's Germans. Some of the soldiers returned the favor. Shots rang out, killing three militiamen. The soldiers fired into the nearby crowd of bystanders, injuring or killing numerous men, women, and children. 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.
Main article: Nueces Massacre
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.
There were also several German regiments in the Confederate army. About 2,000 Germans served voluntarily with another 3,000 serving against their will or with neutral status. Almost all of these came from Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, or, Virginia. The most famous German regiment was the German Fusilier.
- List of famous German Americans
- German Texan
- Foreign enlistment in the American Civil War
- German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA