This blog post was originally posted on Emerging Civil War by Kristen M. Pawlak, the same author of Missouri’s Civil War Blog.
One of the most thorough and remarkable diaries I have come across from a Missouri soldier is from a non-commissioned officer in the 8th Missouri Infantry. A German immigrant and Peoria, Illinois resident, Phillip A. Smith joined the “American Zouaves” regiment in St. Louis in the summer of 1861. Like many Missouri Union regiments, the 8th Missouri was largely composed of German immigrants (even though Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon wanted more native-born Americans for this unit, hence the name) and built primarily of Missourians and Illinoians.
On July 22, 1861, just days after mustering in at the St. Louis Arsenal and encamped at Jefferson City, the state capital that had been occupied by Federal forces at the start of the 1861 Missouri Campaign, Smith laid in bed and penned this diary entry about why he enlisted for three years of service in the Union Army. He reflected on the developing crisis, the rebellion, and “the slave question.” At that time, Lyon’s Army of the West was on an offensive campaign in pursuit of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard into southwestern Missouri. Smith, fervently pro-Union and antislavery, was deeply disturbed and angry toward Confederates, as seen below.
By the outbreak of the war, St. Louis – the Gateway to the West – was a thriving and diverse, yet divided border town. Unlike many cities in the slave states, St. Louis was home to a growing community of European immigrants. By 1860, over half of the city was foreign born, most from the German Confederation or Ireland. The Germans were, by far, the most populous and influential ethic group in St. Louis. With 50,000 in St. Louis alone and united over the divisive issues of slavery and secession, they made a tremendous impact on the Union war effort in the city and their new home state. Just second to the Germans were the Irish, who accounted for nearly 30,000 (or 20%) of the city’s 161,000 residents. Missouri’s Irish – totally over 43,000 – was the highest population of Irishmen in any state in the South. Typically overlooked compared to the Germans, the Irish were more-so divided over the tense issues encapsulating their community. Their impact on the Civil War in St. Louis deserves more attention and further study.
A St. Louis-style St. Patrick’s Day in 1874 shows the gathering of the Irish immigrant community. Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.
Just days after surviving the first major battle west of the Mississippi River – the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – German-born Sergeant Otto C. Lademann of the 3rd Missouri Infantry promised Colonel Thomas Snead of Major General Sterling Price’s staff that he would never take up arms against the enemy in order to return home to St. Louis. He, along with most of Colonel Franz Sigel’s column, had been routed and captured on the south end of the battlefield.
Sergeant (later promoted to captain) Otto Lademann is seen on the left, and the Confederate officer who saved his life – Captain Emmett MacDonald. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.
On August 20, Lademann, along with eight commissioned officers and one fellow non-commissioned soldier, departed Springfield in the wagon of a pro-Union man who offered to take them to Rolla for sixty dollars. By wagon, they would travel along the Wire Road to Rolla. There, the Union soldiers would depart for St. Louis by train on the Southwestern Branch of the Pacific Railroad.
On the second day of the journey, they were four miles southwest of Lebanon and sixty miles from Rolla. Lademann’s wagon was stopped by a dozen armed pro-Southerners who were on their way to join Price’s army. Continue reading →
Federal soldiers receive a ration of whiskey and quinine, showing the need for alcohol to calm nerves and stay warm during the frigid winter months. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.
While in camp at Rolla on March 9, 1865, Private Frederick A. Kullman of the 13th Missouri Cavalry sat down to write in his pocket diary about how he longed to escort prisoners to St. Louis. For him and much of his comrades, it was not to visit the city or to show their authority to the enemy, but to “try some more of that good old Lager beer.” In 1861, there were over forty independent breweries operating in St. Louis alone, with countless others along the Missouri River.
In the early nineteenth century, the most popular types of alcoholic beverages in the United States were whiskey, cider, gin, bourbon, rum, and wine. They could be manufactured without refrigeration and were drunk throughout the day by Americans. By the mid-nineteenth century, beer consumption exploded; and much of that has to do with the influx of German immigrants, particularly in Missouri. Continue reading →
Major General Peter J. Osterhaus in 1864. Courtesy of Welt.
Considered to be one of the most capable and effective commanders in the Western Theater of the Civil War, Peter J. Osterhaus was an adopted son of the United States, born in Coblenz, the government seat of the Rhine Province in the German Confederation, in 1823. Finding a passion in military service, Osterhaus entered the Berlin Military Academy and later served in the Prussian Army for the required one year of service. However, in 1848, like many young Germans, he actively supported the democratic and classic liberal revolutions in his home country. He joined the revolutionary army and hoped to use his military experience against the Prussian Army at Baden. By 1849, however, the revolutions against the monarchies of Europe were crushed, forcing many of the revolutionaries to flee their homelands for the world’s foremost democracy, the United States. Continue reading →
Pvt. John J. Weber of the 2nd Missouri Infantry, Maj. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus, and Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel were all German immigrants who served in Missouri units. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society and Library of Congress.
When both historians and Civil War enthusiasts think of the larger German experience during the war, we tend to think of their failures, hence their degrading nickname, the “Damn Dutch.” The XI Corps’ routing at Chancellorsville and at Gettysburg dominate the overall narrative of ethnic German soldiers, a trend that has persisted since the war itself. However, this is the rather shallow story of just 9,000 Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, and Wisconsin German troops. More importantly, that number represents less than 4.5% of all German immigrants who served in the Union armies, which totaled out to be roughly 216,000.
In Missouri, the Germans had a much more significant story, saving the city of St. Louis – and ultimately the state – for the Union and contributed over 30,000 troops to the Federal war effort in Missouri. But, in the larger narrative of the war, these German troops – though successful – are out shadowed by German failures in the East. Contemporary criticism of the German troops were primarily dominated by nativism, or the bias against immigrants by native-born Americans. When failures of the Germans dominate the historical memory, then we also lose sight of their contributions to Union victory. Continue reading →