German-Americans in the Civil War
The majority of German personalities in the Civil War can be found wearing the uniform d the United States. Immigrants from Germany itself, as well as Austria and the Netherlands, came to the United States in the decades before the war; between 1850 and 1860 alone, the number of immigrants from what was that known as the German Empire more than doubled, from a little over half a million to well over a million just before the war broke out. Hardworking, organized people, the Germans settled, as did most newcomers to America, in places that reminded them of home; the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge were not as dramatic as the Alps, but they were mountains, and they had as near neighbors the rolling hills and meadows of the Piedmont and the coastal regions. Concentrated around Pennsylvania, Delaware, parts of Maryland and Virginia, and on up into New York, the Germans and their Dutch cousins settled and left their mark upon those regions, and came forth to serve their adopted land when hostilities erupted between North and South in 1861.
There are many worthy Germans in the annals of the war to whom one could point with pride. Among them was Carl Schurz, who lost a promising academic career at the University of Bonn after becoming involved in the German revolutionary movement of 1848. One of many young Germans who admired the democratic ideals of the United States, Schurz joined the revolutionary army and was one of the defenders of the key -Fortress of Rastatt in 1849. When the fortress fell, Schurz escaped almost certain execution and slipped across the Rhine River to freedom in Switzerland. He was later involved in a daring rescue of his teacher, Professor Gottfried Kinkel, who had led the revolution, only to be imprisoned and sentenced to life behind bars; the rescue is one of the best-known incidents of the revolution. After marriage and many more adventures, he ended up in America, where he became a confidante of Abraham Lincoln; he served his president as minister to Spain, and later as an officer of the line in the 11th Corps, which boasted a number of German regiments. The men he commanded served gallantly, though not uncontroversially, at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Schurz was later promoted to major general and saw action at Chattanooga and Nashville; at the end of the war, he was chief of staff to General William Tecumseh Sherman. Schurz remained in public life until his death in 1906, serving the government in many capacities, including a term as secretary of the interior.
On the Southern side, surely one of the most interesting German figures was JEB Stuart's aide, Major Johann August Heinrich Heros Von Borcke. A tall, handsome blond young man in the German ideal, Von Borcke came from an old Prussian military family of the titled nobility. Serving in the Second Brandenburg Regiment of Dragoons at the time the Civil War began, either from boredom with garrison duty or due to an argument with his father, young Heros departed for the Confederacy, landing in Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1862. Introduced to JEB Stuart by Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph, Von Borcke quickly became a dear friend of the equally young Confederate cavalier, and from then on the Prussian was rarely far from Stuart's side. Despite a regrettable tendency to ascribe to himself a number of exploits which were actually the actions of others, Von Borcke's writings about his year on Stuart's staff and subsequent adventures in Virginia following his near-fatal wounding in June 1863 are entertaining and fill in a number of historical gaps. He was beloved and admired by his Confederate comrades.
Von Borcke returned to Prussia and served his native land in a war with Austria in 1866; to his amusement and pleasure, the famous Austrian military genius Helmuth von Moltke greeted him with the words, "Are you not the American?" Forced to an early retirement in 1867 due to a Yankee bullet he still carried in his lung, Von Borcke married and had three sons. When he inherited a castle and estate at Giesenbrugge, it was his delight to fly the Confederate flag from its battlements. He died in 1895, reminiscing fondly about his days as a Confederate right up to the end.
Source: The Civil War Society's "Encyclopedia of the Civil War."
This Page last updated 02/16/02
RETURN TO ETHNIC COMPOSITION OF CIVIL WAR FORCES PAGE