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Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine
Iron, Guns, and Pearls
By James P. Delgado
Texas A&M University Press Copyright © 2012 James P. Delgado
All rights reserved.
The Age of Gold and the Age of Bronze have given place to the Age of Iron.... Iron is a great power in the present age. It is revolutionizing the world ... the uses of the metal are endless, and its supply almost inexhaustible. —Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review, 1854
KLAIPEDA, the hometown of Julius Kroehl, is a small city of just over 187,000 people. It is a busy place, with ships loading and discharging cargoes 24 hours a day, year-round, in this ice-free eastern Baltic harbor. It is Lithuania's only port. Until the end of World War II, Klaipeda was the German settlement of Memel. Memel once lay in the Kingdom of Prussia, occupied lands wrested from Poland and Lithuania following centuries of war and colonization. Ostpreußen, or East Prussia, where Memel is situated, came under Hohenzollern sovereignty in 1772 as a province of the kingdom, and largely remained under German control until the end of World War II.
One of the oldest German enclaves in East Prussia was Memelland, a territory on the banks of the Memel River near the Baltic Sea. Memel prospered as a strategically located port on the Baltic, although it was not in the Hanseatic League or on a major trade route. Memel joined the province of East Prussia in 1773 and entered a period of economic growth as the northernmost German city in Europe, 91 miles north of the port of Königsberg. The key to Memel's success was its role in the British timber trade.
Britain's large forests began to vanish in the eighteenth century in the face of increased city and town construction and an expanding fleet of merchant and naval vessels. To fulfill its needs, Britain turned to two ready sources—the Baltic and North America. Because of its relative proximity, the Baltic dominatedthe trade through the early-nineteenth century. By the time the British began to dominate the timber trade, Memel, only 1,100 nautical miles from England's eastern shores, had assumed a leading role as a timber trade port. High duties in Riga, the region's greatest port, induced British merchants to bypass Riga in favor of Memel. As part of a strategy to control as much of the trade as they could, British merchants established branch offices in Memel, created strong partnerships with native Memellander merchants, in time even intermarrying, and built steam-powered sawmills in Memel to boost its output.
The flow of timber was immense no matter how it was measured—in 1762, when British timber ships started calling in greater numbers, 133 vessels arrived at Memel. By 1788, 784 timber ships loaded at Memel, which remained the average for the remainder of the eighteenth century until disrupted by the Napoleonic Wars. In 1804, 831 ships arrived at Memel. The ships that called for timber arrived with a wide variety of British manufactures and "colonial wares"—woolens, sugar, coffee, tea, and tobacco, which along with corn, hemp, and flax filled the warehouses of Memel's merchants. The town was described in 1854: "The quays and streets relay a lively scene and a motley throng in the trading season,—German and Russian merchants, English, French and Dutch captains and sailors,—Lithuanian boatmen, foresters and farmers,—Jew dealers and pedlars, and occasionally some country people." Historian Robert Greenhalgh Albion, writing on the timber trade, describes Memel and other Baltic timber ports as dreary seaports crowded with warehouses filled with "timber and corn ... whose inhabitants lived almost entirely in a world of contracts, discounts and demurrages."
One of Memel's merchants was Jacob Kröhl (also spelled Kroehl or Krehl), born in Memel in 1751 and married in 1776 to Anna Susanna Rosenbergerin. The family's origins may be Scottish Jacobite, or Scots introduced to the area through the lumber trade and Scotland's maritime ties to the Baltic. They may have been the descendants of John Crail, who emigrated from Scotland around 1660. Crail was living in Königsberg in 1676 under the name Johann Krehl. A petition for citizenship noted that although he was a foreigner, he had settled in Prussia as a boy and had carried on his business for nearly 16 years. He had a son who, as of 1682, was considered a citizen.
The destruction and loss of many of Prussia's and specifically Memel's early records through war leaves gaps that can only be speculatively filled in. It is possible that Jacob and Anna, whose first child was a daughter, another Anna Susanna, later also had a son, who in turn passed on his father's name to Jacob when he was born sometime around 1795. Jacob married Johanna Philippine Dorothea, and they had two sons. The first was Heinrich, born on May 9, 1818, and the second was Julius Hermann Kröhl, whose exact birth date is unknown. When Julius died in early September 1867, his age was listed as 47, meaning his birthday had passed, suggesting that Johanna Kröhl delivered Julius between May and July 1820.
Nothing is known of the family's early life, but several clues besides Memel's role in the timber trade suggest that as a merchant Jacob had ties to Britain. A cousin, Wilhelm Kröhl, arrived in England and assumed British citizenship in the 1830s. Furthermore, by 1848, Johanna Kröhl had remarried, and her second husband was British-born merchant John Heanes.
In 1826 Jacob Kröhl relocated to Berlin and lived there until at least 1833, possibly until 1837. There are many possible explanations for the Kroehl family's departure from Memel. Jacob's business may have not done well, or he may have sought a better life for himself and his family in the resurgent economy of an industrializing Prussia. Memel's fortunes had declined during the Napoleonic Wars, as Napoleon and his allies controlled the Baltic ports, and Memel timber prices skyrocketed due to their scarcity in England. Memel mast imports dropped from nearly 1,000 to 500 in 1807, and then to a mere 42 masts in 1808–9, picking up to 204—20% of the pre-war shipments—in 1809–14. It follows that British exports to the Baltic, and the profits Memel merchants could make from them, also declined. After the war, a combination of high British duties on timber and a shift in policy to bring more timber from Canada meant that Memel never fully recovered, nor would all of its merchants. Perhaps one of them was Jacob Kröhl.
Whether Jacob's family joined him in Berlin is unknown. He may have left Johanna and the children behind in Memel because of a divorce, also leaving her free to marry John Heanes. Not much is known of Heanes; it is possible that he was a merchant in Memel, and there met Johanna. The date of Heane's marriage to Johanna was sometime between 1826 and 1848. Both John and Johanna Heanes are buried next to Heinrich Kroehl in the family plot in Brooklyn, New York.
Julius Kroehl most likely came to the United States not only to seek opportunity but also to flee difficulties at home. He arrived in New York at a time of European unrest, especially in what is now Germany, then a confederation of 39 states and kingdoms of various sizes. Prussia and the Austrian Empire, the two largest powers, dominated the confederation. The rising power of Prussia both excited support in other states in the German Confederation for a united Germany, but it also inspired resistance in others, especially Austria, which remained apart from a Prussian-led customs union, the Zollverein, established in 1834 under Prussian leadership, which had gradually incorporated most of the other states. Despite the seeming unity of the Zollverein, Prussia's domination of the German Confederation was not universally accepted.
Despite mistrust of Prussia, many of the other German states shared, in addition to the German language, a common history of association in the Holy Roman Empire. They had experienced the Napoleonic Wars under French occupation, which had ended with a Prussian-led revolution against Napoleon in 1813–14. The German states also shared, to varying degrees, famine, economic hardship, civil unrest, and growing nationalism in the "hungry 1840s," a decade also marked by the same struggles in other European states, including famine-ravaged Ireland, the Italian states, and Hungary.
Internal dissension in Prussia, beginning in the 1830s, focused on the 1817 decision by Prussian ruler Friederich Wilhelm III to merge the country's Lutheran and Calvinist churches into a single new entity. By the 1830s opposition to the new church by the "Old Lutherans" had spread throughout Prussia, engendering secret underground services, arrests and imprisonment, and the immigration of thousands of Lutherans to Australia and the United States. A surge in religious revivalism also led to challenges from Prussia's Catholics, who pushed against a Prussian law that children of "mixed religion" marriages be educated in the faith of the father—a sticking point that the Pope and the Prussian archbishop ignored. This led to the arrest of the archbishop, which led to demonstrations and Catholic clashes with troops sent to keep order through 1837–38.
The death of the king in 1840 brought a new ruler, Friederich Wilhelm IV, to the throne. The new king's initial actions were more liberal than in his predecessor's reign, freeing prisoners, relaxing religious strictures, and talking of representative politics as opposed to a strict monarchy. The post-Napoleonic era in Prussia had been marked by the growth of the bureaucracy and the military, and a resultant struggle between a desire for tolerance and freedom matched by a need for obedience to the law and public order, a conflict underscored by an anonymous Prussian poem of the late 1830s:
For us who live in Prussia's land
The King is always lord;
We live by law and the bonds of order,
Not like some bickering horde.
The Industrial Revolution, population growth, crop failures, food shortages, an oversupply of labor, a resultant lowering of wages, poor working conditions, a fear that the ruling class was seeking to "pauperize" the working classes, agitation for religious freedom, and distrust of an increasingly authoritarian Prussian state, now combined with a desire for political change into a series of clashes, "hunger riots," and deep-rooted internal dissension.
The social conditions of Germany were bleak in the decade Julius Kroehl passed from adolescence into young adulthood, and in Prussia, they were such that the kingdom was in a state of "social emergency" from 1844 to 1847. In 1848 the tensions erupted in Germany, Prussia, and throughout Europe in a wave of popular uprisings that sought to overthrow absolutism and introduce representative governments. In Germany, a growing sense of nationalism also featured into the movement as the "radicals" called for a united Germany.
Revolutionary democratic, nationalistic, popular liberal and socialist fervor inspired revolutions in Switzerland, the Italian States, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, Poland, and Wallachia. An outright movement for independence ended in military defeat of the revolutionaries. Barricades in Berlin were swept aside by the military, and ultimately the Prussian aristocracy, led by a ruthless new chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, worked with the king to institute a new constitutional monarchy that retained significant royal control. Under Bismarck, Prussia would manipulate, provoke, and finally wage war with Austria and then France to merge the German states into a new, united German Reich with a decidedly Prussian flavor. However, a large number of Germans had fled their homeland for Great Britain, the United States, and South America. Among them were the Kroehls.
What is known is that Heinrich, his name anglicized to Henry Kroehl, "attended the German government schools, removed to Berlin, where he served as a junior clerk in a banking house until his twentieth year," and then immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York in 1838. There he settled, eventually entering the family business by becoming a merchant. He was followed by his brother, Julius, who arrived from Liverpool on the immigrant packet Fairfield on July 29, 1844. The passenger manifest listed him asa 24-year-old "engineer." Julius had previously been a member of the Prussian artillery, according to Civil War records stating that he had "served in the artillery abroad." He arrived in a city and a nation seemingly in need of his talents, and a New York then in the midst of rapid social and technological change. Julius Kroehl threw himself into his new life with zeal, seeking to tap into the technological revolution to make his own version of the American dream come true.
When the Kroehls arrived, New York was a city in flux, expanding rapidly to become America's principal seaport and city. Its population skyrocketed from 123,706 in 1820 to 813,669 in 1860, with most of the new residents immigrants. Author Washington Irving, writing to his sister in 1847, described a city changed from their youth, "pulled to pieces, burnt down and rebuilt.... I can hardly realize that within my term of life, this great crowded metropolis ... [once] a quiet little City ... is ... now one of the most rucketing cities in the world." It reminded him "of one of the great European cities Frankfort [sic] for instance in the time of an annual fair."
The analogy to Frankfurt was apt, for thanks to a flood of immigrants, the city hosted the largest German population outside Europe. In 1840 there were more than 24,000 Germans in New York, and by 1860 the German population had grown to more than 200,000 owing to the unrest in the German states. Germans were the second largest immigrant group in New York after the Irish. The Germans represented a quarter of New York's population and America's first large immigrant community that spoke a foreign language. German immigration to the United States dated to the seventeenth century, and at the time of the American Revolution, German was the second most spoken language in the new nation.
The Germans of New York settled on Commercial Street in the 1820s. By the 1840s they had expanded into a larger, primarily German neighborhood in the 10th and 17th Wards, east of the Bowery and north of Division Street. Known variously as "Dutch Town," or Kleindeutschland ("Little Germany"), it was the German American center of the United States. It was into this neighborhood that the Kroehls settled. Henry, the first arrival, worked as a clerk, and in September 1847, he married Cornelia R. Turfler. Their first child was born two years later, in 1849, and in 1851 Henry established a bristle and brush importingbusiness with fellow immigrant Otto Dill in Little Germany. The partners remained together as a firm until Dill died in 1861.
Julius's residence and activities immediately after his 1844 arrival are not known, but he apparently lived in New York, probably in proximity to Henry. He was a resident of New York when he became a naturalized citizen of the United States on October 26, 1849. In 1850 he joined the newly formed Sozialistische Turnverein, a clear indication of his political sensitivities and perhaps a clue as to why he had left Prussia. The Turnverein (gymnastic club) movement was founded in Prussia by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in 1811 to foster the rebirth of Germany, then under French occupation, through promoting physical health and mental acuity under the banner of "A Sound Mind and a Sound Body." The Turner movement, as it was called, blossomed in the 1840s during the period of unrest leading to the revolutionary movements of 1848, and in Germany, a number of the most ardent liberals and socialists in the revolution were Turners. In the aftermath of the defeat of the revolutionary movement, many Turners fled to the United States.
The Turnverein movement spread nationwide, thanks to the new arrivals. Its "liberal-radical-reformer" nature led many of the clubs to associate with the German freethinker movement. Freethinkers were part of a "spectrum that started with something approximating Unitarianism/Universalism, extended through rationalism, deism, and secularism, and included an extremist undercurrent of crusading atheism." Given his later marriage in a religious ceremony, Julius Kroehl most likely was at the beginning of that spectrum religiously, although politically he was more radical.
As a member of the Sozialistische Turnverein, Kroehl would have vowed to "give all available support to the essence of the Turners with both word and action," and "apart from physical gymnastics against the pressure of mind and material goods to strong encourage true freedom, prosperity and education for all classes." Abolition played an important role in the club, too, as "the republican principles of the Turners carried many of them into the struggle against slavery, and eventually into the Republican party." During the Civil War, the membership of the club strongly supported the Union, many joining to fight. Among them would be Julius Kroehl.
Julius embraced the emerging technology of photography as a source of income and as an outlet for his creative talents. The 1837 invention of photography by Louis Daguerre of Paris reached the United States in 1839 and quickly spread throughout the country. By 1850 New York was a hub of photographic daguerreotype activity, with 77 galleries employing 184 people. Three years later, in 1853, nearly a thousand New Yorkers were employed in daguerreotype galleries, with more than a third of them on Broadway.
Excerpted from Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine by James P. Delgado. Copyright © 2012 James P. Delgado. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
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