Life and death, pride and prejudice, and combat in an ethnic Civil War regiment
Thousands of volumes of Civil War letters are available, but little more than a dozen contain collections written by native Germans fighting in this great American conflict. Yankee Dutchmen under Fire presents a fascinating collection of sixty-one letters written by immigrants who served in the 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 82nd Illinois was one of the thirty or so predominantly “German Regiments” in the Union army, and one of only two Federal regiments containing a Jewish company. Fighting alongside the Germans was a company of Scandinavians, plus a scattering of immigrants from many other countries.
The letters span nearly three years of war and include firsthand accounts of major battles: Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in the East and Missionary Ridge, Resaca, New Hope Church, and Kolb’s Farm in the West. The soldiers of the 82nd Illinois also describe campaigning in East Tennessee, Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and his March to the Sea, and the Carolinas campaign (including the Battle of Bentonville).
The majority of the letters originally appeared in wartime issues of German American newspapers and kept the German community informed of the regiment’s marches, camps, battles, and casualties. Lt. (later Capt.) Rudolph Müller, an idealistic and highly critical commentator, wrote twenty-one of the twenty-nine private letters to his close friend and confidant Col. Friedrich Hecker. Müller cautioned the colonel not to make his letters public because they often contained highly critical comments about commanders, fellow officers, public figures, Anglo-Americans, and American society.
Besides providing details of military life and combat, the documents reveal how the German-born writers viewed the war, American officers and enlisted men, other immigrant soldiers, and the enemy. They shed light on the ethnic dimensions of the war, including ethnic identity, ethnic pride and prejudice, and ethnic solidarity, and they reflect the overarching political climate in which the war was fought. Yankee Dutchmen under Fire is a valuable addition to Civil War studies and will also be welcomed by those interested in ethnicity and immigration.
About the Author
Table of Contents
List of Maps and Illustrations ix
A Note about Translation and Editing xiii
1 Organization of the Regiment 18
2 Camp Butler 27
3 Off to the Seat of War 50
4 A New Year Begins 61
5 The Battle of Chancellorsville 67
6 The Battle of Gettysburg 84
7 After Gettysburg to Chattanooga 99
8 Whiteside, Tennessee 109
9 The Beginning of the Atlanta Campaign 115
10 Kolb's Farm to Atlanta 133
11 Atlanta Is Ours 152
12 The March to the Sea 166
13 The Carolinas Campaign to Fayetteville, North Carolina 174
14 The Final Battles 180
Bibliographic Essay 247
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19th century America’s population consists of descendents of the original settlers or people from England, the white people, a despised underclass of enslaved or free blacks. The Irish, one rung up the social ladder from the blacks and the “Dutch” immigrants from the German states. The “Dutch” and the Irish are very aware that they are not“white” Germans occupy a position several rungs above the Irish on the social ladder but they still feel the sting of discrimination. The American Civil War provided an opportunity for “non-whites” to move into being “white”. The 82nd Illinois Infantry is one of the ethnic regiments that populate the Union Army. Requited from the state’s German population the men enlist to save the union, end slavery and promote ethnic identity. In 1957, John J. Pullen established the gold standard for regimental histories with “The Twentieth Maine, a Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War”. Joseph R. Reinhart may have done the same for collections of Civil War letters. This book has the right balance of editor’s comments and letters. Taken together, the reader almost becomes a member of the regiment. The letters start with enlistment and the ethnic pride of a German unit, enlisting to fight under the banner of “Hecker and Sigel”. Through letters, we travel from home to camp and learn to be a soldier. Along the way, we run into problems with “White” Americans. The reporting and letters show how much we have changed since the Civil War; racism both causal and explicit is a normal part of life. The 82nd is part of the XI Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Letters present a different look at Sigel and these battles. The book contains an excellent first person account of both battles covering over 30 pages. The participants do not admit to panic and flight. Their letters, make a very good case for them fighting until overrun. Transferred West in response to Chattanooga, the regiment participates in the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March. The letters give us a look at hard marching and harder fighting. Regimental and Brigade politics are an important part of Civil War experience. There are several private letters between the regiment’s first commander and one of his supporters. These letters, never written for publication, look at anti-German feelings, favoritism and self-promotion. This mix of public and private letters gives the reader a comprehensive view of the Civil War experience. The author follows some of the correspondents throughout their lives. This is not always a pleasant story but it reminds us that men fight wars and the war never ends for some of them. The book works on several levels: 1) as a look at a regiment in the Civil War 2) the experiences of German immigrants in America, my great-grandfather is one of these men 3) a glimpse into the XI Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg 4) the Jewish experience during the war, this is one of only two regiments that had a Jewish company. All of the above makes for an interesting and varied enjoyable read.