During the War Between the States, many Union Army officers were German exiles who had fled their homeland in the 1840s after a failed revolution. Their reform movement in Germany sought to take political power away from the aristocracy and put it into the hands of a voting public. The revolution failed after a short time. When a democracy could not be realized at home many Germans looked toward the United States.
When Robert E. Lee said, “Take the Dutch out of the Union Army and we will easily whip the Yankees” he was actually referring to the Germans.
The Teutonic immigrants who settled in the Northeast called themselves “Deutsch”. But to the English speaking locals this sounded like “Dutch” and so Americans have since referred to them and their culture as “Pennsylvania Dutch”. This was a frequent misnomer used by Americans who probably saw little difference between the “Deutsch” from Germany and the true Dutch of the Netherlands.
There weren't near as many Germans in the Confederate forces. But those that did believed that it was wrong for the North, after selling its slaves to the South, to then use slavery to justify the war. A German volunteer from Virginia, Herman Schuricht, wrote of the urgency and feelings of obligation that led them to enlist:
“all the recently immigrated Germans embracing the Confederate cause did so with throbbing hearts, and in most cases only under the pressure of compulsory circumstance.”Professor E. Reichmann writes:
For German-Americans looking back at the War of Independence, the Civil War, and the two World Wars, there is a reoccurring tragic aspect. In all these wars there were Germans fighting on both sides, brother against brother/relative against relative.
- Michael Baxter Shock, “Confederate soldiers: Why did they enlist?” West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly Vol. XIV, No. 4, October, 2000.
- E. Reichmann, German-American Journal, DANK, November 2006.