Friday, December 5, 2008

German immigrants

Ever since the Mennonites of Pennsylvania became the first people in American to protest slavery in the 1600s, German immigrants have committed themselves to serving the United States, in both peace and war.

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.


cenantua said...


"Take the Dutch out of the Union Army and we will easily whip the Yankees."

Are we sure that Lee actually said this? Can you provide the primary source and the context in which the statement may have been made?

Also, while more "newly arrived" Germans may have been found more dominant in the ranks of the Union army, there were a substantial number of people of German descent in the Confederate army.

- Robert

Justin said...

Hi Robert,

The quote is taken from an article in the November 06 "German American Journal" (printed by the German American National Congress, DANK, a German-American heritage group). I cannot recall whether or not the article cited the original reference. I looked through my desk for the paper but did not find it. If I come across it I will send you a note. Is the quote apocryphal?

In case your wondering how I could have misplaced it so quickly after posting it, the post is actually over a year old and sitting on my other blog. I just recently copied it over. Thanks for reading!

cenantua said...

Hi David,

It just doesn't sound like something Lee would have said. It sounds more like it was created in later years to place emphasis on Germans as a formidable enemy. I just have a hunch on this one. However, if a good solid source for the statement can be had, I'd be curious of the context in which it was said.

I have great appreciation for context, and even more for a quote when I know the context in which the quote originated.

Justin said...

I'll certainly keep looking for the article. Thanks again for the comments.

I wanted to post something about the Germans (I had some German ancestors that lived in Ohio during the War). Had I a more complete passage, I certainly would've included it. Not only would it give us the necessary context but might have told us more about the Germans and/or Dutch that were involved.

It just doesn't sound like something Lee would have said.

That's what i enjoy about historians- the ability to become so familiar with the character and style of historical figures.

If the Force is with me, maybe one day...

cenantua said...

Ohio... during the war? Do, did they "partake" in the fighting?

About half of my Confederate ancestors were of German descent, having been in the Shenandoah Valley, on average, since the mid to late 1700s. The other half were a mix of English, Welsh, Swiss, and (perhaps the fewest from the family) Scots-Irish descent.

The majority of my relatives who were of Scots-Irish descent wore Union blue; but there were those of English and German descent in blue as well.

Justin said...

we had one or two Ohio ancestors in the war, but its been difficult getting information on that side of the family. The Southern side of the family usually had at least one person active in the DAR and UDC at a time so we had a good start for research.

BTW, i just thought of something. Speaking of VA mountain family, do you have the book "Peaks of Otter: Life and Times" by Peter Viemeister? Its a nice, well done tribute to the region. Anyhow, my great grandmother is interviewed on p135.

cenantua said...

If you don't mind, give me their names (your Ohio family members), if you know them, along with the names of their wives. I'll do a quick look-up.

I'm not aware of the book you mention. A little but further South of my interests in the "Great Valley of Virginia." Yet, I'm familiar with many names from that area, having written about a number of units from the Lynchburg & Bedford area.

It's good to find a book in which an ancestor's memories are revealed in an interview. One of my 3rd great grandmothers was interviewed in 1903 for a book about the McKinney family (Cumberland Co., Pa., Berkeley Co., WV, and Jefferson Co., WV.). She actually showed the interviewee the original officer's commission for her grandfather, who was commissioned as a major in the infantry sometime before the 19th century opened. It was signed by John Adams. Would love to know what happened to the document because I have never seen it! - Robert