Indiana's and Kentucky's German-Americans in the Civil War
By Joseph R. Reinhart
Author of A History of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S.:
The Boys Who Feared No Noise
Copyrighted March 2000
Where They Lived
More than 1.3 million Germans were living in the United States at the start of the Civil War, and they comprised almost 5 percent of its white population and about 4 percent of its total population of 31.2 million. The large majority of these German immigrants arrived in the U. S. between 1848 and 1860, and came mainly from the western and southwestern areas of Germany. An estimated 4,000 to 10,000 of these German immigrants had participated in the failed German Revolution of 1848 and/or uprisings in 1849, and fled their homelands to escape retribution. These political exiles, known as Forty-Eighters, caused quite a stir in the U.S. because of their highly vocal agitation for changes in American institutions and practices, and their anticlerical sentiments.
In 1860, more than four out of five Germans in the United States were living in the Free States, and two out of three were concentrated in just five states – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. The border states, consisting of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, contained about 15 percent of the country’s Germans, and the Slave States in the South contained a little over 5 percent. Germans overwhelmingly chose to live in the Free States because they did not have to compete with slave labor, and the Free States were more industrialized, offering better economic opportunities. Germans also disliked the institution of slavery because it was akin to the serf system they detested in their homelands.
Indiana’s total population in 1860 numbered 1,350,000. Its German-born population in 1860 totaled approximately 67,000 and ranked seventh among all states, but was small compared to that of its neighbors Ohio and Illinois. Ohio contained 168,000 Germans and Illinois had 131,000. Eighteen-sixty U. S. Census data show that Germans comprised one half of Indiana’s foreign-born population and, except for Marion County in the center of the state, the heaviest concentrations of Germans were in the southern part of the state, and certain counties in the northern part. Vanderburgh County, whose southern border touches the Ohio River, led all Indiana counties with 6,100 Germans. Allen County in the northeast was second, with 4,200 Germans, and Marion County was third with 3,900 Germans. Dearborn County in the southeast ranked fourth with 3,700 Germans, and LaPorte County in the northwest, was fifth, with 2,900 Germans. The ten Indiana counties bordering the Ohio River contained a full 25 percent of Indiana’s Germans. Clearly, the Hoosier State’s Germans tended to settle in river towns and near urban railroad centers."
Kentucky, being a Slave State, attracted fewer Germans than if it had been a Free State, and its German-born population of 27,000 was only 40 percent of Indiana’s. One of the main reasons for German settlement in Kentucky was the development of manufacturing interests along its Ohio River border, principally in Louisville, Covington and Newport, and to certain settlements of agriculturalist Germans in counties along the northern border of the state. The relatively small number of slaves in counties along Kentucky’s northern border was another reason Germans moved into this part of the Bluegrass State. While slaves accounted for about 20 percent of Kentucky’s total population of 1,150,000 in 1860, they aggregated less than 8 percent of Louisville’s population and less than 2 percent of Covington’s and Newport’s. It is noteworthy that approximately 50 percent of Kentucky’s native-Germans lived in Louisville, and the cities of Covington and Newport (combined) contained almost 20 percent of the Bluegrass State’s German population.
Religious and Political Differences
Germans brought their institutions and customs to America with them, but were not of one mind in some significant areas. Religion was a factor dividing Germans, about half of whom were Roman Catholics and half were Protestants. German Protestants principally belonged to Lutheran, Evangelical or Reformed churches, and the enmity between Protestants and Catholics spawned during the Reformation did not disappear when the immigrants arrived in America.
The vociferous and radical Forty-Eighters also caused division within the German element, and also drew the ire of old stock Americans. The Forty-Eighters were mostly atheists and harshly criticized all organized religions and clerics – especially Roman Catholics. They also spoke out scornfully against English-speaking Protestant churches which supported temperance and puritanical Sabbath laws, believing these laws restricted personal freedom. Moreover, these so-called freethinkers were strong abolitionists who agitated for an end to slavery through public speeches and the many German-language newspapers they controlled. Earlier German immigrants differed sharply from the Forty-Eighters and were subjected to strong criticism by these radicals for their religious beliefs, attachment to churches, and lack of high culture.
Prior to the mid-1850’s, most German immigrants became loyal members of the Democratic Party. Democrats welcomed foreigners into the party, spoke out for their political rights, and opposed strict temperance and Sabbath laws. The fact that the Irish immigrants were solidly Roman Catholic, and more than half of the Germans were Roman Catholics, disturbed many Protestant Anglo-Saxon Americans, who believed these foreigners would disturb the American experiment. They believed Catholics were subservient to a foreign prince — the Pope — and feared his influence in politics and education. They also held prejudices against non-Catholic foreigners, which the radical German Forty-Eighters helped exacerbate.
During the mid-1850’s, as immigrants continued to flow into the country, nativist sentiment grew, and the American Party, whose members were called Know Nothings because of the secrecy surrounding the party, spread to Indiana and Kentucky. Principal aims of this nativist party included severely restricting the rights of Catholics and foreigners to vote and hold office. After the national Whig Party broke up in 1852 over the slavery issue, many Whigs moved into the American Party. Anti-Catholic and anti-foreigner sentiments reached the boiling point in 1854 and 1855, and sometimes led to violence and bloodshed, such as in Louisville’s Bloody Monday election riots on August 6, 1855. By the late 1850’s, the Know Nothing Party was effectively dead, because the slavery issue mushroomed in importance and immigration had declined.
Opposition to the expansion of slavery led to the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, and by 1856 it had grown to the point of running John C. Fremont as its candidate for president. The Republican Party attracted Free Soil Democrats, Whigs, Know-Nothings, and temperance and Sabbath law supporters. All but a few Forty-Eighters enthusiastically supported this new party because of its strong opposition to the expansion of slavery, and the party’s radical element’s desire for abolition. The Forty-Eighters used their newspapers, and frequent meetings and speeches, to draw Germans into the Republican Party. Carl Schurz and other prominent German-born Republicans were brought into Indiana in 1860 to speak in towns with large German populations, and were successful in convincing a significant number of Germans to vote Republican in the 1860 state and presidential elections. However, they did not win over the majority of Germans. Catholics comprised over one half of Indiana’s Germans, and they remained almost solidly Democratic. Catholics opposed the expansion of slavery, but would not support the Republican Party in Indiana or nationally, because it was composed of so many former Know-Nothings and Catholic haters. Conservative Lutherans were also less likely to place the slavery issue above all others in casting their votes. German Protestants, who were strongly anti-slavery, skilled craft workers, and not influenced by conservative Protestant clergy, appear to be the main source of German Republican votes in 1860. Although the Republicans won the 1860 elections in Indiana, they did not win the majority of the German vote.
Republicans found scant support in Kentucky in 1860. There was no Republican Party in the Bluegrass State, and Lincoln received less than one percent of all votes cast. In Louisville, where half of Kentucky’s Germans were located, Lincoln received only 91 votes out of 7,401 cast. Most of Kentucky’s votes went to John Bell of Tennessee, the Constitutional Union Party’s candidate, who favored compromise over the slavery issue, and to Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. Except for the Forty-Eighters, most of Kentucky’s Germans probably supported Douglas, because Bell and many of his supporters were nativists.
German-Americans rally around the flag
Abraham Lincoln’s election as president of the United States in November 1860, triggered the secession of South Carolina and six other southern states, and war broke out when South Carolina guns began bombarding Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861. Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen to suppress the rebellion, and four more southern states seceded from the Union.
Indiana’s men were quick to respond to the President’s call, and more Hoosiers volunteered than the state’s quota of 4,700soldiers. By the end of April 1861, six regiments of infantry had been organized for three months service. Among the Germans to respond to the call were all the unmarried members of the Turnverein or Turner’s Club in Indianapolis. America’s Turners’ Clubs were gymnastic organizations, stronglysupported by Forty-Eighters, and the Turner Hall in Indianapolis was a well-known center for abolitionist activities.
After the Turners returned from their three-month enlistments, a number of them met with prominent German-American citizens to press for the establishment of an all-German regiment. Indiana’s Governor, Oliver P. Morton, approved its organization, and before the end of August 1861, the 32nd Indiana Regiment or 1st German Regiment, as it was sometimes called, had mustered into service – about 900 strong . Its ten companies were formed by Turner’s organizations from all over Indiana, including Aurora, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, LaFayette, Lawrenceburg, Madison, and Terre Haute. Turners from Cincinnati, who were in excess of the number needed to fill the Ninth Ohio all-German regiment, were also represented, as well as some from Louisville, Kentucky. August Willich, a well respected Forty-Eighter from Cincinnati, who was an officer in the Ninth Ohio, was selected by Governor Morton to be the 32nd Indiana’s colonel. Henry Von Tebra, from Illinois, who had prior military experience, was named Lieutenant Colonel.
Germans from Evansville formed two batteries of artillery, which were mustered into Federal service about the same time as the32nd Indiana. The 1st Independent Battery Light Artillery was commanded by Capt. Martin Klauss, and grew from a small prewar military organization of about fifty men, originally called the Steuben Artillery. Klauss’s battery mustered in with about 130 men and contained six guns. The all-German 6th Independent Battery Light Artillery was led by Capt. Frederick [Friedrich] Behr, and also contained about 130 men and six guns.
An effort was made to form a second all-German infantry regiment, but not enough volunteers were obtained to complete it. The fact that a second all-German infantry regiment could not be organized was not for the lack of German-born men willing to defend their new country. In fact, just the opposite was true. Approximately 7,000 Germans from Indiana took up arms for the North during the war. [Indiana furnished about 197,000 troops in total.] Like their fellow Germans in other loyal states, most Indiana Germans served in mixed regiments or mixed batteries with native-born Americans and other nationalities. Of the approximately 200,000 Germans who served the Union, only about 36,000 served in all-German units.
A review of some local histories and scanning through the Report of Indiana’s Adjutant General for the Civil War revealed some regiments, which appeared to have one or two all-German companies, based on the names of the men. Company E of the 14th Indiana from Vanderburgh County; Company A of the 23rd Indiana from Floyd County; Company H of the 48th Indiana from Elkhart County; and Companies A and G of the 60thIndiana from Perry, Marion and Vanderburgh counties, appeared to contain only German names in the groups originally mustered in. It’s evident, however, that the majority of the Hoosier State’s Germans served in mixed companies, in mixed regiments or batteries, and many preferred it that way.
The situation in Kentucky was quite different from that in Indiana. Kentucky was a slave state, and had strong ties to both warring sections of the country. Kentuckians were divided over the issues that led to the war. Most wanted to remain in the Union, but they also did not want to go to war with the South. Kentucky had a pro-Southern Governor in 1861, and he refused to furnish troops pursuant to President Lincoln’s call for 75, 000 militiamen in April 1861. Kentucky adopted a policy of neutrality in May 1861, but by September, Union men were in control of the State’s General Assembly, and the state declared for the Union and called for 41,500 volunteers to eject Confederate forces from the state.
During Kentucky’s period of neutrality, Kentuckians crossed the Ohio River to enroll in Union regiments. One Union camp, Camp Joe Holt, was located opposite Louisville, near Jeffersonville, Indiana, and the other, Camp Clay, was opposite Newport, near Cincinnati, Ohio. Hundreds of Germans from Louisville, enrolled at Camp Joe Holt, in July 1861, and Germans from Kentucky also enrolled at Camp Clay in Ohio. Once Kentucky ended its neutrality, a flurry of recruiting activity commenced within Kentucky’s borders.
William Elwang, a Turner and probably a Forty-Eighter, and Michael Billing, both of whom lived in Louisville, received authorization from General Robert Anderson, around October 10, 1861, to form the First German Kentucky Regiment. However, the relatively small pool of military-age Germans in Louisville and in Kentucky, combined with stiff competition from recruiters for other units being formed in Kentucky, resulted in only three companies being raised for the First German Kentucky Regiment. And it was forced to consolidate with two other incomplete organizations, and form the Sixth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment. One of the organizations consolidated included a German company previously mustered in at Camp Joe Holt, so four of this new regiment’s ten companies comprised Germans. This represented the largest number of Germans in any single Kentucky regiment. Most of the Sixth Kentucky’s Germans were from Louisville, but there were a few from Southern Indiana in the regiment. Many of the Germans in these four companies could not speak English, so commands were given in German. However, the company officers had to have skills in English to communicate with the regiment’s headquarters and the other officers in the regiment.
The second largest contingent of Germans in a Kentucky regiment belonged to the 4th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The 4th Kentucky Cavalry contained three German companies, and Jacob Ruckstahl held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in this regiment. The 2nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment had two German companies, and the 5th, 15th and 22nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiments each had one German company. Other Germans in Kentucky regiments were in mixed companies. More than 1, 940 Germans were estimated to have served in Kentucky Volunteer units.
Why They Volunteered and How They Were Recruited
Germans came to America seeking a better life than they could achieve in their old lands, so, what induced so many of them to risk their lives fighting in America’s Civil War? Patriotism is the answer for most. Their adopted country was threatened and they felt it was their duty to help defend it. Gustavus Paulus and Gottlob Schaubell appealed to their fellow Germans in Elkhart County, Indiana, to enlist in a company of sharpshooters for the 48th Indiana Regiment with the call: " Germans! fellow American citizens! We make this appeal to you on behalf of our adopted country, which has treated us so generously in the past and calls upon us for our aid in this hour of peril. More than fifty thousand of our German brothers are already in the armies of the Republic; let us join them in the field and share the glory which they are sure to win." Germans also supported the Union because they had seenthe terrible results of disunion among the German states, and did not want the United States divided. And, some joined the army later in the war to get bounty or signing bonuses that ranged from one hundred to several hundred dollars, or to avoid the stigma of being drafted.
Forty-Eighters and Turners, of course, rushed to volunteer in what they saw as a holy war against despotism and slavery. This was the Forty-Eighters’ second fight for freedom and they enthusiastically entered it. In Louisville, Indianapolis and other places, so many Turners joined the Union army that their clubs’ activities had to be suspended until after the war.
Recruiters for the First German Kentucky Regiment employed the usual appeal that the country was in danger and patriotic men must hurry and take up arms to defend the Union. However, they also stressed ethnic pride and advantages of serving in an all-German regiment. Recruiters pointed out that when August Willich’s 32nd Indiana marched through Louisville early in October, Germans’ hearts swelled with pride and joy as they watched those courageous men march off to war. An appeal published in the Louisville Anzeiger on October 11 declared: "Whenever and wherever the Germans have participated in the holy war of justice against injustice, they have always proven their innate talent to be exceptional warriors, and become covered with glory when the opportunity presented itself. Certainly Kentucky’s Germans want to have a part in this glory, … and follow their brave rothers and help drive out these thieving hordes." And, at a large recruiting rally at Schwind’s Tavern, Philipp Tomppert, a German-born Unionist who would be elected Louisville’s mayor in 1865, admonished Germans not to remain uninvolved and be shamed by the Germans in the other states.
Recruiters for all-German units also stressed that the men would receive their orders and instructions in their native language. This allowed Germans who lacked skills in English to serve in the army because German was used at the company or regiment level.
A principal reason for the formation of all-German regiments was that it gave Germans visibility that they would not otherwise have if they were in mixed regiments. German regiments demonstrated the Germans’ commitment to fight for freedom, and for their adopted country. Germans could boast proudly when a German regiment performed well, such as the 9th Ohio at the Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky, and the 32nd Indiana at Rowlett’s Station in Kentucky, and at Shiloh and at Missionary Ridge in Tennessee. However, if their performance was poor, or they were in a lost battle, such as at Chancellorsville, in Virginia, they were singled out by nativist and American newspapers and called "Damned Dutch Cowards," and unjustly blamed for the loss. American officers let them take the blame, rather than admit their own failings. The 32nd Indiana proved to be one of the hardest-fighting regiments in the Union army and achieved what its organizers had envisioned. The Sixth Kentucky was acknowledged to be among the finest fighting regiments of its state, and its four German companies could claim their share of the credit.
Not all native-born Americans, and not all Germans, rushed to volunteer to fight in the war. Some felt that the war was caused by the abolitionists, and was being fought mainly for the Negroes, and they declined to take up arms. German Catholics did not participate as heavily as German Protestants, and Forty-Eighters criticized Lutherans for holding back. Other Germans remained loyal to the Democratic Party which opposed the war. Early in the war, the Jasper Courier reported that no recruits were obtained in Ferdinand, Indiana, because the people of that township were in firm belief that freeing the Negro was the principal objective of the war, and they did not desire to volunteer their aid, but would prefer a draft. Other Germans in Dubois County did volunteer, and although the Germans from Ferdinand were slow to volunteer, few sought exemptions from draft calls.
Where They Fought
German—Americans from Indiana fought in both the Eastern and Western theaters of the war; however, most fought west of the Appalachian Mountains. Kentucky’s German-Americans served almost totally in the Western Theater of the war. Let’s take a look at where some of the Indiana and Kentucky regiments I previously mentioned fought.
14th Indiana Regiment Infantry
First, let’s look at the East, where some of Indiana’s units fought in many of the bloodiest battles in that theater of the war. The 14th Indiana, whose Company E consisted mostly of Germans, belonged to the Army of the Potomac and fought its first battle at Kernstown, Virginia, in March 1862; The gallant 14th then fought at Antietam, Maryland, in September 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862, the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July 1863, the battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, in May 1864; the assault on the "bloody angle" at Spottsylvania, Virginia, in May 1864. The survivors of three years of terrible war left the front on June 6, 1864 for muster out. They had lost 150 Killed in battle and 72 from diseases and illnesses during their 3 years of hard service in the Eastern Theater of the War. Thirteen men from the German company lost their lives.
Turning to the West, let’s look at some of the places where Indiana’s and Kentucky’s Germans fought.
Klauss’s 1st Independent Battery
Capt. Martin Klauss’s 1st Independent Light Artillery served in states bordering on the Mississippi River. It initially served inMissouri, and its first battle was at Pea Ridge in Arkansas, on March 7 and 8, 1862. In this Union victory, Klauss’s battery successfully supported three Indiana infantry regiments with effective artillery fire, and brigade commander, Col. Thomas Patterson of the 18th Indiana, reported that Capt. Klauss rendered most efficient service, being unsupported by infantry several times the first day, his battery was in great danger of being cut off by the enemy.
The First Independent Battery also fought well in the critical Vicksburg campaign that resulted in the capture of that important Mississippi River fortress on July 4, 1863. During the Vicksburg campaign, as part of the Army of the Tennessee, Capt. Klauss and his battery saw action at Port Gibson on May 1, 1863, and Champion’s Hill on May 16, 1863, and supported infantry assaults on Vicksburg on May 19 and 22, 1863, as well as taking part in the long siege of Vicksburg until its surrender on July 4.. The Battery’s final battle took place on April 18, 1864, at Sabine Cross Roads in Louisiana during the Union’s unsuccessful Red River campaign. The remainder of the battery’s time was spent campaigning in Louisiana and Alabama. The officers and men of Klauss’s battery mustered out in August, 1865, after almost four years of service. The battery suffered one officer and three enlisted men killed, and 31 enlisted men dead of diseases and illnesses. Total dead 35.
Behr’s 6th Independent Battery
Captain Behr’s all-German Sixth Independent Battery, which was also known as Morton’s Battery in honor of Indiana’s GovernorOliver Morton, also served exclusively in states bordering the Mississippi River. The officers and men of the Sixth Independent Battery received their baptism of fire in Tennessee at the battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. This bloody two-day battle is also known as the battle of Pittsburg Landing, and took place just west of the Tennessee River, about 20 miles north of Corinth, Mississippi. Shiloh was the largest battle of the war to that time and its 25, 000 casualties shocked the populations of both the North and the South.
At Shiloh, on the morning of April 6, 1862, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s encamped Army of West Tennessee, was surprised by 40, 000 Confederates commanded by General Albert Sidney Johnston, and was pushed back close to the Tennessee River in fierce day-long fighting. Capt. Behr’s battery was part of Col. John A. McDowell’s brigade of Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman’s division, which was attacked early on the morning of the 6th. For two hours, the battery defended its position, supported by McDowell’s infantry, then was ordered to move to its left to the Hamburg-Purdy Cross Roads, where General Sherman was trying to establish a new defensive line. Shortly after General Sherman arrived at the crossroads, Capt. Behr was shot from the saddle, mortally wounded. He was shot just after issuing orders to unlimber the guns and come into battery. The battery’s drivers and gunners fled in disorder, carrying off the caissons, but abandoning five guns. The Confederates continued their attack and captured the guns, and Sherman’s infantry retreated to still another line. Many Federal troops had fled the onrushing Confederate hordes that morning, and losing their leader certainly unnerved themen of the 6th Independent Battery. Days later, the 6th Battery was provided with five guns captured from the enemy, and went on to render good service until it was mustered out over three years later. After the battle of Shiloh, the 6th Independent Battery was engaged with the enemy during the advance on and siege of Corinth Mississippi, in May 1862, and participated in the sieges of both Vicksburg, and Jackson, Mississippi, in June and July 1863. The battery was later involved in campaigns and garrison duty in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. On June 10, 1864, the battery lost one man in a battle at Brice’s Creek near Gunstown, Mississippi. The officers and men of the battery were mustered out in July 1865. Capt. Behr and one enlisted man were the only ones killed in battle. Fifteen men died of diseases and illnesses.
Like Indiana’s 1st and 6th Independent Batteries, a large number of Indiana’s infantry regiments also served in the states bordering the Mississippi River. Let us take a look at the infantry regiments mentioned earlier, which had some all-German companies.
The 23rd Infantry Regiment, with a German company from Floyd County, received its baptism of fire on April 7, 1862, during the second day of the battle of Shiloh. It fought in Brig. Gen. Lew Wallace’s division and suffered 43 casualties that day. Like Klauss’s 1st Independent Battery,the 23rd Indiana also fought in the Vicksburg campaign. The 23rd fought at Port Gibson, Raymond, Champion’s Hill and Vicksburg, suffering a total of 170 casualties, including 29 killed in action. At least four of those killed were Germans. After Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, the 23rd Infantry campaigned in Mississippi, then moved to Georgia in 1864 to fight in Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, then took part in Sherman’s famous March to the Sea. During the March to the Sea and Carolinas campaign, the Twenty-third was involved in the siege of Savannah, Georgia, and the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina. During the war, the 23rd had 72 men killed in battle or died of wounds and another 145 died of disease. Fourteen who sacrificed their lives were from the 23rd Regiment’s German company.
As part of the Union’s Army of the Mississippi, the 48th Indiana (with a German company from Goshen in northern Indiana) first met the enemy at the battle of Iuka, Mississippi, on September 19, 1862, and suffered 116 killed, wounded and missing; about two weeks later, the 48th suffered 26 casualties at the battle of Corinth, Mississippi. In 1863, as part of the Army of the Tennessee, the 48th also fought in several battles leading to the capture of Vicksburg, and suffered 82 casualties, including 13 killed. The 48th Infantry also fought in the victory at Missionary Ridge by Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November 1863, and in late 1864 and early 1865, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea and Carolinas campaign. During the war,the 48th Indiana had 88 men killed in battle and died of wounds and 179 died of disease. Eighteen of the dead were from the regiment’s German company.
The 60th Indiana Infantry (including its two German companies), fought in the Union victory at Arkansas Post, Arkansas, in December, 1862, and suffered 70 casualties, including 13 killed in action. The 60th also took part in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863, and fought at Jackson, Mississippi, on July 10, 1863. After the siege of Jackson, Mississippi, the regiment continued to campaign in Southern states adjacent to the Mississippi River for the remainder of its enlistment, including the ill-fated Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864. For the war, it suffered 45 battle–related deaths and 168 dead of diseases. Nineteen men from the 60th’s German companies lost their lives.
The 22nd Kentucky Infantry, whose Company K was composed of Germans from Louisville, began its service in eastern Kentucky, and later moved west, and fought at Chickasaw Bayou and Chickasaw Bluffs in Mississippi in December 1862, was at Arkansas Post, Arkansas, during that battle, and also at Port Gibson, and other previously mentioned battles resulting in the capitulation of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The 22nd Kentucky also campaigned in Louisiana. This Kentucky regiment had 36 men killed in battles or mortally wounded, three men missing in action, and 131 died of diseases and illnesses. Of the regiments total dead of 170, 15 were German’s from Company K.
32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky
Now, let’s look at the all-German 32nd Indiana Infantry, and the 6th Kentucky (which had four German companies). Both these regiments fought principally in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia, as part of the Army of the Ohio and its successor Army of the Cumberland. And, both regiments were among the best fighting units provided to the Union army by their respective states. The 32nd Indiana was also one of the most renowned of all the German regiments.
The 32nd Indiana first gained nationwide attention for its gallant action at Rowlett’s Station near Munfordville, Kentucky, on December 17,1861. Four of its companies commanded by Lt. Col. Von Tebra were attacked by a regiment of cavalry, two infantry regiments and a battery of artillery. The four companies courageously defended themselves until reinforced by other companies of the 32nd, and the fight continued until the enemy hastily retreated. Fighting as skirmishers, one company formed a square when charged by the cavalry, sometimes even defending themselves singly and killing their assailants with the bayonet. The 32nd Indiana lost 10 men killed and suffered 22 wounded. Enemy losses were believed to be even greater. General Buell, commander of the Union’s Army of the Ohio, issued an order thanking the officers and men of the 32nd Indiana for their “gallant and efficient conduct.” and pointed to the regiment as an example of excellent training and discipline, which his other troops should try to emulate.
Both the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in early 1862, and were part of General Don Carlos Buell’s army which arrived in time to fight in the second day’s battle at Shiloh. During an attack, the 32nd’s line began to waver as enemy bullets tore into it. Colonel August Willich rode in front of his regiment and put them through the manual of arms drill, while more of his men fell to enemy fire. This amazing act steadied his Germans, who went on to aggressively take the battle to the enemy in this important Union victory. The 32nd Indiana was part of General Rousseau’s division at Shiloh and suffered 96 killed and wounded there.
As part of General Nelson’s division, during the forenoon on April 7, the 6th Kentucky and its brigade, made a bold charge and had the enemy on the run through the Davis wheat field, until Rebel reserves entered the battle. The 6th was caught in a deadly crossfire of musketry and artillery, and suffered most of its 103 casualties at this time. The two regiments then participated in the advance to, and siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in May 1862. After spending time in northeastern Mississippi and northern Alabama, the Army of the Ohio moved to Middle Tennessee, and then marched to Louisville to prevent an invading Confederate army from capturing the city. The 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky did not fight in the battle at Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8, 1862. However, the 6th Kentucky and its brigade were in the forefront of the Federal force pursuing the retreating Confederates. This pursuit passed through and over some of the roughest and wildest country in southeastern Kentucky, and finally ended at London, Kentucky. Pvt. Lorenz Vogel, a German from Louisville, was the only member of the 6th Kentucky killed during the constant skirmishing that took place with the enemy’s rearguard.
The Army of the Ohio re-organized after the battle of Perryville, and its name changed to the Army of the Cumberland. This Army’s next battle was fought near the Stones River, by Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville. The casualty lists exceeded those at Shiloh. The Federal army’s right and center were rolled back by the Confederates on December 31, 1862; however, the left held, and prevented a Confederate rout of the Union army. The 32nd Indiana was on the Federal right and suffered 167 casualties, including 115 captured. General Willich, who now commanded the brigade to which the 32nd Indiana belonged, was also captured. Willich and most of the others taken prisoner were later exchanged for captured Confederates, and returned to duty. The 6th Kentucky and its brigade fought stubbornly on the Union left, and held their position all day, contributing to the ultimate Union victory. The 6th Kentucky incurred 113 casualties, including 24 killed and mortally wounded. Its German companies were especially hard hit fighting at the edge of the woods known as “the Cedars”. After running out of ammunition, the 6th Kentucky joined its brigade in the Round Forest, and fought from there until the day’s bloodshed ended. The Federals repulsed a ferocious attack on January 2, 1864, and the Confederates left the battlefield. Total Union casualties between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863, were 13,000 and Confederate casualties were 10,000
The Army of the Cumberland remained in and around Murfreesboro until late June 1863, and then embarked on the Tullahoma campaign. The 32nd Indiana suffered 15 killed and mortally wounded on June 25,1863, during a hot fight at Liberty Gap, Tennessee. The 6th Kentucky was in the army’s left wing, and rain, mud, and swollen rivers prevented it from engaging the enemy, before they retreated out of Middle Tennessee into northern Georgia.
The Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee next collided near Chickamauga Creek in Georgia on September 19 and 20, 1863, in another great American slaughter. The 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky both fought courageously in this bloody battle; however, a Federal error on the second day of the battle, allowed the Confederates to break through the Union line, and the federal army was forced to retreat back to Chattanooga and fortify the city. The 32nd Indiana suffered 121 casualties, and the 6th Kentucky suffered 118 casualties. Federal casualties totaled almost 16,000, and Confederate casualties totaled almost 18,000.
The Confederate army lay siege to Chattanooga by occupying the west bank of the Tennessee River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the Federals suffered greatly from lack of food and supplies.
While at Chattanooga, the Army of the Cumberland was reorganized and the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky were both placed in the same division under Kentucky-native Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood. Brig. Gen. August Willich, former colonel of the 32nd Indiana, commanded the Third Brigade of General Wood’s division, which included the 32nd Indiana. The 6th Kentucky remained in General Hazen’s Second Brigade, which was strengthened by the addition of six small battle-reduced regiments. After the reorganization, Hazen’s brigade contained about 2,500 men. One of the regiments added was the 5th Kentucky Infantry, also known as the Louisville Legion. The Louisville Legion contained a German company that enlisted at Camp Joe Holt back in July 1861, plus Germans in mixed companies. Pvt. Gottfried Rentschler of the 6th Kentucky, estimated in March 1864 that General Hazen’s brigade of nine regiments contained about 600 Germans.
The 6th Kentucky and its brigade helped open a supply line from Bridgeport, Alabama, through a daring raid on October 27 1863, at Brown’s Ferry, west of Chattanooga. Half of Hazen’s brigade traveled to the Ferry in pontoon boats under the cover of darkness and assaulted the Confederates defending the Ferry. The other half of the brigade was transported across the Tennessee River in the pontoon boats used by the original assault force. The enemy was driven away from the area, and reinforcements transferred from the Army of the Potomac moved from Bridgeport, Alabama, to Brown’s Ferry, opening the critical line of supply. The aforementioned reinforcements included several all-German regiments from the East. On November 25, 1863, Willich’s and Hazen’s brigades attacked Confederate regiments posted at and adjacent to Orchard Knob, seizing their fortifications located east of Chattanooga and about halfway between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. Two days later, the Army of the Cumberland, over 22,000 troops strong, stormed Missionary Ridge and drove the Confederates from their fortifications. The soldiers only had orders to seize the enemy rifle pits at the base of the ridge; however, being under a murderous fire from above, the men took it upon themselves to storm up the ridge, and drive off the enemy, and won one of the most stunning Union victories of the war.
Several regiments, including the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky, which stormed the hill almost side-by-side, have been credited with being the first to reach the crest of the ridge; however, no one knows for sure who was actually first. The 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky, along with the rest of their division spent December 1863 through April 1864 marching around in East Tennessee looking for a large Confederate force thought to be in the area, but they fought no significant battles. Mostly they suffered from cold and hunger, and were elated when spring arrived.
In May 3, 1864, most of the remaining original members of the 32nd Indiana and the 6th Kentucky began their last campaign of the War. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign — sometimes called “the 100 days under fire,” because of continuous contact with the enemy. Still serving in General Wood’s division, the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky fought at Resaca, Georgia, on May 14-15, Pickett’s Mill, on May 27, and Kennesaw Mountain, in late June. The 6th Kentucky was also engaged at Rocky Face Ridge near Tunnel Hill, Georgia, very early in the campaign. General Willich was severely wounded during the battle of Resaca, and was never able to return to command of his brigade. Both regiments also were engaged in the siege of Atlanta, which began on July 23, 1864. Because of expiring enlistments, both regiments were sent back to Tennessee before Atlanta fell on September 2, 1864. The 32nd Indiana suffered 42 killed and an unknown number of wounded during this campaign, and the 6th Kentucky suffered 21 killed and mortally wounded, and 37 wounded or missing. Both regiments paid heavy prices defending the Union. The dead list of the 32nd Indiana contained 171 names of men killed or mortally wounded, plus 96 who died of diseases. Total 267. The 6th Kentucky had 97 battle-related deaths, and 82 men died of diseases, illnesses and other causes. Total 179. Forty-one of the regiment’s Germans died from combat and 36 died from diseases and other causes for a grand total of 77.
In addition to fighting the enemy, the elements, and diseases, German soldiers had to deal with prejudices in their own army. A young Kentucky farmer in the 6th Kentucky wrote in a letter that when the German companies and native Kentucky companies combined at Camp Sigel in Louisville in November 1861, that the Germans and Americans could not understand one another and were suspicious of one another. He thought they out to be separate. Another Kentuckian wrote that the men in his company rejoiced when a Germanic Major resigned because he and his friends did not want to take orders from a foreigner.
Pvt. Gottfried Rentschler, a native of Wuerttmberg penned that: If a full company is needed for some easy service, e.g., Provost-Guard, a German company is never taken. If an entire company is required for rough service, e.g., several days or several weeks as Train-Guard, a German company will be ordered whenever possible. As this happens on a company basis, so it happens to individuals in the mixed companies. As a rule, the German has to wade through the mud, while the American walks on the dry road. The German is a “Dutch soldier” and as a “Dutchman” he is, if not despised, is disrespected, and not regarded or treated as an equal.
I had a discussion once with a party of abolitionist officers about the employment of Negroes as soldiers and uttered my disapproval. Their main argument against me, was that the Germans had no business to bear arms and become soldiers, because they value the country so little just like the Negro. A colonel once said that he could not understand why so many Germans volunteer so readily for the army, after all, as foreigners they could not be interested in it. This opinion is mainly represented by Americans from the North.
I have already heard many crude jokes made about one of the best known generals of the Union, not because he is not up to his high position, every Know-Nothing will argue the opposite, but rather because he is a German. When I say this lack of respect for the Germans comes mainly from the Free States’ Americans, let me state at the same time also the fact, that the Free States’ Americans give the Negro, wherever they come in contact with him, much worse treatment than those who belong to the Slave States. In my brigade there are 5 Ohio, 1 Indiana, and 3 Kentucky Regiments. The Kentuckians treat the Negro more humanely, the others treat him like a dog. The former call him Negro, the latter call him Nigger,
Gottfried‘s statements about anti-German prejudices and mistreatment of Germans generally ring true, and it is not surprising considering the wide-spread nativism which began in the 1850s. It is somewhat ironic that abolitionist soldiers from the Free States also detested the foreign-born men who were sacrificing so much fighting on their side in the war. That native Kentuckians in the 6th Kentucky displayed less prejudice toward their fellow soldiers of German nativity might be attributed to the large number of Germans in the 6th, whom they relied on in battle. While Gottfried may have observed Union-loyal Kentuckians treating Negroes better than the Free States Americans did, his assertion that Bluegrass Staters did not call them Niggers is untrue. This derogatory term was in common use by Kentuckians and Rentschler sometimes used it himself. While tolerating prejudicial acts directed at them by native Americans and other ethnic groups, Germans had some prejudices of their own. They felt that they were products of a superior culture and were better soldiers than anyone else. Gottfried Rentschler demonstrated this when he wrote:
Let me return to the German soldiers, and state another fact, i.e., that the German soldier is generally far, more faithful, conscientious and zealous than the native-born American. This is part of the German nature, which is our reason to be proud of our nation. One more thing: The German soldier is obedient and loyal to duty without regard to reward or punishment. The American generally considers, only reward, or – The Guard-House. This is caused by the national education on either side, in the broadest sense of the word. Because of the situation as mentioned, you may possibly draw the conclusion that the mixing of Germans and Americans in the Army may be beneficial to both parties, but such conclusion is in error.
William L. Burton points out in his study — Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union’s Ethnic Regiments — that Germans and members of other ethnic groups sometimes interpreted valid criticism and acts based on reasons other than ethnicity, as being unjust and prejudiced. He also states that biases and friction attributed to national origin were often based on political, religious, cultural or other difference between the parties. Regardless of ethnic differences and prejudices, the native Germans in the 6th Kentucky and the vast majority elsewhere in the Federal army fought on for their adopted country, hoping for better times.
Finally, how did German-Americans perform as soldiers? Some were excellent, most were average, and some were poor. Bell Irwin Wily concludes in his excellent study entitled: The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, that “On the whole the contribution of this nationality to the union cause was tremendous…. Their neatness, precision and respect for authority was of infinite aid in molding a mob of individuals into an organized fighting force. What the Teutons lacked in quickness and glamour was more than offset by their patience and steadiness, not to mention the idealistic devotion of many of them to the cause of the Union.”