German Irish African and Native are all American



Paula Chrystine Poling Poling 1
Myths, Memories and Realities of the War Between the States
Dr. Mary Ellen Rowe and Dr. Larry Olpin
December 15, 1999

German, Irish, African and Native are all American

For minorities, as for other Americans, the Civil War was an opportunity to prove their valor and loyalty. Among the first mustered into the Union army were a De Kalb regiment of German American Clerks, the Garibaldi Guards made up of Italian Americans, a Polish Legion, and hundreds of Irish American youths from Boston and New York.
Many people firmly believed, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that immigrants instinctively supported the union, and given the chance, deserted the South and sought their compatriots in Northern regiments (Burton 201).
More than 400,000 European immigrants fought for the Union, including more than 170,000 Germans and more than 150,000 Irish. Many saw their services as a proud sacrifice. William Burton writes in his book Melting Pot Soldiers about John Cochrane, the colonel of a regiment who was of Irish decent. Cochrane recalled
the “native” soldiers in the Union forces as typically a conscript rather than a volunteer, lacking in zeal and fire. Immigrant soldiers, in Cochrane’s recollection, held flaming partisan views, had dash
Poling 2
and spirit, volunteered eagerly, and had real martial ardor (201).
If we follow Cochrane’s description to the letter then all the other Americans were forced to serve their country and not because of their true loyalty and desire. Cochrane’s view is one of prejudice for his own ethnic group and against other American soldiers.
Cynthia H. Enloe, in her pioneering work Ethnic soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies, went astray when she examined the history of immigrants in the North. “State Security Planners” she argued, treated recent immigrants as though they were outside the nation-state political system in the early part of the war, as they did the blacks” (Burton 212). This has been shown to be untrue, as stated earlier, ethnic groups were some of the first to join the war effort. Far from being a threat to state and national security, both the North and the South accepted the different ethnic groups into regular regiments and ethnic regiments where they proved very loyal.
When the first three months were over “more than 500 immediately reenlisted for three years” (Jones 93) and “most of the remainder joined other Irish-American units forming in the city, getting a step or two in rank as experienced soldiers” (Jones 93). Most Irish-Americans were willing to fight wherever they could but also had the desire to be recognized as being Irish-Americans.
Poling 3
Most Germans and Irish who came to America came because they were fleeing from the wars being fought in their own countries. 1848 was a time of Revolution in Germany and the Irish had been involved in resistance to intolerable oppression, preferring exile to tyranny from England. The myth that these immigrants were ragged, ignorant and half starved overlooks the fact that this group also included many able and well-educated men including teachers, writers, surgeons, lawyers and journalists. A great many of these same immigrants were men who fought and died in the American Civil War.
In the beginning of enlistment the African American volunteers were turned away from recruiting stations and told, “This is a white man’s war.” Eventually they were allowed to enlist and both the North and the South had regiments of African American soldiers who fought and died bravely for this country. The myth that this was only a white mans war is portrayed in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem When Dey ‘Listed Colored Soldiers “An’ he couldn’t baih to lingah w’en he had a chanst to fight. For de freedom dey had gin him an’ de glory of de right” (handout). It is likely that the black men felt as strongly about this war as the white man did.
Indians were a part of the Civil War in both Union and Confederate forces. There has been much discovery by our class discussion that the Indians have been almost completely omitted from the history of the Civil War. Once in a while there will be
Poling 4
a lone Indian in a picture, not in a uniform but rather in traditional Indian dress of leather and feathers. Indians up until and