The German Soldier in the American Civil War

“Courageous old Colonel Hecker of the 82nd Illinois Regiment ran up to the front line, and in the middle of that terrible confusion, demanded with fiery words that his soldiers attack with bayonets. Soon afterwards he fell to earth from his horse, seriously wounded . . .”

Colonel Friedrich Hecker was a German-born American who fought on the Union side in 1861 in the American Civil War. In the election of 1860, ethnic Germans “. . were on Abraham Lincoln’s side almost to a man . .” and they were the largest immigrant group on active duty during the war. More than 200,000 native Germans served in the ranks of the Union and Confederate armies. As “foreigners” they were not required to enlist; they were all volunteers.  

William Vocke, author of The German Soldier in the American Civil War, a rare book available for the first time in an English translation, also fought on the Union side. Vocke’s concern, when he gave his account of the conflict in 1895, was to show how loyally and courageously the ethnic Germans had fought. 

To prove his case, Vocke detailed the Germans’ involvement in some of the battles that are burned into American history such as Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and Shiloh. His examples are bolstered by words of praise for the German troops from such legendary figures as Sherman and Thomas. Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood, called one German assault at Missionary Ridge, a “brilliant feat of arms  . . ”. Neither does Vocke ignore the infamous 2nd of May 1863 rout at Chancellorsville which revealed strong anti-German sentiments in the headquarters of the Union Army.

Vocke is also very clear about his admiration for the sacrifices of American-born soldiers alongside whom the Germans were fighting: “As free, self-confident men, burning with enthusiasm for the sacred cause of the Union, they fought with the courage of lions and rushed to their deaths with the same joy in sacrifice shown by the earlier Church martyrs . . .”

Without the “Dutch” as the German soldiers were known, the outcome of many battles might have looked very different indeed.




There are no reviews yet.

Be the first to review “The German Soldier in the American Civil War”