A German Hurrah! Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
A German Hurrah! Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio Infantry. Edited by Joseph R. Reinhart. (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2010. Pp. xiv, 370. $59.00 cloth) [End Page 278]

Much has been written about the contributions of the Irish to the Union and Confederate armies, and in recent years research on African-American involvement in the conflict has begun to receive long-overdue attention among historians. Yet, serious research on the role of German-Americans, the largest ethnic group participating in the Civil War, has remained a largely unexplored field. One writer addressing this void in the literature is Joseph R. Reinhart, the author of three books focusing on German regimental-sized units and the correspondence of individual soldiers. His fourth work, A German Hurrah!, continues this approach by telling the story of the German Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry through the letters of two of its members, Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, which he translates for the first time and edits. Their experience is illuminated through their published letters that appeared during the war in the Cincinnati Volksfreund and the Louisville Anzeiger. The Ninth Ohio served for thirty-six months, being mustered in during June 1861 and mustering out in June 1864. The letters contained in the book unfortunately cover only the period between June 1861 and August 1862.

The Ninth Ohio was recruited primarily in the Cincinnati area from among men born in Germany, supplemented with a number of second-generation German-Americans and a smattering of others. Because of its composition, it was closely identified with the liberal "Forty-Eighters," although many of the soldiers sympathized with the more conservative Democratic Party. The experience of the Ninth Ohio began in the mountains of West Virginia in the summer of 1861, including the battle of Rich Mountain, a campaign that has been studied relatively little when compared to other wartime operations. Aside from its ethnic focus, this is one of the reasons why the book is of value to historians—as a source for information on less-studied military operations. Following its service in West Virginia, the unit was transferred to the Army of the Ohio, and then to the Army of the Cumberland. With these armies it served at Mill Springs, Perryville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and in the Corinth and Tullahoma [End Page 279] campaigns. Much like its service in West Virginia, the recollections of its protagonists on the little-known engagement at Mill Springs or the less-studied Corinth and Tullahoma campaigns provides valuable firsthand accounts.

Aside from the military aspects of the story, Bertsch and Stängel are shown to be soldiers proud of their German heritage. The excellent introduction places the work in the context of antebellum German immigration, nativism, and the context of the times, all of which provide a solid foundation for the following chapters. What emerges from the letters and descriptions of the central characters is a very human portrait of the hardships, feelings, beliefs, and hopes of the common German soldier during the war. Bertsch and Stängel do not shrink from criticism of various politicians, military strategies, or their treatment by government officials or their fellow soldiers.

The content of the book is greatly enhanced by Reinhart's meticulous editing. A wealth of endnotes provides not only documentation from the collections of a wide array of libraries and archives but also provides additional valuable information on the people and events mentioned in the text, the context of the events, and German culture in America. The work is exceptionally well documented, for which researchers will be much indebted. This is, in many respects, a valuable contribution to ethnic and Civil War literature.

James S. Pula

James S. Pula teaches history at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is the author of several works on immigrants in the Civil War and is currently researching a history of the Eleventh Corps, made up in part of German immigrants.

...


pdf