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Chancellorsville and the Germans

Nativism, Ethnicity, and Civil War Memory

Christian Keller

Publication Year: 2007

Often called Lee's greatest triumph, the battle of Chancellorsville decimated the Union Eleventh Corps, composed of large numbers of German-speaking volunteers. Poorly deployed, the unit was routed by StonewallJackson and became the scapegoat for the Northern defeat, blamed by many on the flightof German immigrant troops. The impact on America's large German community was devastating. But there is much more to the story than that. Drawing for the first time on German-language newspapers, soldiers' letters, memoirs, and regimental records, Christian Keller reconstructs the battle and its aftermath from the German-American perspective, military and civilian. He offers a fascinating window into a misunderstood past, one where the German soldiers' valor has been either minimized or dismissed as cowardly. He critically analyzes the performance of the German regiments and documents the impact of nativism on Anglo-American and German-American reactions-and on German self-perceptions as patriots and Americans. For German-Americans, the ghost of Chancellorsville lingered long, and Keller traces its effects not only on ethnic identity, but also on the dynamics of inclusion andassimilation in American life.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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Title Page

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List of Maps

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

In a project of this size, spanning several years, it is difficult to recognize all the people who helped make it possible. The generous advice, support, professional courtesy, and prompt service that so many individuals provided during the course of researching and writing this book is staggering. If I have inadvertently forgotten someone, the negligence is a result...

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pp. 1-9

General after Union general appeared before the stern-faced and forthright politicians comprising the powerful Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and nervously took their seat, not knowing if they would suddenly find their careers at an end. These were some of the most important men in the Federal army: Sickles, Pleasonton, Birney, Warren...

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1. German Americans, Know Nothings, and the Outbreak of the War

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pp. 10-23

The most significant reason Chancellorsville later became so important for German Americans had to do with a pre–Civil War sociopolitical movement called the ‘‘Know Nothing’’ or ‘‘American’’ Party. This nativistic, anti-immigrant group of Anglo Americans strove to curtail immigrant voting rights, attacked immigrant religion...

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2. Before Chancellorsville: Sigel, Blenker, and the Reinforcement of German Ethnicity in the Union Army, 1861–1862

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pp. 24-45

Although Civil War soldiers everywhere collectively shared many things—the drudgery of drill, sickness, hunger, the terror of battle, and a yearning for loved ones at home—ethnicity undoubtedly influenced the experiences of German American soldiers in the eastern ethnic regiments and inspired in them different reactions and...

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3. The Battle of Chancellorsville and the German Regiments of the Eleventh Corps

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pp. 46-75

In the months prior to Major General Joseph Hooker’s spring campaign of 1863, the veteran German American regiments of the newly formed Eleventh Corps moved from their encampments at Fairfax to winter quarters at Stafford Court House, north of Fredericksburg. Arriving at the scene of battle too late to have taken part in Ambrose...

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4. ‘‘Retreating and Cowardly Poltroons’’: The Anglo American Reaction

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pp. 76-91

Just as the German soldiers in the Eleventh Corps began to recover from the shock of their losses and attempted to reorganize their shattered regiments in the days after the battle, they were attacked again, this time by their own comrades in the Army of the Potomac. Non-Germans in the Eleventh Corps itself railed against the ‘‘damn Dutch,’’ but...

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5. ‘‘All We Ask Is Justice’’: The Germans Respond [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 92-122

Three realizations quickly dawned on the German Americans of the Eleventh Corps even before the battle of Chancellorsville had concluded. The first was disbelief at what had just befallen them. For a day or two most soldiers still suffered from a state of shock, unsure just how they, as a corps, had been overwhelmed, and how as individuals...

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6. Nativism and German Ethnicity after Chancellorsville

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pp. 123-145

The aftermath of Chancellorsville confirmed for most northern Germans that the hated nativism of the 1850s had returned. In the last two years of the war, the residue of the battle lingered long, especially among German soldiers and civilians from the eastern states. The Eleventh Corps was split up in the fall of 1863, one division headed...

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7. Chancellorsville and the Civil War in German American Memory

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pp. 146-167

In the November 1883 issue of the Deutsche Pionier, a Cincinnati-based historical, news, and literary journal for German Americans, an article appeared entitled, ‘‘The Assimilation of the Germans.’’ Its main theme questioned the need for Germans to quickly Americanize. About half-way through, the author, ‘‘J. G.,’’ included...


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pp. 169-196


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pp. 197-214


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pp. 215-222

Other Books in The North’s Civil War Series

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823247547
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823226504
Print-ISBN-10: 0823226506

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 647876370
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chancellorsville and the Germans

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Subject Headings

  • Chancellorsville, Battle of, Chancellorsville, Va., 1863.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, German American.
  • United States. Army of the Potomac. Corps, 11th.
  • Nativistic movements -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • German American soldiers -- History -- 19th century.
  • German Americans -- History -- 19th century.
  • German Americans -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
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