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Germans in the Civil War

The Letters They Wrote Home

Edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich

Publication Year: 2006

German Americans were one of the largest immigrant groups in the Civil War era, and they comprised nearly 10 percent of all Union troops. Yet little attention has been paid to their daily lives--both on the battlefield and on the home front--during the war. This collection of letters, written by German immigrants to friends and family back home, describe the conflict from a distinctly German standpoint, the editors argue, casting doubt on the claim that the Civil War was the great melting pot that eradicated ethnic antagonisms.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Civil War America

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

Map, Table, and Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This edition (like its German-language predecessor) presents an anthology of hitherto unpublished letters written by German immigrants from Civil War America, mostly to relatives and friends back in the Old Country. Selected from the holdings of the North America Letter Collection, ...

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pp. xv-xvi

The present volume would not have been possible without the thorough preparatory work on the Bochum collection of immigrant letters, which was greatly facilitated by five years of essential and generous support from the Volkswagen Foundation. This work, which began in 1979 and intensified after 1984, ...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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Editorial Approach

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pp. xix-xxxiv

Although it may seem unusual in the introduction to a new edition of letters to make repeated references to an older publication, this proves to be the best way to delineate the character of the present volume. With the publication of Briefe aus Amerika and its complete English translation ...

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pp. 1-34

The events of the year 1848 had major ramifications both for the United States in general and for its German American population in particular—consequences that would be especially felt from 1860 to 1865. For the American republic, 1848 saw the successful conclusion of the war with Mexico and ratification of the peace terms. ...


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pp. 35-36

Eastern Theater

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1. Otto Albrecht

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pp. 37-38

Johann Albrecht, a farmer and tavern keeper in the village of Abbenrode (near Harzburg, Duchy of Braunschweig), had eight children, and at least four of them immigrated to the United States. The eldest son, Hermann, had left in 1855, and August and Otto, twins born in 1839, left in the fall of 1860. ...

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2. Private Alexander Dupré, Emile Dupré, and Lottie Dupré

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pp. 38-59

Emile Dupré (1833–66) did not leave Germany due to economic hardship, but the twenty-three-year-old may well have been dissatisfied because of his limited prospects at home: he was a merchant with no capital to start a business of his own. He also grew up in a family that did not regard national borders as insurmountable barriers.1 ...

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3. Wesslau Family

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pp. 59-72

The cabinetmaker Julius Wesslau, the Protestant son of a carpenter in Jüterbog, some fifty miles south of Berlin, emigrated in 1850, at the age of twenty-three. By 1853 he had opened a workshop in New York, and in 1856 he was running it together with his brother Karl, who was three years older. ...

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4. Christoph Barthel, Anna-Katharina Odensaß,and Jacob Odensaß

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pp. 73-76

It was probably the spring of 1847 when Christoph Barthel, a twenty-two-year-old Protestant cabinetmaker, immigrated to the United States, together with his younger brother, Johann Jost Barthel. They do not seem to have left Germany because they faced destitution or grinding poverty but rather because life in America offered hope of improving their economic situation. ...

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5. Augustin Family

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pp. 76-79

The Protestant tailor Albert Augustin (born ca. 1823) emigrated in the spring of 1857 from Mirow in the tiny state of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The fact that he traveled second-class, not steerage, indicates that he was not completely without funds. His wife, Louise, also came from Mirow, and she must have emigrated shortly before or after Albert. ...

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6. Corporal Robert Rossi

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pp. 79-84

Emigrating had been quite a tradition in the Rossi family. Grandfather Guiseppe Rossi, who made optical instruments, left Como, Italy, to move to Stockholm. His son Joseph was the personal physician attending the Swedish royal family, but for reasons that are unclear, he was banished from Sweden in 1810 and then settled in Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg. ...

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7. Private Friedrich Schmalzried

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pp. 84-95

Friedrich Schmalzried, born and baptized a Protestant in 1822, emigrated in the spring of 1849, together with his younger sister Katharina. He settled near Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his brother Conrad had taken up residence one year earlier. Nothing specific is known about their reasons for leaving Germany. ...

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8. First Lieutenant Alphons Richter

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pp. 95-103

The son of a lawyer and Prussian civil servant, Alphons Richter was born in 1836 in Neu-Berun, near Pleß (Silesia), attended school in Leobschütz, and began university studies (in Breslau?) together with his older brother, Edwin. Soon deep in debt, the two decided to emigrate, breaking into their father’s desk to get the money they needed. ...

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9. Corporal Wilhelm Albrecht

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pp. 103-113

Wilhelm Albrecht was twenty-seven years old when he left Hamburg in early July 1861, on board the sailing ship Louis Napoleon. After an unusually long voyage, he landed in New York at the end of August and enlisted almost immediately in the Union army. It is quite possible that he had planned to join the army even before he left Europe: ...

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10. Carl Hermanns

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pp. 113-116

Carl Hermanns, the son of a Lutheran farmer from Hamberg in the Rhine Province (now part of Burscheid, near Cologne) completed his training as a teacher in Elberfeld and must have had intense exposure to liberal ideas while there. According to family tradition, the twenty-six-year-old emigrated, together with a friend and colleagues, ...

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11. Caroline Eversmeier

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pp. 116-117

Caroline Eversmeier (née Neuer), born in 1824 in Eberbach/Baden and the daughter of a wood turner, lived a life in Germany that was on the fringe of society. Released from police custody in December 1850, she was picked up and punished six times in the next year and a half for ‘‘shirking and being dissolute’’ and then was finally put in jail.1 ...

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12. Dünnebacke Family

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pp. 117-120

Of the six children of the owner of the farm Haus Marpe near Niedermarpe (in the Sauerland, southern Westphalia) who lived to adulthood, the two youngest immigrated to the United States. Johann, born in 1813, left Germany in 1836, and nine years later he was joined by his brother Joseph, born in 1818, who emigrated together with his wife, Maria Franziska. ...

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13. Captain August Horstmann

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pp. 120-130

About 1856, three years after his older brother Albert (who became a farmer in Texas), August Horstmann left Germany and moved to St. Louis. Nothing is known about his reasons for emigrating. Born in 1835, he had grown up with four brothers and sisters in Schweiburg, a town of about 1,400 inhabitants in the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg, ...

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14. Private Wilhelm Hoffmann

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pp. 131-132

Wilhelm Hoffmann was born around 1828 in one of the six villages named Giersdorf that were listed in Silesia at the time. He was either a cabinetmaker or wood carver by trade, and he arrived in New York on May 23, 1857, on the sailing ship Amalie from Bremen, settling in Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. ...

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15. First Lieutenant Peter Boffinger

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pp. 133-135

Peter Boffinger, born in 1826 in Ehingen near Ulm and a weaver who was apparently quite well off, emigrated in 1853; he ‘‘ran away from home,’’ according to the entry in the town records. According to family tradition, he left the country because his wife Johanna, whose marital status was listed in the files as ‘‘deserted’’ until her death in 1856, had taken a lover.1 ...

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16. Sergeant Wilhelm Francksen

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pp. 136-145

According to family tradition,Wilhelm Francksen, born in 1831 in Hollwarden (Butjadingen) at the mouth of the Weser River, was a ‘‘drop out.’’ The son of one of the wealthiest farmers in the village, he studied law in Göttingen and Heidelberg but never took his final exams, and he emigrated in late 1861.1 ...

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17. First Lieutenant Emil Cornelius Knoebel

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pp. 146-151

Anton Knoebel, a tailor in Kirchhofen near Freiburg in Baden, had five children— and four of them emigrated in the 1850s, most probably to escape a life of bitter poverty. Among them was Cornelius Knoebel, who was nineteen years old when he left in 1853. He arrived in New York in January 1854 and went on to Pittsburgh, ...

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18. Surgeon Carl Uterhard

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pp. 151-176

Carl Uterhard, born in 1835 in Parchim (Mecklenburg) and raised in Rostock, is an unusual case compared with the other letter-writers in this volume, perhaps most similar to Heinrich Stähler (no. 51). He traveled to the United States with the intention of returning to Germany, and after the end of the Civil War, he did in fact go back. ...

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19. Johann Philipp Heubach

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pp. 176-179

Johann Philipp Heubach, born in 1825 in Steinach (Thuringia), had inherited a mill, but he must have become involved in the democratic agitation preceding the revolution in 1848–49 because he fled his tiny principality of Sachsen-Meiningen to avoid prosecution by the local authorities. ...

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20. Corporal Jakob Heinzelmann

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pp. 179-183

In November 1841, about two years before the birth of his own son Gustav, Pastor Keppler christened Jakob Heinzelmann in Lombach, a village near Freudenstadt, Baden, in southwest Germany. The son of a farmer from nearby Sulzbach, Heinzelmann apparently was apprenticed to a blacksmith. ...

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21. Private Gustav Keppler

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pp. 184-195

Gustav Keppler, born in Lombach and raised in Fluorn (both near Freudenstadt, Baden, in southwest Germany), was the son of a pastor. He completed an apprenticeship as a baker in the city of Ludwigsburg, but before he turned nineteen, he sailed from Hamburg to New York on the steamship Saxonia. ...

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22. Sergeant Albert Krause

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pp. 195-219

In the early 1840s Albert’s father August Krause came into possession of Polnisch-Konopath, a large manor in the Prussian district of Schwedt, near the Vistula River, now part of Poland. His son attended grammar school in the provincial capital of Bromberg and then probably studied at a trade school in Berlin to become a draftsman. ...

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23. Christian Härring

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pp. 219-221

Christian Härring, born January 13, 1824, in Bietigheim in Württemberg, was a shoemaker, like his father before him. By 1850 only four of the original nine Härring children were still alive, and all but one, Charlotte (born in 1826), immigrated to the United States in the early 1850s. ...

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24. Barbara Pack and Nikolaus Pack

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pp. 221-224

When the Catholic miner Nikolaus Pack left Schiffweiler in the Saar region in 1853, he was already forty-three years old. He emigrated together with his wife and seven children, obviously hoping to earn more money in the United States. He worked in his old trade in the coal mines near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ...

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25. Matthias Leclerc

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pp. 225-227

Not much more is known about the life of Matthias Leclerc than what is in his few surviving letters. Born in 1822 in Vallendar near Koblenz on the Rhine, this son of a linen weaver seems to have made a living trading goods—apparently across the border as well—until in his own words he became ‘‘slovenly,’’ started drinking and neglecting his work. ...

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26. Private August Strohsahl (alias Henry Johnson, alias August Warner)

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pp. 228-229

The letter-writer was born in 1846 in Cuxhaven, near Hamburg, the son of a shoemaker who had a workshop in Midlum on the Ems River. August Strohsahl, probably a trained cook, ended up in California in 1864, after a series of long sea voyages.1 ...

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27. Petty Officer Eduard Treutlein (alias Edward Smith)

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pp. 229-237

Eduard Treutlein was born in 1838 at Ittenschwand in the Black Forest, where his father, Josef Treutlein, was a teacher. For the sake of his children’s education, the father requested a transfer first to Wieblingen and then to Neuenheim, two villages close to Heidelberg. Eduard started middle school on a vocational track, ...

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28. Jakob Kessler

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pp. 237-238

Jakob Kessler was born in 1844 in Eberbach on the Neckar River, a few miles upstream from Heidelberg. An illegitimate child christened as a Protestant, he was raised by foster parents after the death of his mother in 1848. In 1864 he immigrated to the United States without permission from his home state of Baden.1 ...

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29. Victor Klausmeyer

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pp. 238-245

Victor Klausmeyer was born on December 17, 1828, in Bühne (Westphalia), where his father was apparently a Catholic school teacher. He left Germany in early 1851.1 During his first years in America he held a succession of jobs: first he worked in farming (‘‘my original line of business’’), then in a sugar refinery, on the railroad, ...

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30. Kaspar Herbst and Agatha Herbst

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pp. 245-248

Kaspar Herbst was the fifth of eleven children and was born in Altstadt, near Rottweil in Württemberg, in 1802. In 1849, now a widower with three children, he married Agatha Efinger, who was twenty-one years younger and the daughter of a tailor from the nearby village of Aixheim. ...

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31. Müller Family

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pp. 249-250

Heinrich Müller was born in 1830 in Stade, near Hamburg. A road paver by trade, he left Germany in the summer of 1857, and he must have had some means, since he traveled second class and still had some cash reserves when he was in New York. Although he arrived in the middle of an economic recession, he immediately found work in his trade, ...

Western Theater

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32. Surgeon Magnus Brucker

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pp. 251-272

Considering the fact that he was a doctor and a Forty-eighter, Magnus Brucker’s background was remarkably humble.When he was born in 1828, his father was listed as a day laborer, and his mother was illiterate. His hometown of Haslach, in Baden in southwest Germany, was the county seat, but it was relatively small (1,670 inhabitants), ...

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33. Monn Family

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pp. 272-275

The tailor Christian Monn, age thirty-two, and his wife Barbara, née Schwarz, arrived in St. Clair County, Michigan, in November 1853, one year after Barbara’s brother, the enterprising Jacob Schwarz, had settled there.1 None of them had good things to say about conditions at home, although their village Blaubeuren was not as hard hit by emigration ...

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34. Private Dietrich Gerstein

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pp. 275-291

The name Dietrich Gerstein is not to be found in any of the standard works on the Forty-eighters, but his career is at least as typical of this group as is the success story of Carl Schurz.* Gerstein was born in Westphalia in 1828 and grew up in a well-to-do family. His mother died in 1841, which threw him off course, ...

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35. Corporal Ludwig Wilhelm Kühner and Private Karl Friedrich Kühner

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pp. 292-296

By the time that sixteen-year-old Ludwig Kühner and his twenty-three-year-old brother Karl Friedrich left Baden in 1851 for the United States, emigration from the area had already become a mass phenomenon. But unlike so many of their countrymen, the Kühners did not leave to escape a life of poverty. ...

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36. Johann (John) Dieden

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pp. 297-307

John Dieden left Germany in 1848 at the age of twelve, together with his stepfather, Johann Herting. The month of their departure is more significant than the year: they left in March, before the beginning of any revolutionary activity. The family were members of the Catholic establishment in the village of Ebernburg in the Palatinate, ...

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37. Private Paul Petasch

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pp. 307-314

Traces of all the usual reasons for joining the military—lack of money, hope for economic improvement, pure thirst for adventure, as well as opposition to slavery— can be found in the case of Paul Petasch. Nevertheless, one gets the impression that pure chance played a major role. ...

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38. Second Lieutenant Friedrich Martens

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pp. 314-324

In the spring of 1857 nineteen-year-old Friedrich Martens left his home in the village of Delve in Ditmarschen, near the Danish border, and traveled steerage to America. He probably wanted to avoid serving in the military, although the economic situation of his family may also have played a role in his decision to leave. ...

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39. Private David Böpple and Family

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pp. 324-327

David Böpple and Magdalena Metzger came from Heumaden and Nellingen, two neighboring villages on the Neckar River, a few miles upstream from Stuttgart. They married in February 1860, shortly before they emigrated. They did not take much of a fortune along with them, since Böpple brought to the marriage only his clothing, a silver watch, ...

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40. Christian Bönsel

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pp. 327-331

Christian Bönsel took the unusual step of immigrating to the United States in the middle of the Civil War, but he must have known about the risks. He left in 1862, probably on the advice of a cousin, Heinrich Jöckel, who had come back to Germany to visit. An entire group of immigrants sailed together, including Jöckel’s parents ...

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41. Sergeant Ferdinand Krieger

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pp. 331-334

Ferdinand Krieger’s background can be reconstructed with some degree of certainty. In the late fall of 1850, Friedrich Wilhelm August Krieger immigrated to New York; he was a druggist’s assistant and the son of a druggist, then deceased, who lived in Rodenkirchen, Oldenburg. ...

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42. Private Franz Schorse

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pp. 334-339

Only the outlines of Franz Schorse’s life before his emigration and the outbreak of the Civil War can be reconstructed. He was born on July 10, 1844, in Rühle, Holzminden County, Duchy of Braunschweig, where his father was a pastor. His father later took a position in nearby Mahlum, where his mother died in 1858. ...

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43. Bernhard Buschmann

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pp. 339-342

Bernhard Buschmann was not particularly interested in the Union cause for three reasons: he had arrived in the United States only a short time before the war, he was Catholic, and he had settled in a rural area, outside the influence of the big cities and their more liberal press. Buschmann, born in 1838, came from a medium-sized but heavily indebted farm in Ostbevern, ...

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44. Lieutenant Colonel Conrad Weinrich

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pp. 342-347

Conrad Weinrich came to the United States in 1837 when he was ten years old, together with his widowed mother and four brothers and sisters. They took up residence in Missouri, where the three eldest children had already settled with the Giessen Emigration Society from Hesse in 1834. ...

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45. First Lieutenant Karl Adolph Frick and Alwine Frick

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pp. 347-359

Karl Adolph Frick was one of the small category of emigrants who saw emigration as an economic venture. He did not leave his home because he had experienced or feared economic setbacks; instead, he was drawn to the New World by the hope of potential profit. He was born in 1835 in Lahr, Baden, a town of 7,000 inhabitants. ...

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46. Private Georg Bauer

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pp. 360-363

Most of what we know about Georg Bauer, who emigrated from Baden in 1853, we learn from his brother Johann, an assiduous letter-writer who followed him to America the next year. Shortly thereafter, both of them settled on farms near Kirksville in northern Missouri, an area where Germans were a tiny minority and ...

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47. Private Ludwig Müller (Louis W. Miller)

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pp. 363-366

In the spring of 1853, eighteen-year-old Ludwig Müller left Massenheim, a village a few miles outside of Frankfurt, and moved to Missouri where some of his acquaintances lived. His family was obviously not impoverished since his brother later became the village mayor and treasurer of a local charitable institution. ...

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48. Private Carl Anton (Charles) Ruff

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pp. 366-370

Carl Anton Ruff was born in 1832 in Hohenzollern-Hechingen, an enclave within Württemberg that became part of Prussia in 1849. He grew up in a wealthy Catholic family; his father was a high-ranking treasury official, and Carl and his three brothers studied at the universities of Tübingen and Freiburg. ...

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49. Private Johann Christoph Penzler

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pp. 370-372

Not much is known about Johann C. Penzler’s earlier life, but it seems safe to assume that he emigrated for economic reasons.When he was born on August 27, 1829, his father, who had been a smallhold farmer, was already dead; and before Johann had turned three, his mother passed away. ...

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50. Private Anton Herman Bullenhaar

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pp. 372-374

Herman Bullenhaar left Ostbevern, near Münster in Westphalia, in the summer of 1858 and went to Cincinnati to join a large network of acquaintances. He was the son of a farmer but was not entitled to inherit the farm, and this no doubt played a role in his decision to emigrate. ...

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51. Heinrich Stähler

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pp. 374-386

Heinrich Stähler was certainly a German living in America during the Civil War. The only question is whether he should be considered an immigrant or if his time in the country should be seen as the travels of a journeyman. An assessment of whether migration was temporary or permanent, however, is often only possible in retrospect. ...

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52. Kessel and Rückels Families

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pp. 387-394

The Kessel and Rückels families were spread out across the United States, but they remained closely connected, as they had been in Europe. The two cousins Fritz Kessel and Johann Rückels were double brothers-in-law: Fritz was married to Johann’s sister Regina, and Johann was married to Fritz’s sister Johanne. ...

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53. Dr. Hermann Nagel

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pp. 394-403

Even though he left Germany a year before the Revolution of 1848, Hermann Nagel had much in common with the typical Forty-eighter. Born in 1820 in Pritzwalk, in Brandenburg, he was raised in an upper-middle-class family. His father, the town miller and drainage expert, died early, ...

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54. Captain Robert Voigt, CSA

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pp. 403-426

When the future Confederate captain Robert Voigt left Germany in 1850, he did not take much money with him, but he had other assets he could put to good use. He was born in 1832, the son of a senior foreman in the royal mines in Zschornau and Schneeberg in Saxony.When his father died in 1842, the family—including his six sisters—lived on his pension. ...

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55. Captain Ernst Cramer and Ferdinand Simon

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pp. 426-439

Ernst Cramer and Ferdinand Simon became brothers-in-law and were quite similar in terms of their social position both before and after they emigrated. Cramer came from a well-to-do family of millers and merchants in Schweinfurt, and when he emigrated in 1854 at the age of eighteen, he listed himself as a merchant.1 ...

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56. Private Georg Wilhelm Schwarting

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pp. 439-448

In 1855, at the age of twenty-three, Georg Wilhelm Schwarting made his way to Texas on his own, but he certainly knew what to expect when he got there. A compatriot from Oldenburg, Friedrich Ernst, had founded the town of Industry, the first German settlement in what would soon become the Republic of Texas. ...

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57. Private Ludwig (Louis) Lehmann, CSA, and Friederike Lehmann

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pp. 448-476

Karl Ludwig Lehmann, born on Christmas Day 1824, was the son of a man who was a baker, farmer, and former town councillor of Havelberg in Brandenburg. Karl Ludwig grew up in comfortable circumstances and graduated from a prestigious local grammar school. In 1849, together with his parents and three younger brothers, ...

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Epilogue: Reconstruction

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pp. 477-480

Although the Civil War permanently settled the issue of slavery, much still remained to be determined in the aftermath of the war about two interrelated issues: the position of ex-slaves in the political, economic, and social system of the South and the political re-formation of the ex-Confederate states. ...


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pp. 481-488


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pp. 489-504

Donors of Letters and Materials

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pp. 505-506


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pp. 507-521

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605418
E-ISBN-10: 1469605414
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807830444
Print-ISBN-10: 0807830445

Page Count: 560
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Civil War America
The Civil War America series interprets the field broadly to include biography, military and nonmilitary history, works that explore the immediate background of the conflict, and studies of postbellum topics related to the war. A few diaries, sets of letters, and memoirs that make exceptional contributions to our understanding of the era also will appear as volumes in the series.

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, German American.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, Immigrant.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives, Confederate.
  • German Americans -- Correspondence.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Correspondence.
  • Soldiers -- Confederate States of America -- Correspondence.
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