Civil War History 46.4 (2000) 347-348
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The Germans in the American Civil War
The Germans in the American Civil War. By Wilhelm Kaufmann. Ed. Don Hein- rich Tolzmann with Werner D. Mueller and Robert E. Ward, trans. by Steven Rowan. (Carlisle, Pa.: John Kallmann Publishers, 1999. Pp. vii, 392. $49.99 cloth; $29.95 paper.)
Originally published in Germany in 1911, Kaufmann's book has long been considered the standard work about ethnic German participation in the war. It had remained tantalizingly out of reach for most American historians because the thick German prose defied all but the most intrepid translators. Thanks to the editing team of Tolzmann, Mueller, and Ward and the translating skills of Steven Rowan, that problem has been solved.
The significance of Kaufmann's book lies with it still being the only comprehensive study of the Germans during the Civil War. Ella Lonn's Foreigners in the Confederacy (1940) each contain chapters regarding the Germans in both sections, but her analysis and methodology are questionable. William L. Burton's Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union's Ethnic Regiments (1998, revised) was a welcome addition to a field sorely in need of scholarly attention, but he devotes only one chapter solely to the Germans. For nearly a century, Kaufmann's book has remained the only major secondary source on the North's largest ethnic group, and until now was inaccessible to historians without strong, German reading skills.
Rowan's translation is exemplary. It loses practically none of the nuances, minor details, or shades of meaning in the original German. The editors provide a helpful introduction that includes a biography of Kaufmann and a history of [End Page 347] the evolution of his work, as well as a discussion of the influence of the Forty-Eighters on both the author and his time. They also revised the "biographical directory" that appeared in the original version by adding notes of clarification. The real value of the book, however, comes in a number of areas: Kaufmann's own analysis of the actions of Missouri Germans in 1861, the role of Franz Sigel and other Forty-Eighters, the plight of the "German division" in Virginia in 1862, and the performance of the half-German Eleventh Corps at Chancel- lorsville. Kaufmann drew upon primary sources now lost, such as Hubert Dilger's memoirs, and personal interviews and correspondence with German veterans. While his documentation is scanty and his proofs sometimes filiopietistic, Kaufmann nonetheless succeeds in providing the history of Germans in the North during the Civil War.
Kaufmann's book excludes analysis of some topics attracting scholarly attention, such as the role of Germans in the Confederacy, their reaction to nativism after Chancellorsville, and their roles on the home front. Kaufmann also failed to analyze adequately the experiences of Germans in the North from 1864 to the end of the war. Despite these shortcomings, this new translation of Germans in the American Civil War deserves the attention of scholars interested in this ethnic group's participation in the war and in nineteenth-century life in general.
Christian B. Keller
The Pennsylvania State University