Keenly aware of German immigrant political power in Illinois, Lincoln secretly purchased the Springfield Staats-Zeitung in 1859 to help further his electoral chances. The influential “Forty-Eighter” element of the German immigrants were radical reformers and revolutionaries determined to remake the world, and bringing forth the millennium. This element proved useful in Lincoln’s future need for troops, though few if any understood the American form of government.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Lincoln’s German Patriots
“The Federal hosts were . . . not recruited from one continent alone. The speech of almost every European nation might have been heard in the camps of the Army of the Potomac. There were brigades of Irish and divisions of Germans. There were those who had fought with the Red Shirts of Garibaldi, and some who had followed Kossuth into rebellion . . . [and Canadians].
The call to war issued from Washington gathered under one flag a motley assemblage. Motivated . . . by honor, by a desire for emoluments, (including the promised bounties), or by sheer love of adventure, the soldiers came – patriot (whether native or foreign) and hireling, foreign prince, knight-errant, and soldier of fortune – to range themselves under the Stars and Stripes.
It was such a cosmopolitan assemblage, of Germans and Irishmen, of Frenchmen and Italians, of Poles and Scandinavians, of Hungarians and Dutchmen, as had ever been gathered together since the Thirty Years’ War.
In New York City alone, thousands of Germans tendered their services at the firing of the first gun on Fort Sumter. During the war there went out from New York ten almost solidly German regiments: three regiments in which one-half or more were of that nationality, five German artillery batteries, and two cavalry regiments in which fully one-half the men were Germans.
The ten purely German regiments, with two others more than one-half German, were all organized in 1861, the first six under Lincoln’s first call. In addition the Fifth New York Militia . . . was one of the first to leave New York under Colonel Christian Schwarzwalder for the defense of the capital.
All told, there were 1,046 men in the Eighth Regiment, known also as the First German Rifles, commanded by that picturesque semi-soldier of fortune, General Louis Blenker. Although the lieutenant color sergeant of the regiment was Hungarian, and several other nationalities were scantily represented in the ranks, this might be termed an “echt” (genuine) German regiment.
Few of the German regiments enlisted more attention that the De Kalb Regiment, or the Forty-first New York . . . [which] received material help from R.A. Witthaus, a patriotic and wealthy German citizen. About 700 of its 1,040 members, as well as its commander, had fought in the Prussian Army against the Danes in 1848-1849; and 23 of its 33 officers were veterans who had seen service in European campaigns.”
(Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy, Ella Lonn, LSU Press, 1951, pp. 93-96)