For Lincoln and the Fatherland
By 1864 a full 25% of Northern military machine was composed of German immigrants, many attracted by land and enlistment bounty monies with the Irish not far behind. Some German newspaper editors argued that large units of foreigners was “a means of winning recognition for their nationality” — as they marched against Americans in the South fighting for political independence and a more perfect union. The diary entry below reveals immigrant views toward the black man.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
For Lincoln and the Fatherland
“On the 18th of June 1864 we arrived at the line of entrenchment in front of Petersburg. Here we had to stay in the trenches 48 hours and then be back in the rear 48 hours. This was nearly ½ mile back of the front. But there was a trench cut out from here to the front, for it was not safe to show yourself above the ground unless a man was drunk (While we lay there we drew a good dram of whiskey every morning).
A drunken man went outside the trench all the way to the front. The bullets flew all around him but none touched him. We stayed at this place till July 30th, during which time we lost a good many men, mostly by sharp shooters and some by mortar shells. One of our men was sitting by a tree with his plate on his lap eating when a sharpshooter shot him through the head. He fell over and was dead.
We had dug holes where we slept in and sat most of the time. When we were back in the rear, one fellow was lying in his hole when a mortar shell fell in the hole and exploded (My hole was about 100 feet away from his). It tore all the flesh off his leg below the knee and I guess he lost his leg.
We had port holes in the breastworks where we could shoot through without being seen by the enemy in front of us. That morning these two fellows were watching through a port hole and whenever a Johnny would show his head above their breastworks they would shoot at him. But they had not done that very long when a sharpshooter shot Elias Iran through the head and killed him. We carried him back to the rear and buried him. But before we got through they brought out the other fellow, Fred Ziehl, shot this same way.
We had a big fort on our left. It was built of pine logs and dirt. In this fort was a big gun, which threw a shell of over 62 pounds. They shot three or four of them into Petersburg every morning. We called it the Petersburg Express.
Opposite this fort the Rebs had a fort which was undermined by the 48th Pennsylvania Regiment. This fort was to be blown up on the 30th of July. Just as the sun was rising I felt the ground shaking under me. I jumped up and saw pieces of the Reb’s fort coming down in the air. Then the cannonading commenced. Then our Major (Mapes) said, “Forward boys! Every darn one of you!”
There was a regiment of Nigger troops to our left. The Rebs drove them back. They had brought up artillery in front of us and were shooting grape and canister at us. We got orders to fall back so they would not cut us off from our line. I said, “Boys, it is no use getting out of here for we will never get back to our line,” as the bullets were coming like hail. But they all started back and I was the last man in the ditch, so I concluded I would risk it too. As I went back I saw men in front of me falling and I expected any minute I’d get hit, but I got back to our line without a scratch.
When I got back to our trenches they were jammed full of Niggers, mostly bare headed and nearly scared to death and crowding for the rear. But the officers finally got them stopped and drove them back to the front.
[On the third day after the battle] There was a white flag put up on each side, and there was no shooting allowed. What I saw on the battlefield I will not forget as long as I live. The weather was hot and the dead were all black. The only way to tell a white man from a Nigger was by their hair and features. They were so badly decayed. We white soldiers were ordered to dig a ditch six or seven feet wide and four feet deep and the niggers were ordered to carry the bodies together and wrap them in a blanket and lay them side by side in the ditch and then we would cover them. They told us afterward our side lost 3000 in that battle.
After our 30 days, that we had agreed to serve as infantry, were up, we were asked to serve 30 days more. Some of the boys refused and deserted and we never heard of them afterwards. The next day when I got to the regiment they had lost 90 men, taken prisoner by some Rebel cavalry.”
(Gustave Milleville’s Civil War Diary, Part 2, Der Brief, Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York, July/August 2011, pp. 7-8)