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Lincoln’s German Patriots

The all-German Thirty-second Indiana Infantry’s commander, German revolutionary August Willich, saw Southern State withdrawal from the Union as setting “a precedent that would allow future dissenting minorities to fragment the nation even further into numerous bickering aristocracies such as existed in Germany, thus ending the great American experiment in democracy.”

Willich joined Lincoln’s crusade while proclaiming a need to protect America’s republican institutions, constitutional law and self-government, though the very basis of the crusade was the destruction of America’s constitution in which the word “democracy” does not exist, and the destruction of self-government in the American South.

Out of the nearly 1000 members during its three-year existence, the Thirty-second Indiana suffered only 171 killed or died of wounds. In comparison, many units North and South lost percentages of 60 to 70 percent in hard fighting.

To be clear, the primary reason behind the German immigrant dislike of slavery was that they “wanted to keep it from spreading, [fearing] that throngs of freedmen would move into the North and compete with them for jobs and/or claim government land in the West that they hoped to acquire.”

Lincoln’s German Patriots

“Among Indiana’s Germans who answered Lincoln’s first call [for troops] were all unmarried members of the Indianapolis Turnverein. After [they] returned from their three-month enlistments, several urged prominent German-American citizens to support the formation of a German regiment for their State, and on August 8, 1861, the Frei Presse von Indiana announced [that] . . . Governor Morton selected August Willich, a former Prussian army officer . . . to lead the new regiment.

August Willich was well-known among Germans in the United States because of his prominent role in the unsuccessful 1848 German Revolution . . . Willich moved to New York in 1853 to recruit political refugees for the liberation of Germany . . .

Willich promoted communism in Germany because he saw it as a means to improve the lot of struggling peasants and laborers; he then espoused it in America as a means for the workingman to receive fair value for his labor. Tauntingly called the “communist with a heart” by Karl Marx, Willich enthusiastically promoted the organization of labor unions and decried monopolies.

[Most] Forty-eighters and Radical Republicans were simultaneously becoming disenchanted with Lincoln because they felt he was not prosecuting the war with enough vigor and was moving too slowly on the abolition of slavery.

Impending manpower shortages in 1864, resulting from . . . lack of enlistments and the expiration of the enlistments of volunteers who mustered in early in the war, forced the federal government to begin offering a large bounty and a thirty-day furlough to veterans who would extend their enlistments. Army-wide about 57 percent of the eligible men re-enlisted during the year.

The 32nd’s veterans declined the army’s offer and mustered out after three years.

Letters from two Germans in other regiments published in the Louisville Anzeiger in 1864 attributed the low reenlistment rate in their regiment to the lack of support from home. They pointed out that a huge number of healthy young men at home refused to join in the fight, and until they did the men who had served in the field for more than two years would not extend their enlistments.

Other soldiers apparently were just tired of the war and wanted to go home, believing they had done enough for their country.”

(August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry, Joseph R. Reinhart, Kent State University Press, 2006, excerpts pp. 9; 15-17)

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