Book Review Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General by David Dixon

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
radical warrior.JPG



Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General by David Dixon published by University of Tennessee Press (2020) $40.00 Hardcover.

Author David Dixon has written one of the best books of the last few years on an understudied figure of the Civil War Era. Deep research, crisp writing, and a fascinating subject combine to make this a valuable contribution to the literature.

I frequently find a claim from the Lost Cause wing of the Civil War history community that Lincoln’s army was filled with German Marxists. Pretty much every immigrant who supported the ending of slavery is described that way by these On-Line Confederates. Well, unlike most Germans in the Union Army, August Willich really was a communist, but he was definitely not a Marxist.

I have done a lot of reading and research on August Willich, beginning with the great work of Joseph Reinhart who has collected and translated volumes of materials related to the Prussian-nobleman-turned-American-radical, and I still learned something new about Willich in every chapter. Dixon covers the life of a man who had feet in many worlds of ideas, causes, and military struggles. Unlike many biographies of Civil War generals, Dixon does not slight the pre-war and Reconstruction Era careers of his subject.

This is the story of a boy raised in the household of one of the great German philosophical minds of the 19th Century, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who merged Protestantism with the ideas of the Enlightenment. Willich, a son of the minor nobility, was introduced to a life of questioning received authority by a mentor who is often credited as an influence on 20th Century hermanuetics, phenomenology, and Existentialism. Willich would combine the military spirit of his natural father with the philosophical fluidity of his foster father for the rest of his life. It was not always easy.

In reading about immigrants who served as officers in the Union Army I often encounter the phrase “he was trained in the West Point of [Insert Country Here].” Usually upon further investigation I find out that the individual spent a few months at an academy for training reserve officers. August Willich, on the other hand, really did go to Prussia’s finest military school and he made a career in the army of the King of Prussia! In fact, he attended the military academy when it was under the direction of the eminent military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. By the time he was eighteen, he had graduated the academy and was commissioned an officer in the Prussian Army.

After years of faithful service, Willich began to question the Prussian hierarchical system. He saw the misery of the growing working class in the industrializing German states and he began to fall under the spell of the Young Hegelians. These were radical thinkers influenced by the philosopher G.F.W. Hegel. By the late 1830s, Willich was moving away from the Liberal ideas of the Enlightenment and towards an emerging radicalism. This would place his military career in jeopardy and in 1847 he left the army for the life of a working man.



willich.jpg

Friederich Engles described August Willich as “brave, cool-headed and adroit, and able to appreciate a situation quickly and accurately…” [Source: Marx’s General by Tristram Hunt p. 174.]

The 1848 Paris Uprising against the French monarchy was echoed in the industrial German states. Men who would later become generals in the Union army like Willich, Carl Schurz, and Franz Sigel threw themselves into the revolutionary cause. Willich would command revolutionary troops in the Palatinate. One of his subordinates would be Marx’s collaborator Frederick Engels. The Revolution of 1848 combined idealism with incompetence, brave hopes and disappointed desires. David Dixon does a remarkable job of telling the story of Willich’s key role in the revolt without losing American readers along the way. As with other aspects of this book, Dixon intuits the limits of his readers’ knowledge of European history and he is masterful in providing just enough information without digressing into mini-essays on the ’48ers or communist ideology in the mid-19th Century. He keeps the focus on Willich.


Spoiler Alert! The revolutionaries lost. Willich, like many German refugees, fled to France where he tried to hold together his comrades in body, through fundraising efforts to provide food and housing, and in soul, through cultural and political events to affirm their pride even in exile. Dixon discusses the plots Willich involved himself in to try to rekindle the revolution, all of which came to naught. Willich was then forced to leave for England where he became a rival for leadership of the communist movement with Karl Marx. Marx also seems to have viewed Willich as a romantic rival. He believed that Willich was trying to bed his wife. Marx’s supporters appear to have circulated rumors of Willich’s sexual immorality, including the charge that the bachelor Willich was a homosexual. Willich was a constant opponent of Marx. Where Marx lived the life of a middle class intellectual, Willich lived in workers quarters and was constantly in touch with the actual proletariat.

Eventually Willich immigrated to the United States, where he was received with a hero’s welcome in New York City fitting for a revolutionary leader. He headed west and became a major figure in the radical German community in Ohio. An abolitionist, he was an early supporter of the Republican Party and he supported Lincoln’s election in 1860.

The heart of Radical Warrior is Willich’s career during the Civil War. The German refugee began organizing his fellow immigrants into the 9th Ohio Volunteers right after the war started. He soon was offered command of the 32nd Indiana Volunteers and he accepted the offer. Dixon describes the ways in which Willich created a German culture within his regiment and defended its uniqueness against nativist currents within the army. Immigrant units would never have been successful without the willingness of their officers to stand up for diversity inside the American military.

Willich’s role in the Civil War includes most of the minor skirmishes and major battles of the conflict in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Georgia. Willich would rise to the rank of Brigadier General and he was recommended for promotion to Major General. He was popular with his German soldiers, but he was just as respected by the native-born soldiers he commanded as well. Willich was personally brave, he had an excellent military education, and more experience than almost all volunteer officers. He was also known for looking out for the care and well-being of his men and for his efforts to drill and educate those under him to insure maximum efficiency on the march and in battle.

Those who are military history fans will really enjoy this book which delves deep into both the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and into German-language sources to describe Willich’s experiences at iconic fights like Chickamauga. Because Willich’s service included being held prisoner by the Confederates and later service with the Invalid Corps during the last year of the war there are insights into these experiences that one rarely finds in biographies of Union generals.

The book also provides glimpses of Willich’s frustrating time commanding occupation forces during the first months of Reconstruction, as well as his post-war career as a spokesman for workers’ rights.

August Willich was a nobleman, young radical, a highly trained Prussian officer, a revolutionary commander, a refugee, a communist man of action, an immigrant, a workingman, a journalist, a military recruiter, a prisoner of war, and a Union general. David Dixon tells all of Willich’s stories well. Dixon compares him to Tom Paine, another radical immigrant. As Dixon writes:

Willich’s military accomplishments helped defeat the slaveholder oligarchy and ensure survival of republican government. It was the great achievement of his life. Just as Paine came on the American scene at the right time and place to inspire British colonists to rebel against their king, Willich and other recent immigrants were well positioned in 1861 to renew the call for freedom through revolution, as they had done in Europe just thirteen years earlier. Willich commanded thousands of ethnic Germans, and many of them, like himself, were committed to nudging the American republic closer to Paine’s ideals of human rights and social justice…The Union had to prevail, not just for its own sake, but for the benefit of the Western world. Willich was on the same page with America’s radical propagandist when Paine wrote, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

If you are interested in the Civil War, immigrant history, or the history of 19th Century radicalism, I strongly recommend this volume.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
Pat. Sounds like this man was a complex individual and perhaps a Renisance Man who served his adoptive country very well! As always I enjoy your posts! Y'all!stay safe during this pandemic
Regards
David
Thanks very much David. I passed by your ancestor’s cemetery Sunday and offered a prayer. Thinking of you. Stay safe.
 

Ole Miss

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
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Location
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Thank you my friend your courtesy and thoughtfulness. I hope to make it back to New York again after this terrible scourge. Perhaps next year!
Regards
David
 

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
Thank you my friend your courtesy and thoughtfulness. I hope to make it back to New York again after this terrible scourge. Perhaps next year!
Regards
David
I can take you on a monument tour of Brooklyn or a walk through the Five Points! It will be fun.
 
Joined
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Location
Hannover, Germany
Great book and written in a very readable style. Unfortunately I could only browse through it as of yet, as my significant other has snatched it from my hands and decided that he would read it first :D.

As I have already told elsewhere, we had the honor to build a car party with David Dixon, who is our co-member @LostGettysburgAddress at the 2016 September to Remember CWT Gettysburg Reunion, when the idea to write this book was still forming in his head. I am proud that I could help a little in the process and I am really impressed by the result.
I must confess, when I first read the primary sources, I was not necessarily a fan of August [von] Willich's but was already impressed by his fierce determination. He was raised as the child of a nobleman, but later in Cincinnati worked as a carpenter - so he impressed me by not just being a lounge communist like many who flirted with the idea of a better world for everyone, while enjoying the comforts of a priviledged life - he really changed his comfortable life for a permanent struggle against injustice. And now that I have begun to read David's interpretation, I have developed a certain sympathy for "Papa Willich" as his soldiers called the later Union General.

Lots of success for the book and its author!!
 

Ole Miss

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
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North Mississippi
Pat, I have a question regarding the anti-German attitude often in existence during the ACW. Was it just part of the anti-imigration policy of the "Know Nothings"? Or was it specifically against Germans?

I realize the XIth Corps had a poor reputation after the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg but honestly that was more the problem of leadership than the courage of the individual soldier. The XIth Corps was composed of many units that were not ethically German but in fact were Anglo/Saxon. History is full of the examples of Geman valor both as individuals and units. I believe Lord Wellington would attest to that statement!
Regards
David
 

TnFed

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 18, 2018
View attachment 375470


Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General by David Dixon published by University of Tennessee Press (2020) $40.00 Hardcover.

Author David Dixon has written one of the best books of the last few years on an understudied figure of the Civil War Era. Deep research, crisp writing, and a fascinating subject combine to make this a valuable contribution to the literature.

I frequently find a claim from the Lost Cause wing of the Civil War history community that Lincoln’s army was filled with German Marxists. Pretty much every immigrant who supported the ending of slavery is described that way by these On-Line Confederates. Well, unlike most Germans in the Union Army, August Willich really was a communist, but he was definitely not a Marxist.

I have done a lot of reading and research on August Willich, beginning with the great work of Joseph Reinhart who has collected and translated volumes of materials related to the Prussian-nobleman-turned-American-radical, and I still learned something new about Willich in every chapter. Dixon covers the life of a man who had feet in many worlds of ideas, causes, and military struggles. Unlike many biographies of Civil War generals, Dixon does not slight the pre-war and Reconstruction Era careers of his subject.

This is the story of a boy raised in the household of one of the great German philosophical minds of the 19th Century, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who merged Protestantism with the ideas of the Enlightenment. Willich, a son of the minor nobility, was introduced to a life of questioning received authority by a mentor who is often credited as an influence on 20th Century hermanuetics, phenomenology, and Existentialism. Willich would combine the military spirit of his natural father with the philosophical fluidity of his foster father for the rest of his life. It was not always easy.

In reading about immigrants who served as officers in the Union Army I often encounter the phrase “he was trained in the West Point of [Insert Country Here].” Usually upon further investigation I find out that the individual spent a few months at an academy for training reserve officers. August Willich, on the other hand, really did go to Prussia’s finest military school and he made a career in the army of the King of Prussia! In fact, he attended the military academy when it was under the direction of the eminent military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. By the time he was eighteen, he had graduated the academy and was commissioned an officer in the Prussian Army.

After years of faithful service, Willich began to question the Prussian hierarchical system. He saw the misery of the growing working class in the industrializing German states and he began to fall under the spell of the Young Hegelians. These were radical thinkers influenced by the philosopher G.F.W. Hegel. By the late 1830s, Willich was moving away from the Liberal ideas of the Enlightenment and towards an emerging radicalism. This would place his military career in jeopardy and in 1847 he left the army for the life of a working man.



View attachment 375471
Friederich Engles described August Willich as “brave, cool-headed and adroit, and able to appreciate a situation quickly and accurately…” [Source: Marx’s General by Tristram Hunt p. 174.]

The 1848 Paris Uprising against the French monarchy was echoed in the industrial German states. Men who would later become generals in the Union army like Willich, Carl Schurz, and Franz Sigel threw themselves into the revolutionary cause. Willich would command revolutionary troops in the Palatinate. One of his subordinates would be Marx’s collaborator Frederick Engels. The Revolution of 1848 combined idealism with incompetence, brave hopes and disappointed desires. David Dixon does a remarkable job of telling the story of Willich’s key role in the revolt without losing American readers along the way. As with other aspects of this book, Dixon intuits the limits of his readers’ knowledge of European history and he is masterful in providing just enough information without digressing into mini-essays on the ’48ers or communist ideology in the mid-19th Century. He keeps the focus on Willich.


Spoiler Alert! The revolutionaries lost. Willich, like many German refugees, fled to France where he tried to hold together his comrades in body, through fundraising efforts to provide food and housing, and in soul, through cultural and political events to affirm their pride even in exile. Dixon discusses the plots Willich involved himself in to try to rekindle the revolution, all of which came to naught. Willich was then forced to leave for England where he became a rival for leadership of the communist movement with Karl Marx. Marx also seems to have viewed Willich as a romantic rival. He believed that Willich was trying to bed his wife. Marx’s supporters appear to have circulated rumors of Willich’s sexual immorality, including the charge that the bachelor Willich was a homosexual. Willich was a constant opponent of Marx. Where Marx lived the life of a middle class intellectual, Willich lived in workers quarters and was constantly in touch with the actual proletariat.

Eventually Willich immigrated to the United States, where he was received with a hero’s welcome in New York City fitting for a revolutionary leader. He headed west and became a major figure in the radical German community in Ohio. An abolitionist, he was an early supporter of the Republican Party and he supported Lincoln’s election in 1860.

The heart of Radical Warrior is Willich’s career during the Civil War. The German refugee began organizing his fellow immigrants into the 9th Ohio Volunteers right after the war started. He soon was offered command of the 32nd Indiana Volunteers and he accepted the offer. Dixon describes the ways in which Willich created a German culture within his regiment and defended its uniqueness against nativist currents within the army. Immigrant units would never have been successful without the willingness of their officers to stand up for diversity inside the American military.

Willich’s role in the Civil War includes most of the minor skirmishes and major battles of the conflict in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Georgia. Willich would rise to the rank of Brigadier General and he was recommended for promotion to Major General. He was popular with his German soldiers, but he was just as respected by the native-born soldiers he commanded as well. Willich was personally brave, he had an excellent military education, and more experience than almost all volunteer officers. He was also known for looking out for the care and well-being of his men and for his efforts to drill and educate those under him to insure maximum efficiency on the march and in battle.

Those who are military history fans will really enjoy this book which delves deep into both the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and into German-language sources to describe Willich’s experiences at iconic fights like Chickamauga. Because Willich’s service included being held prisoner by the Confederates and later service with the Invalid Corps during the last year of the war there are insights into these experiences that one rarely finds in biographies of Union generals.

The book also provides glimpses of Willich’s frustrating time commanding occupation forces during the first months of Reconstruction, as well as his post-war career as a spokesman for workers’ rights.

August Willich was a nobleman, young radical, a highly trained Prussian officer, a revolutionary commander, a refugee, a communist man of action, an immigrant, a workingman, a journalist, a military recruiter, a prisoner of war, and a Union general. David Dixon tells all of Willich’s stories well. Dixon compares him to Tom Paine, another radical immigrant. As Dixon writes:

Willich’s military accomplishments helped defeat the slaveholder oligarchy and ensure survival of republican government. It was the great achievement of his life. Just as Paine came on the American scene at the right time and place to inspire British colonists to rebel against their king, Willich and other recent immigrants were well positioned in 1861 to renew the call for freedom through revolution, as they had done in Europe just thirteen years earlier. Willich commanded thousands of ethnic Germans, and many of them, like himself, were committed to nudging the American republic closer to Paine’s ideals of human rights and social justice…The Union had to prevail, not just for its own sake, but for the benefit of the Western world. Willich was on the same page with America’s radical propagandist when Paine wrote, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

If you are interested in the Civil War, immigrant history, or the history of 19th Century radicalism, I strongly recommend this volume.
Willich considered Marx too "Conservative ". Also challenged him to a duel. Lot of bad blood between them.
 

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
Great book and written in a very readable style. Unfortunately I could only browse through it as of yet, as my significant other has snatched it from my hands and decided that he would read it first :D.

As I have already told elsewhere, we had the honor to build a car party with David Dixon, who is our co-member @LostGettysburgAddress at the 2016 September to Remember CWT Gettysburg Reunion, when the idea to write this book was still forming in his head. I am proud that I could help a little in the process and I am really impressed by the result.
I must confess, when I first read the primary sources, I was not necessarily a fan of August [von] Willich's but was already impressed by his fierce determination. He was raised as the child of a nobleman, but later in Cincinnati worked as a carpenter - so he impressed me by not just being a lounge communist like many who flirted with the idea of a better world for everyone, while enjoying the comforts of a priviledged life - he really changed his comfortable life for a permanent struggle against injustice. And now that I have begun to read David's interpretation, I have developed a certain sympathy for "Papa Willich" as his soldiers called the later Union General.

Lots of success for the book and its author!!
Let us know what you think of the book when you get a chance to read it fully.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
View attachment 375470


Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General by David Dixon published by University of Tennessee Press (2020) $40.00 Hardcover.

Author David Dixon has written one of the best books of the last few years on an understudied figure of the Civil War Era. Deep research, crisp writing, and a fascinating subject combine to make this a valuable contribution to the literature.

I frequently find a claim from the Lost Cause wing of the Civil War history community that Lincoln’s army was filled with German Marxists. Pretty much every immigrant who supported the ending of slavery is described that way by these On-Line Confederates. Well, unlike most Germans in the Union Army, August Willich really was a communist, but he was definitely not a Marxist.

I have done a lot of reading and research on August Willich, beginning with the great work of Joseph Reinhart who has collected and translated volumes of materials related to the Prussian-nobleman-turned-American-radical, and I still learned something new about Willich in every chapter. Dixon covers the life of a man who had feet in many worlds of ideas, causes, and military struggles. Unlike many biographies of Civil War generals, Dixon does not slight the pre-war and Reconstruction Era careers of his subject.

This is the story of a boy raised in the household of one of the great German philosophical minds of the 19th Century, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who merged Protestantism with the ideas of the Enlightenment. Willich, a son of the minor nobility, was introduced to a life of questioning received authority by a mentor who is often credited as an influence on 20th Century hermanuetics, phenomenology, and Existentialism. Willich would combine the military spirit of his natural father with the philosophical fluidity of his foster father for the rest of his life. It was not always easy.

In reading about immigrants who served as officers in the Union Army I often encounter the phrase “he was trained in the West Point of [Insert Country Here].” Usually upon further investigation I find out that the individual spent a few months at an academy for training reserve officers. August Willich, on the other hand, really did go to Prussia’s finest military school and he made a career in the army of the King of Prussia! In fact, he attended the military academy when it was under the direction of the eminent military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. By the time he was eighteen, he had graduated the academy and was commissioned an officer in the Prussian Army.

After years of faithful service, Willich began to question the Prussian hierarchical system. He saw the misery of the growing working class in the industrializing German states and he began to fall under the spell of the Young Hegelians. These were radical thinkers influenced by the philosopher G.F.W. Hegel. By the late 1830s, Willich was moving away from the Liberal ideas of the Enlightenment and towards an emerging radicalism. This would place his military career in jeopardy and in 1847 he left the army for the life of a working man.



View attachment 375471
Friederich Engles described August Willich as “brave, cool-headed and adroit, and able to appreciate a situation quickly and accurately…” [Source: Marx’s General by Tristram Hunt p. 174.]

The 1848 Paris Uprising against the French monarchy was echoed in the industrial German states. Men who would later become generals in the Union army like Willich, Carl Schurz, and Franz Sigel threw themselves into the revolutionary cause. Willich would command revolutionary troops in the Palatinate. One of his subordinates would be Marx’s collaborator Frederick Engels. The Revolution of 1848 combined idealism with incompetence, brave hopes and disappointed desires. David Dixon does a remarkable job of telling the story of Willich’s key role in the revolt without losing American readers along the way. As with other aspects of this book, Dixon intuits the limits of his readers’ knowledge of European history and he is masterful in providing just enough information without digressing into mini-essays on the ’48ers or communist ideology in the mid-19th Century. He keeps the focus on Willich.


Spoiler Alert! The revolutionaries lost. Willich, like many German refugees, fled to France where he tried to hold together his comrades in body, through fundraising efforts to provide food and housing, and in soul, through cultural and political events to affirm their pride even in exile. Dixon discusses the plots Willich involved himself in to try to rekindle the revolution, all of which came to naught. Willich was then forced to leave for England where he became a rival for leadership of the communist movement with Karl Marx. Marx also seems to have viewed Willich as a romantic rival. He believed that Willich was trying to bed his wife. Marx’s supporters appear to have circulated rumors of Willich’s sexual immorality, including the charge that the bachelor Willich was a homosexual. Willich was a constant opponent of Marx. Where Marx lived the life of a middle class intellectual, Willich lived in workers quarters and was constantly in touch with the actual proletariat.

Eventually Willich immigrated to the United States, where he was received with a hero’s welcome in New York City fitting for a revolutionary leader. He headed west and became a major figure in the radical German community in Ohio. An abolitionist, he was an early supporter of the Republican Party and he supported Lincoln’s election in 1860.

The heart of Radical Warrior is Willich’s career during the Civil War. The German refugee began organizing his fellow immigrants into the 9th Ohio Volunteers right after the war started. He soon was offered command of the 32nd Indiana Volunteers and he accepted the offer. Dixon describes the ways in which Willich created a German culture within his regiment and defended its uniqueness against nativist currents within the army. Immigrant units would never have been successful without the willingness of their officers to stand up for diversity inside the American military.

Willich’s role in the Civil War includes most of the minor skirmishes and major battles of the conflict in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Georgia. Willich would rise to the rank of Brigadier General and he was recommended for promotion to Major General. He was popular with his German soldiers, but he was just as respected by the native-born soldiers he commanded as well. Willich was personally brave, he had an excellent military education, and more experience than almost all volunteer officers. He was also known for looking out for the care and well-being of his men and for his efforts to drill and educate those under him to insure maximum efficiency on the march and in battle.

Those who are military history fans will really enjoy this book which delves deep into both the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and into German-language sources to describe Willich’s experiences at iconic fights like Chickamauga. Because Willich’s service included being held prisoner by the Confederates and later service with the Invalid Corps during the last year of the war there are insights into these experiences that one rarely finds in biographies of Union generals.

The book also provides glimpses of Willich’s frustrating time commanding occupation forces during the first months of Reconstruction, as well as his post-war career as a spokesman for workers’ rights.

August Willich was a nobleman, young radical, a highly trained Prussian officer, a revolutionary commander, a refugee, a communist man of action, an immigrant, a workingman, a journalist, a military recruiter, a prisoner of war, and a Union general. David Dixon tells all of Willich’s stories well. Dixon compares him to Tom Paine, another radical immigrant. As Dixon writes:

Willich’s military accomplishments helped defeat the slaveholder oligarchy and ensure survival of republican government. It was the great achievement of his life. Just as Paine came on the American scene at the right time and place to inspire British colonists to rebel against their king, Willich and other recent immigrants were well positioned in 1861 to renew the call for freedom through revolution, as they had done in Europe just thirteen years earlier. Willich commanded thousands of ethnic Germans, and many of them, like himself, were committed to nudging the American republic closer to Paine’s ideals of human rights and social justice…The Union had to prevail, not just for its own sake, but for the benefit of the Western world. Willich was on the same page with America’s radical propagandist when Paine wrote, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

If you are interested in the Civil War, immigrant history, or the history of 19th Century radicalism, I strongly recommend this volume.

I really like the way you constructed your review, Pat!

Would be nice to add, however, some other books out there that are closely related. I'm thinking particuarly of August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen, a book published by Kent State University Press in 2006 that reproduces the wartime letters of some of the German men in Willich's command.

See https://books.google.com/books/about/August_Willich_s_Gallant_Dutchmen.html?id=jw93AAAAMAAJ
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
I have a question regarding the anti-German attitude often in existence during the ACW. Was it just part of the anti-imigration policy of the "Know Nothings"? Or was it specifically against Germans?

I thought the Know-Nothings were anti-Catholic first, with Catholics mostly being recently arrived Irish and Germans?

Protestant Germans were, by far, the largest non-Catholic group of immigrants in the late 1840s due to the fallout from 1848 and so were the subject of hostility because large numbers of foreigners speaking another language are pretty much always the subject of derision. Probably wasn't very easy to distinguish the Catholic Germans from Protestant Germans either, except on Sunday morning.

Pat will undoubtedly school me if my interpretation is wrong. And I thank him in advance for the education. :smile:
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
I thought the Know-Nothings were anti-Catholic first, with Catholics mostly being recently arrived Irish and Germans?

Protestant Germans were, by far, the largest non-Catholic group of immigrants in the late 1840s due to the fallout from 1848 and so were the subject of hostility because large numbers of foreigners speaking another language are pretty much always the subject of derision. Probably wasn't very easy to distinguish the Catholic Germans from Protestant Germans either, except on Sunday morning.

Pat will undoubtedly school me if my interpretation is wrong. And I thank him in advance for the education. :smile:

Quite right, the Know-Nothings were first and foremost anti-Catholic. They gained some support based on anti-German sentiment in scattered communities in the northern states, but overall Know-Nothing support was mostly about antipathy to Irish Catholics.

Correct me if I am wrong, Pat, but the early Republican Party eagerly embraced Protestant German immigrants as an important building block of the broader Republican coalition, especially in Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
 
Last edited:

John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
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Aug 27, 2011
Location
Central Massachusetts
Strangely, in Louisiana, some of the most prominent Know-Nothings were Catholic! Aside from staunch Unionism and opposition to immigrants (anything 'foreign,' really), they were remarkably flexible. In La., they could tolerate "the right kind of Catholics." In the South, they supported slavery; in the North, they tried to ignore the slavery issue -- that's the reason they never formed an alliance with Abolitionism (though some joined, the Abolitionist leadership condemned them).
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Correct me if I am wrong, Pat, but the early Republican Party eagerly embraced Protestant German immigrants as an important building block of the broader Republican coalition, especially in Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

That is correct. Carl Schurz being one of the most notable examples. Protestent German Americans tended to be strongly anti-slavery, seeing parallels between the Germany monarchical oppression they had fled and the oppression of blacks in the South. Which probably loops back on the question of why Know-Nothings disliked German Protestants.

The Republican Party was such an amalgamation of factions they had both Northern Know-Nothings as well as anti-slavery Protest German immigrants. Edward Bates had some involvement with the Know-Nothings and that made him seen as liability for the Republicans. One of the big reasons Lincoln got the nomination is he didn't have any of the baggage the three contenders ahead of him had (see Doris Keane Goodwin's A Team of Rivals, among others).
 

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Location
Long Island, NY
I really like the way you constructed your review, Pat!

Would be nice to add, however, some other books out there that are closely related. I'm thinking particuarly of August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen, a book published by Kent State University Press in 2006 that reproduces the wartime letters of some of the German men in Willich's command.

See https://books.google.com/books/about/August_Willich_s_Gallant_Dutchmen.html?id=jw93AAAAMAAJ
I noted the work of Joseph Reinhart in paragraph three, the author and translator of August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen, so great minds think alike. I never miss a chance to mention Reinhart's exemplary work.
 

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