Filed under: News
Tagged as: 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Cincinnati (OH), German-Americans, Gustav Tafel, Wilhelm Kaufman.
By Don Heinrich Tolzmann
In the 1990s I saw Ken Burns’ PBS film “The Civil War” but I was disappointed that no mention was made of the role played by German-Americans, especially the many German regiments who fought for the Union. I felt this was mainly due to the fact that the major book on the topic, written by Wilhelm Kaufman, was in German and had never been translated. After talking with colleagues I decided to pull together a team to bring out a translation, which resulted in the publication of Germans in the American Civil War.*
Kaufmann was the editor of a German newspaper in Cleveland. His Civil War history had previously appeared in serial form in 80 German-American papers across the country. As a result, Kaufmann received a great deal of correspondence from German-American Civil War veterans, making his book a goldmine of information on the topic and includes an extensive biographical directory of more than five hundred German-American officers. According to Kaufman and other sources, one-third of Union troops were German-American, either German- or American-born!
With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approaching, my concern again is that the role played by German-Americans will be overlooked so I am translating another important book on the topic: Gustav Tafel’s history of the Cincinnati Germans in the Civil War.
When President Lincoln called for volunteer regiments to protect the Union, Germans from Cincinnati were eager to enlist. Gustav Tafel (1830-1908) wrote a fascinating book about these Cincinnati Germans in 1901 as a chapter in a German-language history of the Cincinnati Germans. Like Kaufmann’s work, this has never been translated, so I decided to take the project on. What I like about Tafel’s work is that it is by a Civil War veteran and he is more than familiar with what he is talking about.
Tafel belonged to the 48er generation that came to America as a result of the 1848 Revolution in Germany. In Cincinnati he co-founded the first Turnverein and helped organize the 9th O.V.I., known as a Turner regiment. The 9th O.V.I., made up of mostly foreign-born Germans, fought at Rich Mountain, Shiloh, Tullahoma, Corinth and Chickamauga among others. Tafel was also appointed commander of the 106th O.V.I. and, later on, served as mayor of Cincinnati.
Tafel’s history tells us that the Cincinnati Germans formed six German regiments, but also formed companies in non-German units as well. For example, Cincinnati’s 10th O.V.I. was formed by Irish-Americans, but also had two German companies.
The German regiments were dubbed the “Dutch devils” by the Confederates. Robert E. Lee was reported to have said, “Take the Dutch out of the Union Army and we could whip the Yankees easily.” Known for their tenacity in battle, the 9th O.V.I., for example, lost 11 officers and 237 troops out of a total of some 500 men at the Battle of Chickamauga.
German regiments were formed elsewhere in Ohio and it would be interesting to see translations done of their histories if they can be located. Some of them might not be in book form, but in the pages of the German-language press of Ohio. I would be interested in finding out about any other German-language regimental histories in need of translation, or of Civil War letters and diaries in German as well.
*Germans in the American Civil War, by Wilhelm Kaufman, translated by Steven Rowan and edited by Don Heinrich Tolzmann with Werner Mueller and Robert E. Ward (Carlisle, Pa.: John Kallmann Publishers, 1999).
Don Heinrich Tolzmann is President of the German-American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati and Curator of the German Heritage Museum and the author and editor of numerous books on German-American history and culture. He has received many awards, including the Federal Service Cross from Germany and the Ohioana Book Award. Dr. Tolzmann recently retired as Curator of the German-Americana Collection and Director of the German-American Studies Program at the University of Cincinnati. http://www.donheinrichtolzmann.net/index.html