Ohio’s Impact on the War Series: Ohio’s Immigrants

By arohmiller, posted on October 23rd, 2013.
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Written by: Catherine (Kidd) Wilson, Greene County Ohio Historical Society

In some ways, almost all Ohioans are immigrants, in the sense of starting out somewhere else. Even the Shawnee came from the South in the 1730s. During the Civil War period, many of the more recent arrivals to our fair state contributed in various ways to the war effort. The countries providing the most people were the German states (such as Prussia or Hesse Darmstadt) and Ireland, as well as the rest of northwestern Europe.

Immigrants made up entire regiments, such as the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, also known as “Die Neuner.” These were Germans from Cincinnati, for the most part, and field commands were given in that language. August Willich, who rose to the rank of brevet Major General, started his Civil War career in “Die Neuner.” Godfrey Weitzel, Bavarian native and Cincinnati resident, was a major general in the Union Army as well as the acting mayor of New Orleans during its Federal occupation. Many Irish immigrants had come over to work on the railroads, an important part of the war impact, and also served in the military. Some sources state that as many as 23 percent of the Union Army was foreign-born.

Some lesser-known groups could also be considered as immigrants; they are more properly emigrants, since they did not come from beyond US borders. Ohio was a destination for enslaved people in the years leading up to the conflict, as well as displaced Union sympathizers early in the war. An example of reverse immigration that was an important factor/controversy during the war was the Colonization Society, resettling enslaved people often those born in the US into African colonies.

Leaving all the scholarly stuff behind, here is the tale of two immigrants that I know well: my ancestors, Johann Gottfried Kirschner, 1825-1900, and James Lawrie, 1833-1864. Both came to Cincinnati in the 1850s and married there, to women from the “old country.” Their descendants became my ancestors when my grandparents married in 1932.

1860 wedding photo of Gottfried Kirschner and Elisabeth Schwartz.  Photo courtesy of Catherine Wilson.

1860 wedding photo of Gottfried Kirschner and Elisabeth Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Catherine Wilson.

Gottfried Kirschner (he went by his middle name) came to the United States from Prussia with his mother and sister, in 1853. He married Elisabeth Schwartz in 1860; she was one of four sisters who had come to the Cincinnati area. All of the Schwartz girls married immigrants, as did Gottfried’s sister Paulina. According to Gottfried’s papers, he was ineligible to serve in the military in Prussia, as he was just over 5 feet tall; he had blue eyes and brown hair. More importantly, as a machinist and locksmith, his profession was important for wartime production. Gottfried and Elisabeth had 10 children together, six of which lived to adulthood. He traded his property in Cincinnati for 100 acres in Adams Co. in the 1870s, and died on the farm there. He and Elisabeth are buried at Manchester IOOF Cemetery.

1854 wedding photo of James Lawrie and Margaret Waite, in Cincinnati.  Photo courtesy of Catherine Wilson.

1854 wedding photo of James Lawrie and Margaret Waite, in Cincinnati. Photo courtesy of Catherine Wilson.

James Lawrie was born in Scotland, near Edinburgh, and came to the United States sometime in the early 1850s. He married Margaret Waite, also of Scotland, in 1854 in Cincinnati, where he was employed as a chandler. They moved to near Aberdeen, Brown Co. sometime before 1860, near some other Scottish families, and had three children. James enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company C, 16th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, raised across the river in Lewis Co. KY, mustering in January 1862; aged 28, with brown hair and blue eyes, he stood 5 feet 7 inches tall. He was detached as an ordnance officer at Knoxville from September to December 1863. He was mortally wounded in the thigh by grapeshot at Resaca GA in May 1864, and “never recovered from the effects of the chloroform,” according to the diary of Winchester Rudy, a private in his company. Lt. Lawrie left among his effects a pistol taken from a Confederate, which is still in the family. Margaret survived him by a little less than a year, dying in 1865. The three children were raised by local families of Scottish origin. James is buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery, Margaret at Charter Oak Cemetery in Aberdeen, OH. I have taken earth from each grave and placed it at the other site, so there is a little piece of Ohio in Tennessee and vice versa.


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