17 July 2017

Germans in the Civil War

It is supposed that Robert E. Lee said, “Take the Dutch out of the Union army and we could whip the Yankees easily.”[1] New York State supplied the Union with the largest number of German born soldiers in the Civil War- totaling 36,680.  In 1869 Doctor Benjamin Apthorp Gould, the actuary for the United States Sanitary Commission, published Investigations in the Military and Anthropological Statistics of American Soldiers.  Using census records, Dr. Gould showed that the Germans supplied a larger proportionate share of volunteers for the Union army than either the native Americans-many of whom hired substitutes under the bounty system-or the Irish.  According to Dr. Gould’s figures:
176,817 Germans enlisted in the Federal army, which totaled 2,018,200 men, though they would have had to supply only 118,402 in proportion to their share of the population.  Native Americans should have supplied 1,660,068 but actually only 1,523,267 were enlisted.  The Irish, like the Germans, exceeded their quota, supplying 144,221 when their share would have been only 139,052.  Since there were not as many Germans as Irish in the United States by 1860, it was plain that the Germans exceeded them as well as other nationalities in their contributions to the Union armies.[2]

According to Reimer, approximately 400 Germans from Albany fought in the Civil War.  Although numerous Germans from Albany fought in the war, the city did not have specific regiments organized that were composed of mainly German stock except for Company D of the Twentieth Regiment of Infantry, or the United Turner Rifles.  However, New York City did create numerous regiments that mustered in the German element; for example, the Fourth New York Calvary, also called Dickel’s Mounted Rifles; the Second Battery, Light Artillery, New York, otherwise known as Blenker’s Battery; the Seventh New York Regiment of Infantry, also known as the Steuben Regiment; the Eighth New York Regiment of Infantry, also referred to as the First German Rifles; the Twenty-ninth New York Regiment of Infantry, familiarly known as the First Astor Rifles; the Forty-fifth New York Regiment of Infantry (Veteran), also celebrated as the Fifth German Regiment and Rifles: Howe’s Rifles; the Forty-sixth New York Regiment of Infantry, otherwise known as the Frémont Regiment; the Fifty-second New York Regiment of Infantry, commonly recognized as the Sigel Rifles or the German Rangers; the Fifty-fourth New York Regiment of Infantry, usually identified as the Barney Rifles or Schwarzes-Yäger Regiment; and the Eighty-sixth New York Regiment of Infantry, generally acknowledged as the Steuben Rangers.[3]
The numerous contributions made by the Germans in the Civil War tended to discredit the nativists’ attacks upon them that were frequently heard in the prewar years.  The war gave them a chance not only to raise their prestige as citizens, but also to fortify their leadership roles in the community.  Many individuals previously conscripted into German military service acquired traits from their experiences in the military that remained with them for the rest of their lives.  Respect for discipline, honesty, and hard work were such traits.  Germans now pointed to the Civil War as proof of their deserved place in American society.[4] After the Civil War, the war investment appeared to pay off with large political dividends.  The anti-German bias subsided.  Later, historians noted that the Civil War ended the vogue of calling the Germans “Dutchmen.”[5] The Civil War not only helped to confirm the course of German-American activism, but also encouraged the acquisition of the English language.  In a war economy, efficiency was valued highly- if a worker understood no English, he stood the possibility of being laid off.  Therefore, the belief that knowledge of English enhanced one’s job prospects and earnings was both true and tested.[6]
An example of a German-born individual profiting from the Civil War was George Krank (1829-1907).  Krank held many occupations, such as saloon owner, musician, and real estate agent.  He helped recruit the German element in the “South End” during the Civil War.  Krank held the rank of Second Lieutenant in the New York State Volunteers Seventh Regiment of Heavy Artillery.  After the war he was immensely popular and was elected First Ward Alderman in 1872.  He is said to have claimed that he aided the city in having public water pipes installed and run up Second Avenue.  The 1873 Albany Directory lists Krank as First Ward Alderman, deputy sheriff, and real estate agent.[7]  During the 1880s, he was captain of the German militia organization- the Washington Rifles.  Behind his beloved Our Lady Help of Christians Church lies Krank Street and also Krank Park.  Although in the “South End” of today George Krank might be forgotten for his deeds, his surname is prominently displayed on street signs and the park billboard.




[1] Rippley, The German-Americans, p. 65.
[2] O’Connor, The German-Americans, pp. 129-130. Faust, The German Element in the United States, pp. 522-526. Rudolf A. Hofmeister, The Germans of Chicago (Champaign: Stipes Publishing Company, 1976), p. 87.
[3] Faust, The German Element in the United States, p. 527. Frederick Phisterer, comp., New York in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, State Printers, 1912), pp. 803-822, 1788-1805, 1815-1831, 1958-1970, 2062-2076, 2319-2337, 2305-2321, 2415-2436, 2445-2463. For an excellent survey of a locally organized regiment that included many Germans residing in the Albany County town of Bethlehem; see, Robert Keating, Carnival of Blood: The Civil War Ordeal of the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery (Baltimore: Butternut & Blue, 1998).
[4] Bergquist, “German-Americans,” in Multiculturalism in the United States, p. 61.  Yox, “Decline of the German-American Community in Buffalo,” p. 94. Guido A. Dobbert, “German-Americans Between New and Old Fatherland,” American Quarterly 19(4): 669.
[5] Andrew P. Yox, “Bonds of Community: Buffalo’s German Element,” New York History 66(2): 156. Idem, Decline of the German-American Community in Buffalo, p. 101.
[6] Yox, “Decline of the German-American Community in Buffalo,” pp. 107-108.
[7] 1873 Albany City Directory (Albany: Sampson, Davenport, & Company, 1873), p. 123.