The 2000 census shows that 53% of Wisconsin’s population claims some German ancestry. During the Civil War a number of regiments consisted primarily of soldiers of one nationality. The best example is probably the Irish Brigade consisting of New England Regiments. Because of the huge number of immigrants from German areas of Europe whole regiments were often called “German Regiments” because most of them were German-speaking. The 26th Wisconsin was among the regiments called “all German”.
Recently I purchased a book at used book store titled Wisconsin in the Civil War, by Frank L. Klement. The book was published by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in 1997 and even as a used book it commanded a premium price. But since I have a particular interest in Wisconsin in the Civil War I bit the bullet and bought it.
The book is not a thick one coming in art 130+ pages. It covers in summary form the war history of all the regiments, cavalry and infantry and artillery batteries that Wisconsin raised during the Civil War.
One of the illustrations is a reproduction of the recruiting poster for the 26th Wisconsin. The poster is in German.
My friend Rob from the excellent website Gott Mitt Uns translated the poster for me. It reads:
Bounty $402 for veterans honorably discharged, 302$ for new recruits. 27 Dollars and one months pay in advance will get paid after examination. Payment and distribution of food starting on the day of entrance. Every German should join this Regiment.
Because the poster advertises a bounty for veterans it probably dates to 1864. By the summer of 1864 the three-year enlistments of the 1861 regiments were expiring and the Union was frantic to retain experienced men-hence the $402.00 bounty paid for veterans versus the $302.00 paid for new recruits. The 26th WI was raised in 1862 and even though their enlistment expired in 1865 the Army would still be anxious to get the veteran soldiers to reenlist early for the duration of the war.
The sums are large for 1864. A Union Army Private earned $16.00 a month in 1864. The wages of a soldier were raised to $16.00 in 1864. Prior to that date they earned only $13.00 a month. An initial payment for enlistment or re-enlistment of $27.00 plus one month’s pay in advance would be a significant incentive to stay in the Army or join an existing veteran regiment.
Enlisting in an existing veteran regiment was also a good way to avoid stigma of the draft. By 1863 enthusiasm for the war had died down with long casualty lists and a Confederate Army that showed no signs of giving up. The government enacted the draft and in many places, notably New York City, people rioted or otherwise resisted the draft.
According to Klement the German population of Wisconsin was especially resistant to the draft. Klement notes that Germany, as we know it, did not come into existence until 1871 under Bismarck. Prior to that date “Germany” was a hodge-podge of states that included Prussia, Hannover, Mecklenburg, Saxony, Bavaria and a good number of smaller states.
When these Germanic peoples immigrated to the US they came as Prussians, Bavarians or Saxons, not Germans. They were joined by other German-speaking people like Swiss, Austrians and Bohemians.
English speakers lumped them all together as “Germans” and in time the immigrants started to see themselves as German-Americans rather than Prussian-Americans or Bavarian-Americans. Klement also states that many of the immigrants left Europe to avoid the mandatory conscription laws that most of German states had and this is why they resisted the draft.
I think there may be truth to that but I’d venture to say that poverty in their homeland and the chance to own your own land in America were probably better or as good incentives to leave.
The 26th Wisconsin was raised in 1861 prior to the draft and as a result it was a truly volunteer regiment and so would have avoided having too many draftees. Draftees in general were looked down upon by the veterans and often called “bounty men” who enlisted to avoid the draft just to get the bounty. A “bounty jumper” was one who enlisted in one regiment to receive the bounty and then would desert and enlist again in another regiment under a different name.
This may be why the poster for the 26th Wisconsin advertises payment of the bounty upon discharge making it far less likely that a new recruit would become a bounty jumper.
The 26th Wisconsin saw action in both the eastern and western theaters of the Civil War. This link goes to an excellent website on the regiment where much of the following information was gleaned from.
In summary form the regiment was placed in the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, Franz Sigel commanding, himself a German immigrant (from Baden). Sigel was a political General of limited ability but a remarkable recruiting agent among the Germans who took pride in serving “mit Sigel.” In fact the 26th WI was known as the “Sigel Regiment” when originally mustered at Camp Sigel in Milwaukee in 1862. In Wisconsin the 26th was known as the “2nd German Regiment.” I’m speculating that the “1st German Regiment” was the 9th Wisconsin because it too was made up predominately of German immigrants or the sons of German immigrants.
The 26th division commander was Carl Schurz another German immigrant from North-Rhine Westphalia. Both he and Sigel were involved in the revolutions of 1848 and both had some military experience as the result of those conflicts. Schurz has the distinction of being the first German-American to be elected to the US Senate (R-MO). Schurz’s wife, Margaretha Meyer-Schurz, started the nation’s first Kindergarten (literally, child’s garden) in Watertown, WI in 1876.
The 26th brigade commander was Wladimir Krzyanowski who came from Runowo, Wielkposka, Poland an area near Poznan. In the 1860’s Poznan was Posen thus reflecting the combined German-Polish population of the area. Poland had disappeared from the map of Europe and had been divided up between Russia, Austria and Prussia. Posen was officially a German city until 1945. I have ancestors of Polish-German extraction from the same area. No doubt brigade commander Krzyzanowski was as bi-lingual as my ancestors.
The 26th first regimental commander was William Jacobs who was from Brunswick thus illustrating the wide variety of areas the soldiers came from.
In January, 1863 Corp Commander Sigel was replaced by O.O. Howard. Howard would command the Corps at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He said in his memoirs that the Corps had about 5,000 Germans and 8,000 Americans. Howard would later be noted for founding the nation’s first all black college named for him as Howard University in Washington D.C. Howard is also the General who led in the pursuit of the Nez Perce tribe in their attempt to flee to Canada in 1877 under their famous Chief Joseph.
The higher proportion of Americans Howard noted did not stop the Corps from getting a bad reputation for being “a German Corp” and being blamed for the Corps poor performance at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.
There was some prejudice against immigrants in the 1860’s and the most numerous immigrants were Irish and Germans. And so when the 11th Corp was slammed by Stonewall Jackson’s command at Chancellorsville in one of the most effective surprise attacks ever it was easy to blame the Germans for routing. The mockery was “they fight mit Sigel” but “run mit Schurz.” Never mind that most everyone broke and fled at the suddenness of Jackson’s brilliant flanking surprise attack.
The 26th Wisconsin and 58th New York both fought an amazing regard action at Chancellorsville and Schurz spent a good part of his time after the war fighting for the 11th Corps and his division’s reputation. It was the eastern newspapers that trashed the German’s reputation. As a whole, western regiments in the Army of the Potomac received very little good press because most of the reporters were from Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. This is why the Iron Brigade (2nd WI, 6th WI, 7th WI, 19th IN and 24 MI) received little notice during the Civil War and it wasn’t until after the war they began to receive credit for their extraordinary service. The media’s ability to control the narrative is nothing new.
The 11th Corp got unlucky again in July, 1863 as being the second Union Corp to arrive at Gettysburg, They took up position to the north of the town and were soon barreled into by the rapidly arriving Confederates. As a whole, the Corp was again routed through the town itself.
After Gettysburg Howard’s Corp was detached and sent to Tennessee where the 26th WI fought at Wauhatchie by Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga. Shortly thereafter the Army of the Potomac was reorganized and the 26th WI was transferred to the 20th Corps. The new Corps commander was Joe Hooker the same General who blundered so badly at Chancellorsville. 20th Corps was part of Sherman’s command and as such part of the Georgia-Carolina Campaigns. The 26th took part in the fierce fighting at Peach Tree Creek (where they captured the flag of the 33rd Mississippi), Resaca, New Hope Church and Kenesaw Mountain.
From there the 26th took part in Sherman’s March to the Sea and finished the war shortly thereafter being present at the Battle of Bentonville but unengaged.
The 26th returned to Milwaukee where they rewarded with a magnificent parade.
The Regiment totaled 1,089 gaining 89 from its original strength of 1000. 284 were killed, 31 deserted, 125 were transferred to other regiments and 232 were discharged for wounds or medical reasons. 449 were mustered out in June, 1865.
- The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg-Book Review (broeder10.wordpress.com)
- Regimental flags the centerpiece of Indiana sesqui exhibit (markerhunter.wordpress.com)
- Stolz, Amerikaner zu sein (economist.com)