People of the Civil War

Union Soldiers and the Draft

One of the most interesting facts about the American Civil War, and there are many, was the composition of the troops involved on both sides. Who were the soldiers? Who were the volunteers? Why did they join the fight? Who were some of the famous immigrants from the Civil War? There were large divisions in the country and sides were being taken. Often times families themselves were split in their loyalties.

civil war sword

Civil War Sword Bayonet

In the book, The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts, author Burke Davis states that the White House itself was an example of the divisions in the country. President Abraham Lincoln’s brothers-in-law wore Confederate uniforms. One was even charged with brutality to Union prisoners in Richmond Virginia.

The Union instituted a draft. The Enrollment Act, passed by the Thirty-seventh Congress in response to the need to increase the ranks of the Union army, made all  males between the ages of twenty and forty-five subject to the draft. There were exceptions of course. If you were the only son of a widow, physically impaired or mentally ill, you could avoid the draft. The biggest issue in this bill, different from drafts during the twentieth century, was the allowing of draftees to pay $300 to a substitute who served for them. It’s been written that some of the wealthier draftees paid up to $1,100 for a substitute which in that day was an enormous sum. Three familiar names who all qualified for the draft but never served were the former president, Grover Cleveland, the Cleveland merchant John D. Rockefeller and the New York lawyer George Templeton Strong.

Immigrants in the Civil War

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Union Gunboat USS Cairo on Mississippi River, 1862

Civil War statistics  show the people born outside the United States played a larger role in the war than many may realize. The vast majority of the immigrants resided in the north. The figures were about 4 million in the north compared to about 230,000 in the south. To give you an idea of the number of Civil War immigrants  in the Civil War, regiments serving the north during the war, a partial list of the regiments were as follows…

In regards to Germans, they comprised ten regiments from New York, six in Ohio, six in Missouri, five from Pennsylvania, four from Wisconsin and three in Illinois. There were more spread around the country.

The Irish had two pure regiments from Massachusetts, three others in New England and four from New York. There were also two in Pennsylvania and Indiana. In regards to immigrant participation, among the famous people of the Civil War were Colonel Franz Spigel shown in the photo below.

The south had Civil War immigrants dressed in gray as well. The south had five Generals who were born in Ireland. The south had companies composed of Germans, Poles, Frenchmen, Mexican and Spaniards. Foreign nationals served in the Confederate Army as well. A claim was made by one Canadian that some 40,000 of his countrymen fought for the south although that figure might have been largely exaggerated. One Louisiana regiment reportedly was comprised of fighters of thirty-seven nationalities.

The German Immigrants of Missouri

missouri governor jackson

Claiborne Fox Jackson, 15th Governor of Missouri

It’s very interesting to explore many of the regiments put together on the Union side. Missouri is an interesting example look at. The Missouri example highlights just how important immigrants were for the Union cause. According to the Missouri Civil War Museum, the governor of Missouri did not wish to answer Lincoln’s call for troops. In fact, Missouri Gov. Jackson preferred the State to join the Confederacy but he didn’t have the votes to back it up. What he did do however was appoint a southern sympathizer as head of the Missouri Militia.

As history notes, Missouri was the site of some of the worse atrocities to occur during the war. These included raids by the likes of Jesse James and Quantrills Raiders. Missouri had many of it’s citizens join up on both sides of the conflict. The state sympathies were heavily divided and this fact explains why some of the most violent encounters took place there.

The German community in St. Louis understood the political situation. They knew what Governor Jackson’s feelings were and watched the situation carefully. The Germans were pro Union. Eventually, German immigrants formed their own militia regiments and drilled them in secret. What they were waiting for was word from Washington to act and of course arms. They were ready, willing and able to act against the state if Jackson went ahead with plans to secede. President Lincoln through a St. Louis Congressman knew quite well what the situation was. As a result, Lincoln did give the okay for the German armed militias and sent an army captain named Nathaniel Lyons from Kansas to St. Louis.

The Breaking Point in Missouri

immigrants of the civil war

German immigrant Colonel Franz Sigel, 3rd Missouri Infantry

The tipping point with the Missouri situation occurred in May of 1861. This is when the Missouri Volunteer State Militia gathered at Camp Jackson, just north of St. Louis at the behest of Governor Jackson. Here Gov. Jackson’s forces received arms and ammunition from the Confederate Government. Many of these war supplies were stolen from the Federal Arsenal at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Lyons rallied his forces composed of ten regiments of primarily German American, an artillery battery and two companies of U.S. Infantry (regular Army). This massive force, approximately 10,000 men was set in motion to capture the 700 man Missouri State forces at Camp Jackson situated on ground now occupied by St. Louis University. The Union forces were able to stop the secession movement in Missouri. The U.S. Infantry and the German regiments were instrumental in keeping the Unions western gateway open. Civil War immigrants, particularly German immigrants, were the key to saving Missouri from secession.

Three additional photo articles we’ve published that you’ll find interesting are The Confederate Navy and the Civil War Submarines. On our Western Trips site see the Civil War Infantry photo article.

Planned Missouri Civil War Museum

There were many interesting and diverse groups of people of the Civil War. There are also many venues to explore on the subject. Below are two sites in Missouri which will make excellent additions to your Missouri road trip planner.

The Missouri Civil War Museum is located within the Jefferson Barracks Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. The museum facility is located at the west side of the Jefferson Barrack’s historic grass parade grounds. This site is recognized as the oldest active military installation west of the Mississippi River. This museum is focused on Missouri during the Civil War. It is the fourth largest Civil War Museum in the nation and one of the largest Civil War research libraries in the nation. The museum’s stated purpose is to educate the public of the true aspects and history of the American Civil War and its relevance to the state of Missouri. At this museum,  Missouri’s unique Civil War story is brought to light with artifacts and exhibits. As of this writing, the museum is still being worked on.

The museum hopes to open in late 2012 .For the latest information on the museum’s opening you may want to refer to the museum website.

www.mcwm.org

Another must stop for Civil War buffs is the Carthage Civil War Museum in Carthage Missouri. The Carthage museum showcases artifacts and information about the Battle of Carthage and the Civil War in southwest Missouri. Also on display is information  on one of Carthage’s famous residents, “Belle Starr“. Carthage is about 272 miles southwest of St. Louis in the southwestern corner of the state near Joplin.

Two good books to explore the subject further are The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts by author Burke Davis and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border by Donald L. Gilmore.

(Photo of Civil War Sword from author’s collection. Remaining photos from the public domain)