A German Hurrah!
Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stängel, 9th Ohio InfantryCivil War Era, Civil War in the North
Fascinating perspectives on the war from two German immigrants
Lieutenant Friedrich Bertsch and Chaplain Wilhelm Stängel of the 9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry were not typical soldiers in the Union army. They were German immigrants fighting in a German regiment. Imbued with democratic and egalitarian ideals, the pair were disappointed with the imperfections they found in America and its political, social, and economic fabric; they also disdained puritanical temperance and Sunday laws restricting the personal freedoms they had enjoyed in Europe. Both men believed Germans were superior to Americans and other ethnic soldiers and hoped to elevate the status of Germans in American society by demonstrating their willingness to join in the fight and preserve the Union at the risk of their own lives.
Bertsch’s and Stängel’s letters from the battlefront were published in German American newspapers and are historically significant for several reasons: they are among the very rare collections of letters from soldiers in a German regiment; they fill a significant void of letters from Union fighting men describing the events in the rugged mountains and valleys of western Virginia during the North’s first campaign and subsequent service in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama; they provide a useful account of how the two German Americans viewed the war, American officers and enlisted men, other immigrant soldiers, and the enemy; they shed light on the ethnic dimensions of the war, especially ethnic identity, pride, and solidarity; and they reflect the overarching political climate in which the war was fought. Additionally, these contemporary letters are superior to accounts written years or decades after the events occurred.
A German Hurrah! makes Bertsch’s and Stängel’s letters available in English for the first time. It is a valuable addition to Civil War studies and will be welcomed by those interested in ethnicity and immigration.
Joseph R. Reinhart’s recent books include Two Germans in the Civil War: The Diary of John Daeuble and the Letters of Gottfried Rentschler, Sixth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry; A History of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S: The Boys Who Feared No Noise, and August Willich’s Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry (The Kent State University Press, 2006).