A presentation made at a joint meeting of the Indiana Germanic Heritage Society, Kentuckiana Germanic Heritage Society, and the Indiana Chapter of the Palatines to America, at Indianapolis Indiana, March 18, 2000.
The 60th Indiana Infantry (including its two German companies), fought in the Union victory at Arkansas Post, Arkansas, in December, 1862, and suffered 70 casualties, including 13 killed in action. The 60th also took part in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863, and fought at Jackson, Mississippi, on July 10, 1863. After the siege of Jackson, Mississippi, the regiment continued to campaign in Southern states adjacent to the Mississippi River for the remainder of its enlistment, including the ill-fated Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864. For the war, it suffered 45 battle–related deaths and 168 dead of diseases. Nineteen men from the 60th’s German companies lost their lives.
The 22nd Kentucky Infantry, whose Company K was composed of Germans from Louisville, began its service in eastern Kentucky, and later moved west, and fought at Chickasaw Bayou and Chickasaw Bluffs in Mississippi in December 1862, was at Arkansas Post, Arkansas, during that battle, and also at Port Gibson, and other previously mentioned battles resulting in the capitulation of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The 22nd Kentucky also campaigned in Louisiana. This Kentucky regiment had 36 men killed in battles or mortally wounded, three men missing in action, and 131 died of diseases and illnesses. Of the regiments total dead of 170, 15 were German’s from Company K.
32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky
Now, let’s look at the all-German 32nd Indiana Infantry, and the 6th Kentucky (which had four German companies). Both these regiments fought principally in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia, as part of the Army of the Ohio and its successor Army of the Cumberland. And, both regiments were among the best fighting units provided to the Union army by their respective states. The 32nd Indiana was also one of the most renowned of all the German regiments.
The 32nd Indiana first gained nationwide attention for its gallant action at Rowlett’s Station near Munfordville, Kentucky, on December 17,1861. Four of its companies commanded by Lt. Col. Von Tebra were attacked by a regiment of cavalry, two infantry regiments and a battery of artillery. The four companies courageously defended themselves until reinforced by other companies of the 32nd, and the fight continued until the enemy hastily retreated. Fighting as skirmishers, one company formed a square when charged by the cavalry, sometimes even defending themselves singly and killing their assailants with the bayonet. The 32nd Indiana lost 10 men killed and suffered 22 wounded. Enemy losses were believed to be even greater. General Buell, commander of the Union’s Army of the Ohio, issued an order thanking the officers and men of the 32nd Indiana for their “gallant and efficient conduct.” and pointed to the regiment as an example of excellent training and discipline, which his other troops should try to emulate.
Both the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in early 1862, and were part of General Don Carlos Buell’s army which arrived in time to fight in the second day’s battle at Shiloh. During an attack, the 32nd’s line began to waver as enemy bullets tore into it. Colonel August Willich rode in front of his regiment and put them through the manual of arms drill, while more of his men fell to enemy fire. This amazing act steadied his Germans, who went on to aggressively take the battle to the enemy in this important Union victory. The 32nd Indiana was part of General Rousseau’s division at Shiloh and suffered 96 killed and wounded there.
As part of General Nelson’s division, during the forenoon on April 7, the 6th Kentucky and its brigade, made a bold charge and had the enemy on the run through the Davis wheat field, until Rebel reserves entered the battle. The 6th was caught in a deadly crossfire of musketry and artillery, and suffered most of its 103 casualties at this time. The two regiments then participated in the advance to, and siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in May 1862. After spending time in northeastern Mississippi and northern Alabama, the Army of the Ohio moved to Middle Tennessee, and then marched to Louisville to prevent an invading Confederate army from capturing the city. The 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky did not fight in the battle at Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8, 1862. However, the 6th Kentucky and its brigade were in the forefront of the Federal force pursuing the retreating Confederates. This pursuit passed through and over some of the roughest and wildest country in southeastern Kentucky, and finally ended at London, Kentucky. Pvt. Lorenz Vogel, a German from Louisville, was the only member of the 6th Kentucky killed during the constant skirmishing that took place with the enemy’s rearguard.
The Army of the Ohio re-organized after the battle of Perryville, and its name changed to the Army of the Cumberland. This Army’s next battle was fought near the Stones River, by Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville. The casualty lists exceeded those at Shiloh. The Federal army’s right and center were rolled back by the Confederates on December 31, 1862; however, the left held, and prevented a Confederate rout of the Union army. The 32nd Indiana was on the Federal right and suffered 167 casualties, including 115 captured. General Willich, who now commanded the brigade to which the 32nd Indiana belonged, was also captured. Willich and most of the others taken prisoner were later exchanged for captured Confederates, and returned to duty. The 6th Kentucky and its brigade fought stubbornly on the Union left, and held their position all day, contributing to the ultimate Union victory. The 6th Kentucky incurred 113 casualties, including 24 killed and mortally wounded. Its German companies were especially hard hit fighting at the edge of the woods known as “the Cedars”. After running out of ammunition, the 6th Kentucky joined its brigade in the Round Forest, and fought from there until the day’s bloodshed ended. The Federals repulsed a ferocious attack on January 2, 1864, and the Confederates left the battlefield. Total Union casualties between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863, were 13,000 and Confederate casualties were 10,000
The Army of the Cumberland remained in and around Murfreesboro until late June 1863, and then embarked on the Tullahoma campaign. The 32nd Indiana suffered 15 killed and mortally wounded on June 25,1863, during a hot fight at Liberty Gap, Tennessee. The 6th Kentucky was in the army’s left wing, and rain, mud, and swollen rivers prevented it from engaging the enemy, before they retreated out of Middle Tennessee into northern Georgia.
The Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee next collided near Chickamauga Creek in Georgia on September 19 and 20, 1863, in another great American slaughter. The 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky both fought courageously in this bloody battle; however, a Federal error on the second day of the battle, allowed the Confederates to break through the Union line, and the federal army was forced to retreat back to Chattanooga and fortify the city. The 32nd Indiana suffered 121 casualties, and the 6th Kentucky suffered 118 casualties. Federal casualties totaled almost 16,000, and Confederate casualties totaled almost 18,000.
The Confederate army lay siege to Chattanooga by occupying the west bank of the Tennessee River, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the Federals suffered greatly from lack of food and supplies.
While at Chattanooga, the Army of the Cumberland was reorganized and the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky were both placed in the same division under Kentucky-native Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood. Brig. Gen. August Willich, former colonel of the 32nd Indiana, commanded the Third Brigade of General Wood’s division, which included the 32nd Indiana. The 6th Kentucky remained in General Hazen’s Second Brigade, which was strengthened by the addition of six small battle-reduced regiments. After the reorganization, Hazen’s brigade contained about 2,500 men. One of the regiments added was the 5th Kentucky Infantry, also known as the Louisville Legion. The Louisville Legion contained a German company that enlisted at Camp Joe Holt back in July 1861, plus Germans in mixed companies. Pvt. Gottfried Rentschler of the 6th Kentucky, estimated in March 1864 that General Hazen’s brigade of nine regiments contained about 600 Germans.
The 6th Kentucky and its brigade helped open a supply line from Bridgeport, Alabama, through a daring raid on October 27 1863, at Brown’s Ferry, west of Chattanooga. Half of Hazen’s brigade traveled to the Ferry in pontoon boats under the cover of darkness and assaulted the Confederates defending the Ferry. The other half of the brigade was transported across the Tennessee River in the pontoon boats used by the original assault force. The enemy was driven away from the area, and reinforcements transferred from the Army of the Potomac moved from Bridgeport, Alabama, to Brown’s Ferry, opening the critical line of supply. The aforementioned reinforcements included several all-German regiments from the East. On November 25, 1863, Willich’s and Hazen’s brigades attacked Confederate regiments posted at and adjacent to Orchard Knob, seizing their fortifications located east of Chattanooga and about halfway between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. Two days later, the Army of the Cumberland, over 22,000 troops strong, stormed Missionary Ridge and drove the Confederates from their fortifications. The soldiers only had orders to seize the enemy rifle pits at the base of the ridge; however, being under a murderous fire from above, the men took it upon themselves to storm up the ridge, and drive off the enemy, and won one of the most stunning Union victories of the war.
Several regiments, including the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky, which stormed the hill almost side-by-side, have been credited with being the first to reach the crest of the ridge; however, no one knows for sure who was actually first. The 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky, along with the rest of their division spent December 1863 through April 1864 marching around in East Tennessee looking for a large Confederate force thought to be in the area, but they fought no significant battles. Mostly they suffered from cold and hunger, and were elated when spring arrived.
In May 3, 1864, most of the remaining original members of the 32nd Indiana and the 6th Kentucky began their last campaign of the War. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign — sometimes called “the 100 days under fire,” because of continuous contact with the enemy. Still serving in General Wood’s division, the 32nd Indiana and 6th Kentucky fought at Resaca, Georgia, on May 14-15, Pickett’s Mill, on May 27, and Kennesaw Mountain, in late June. The 6th Kentucky was also engaged at Rocky Face Ridge near Tunnel Hill, Georgia, very early in the campaign. General Willich was severely wounded during the battle of Resaca, and was never able to return to command of his brigade. Both regiments also were engaged in the siege of Atlanta, which began on July 23, 1864. Because of expiring enlistments, both regiments were sent back to Tennessee before Atlanta fell on September 2, 1864. The 32nd Indiana suffered 42 killed and an unknown number of wounded during this campaign, and the 6th Kentucky suffered 21 killed and mortally wounded, and 37 wounded or missing. Both regiments paid heavy prices defending the Union. The dead list of the 32nd Indiana contained 171 names of men killed or mortally wounded, plus 96 who died of diseases. Total 267. The 6th Kentucky had 97 battle-related deaths, and 82 men died of diseases, illnesses and other causes. Total 179. Forty-one of the regiment’s Germans died from combat and 36 died from diseases and other causes for a grand total of 77.
In addition to fighting the enemy, the elements, and diseases, German soldiers had to deal with prejudices in their own army. A young Kentucky farmer in the 6th Kentucky wrote in a letter that when the German companies and native Kentucky companies combined at Camp Sigel in Louisville in November 1861, that the Germans and Americans could not understand one another and were suspicious of one another. He thought they out to be separate. Another Kentuckian wrote that the men in his company rejoiced when a Germanic Major resigned because he and his friends did not want to take orders from a foreigner.
Pvt. Gottfried Rentschler, a native of Wuerttmberg penned that: If a full company is needed for some easy service, e.g., Provost-Guard, a German company is never taken. If an entire company is required for rough service, e.g., several days or several weeks as Train-Guard, a German company will be ordered whenever possible. As this happens on a company basis, so it happens to individuals in the mixed companies. As a rule, the German has to wade through the mud, while the American walks on the dry road. The German is a “Dutch soldier” and as a “Dutchman” he is, if not despised, is disrespected, and not regarded or treated as an equal.
I had a discussion once with a party of abolitionist officers about the employment of Negroes as soldiers and uttered my disapproval. Their main argument against me, was that the Germans had no business to bear arms and become soldiers, because they value the country so little just like the Negro. A colonel once said that he could not understand why so many Germans volunteer so readily for the army, after all, as foreigners they could not be interested in it. This opinion is mainly represented by Americans from the North.
I have already heard many crude jokes made about one of the best known generals of the Union, not because he is not up to his high position, every Know-Nothing will argue the opposite, but rather because he is a German. When I say this lack of respect for the Germans comes mainly from the Free States’ Americans, let me state at the same time also the fact, that the Free States’ Americans give the Negro, wherever they come in contact with him, much worse treatment than those who belong to the Slave States. In my brigade there are 5 Ohio, 1 Indiana, and 3 Kentucky Regiments. The Kentuckians treat the Negro more humanely, the others treat him like a dog. The former call him Negro, the latter call him Nigger,
ottfried‘s statements about anti-German prejudices and mistreatment of Germans generally ring true, and it is not surprising considering the wide-spread nativism which began in the 1850s. It is somewhat ironic that abolitionist soldiers from the Free States also detested the foreign-born men who were sacrificing so much fighting on their side in the war. That native Kentuckians in the 6th Kentucky displayed less prejudice toward their fellow soldiers of German nativity might be attributed to the large number of Germans in the 6th, whom they relied on in battle. While Gottfried may have observed Union-loyal Kentuckians treating Negroes better than the Free States Americans did, his assertion that Bluegrass Staters did not call them Niggers is untrue. This derogatory term was in common use by Kentuckians and Rentschler sometimes used it himself. While tolerating prejudicial acts directed at them by native Americans and other ethnic groups, Germans had some prejudices of their own. They felt that they were products of a superior culture and were better soldiers than anyone else. Gottfried Rentschler demonstrated this when he wrote:
Let me return to the German soldiers, and state another fact, i.e., that the German soldier is generally far, more faithful, conscientious and zealous than the native-born American. This is part of the German nature, which is our reason to be proud of our nation. One more thing: The German soldier is obedient and loyal to duty without regard to reward or punishment. The American generally considers, only reward, or – The Guard-House. This is caused by the national education on either side, in the broadest sense of the word. Because of the situation as mentioned, you may possibly draw the conclusion that the mixing of Germans and Americans in the Army may be beneficial to both parties, but such conclusion is in error.
William L. Burton points out in his study — Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union’s Ethnic Regiments — that Germans and members of other ethnic groups sometimes interpreted valid criticism and acts based on reasons other than ethnicity, as being unjust and prejudiced. He also states that biases and friction attributed to national origin were often based on political, religious, cultural or other difference between the parties. Regardless of ethnic differences and prejudices, the native Germans in the 6th Kentucky and the vast majority elsewhere in the Federal army fought on for their adopted country, hoping for better times.
Finally, how did German-Americans perform as soldiers? Some were excellent, most were average, and some were poor. Bell Irwin Wily concludes in his excellent study entitled: The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, that “On the whole the contribution of this nationality to the union cause was tremendous…. Their neatness, precision and respect for authority was of infinite aid in molding a mob of individuals into an organized fighting force. What the Teutons lacked in quickness and glamour was more than offset by their patience and steadiness, not to mention the idealistic devotion of many of them to the cause of the Union.”