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A German Hurrah! Civil War Letters of Friedrich Bertsch and Wilhelm Stangel, 9th Ohio Infantry

edited by Joseph R. Reinhart, Kent State University Press

Enlisting as soldiers in the Civil War enabled thousands of recent immigrants, most of them Irish and German, to prove their worthiness to be citizens and to repay a debt of gratitude many felt they owed to their new homeland.

The 108 letters recently discovered by Joseph Reinhart were written between June 1861 and September 1862 by two German officers of the 9th Ohio Infantry. Rather than personal missives written to family or loved ones, these accounts had been commissioned by two German-language newspapers to inform their readers about the exploits of their fellow countrymen. Reinhart says the goal was also “to increase the ethnic pride and ethnic solidarity of German Americans back home and to elevate their fighting men and the 9th Ohio in particular.”

Lieutenant Bertsch and Captain Stangel were not your typical volunteers. For one thing, they were older than most: Bertsch was 38, Stangel 35. They served in an ethnically homogeneous regiment where commands were given in German. Many men had Prussian military training and fought in the revolutions in Europe in 1848.

The letters are rich in detail about camp life and the customs the Germans brought with them, such as a weekly beer ration. Reinhart, who translated the letters, has created a compelling narrative describing life in a German regiment.


Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here