When Armed German Leftists Helped Save the Union

More

Missouri's immigrants brought their state to join the North during America's Civil War

Tenner_Missouri_4-11_carousel.jpg

In the latest American Scholar, Adam Goodheart tells the little-known story of St. Louis Germans, including many exiled revolutionaries, joined by Austrians, Poles, and Bohemians, who secured St. Louis and Missouri for the North when most of the city's leading families favored the Confederacy:

For such men, and even for their less radical compatriots, Missouri's slaveholding class represented exactly what they had detested in the old country, exactly what they had wanted to escape: a swaggering clique of landed oligarchs. By contrast, the Germans prided themselves on being, as an Anzeiger editorial rather smugly put it, "filled with more intensive concepts of freedom, with more expansive notions of humanity, than most peoples of the earth"--more imbued with true democratic spirit, indeed more American than the Americans themselves.

And Goodheart concludes:

In effect, a small band of German revolutionaries accomplished in St. Louis what they had failed to do in Vienna and Heidelberg: overthrow a reactionary state government. And they had done it in a matter of weeks, while in the East the armies were stumbling toward a war of attrition that would last almost four years. If Lincoln and his generals in 1861 had been more like Lyon and his Germans, the Union's conquest of the South might have played out very differently.

Later in the war, Marx and Lincoln corresponded indirectly, though only a few liberals and self-described copperheads seem to care now. Assimilation and twentieth-century wars also blurred the German origins of many American families, technologies, and customs, but they included the Kentucky Rifle, the Conestoga Wagon, and even Groundhog Day.

Image: The Battle of Carthage in Missouri, in 1861 during the American Civil War. Wikimedia Commons. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

An Eerie Tour of Chernobyl's Wasteland

"Do not touch the water. There is nothing more irradiated than the water itself."


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In