Joseph R. Reinhart makes a fine job of translating and editing these letters from members of the 32nd Indiana Infantry, which was composed of German immigrants. The letters were written to German language newspapers in Indiana, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky to report on the war and the fortunes of the German infantry unit. These letters are primary sources for research on the Civil War from those who were there. They of course were not free of error, since their authors did not always know what their commanding generals knew. But many of these authors were educated men; several were officers, but many were privates. In his introduction, Reinhart presents these various men and notes on their background.
August Willich’s name is in the title because he was first the colonel of the 32nd, later promoted to brigadier general; he wrote some of the letters compiled here. Many of these men were what are called “Forty-eighters” because they had been involved in the 1848 revolutions in Germany, an attempt to unify Germany that ultimately failed. These rebels had to flee for their lives, and many came to the United States. Others in the unit were plain German immigrants (the term “Dutchmen” is a misinterpretation of the German word for “German” - Deutsch; Pennsylvania Dutch are really Pennsylvania German, while Dutch refers to the people of the Netherlands or Holland).
Many of them were not religious but “free thinkers” who would mock the chaplains sent to them, which caused one to resign quickly, their philosophies attributable to the failed 1848 Revolution. The German involvement in the American Civil War helped them to become more Americanized and accepted by nativists who looked down upon foreigners of any kind.
Reinhart collected letters from the various authors and arranged them according to chronology and the events to which they were related, providing several different perspectives on a particular event. Reinhart opens each chapter with an introduction to the events and a summary of the letters contained therein. These lively letters provide not only eyewitness accounts of important events but also of the mundane minutiae of army life. Some authors used their real names, while others employed pseudonyms.
The fighting the 32nd saw occurred chiefly in the Western theatre, at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and other battlefields. They covered a great deal of ground marching to these various sites in the Union’s defense, and their letters cover the war years of 1861 to 1864.
Reinhart had access to various archives, which he lists in his book, as well as access to archived copies of the German language newspapers to which these authors wrote - Louisville Anzeiger, (Louisville, Kentucky), Cincinnati Volksfreund (Cincinnati, Ohio), and Freie Presse von Indiana (Indianapolis, Indiana). He provides several maps, and black and white illustrations or photographs. Many of the author’s photographs are included. There is a huge endnotes section, a bibliographical essay, and concludes with an index. This book is part of the Civil War in the North series published by The Kent State University Press.
Joseph R. Reinhart is an independent scholar who specializes in Civil War research. He co-authored Two Germans in the Civil War (2004) and authored A History of the 6th Kentucky Infantry U.S. (2000) and The Louisville Anzeiger (1995). Reinhart’s present book is recommended to Civil War enthusiasts and those interested in German-American history.