Germans in the Civil War

The Letters They Wrote Home

Edited by Walter D. Kamphoefner, Wolfgang Helbich

Translated by Susan Carter Vogel

560 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 41 illus., 1 table, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4252-9
    Published: December 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7659-6
    Published: September 2009

Civil War America

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German Americans were one of the largest immigrant groups in the Civil War era, and they comprised nearly 10 percent of all Union troops. Yet little attention has been paid to their daily lives--both on the battlefield and on the home front--during the war. This collection of letters, written by German immigrants to friends and family back home, provides a new angle to our understanding of the Civil War experience and challenges some long-held assumptions about the immigrant experience at this time.

Originally published in Germany in 2002, this collection contains more than three hundred letters written by seventy-eight German immigrants--men and women, soldiers and civilians, from the North and South. Their missives tell of battles and boredom, privation and profiteering, motives for enlistment and desertion and for avoiding involvement altogether. Although written by people with a variety of backgrounds, these letters describe the conflict from a distinctly German standpoint, the editors argue, casting doubt on the claim that the Civil War was the great melting pot that eradicated ethnic antagonisms.

About the Authors

Walter D. Kamphoefner is professor of history at Texas A&M University.

For more information about Walter D. Kamphoefner, visit the Author Page.

Wolfgang Helbich is professor emeritus of North American history at Ruhr Universität Bochum.
For more information about Wolfgang Helbich, visit the Author Page.


"These letters provide a wonderfully rich cross-section of life by ordinary Germans so neglected over this past century and in doing so helps fill the void in ethnic studies of the Civil War."--Journal of Military History

"An excellent work of historical editing and remarkable translations. . . . These documents flesh out the experiences of Germans in the Confederate and Union armies. . . . An important primary source publication for a significant era. . . . Provides insights . . . that should interest not only historians of the Civil War era but those of 19th century United States as well."--Journal of America Ethnic History

"Remarkably well edited and superbly introduced. . . . Highly recommended."--CHOICE

"Provides a fascinating glimpse into the many roles and experiences of German immigrants during the Civil War."--Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"The editors have done a remarkable job of providing context for these letters with extensive research. . . . Both scholarly and general readers should find this collection of letters interesting. They provide an unusual view both of immigrant life and of the American Civil War through the eyes of these newcomers."--Louisiana History

"Allow[s] the English-speaking reader some insight into the diversity of reports and opinions. . . . All readers will find the letters fascinating."--The Historian