Monday, July 30, 2012

German immigration, the Civil War and today

     The 150th anniversary of the Civil War in this country is passing without much notice in Southern California.  Events detailing, analyzing and eulogizing 4 years of horrific warfare were and are being featured “back east.”  Some will continue for the next 3 years.  These events are and will occur mostly in those states where the fighting occurred.  Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired) is the Executive Director of the Council on America's Military Past and written some interesting words in his The Civil War in the West(1)  stating that the war in the west was fought undercover.
     While actual names and numbers of Germans from California have not revealed themselves during a first search, we know there were a California Battalion and a California 100 plus others who joined militias in many eastern states.  Statistics do state that about 216,000 German immigrants did join the fight, predominantly for the Union.  Of that number, an estimated 177,000 were Forty-Eighters(2) who had left various German states after the defeat of the attempted 1848 revolutions.   Some of those Forty-Eighters came to California and Turnverein Germania was established in Los Angeles around 1851. As we know that a vast number of the Forty-Eighters were German Turners a conclusion can be made that some of them went to war for the Union from Turnverein Germania.  Much is available on the famous and near famous soldiers (Turners), some of whom went on to political importance.   

     But that’s not what this blog is all about.  It’s about the Los Angeles Turners.  So far our historical record only tells me that in 1871 Turnverein Germania dissolved and the Los Angeles Turners emerged.  The Charter written begins with a striking list of beliefs and directives.3)  Why was this written?  Why was it necessary to write it?  Didn’t Turnverein Germania believe these principles?

      I think that this weekend a clue to the Charter’s creation became visible.  C-SPAN, the cable station dedicated to public service, ran some Civil War Features.  Among these is one entitled German Immigrants in the Civil War.(4)    Speaking from his book, We are the Revolutionists(5) the author and research fellow at the German Historical Institute, Mischa Honek explored the Turners’ participation from a perspective not entirely altruistic or complimentary.  He concluded that the Forty-Eighters (i.e. Turners) immigrated with a feeling of defeat and viewed the Civil War as a way to prove that German manhood was brave, strong and on the side of the good.  It was a way to prove that they deserved citizenship in America.  It caused them to have strong feelings about those who did not join in the fighting (cowards and profiteers) and then against those that imposed conscription into military service (indentured servitude).  

     At the War’s conclusion, political infighting was rampant, solutions to labor challenges overwhelming and socialization back into civilian society difficult.  Turnverein Germania may have lost members in the fighting and those that returned probably did so with strong ideas and ideals – possibly entirely different from those belonging to the men that stayed behind. 

     My overactive imagination has fantasized a sort of Germanic Continental Congress composed of men with tattered blue uniforms arguing with big bellied men with large mustaches.  At the conclusion of my dream, the old version of A Sound Mind in a Sound Body was removed replaced with a new version - sort of like the Los Angeles Turners are doing today.

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