The above images are from the Virginia Historical Society: Andersons (2004.301.2), William Thomas Elmore (1961.28.2), John Edward Dodson (1980.18), Thomas Francis Goode (1974.15.16), Drummer Boy (2001.517.36)
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Pitcher, c. 1861 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2008.123.1)
The small United States Army could be enlarged quickly only by appealing to the states to activate local militia troops. By law the president could compel these men to serve for only ninety days. In April 1861 many on both sides—convinced that their opponents wouldn’t fight or that they would run away at the first shot—believed that three months of soldiering would be long enough.
On July 21, 1861, after a hard-fought battle at Manassas (Bull Run), Union forces fled the field. The next day the U.S. Congress extended the term of enlistment from three months to three years, and it enlarged the army from 75,000 to 500,000 men. The only thing decided at Manassas was that the war would continue.
Among the first Union troops to cross into Virginia were the men of the 11th New York Infantry and their twenty-four-year-old commander, Elmer Ellsworth. Nicknamed the "Fire Zouaves," the regiment consisted of New York City firemen-turned-soldiers. (The "Zouaves" took their name and colorful uniform from a French light infantry regiment that served in North Africa beginning in 1831.)
Marching through Alexandria on May 24, the day after Virginia ratified secession, the New Yorkers couldn’t ignore the twenty-four-foot-long Confederate flag defiantly flying atop the Marshall House hotel. Ellsworth and his comrades rushed in and cut down the banner. Descending the staircase, they met hotel proprietor James W. Jackson who shot and killed Ellsworth. A Union soldier immediately shot and killed Jackson.
Ellsworth became the North’s first martyr, depicted in memorial photographs and in such items as this commemorative pitcher labeling James Jackson “The Traitor.” Southerners found a martyr in Jackson, who was killed while defending his property against an invading foe.
Forage Cap, Sash, and Spurs of Lt. Col. Noah Farnham, 11th New York Infantry, c. 1861 (New-York Historical Society, gift of the 7th Regiment, National Guard New York, through Mayor Kenneth Miller )
Unwilling to miss what he thought might be the only battle of the war, thirty-two-year-old Lt. Col. Noah L. Farnham left his sick-bed, donned his uniform, and led the 11th New York "Fire Zouaves" at Manassas, the regiment's first engagement with the Confederates. The firemen charged forward but were driven back. Farnham was briefly knocked unconscious when a musket ball struck his head. When Confederate reinforcements turned the tide of battle, the New Yorkers joined the Union retreat to Washington.
With more than 60,000 troops engaged, the battle was the largest in North American history to that date. Among the unanticipated 4,900 casualties were 175 New York firemen. Farnham died from his wounds in a Washington hospital three weeks later.
Embossing Register (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Mrs. William D. Redick, Accession no. 2002.439.1.B)
The technology of the industrial revolution applied to the science of killing made the Civil War a turning point between the limited combat of professional armies of the 1700s and the "total" mobilization of World Wars I and II. This device creates a record of incoming messages by embossing a series of short and long marks on a moving strip of paper.
Muzzle-loading firearms and communication by drum, flag, and bugle were holdovers from the past, but rifled weapons increased the range of firearms, and telegraphy allowed distant armies to communicate and coordinate. Railroads moved armies faster than before, and iron ships, land mines, hand grenades, and torpedoes made their debut. As reconnaissance balloons took war to the skies, many of the essential elements of modern warfare were in place by 1865.
Telegraph Ray (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Mrs. William D. Redick, Accession no. 2002.439.1.A)
For most of human history, the speed of communication was limited by the swiftness of the animal carrying the messenger. Developed in the 1830s, the electric telegraph inaugurated the first communication revolution. Using electrical signals transmitted by wire, the telegraph allowed instantaneous communication by using combinations of dots and dashes to represent letters. Electromagnetic relays, like this one, were used to extend the useful range of the telegraph.
Not only did this allow distant military commanders to communicate and coordinate more effectively, but newspaper reporters could send news to the home front instantaneously as well. With this expanding media coverage, the military took on the added responsibility of managing information as well as their armies.
Although European armies experimented with aerial balloons as early as 1783, it was not until the Civil War that they were used in America. Their presence forced enemy commanders continually to conceal the placement and movement of their armies.
View of Yorktown, Va. Rebel Batteries Shelling Balloon and Headquarters of the III Corps, Robert Knox Sneden, c. April 1862 (Virginia Historical Society, purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Floyd D. Gottwald, Jr.,Call no. Mss5.1.Sn237.1.Vol4_0888 )
Following a demonstration for President Lincoln in July 1861, Professor Thaddeus Lowe was granted permission to construct and operate balloons for the Union army. The earliest flights occurred near Washington, D.C., where, for the first time in military history, airborne observers accurately directed artillery fire. The Union balloon corps was plagued by financial and personnel problems and disbanded in August 1863.
The Confederates developed a balloon corps that made its Virginia debut at Yorktown in April 1862 but soon disbanded when its only balloon was captured.
On April 9, 1862, Pvt. Robert Knox Sneden of the 40th New York Infantry wrote that "[Professor Lowe's] balloon went up for the first time this forenoon. . . . They could see, of course, the inside of the enemy's works, sketch the outlines of parapets, and count the guns already mounted, and note their bearings. From this, the draughtsman can make the maps and plans which they are waiting for."
Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack, Xanthus Smith, c. 1880 (Virginia Historical Society, Lora Robins Collection of Virginia Art, Accession no. 1998.53_2)
On March 8, 1862, the world's first ironclad ship, CSS Virginia, destroyed two wooden-hulled U.S. warships at Hampton Roads. A Virginia-born sailor on the USS Cumberland observed, "None of our shots did appear to have an effect on her." This battle revolutionized naval warfare by proving that wooden vessels were obsolete against ironclads.
The next day the Union’s first ironclad—the USS Monitor—arrived and fought the Virginia to a draw, ensuring the safety of the Union blockade fleet. A Union sailor from Staunton remarked that "John Bull [Great Britain] will have to build a new navy." Within weeks, Great Britain—the world’s leading naval power—canceled construction of wooden ships.
Constructed on the salvaged hull of the captured USS Merrimack, the first Confederate ironclad was rechristened the CSS Virginia. Artist Xanthus Smith and the northern press, however, rejected that name in favor of the alliteration of Monitor and Merrimack.
Destruction of the Great Railroad over the Potomac at Harper's Ferry at Sunrise on the Morning of the 15th of June , Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, 1861 (Virginia Historical Society, bequest of Paul Mellon, Accession no. 2000.165.3.B)
For thousands of years, every army that went into battle did so by the power of men and animals carrying it across the countryside. By 1860, however, 30,626 miles of railroad track spread across the United States—1,771 of these in Virginia.
Locomotives traveled five times as fast as mule-drawn wagons, transported soldiers close to the scene of battle without tiring them, and allowed armies to operate farther from their bases of supply.
The strategic importance of railroads tended to channel offensive operations along the routes of railroad lines. Railroad centers—such as Grafton, Manassas, Petersburg, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Wytheville—became important military objectives.
Throughout the war, Confederate forces in Virginia slowed Union troop movements by destroying wooden bridges that spanned Virginia’s countless rivers and streams. The artist, Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, noted: “The destruction of Locomotives on the Baltimore & Ohio R. Road has been terrible; no less than 50 of the finest kind having been burnt or broken up, at Martinsburg & other points on the Road."
Andrew J. Russell Album, c. 1865 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of James J. Moore [Russell's supervisor], 1931, Accession no. 1994.121)
Photography was only two decades old when the Civil War began. Taking a photograph was a slow process and battlefields were too chaotic and dangerous for photographers. Wartime photographs, therefore, consisted of individual and group portraits, camp scenes, and the grisly aftermath of battle.
On the Union side, most photographs were made by entrepreneurs. The only photographer hired by the military who left a substantial body of work was Capt. Andrew J. Russell. Russell served as a photographer for the U.S. Military Railroad and the Quartermaster Corps. His images capture the technology, infrastructure, and transportation systems used to move and supply Union armies.
The album of 132 photographs is one of only several bound volumes compiled by Russell that survive in their original form.
Early in 1862, Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson decided to “move swiftly and strike vigorously” against larger Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Union general George B. McClellan landed the largest army in North American history on the Virginia Peninsula but moved it cautiously toward the Confederate capital. Jackson’s success and McClellan’s failure demonstrate that victory comes to those who concentrate their forces at the right place and time. Each side had a chance to win the war in 1862, but the longer it continued, the less speed mattered and the more strength did—not just in manpower but also in money and materiel.
Jedediah Hotchkiss’s Compass, c. 1850–62, (Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society)
As spring 1862 arrived, former professor Thomas J. Jackson received orders to drive federal forces from the agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley. Jackson directed mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss to “make me a map of the Valley, from Harper’s Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offence and defence in those places.” Armed with Hotchkiss’s detailed and accurate maps, Jackson skillfully maneuvered his 17,000 men against larger but dispersed federal forces. He defeated portions of three Union armies and tied up nearly 60,000 Union troops that otherwise might have moved against Richmond when McClellan attacked it from the east.
Jedediah Hotchkiss never held an official rank in the Confederate army. As a mapmaker, his most effective tool was this compass, which he used to draw this detailed map of the Shenandoah Valley.
"Stonewall" Jackson’s Watch (Virginia Historical Society, gift of T. J. J. Christian, Accession no. 1938.10 )
An anxious Jackson routinely stared at this watch while observing his troops. Careful not to exhaust them during forced marches, he ordered his men to rest ten minutes every hour.
Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan
Map of the Lines at Yorktown, Virginia, Robert Knox Sneden, April 1862 ( Virginia Historical Society, purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Floyd D. Gottwald, Jr., Accession no. 1994.80.121)
In a bold attempt to capture Richmond, Union general George B. McClellan transported 121,000 men to the Virginia Peninsula—the largest army ever assembled in North America. Supplied with inaccurate maps and convinced he was outnumbered, McClellan took two months to advance the seventy-two miles toward Richmond. He employed soldiers with artistic talent, like Pvt. Robert Knox Sneden of the 40th New York Infantry, to create accurate maps of the region.
In late June 1862, the newly appointed defender of Richmond—Robert E. Lee—relentlessly attacked a federal army within sight of the city and remarkably turned the tide. Not anticipating so ferocious a counterattack and ever cautious, McClellan retreated to his base along the James River.
It wasn’t bullets, but bacteria and viruses. Antibiotics and antiviral drugs—the effective treatments against them—hadn’t yet been discovered. As a result, 416,000 soldiers died of disease and only 206,000 from wounds.
Medically speaking, the Civil War was not modern. Little was known about the cause or treatment of disease. Bacteriology and virology—fields of study that are at the core of modern medicine—were unknown because microscopes weren’t powerful enough to see bacteria, and electron microscopes that could identify viruses had not yet been invented. Modern drugs that were used included anesthetic chloroform, morphine, opium pills, and quinine.
Captured Medical Chest of 32nd Ohio Infantry , (The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia)
Many surgeons purchased tin or wooden boxes to transport medicines. This chest was captured by Confederates from a surgeon in the 32d Ohio Volunteer Infantry—a common method to alleviate recurring southern supply shortages.
Amputation Kit, c. 1861–65, (Wisconsin Veterans Museum)
The surgical implements used during the war by Assistant Surgeon Theophilus R. Vankirk, 209th Pennsylvania Infantry, may look primitive. They are, however, nearly identical to the ones used in modern hospital operating rooms.
An estimated 60,000 amputations were conducted during the Civil War. Shattered bones often made amputation necessary, but Civil War surgeons were not the butchers of popular imagination. They spared the saw when other means were available to save life—and limb. Surgeons learned that amputations performed less than forty-eight hours after an injury—before infection set in—were the most successful.
An experienced surgeon could remove a soldier’s arm in as little as two minutes and, contrary to popular belief, anesthesia was used in nearly every surgical procedure, Union and Confederate.
Prosthetic Leg, c. 1860–65 (National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Maryland)
Eighteen-year-old James E. Hanger had been a Confederate soldier for only one day when a cannon ball tore apart his leg at the battle of Philippi, (West) Virginia. Although Hanger’s life was saved by federal surgeons, his leg could not be, and he became the war’s first amputee. During his recovery, Hanger designed and manufactured an improved prosthetic leg with a hinged knee and foot. Other amputees soon demanded the realistic "Hanger limb."
After the war, J. E. Hanger, Inc., of Richmond received a U.S. patent, and today Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, Inc., headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, manages more than 600 patient care centers located in forty-five states. Hanger is the leading American manufacturer of artificial limbs worn by the casualties of America’s twenty-first century wars.
This three-dimensional mural shows what it may have been like to stand in the center of a Civil War battle. How does the image make you feel? To the private soldier most Civil War battles, large or small, were brutal, exhausting and close-range contests that evoked fear and excitement. The experience of combat left lasting impressions on those who looked into the face of battle.
(Lenticular Graphic from An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia)
To win the war, Union troops needed to invade and control an unfriendly South and subdue Confederate armies. Confederate armies did not have to conquer northern territory to win independence. They did, however, need to win enough battles to erode northern will to keep fighting and convince southerners that the war could be won. On the battlefield, long-range weapons gave defending forces a distinct advantage. Thus the best strategy was often to move into a threatening position and let one’s opponent attack. Though an effective strategy, many Confederate commanders—and civilians—were loathe to fight solely on the defensive.
Capt. William T. Haskell’s Sash, c. 1861–65 (The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia)
To relieve war-torn Virginia and compel federal forces to submit, Confederate armies sought victories in Union territory and crossed the Potomac River into Maryland and beyond into Pennsylvania. Some thought a decisive Confederate victory there would crush northern morale, while others believed that troops from Virginia should be used to defend threatened areas of the Confederacy. Decisive victories eluded the Confederates north of the Potomac, and the strategy extracted a high price in human and material resources that ultimately compromised the southern war effort.
The loss of experienced officers—like twenty-six-year-old Capt. William T. Haskell of the 1st South Carolina Infantry, who was killed at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—robbed Confederate armies of command experience that could not be replaced as the war continued.
Double-Spouted Canteen, c. 1861–65, (Virginia Historical Society, gift of John Randolph Grymes, Jr., Accession no. 1992.192)
“IT IS WELL THAT WAR IS SO TERRIBLE”
Gen. Robert E. Lee
Eager to clear a pathway to Richmond in December 1862, Union troops first needed to dislodge the Confederate army at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
On December 13, wave after wave of Union troops crossed six hundred yards of open ground commanded by enemy artillery to assault a Confederate line well protected in a sunken roadbed at the base of Marye’s Heights. Stepping around and over the men felled in the earlier assaults, federal soldiers advanced across grass “slippery with . . . blood.”
By day’s end, seven Union divisions had advanced piecemeal across the field. That 7,000 men fell and not a single federal soldier was able to reach the wall demonstrated the futility of frontal assaults against entrenched positions.
After a night of listening to endless cries of wounded Union soldiers left lying in the fields that separated the two armies at Fredericksburg, nineteen-year-old Sgt. Richard Kirkland, 2d South Carolina Infantry, gathered as many canteens as he could carry and repeatedly risked his life to bring water to the wounded and dying federal soldiers. He became known as “the angel of Marye’s Heights.” A year later, Kirkland was mortally wounded at Chickamauga, Tennessee.
- last words of Union major general John Sedgewick, May 9, 1864
No development had as much influence on nineteenth-century warfare as the extensive use of rifled weapons. The rifled musket inflicted dangerous wounds that resulted in an unprecedented number of combat deaths. It also altered the traditional roles of the three major combat branches. Effective at 300 yards, the rifle rendered infantry bayonet charges against it far more costly. The cavalry, faced with the same dilemma, developed into a mobile force that typically dismounted before engaging the enemy. Long-range artillery sought relative safety farther away from the front lines.
In 1855, the barrels of most infantry weapons were smooth. They could fire a lead ball three times each minute, but it were not very accurate. Spiral grooves (rifling) in the barrel of a rifle increased accuracy, but only if the ball fit tightly. Rifles could be fired only once each minute and were not widely used on the battlefield before the adoption of a new bullet—the minie ball—allowed it to match the musket’s rate-of-fire. These cone-shaped projectiles expanded into the rifling when the gun was fired and made the rifle both accurate and easy to reload.
Inexpensive and reliable, the “rifled musket” was the most common infantry weapon used by both sides on the battlefield. This example was one of 11,500 firearms manufactured by the Trenton (New Jersey) Locomotive and Machine Company for the use by the Union army.
Model 1861 Trenton Contract Rifled Musket, c. 1864 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Celia Elder, Accession no. 1999.148.5)
Repeating rifles influenced Civil War tactics. The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action firearm that was widely issued to Union cavalrymen. Cost prohibited its widespread use by the infantry.
With seven rounds loaded through the stock, the Spencer allowed a single soldier to hurl nearly seven times as much lead across the battlefield as a muzzle-loading opponent. Spencer rifles fire a metallic cartridge that contains a lead projectile, gunpowder charge, and ignition system. The self-contained cartridge remains largely unchanged to this day.
Pvt. George W. Pifer of the 11th Virginia Cavalry likely picked up or captured this New England–made Spencer carbine from the battlefield. Although Confederates collected numerous Spencer repeating firearms during the war, the South was unable to manufacture the specialized ammunition that went with them.
Spencer Repeating Rifle, c. 1860–65 (Virginia Historical Society, Maryland-Steuart Collection, Accession no. 1990.100.72.A-B )
Soldiers armed with breech-loading firearms could fire twice as fast as their muzzle-loading opponents. This was particularly important as cavalry increasingly fought dismounted against infantry.
The Sharps carbine was a manually operated breech-loading firearm that was popular with the cavalry of both the Union and Confederate armies. Using the lever, which served as a trigger guard, the soldier could open the rear of the barrel—the breech—and insert a cartridge containing gunpowder and projectile. Closing the breech cut off the end of the cartridge paper and exposed the gunpowder, which was ignited by means of a percussion cap struck by the hammer. Soldiers could reload easily—on horseback, kneeling, or even lying down.
Model 1855 Sharps Carbine, c. 1855–63 (Virginia Historical Society, Maryland-Steuart Collection, Accession no. 1990.100.66 )
Throughout the war, both sides sought a single decisive victory long after it was clear that no such event was achievable. In the battles of the Overland Campaign—Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor—fighting continued as both sides attempted to justify the 70,000 casualties incurred in just thirty-nine days. “I had seen dreadful carnage in front of Marye’s Hill at Fredericksburg,” wrote one Confederate, “but I had seen nothing to exceed this. It was not war; it was murder.” Although Union general Ulysses S. Grant was called a butcher, Confederate losses, relative to the size of their army, were greater. The unprecedented bloodletting only came to an end in the trenches around Richmond and Petersburg, where manpower and the material advantages of the North stretched Confederate resources to the breaking point.
By 1864, veteran soldiers learned to appreciate the advantage of earthen defenses to protect themselves from enemy bullets. Survival came to depend as much on picks, shovels, and axes as on firearms. Tin cups, plates, and other improvised objects—like this bayonet—became digging tools.
Converted Bayonet, c. 1862–65, (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2009.118)
Confederate Battle Flag, (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)
At Spotsylvania Court House, twenty-year-old Lt. Joseph C. Paradise of Portland, Maine, and the 5,000 men of the Union 6th Corps demonstrated that massed infantry assaults could successfully attack an entrenched enemy.
Instead of using a traditional assault formation, the 6th Corps employed a deep but narrow formation to break through the Confederate lines. The attacking federal soldiers were ordered to advance without pausing to fire.
As the Union soldiers smashed through the Confederate position, Paradise seized this Confederate battle flag—a prized battlefield trophy—from a Georgia infantry unit. Paradise survived the charge at Spotsylvania that claimed one-fifth of his comrades. A month later, he was killed in battle at Cold Harbor.
Serving as a supply base for the Union armies near Petersburg, the tiny village of City Point (now part of Hopewell), became one of the busiest ports in the world almost overnight. Capable of supporting an army of 500,000 men, the scale of the supply depot at City Point was unprecedented in military history, and critical to the success of the campaign to capture Petersburg and Richmond.
City Point, Va., Nov. 1864, Edward L. Henry, c. 1864 – 72 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 1991.26)
When the war began, many African Americans—North and South—volunteered to serve as soldiers. United by a belief in black inferiority and fearful of racial strife, whites rejected the idea of arming black men.
Black enlistment in Union armies began in July 1862; ultimately 200,000 black men served. The vast majority were former slaves who sought to strike at slavery and improve their position in society.
A few southern soldiers and civilians suggested as early as January 1864 that the Confederacy enlist slaves as soldiers, but most southerners disagreed. One Confederate politician noted that, “if slaves will make good soldiers [then] our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” Desperate to avert defeat, the Confederacy authorized the enlistment of slaves on March 13, 1865, too late to affect the outcome of the war.
Identification Disc of Pvt. Peter Turner of Company I, 5th United States Colored Infantry, c. 1863–64 (Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier)
Civil War armies did not issue “dog tags” or other official forms of identification. Instead, a soldier could purchase an identification disc engraved with his name from the regimental sutler. Identification could prevent burial in an unmarked grave, a blessing cherished by the soldier and his family.
Twenty-two-year-old Peter Turner fell wounded on September 29, 1864, at New Market Heights on the outskirts of Richmond. In the battle there, troops of the 10th and 18th Corps, including fourteen regiments of United States Colored Troops, attacked the capital’s eastern outer defenses. Seasoned Confederates behind fortified positions poured well-aimed volleys into the ranks of the African American soldiers as they advanced. Fourteen black soldiers earned the nation’s highest military accolade, the Medal of Honor, for their actions there. During the course of the Civil War, 1,520 soldiers and sailors earned the Medal of Honor—twenty-three were African Americans.
Butler Medal, 1864 (Massachusetts Historical Society)
Inscribed with the Latin phrase meaning “Freedom will be theirs by the sword,” this Army of the James Medal was awarded to twenty-year-old Sgt. William H. Thomas, 5th United States Colored Infantry, for gallantry during the 1864 Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.
It is one of two hundred medals commissioned by Union general Benjamin F. Butler and remains the only medal in American history designed specifically for black soldiers. After Butler’s removal from command, black troops were forbidden to display these “unofficial” medals on their uniforms.
This rifled musket was recovered from the site of “The Crater.” The force that caused its damage is a mystery. One Union soldier noted that “many a dusky warrior had his brains knocked out with the butt of a musket, or was run thru with a bayonet while vainly imploring for mercy” from the Confederates.
Musket, c. 1864 (Petersburg National Battlefield)
By 1861, the American population was steadily becoming more diverse. Most nineteenth-century immigrants settled in cities and on farms in the northeastern and western states, but some gravitated to the cities of the South.
Most of the 500,000 new Americans serving in the Union and Confederate armies did so alongside their native-born neighbors. But some formed units solely based on ethnicity, giving themselves names like the “Telfair Irish Grays,” “German Rifles,” “Highlanders,” “Lafayette Guard,” and the “Garibaldi Guard.”
Sgt. Peter Welsh of the 28th Massachusetts Infantry expressed the sentiments of many immigrants when he wrote, “This is my country as much as the man that was born on the soil, and so it is with every man who comes to this country and becomes a citizen.”
Fenina badge worn by Col. Denis F. Burke, 88th New York Infantry (Joe Maghe Collection)
Denis F. Burke came to the United States from Ireland in 1855 at the age of fourteen. When the war began, he enlisted in the 88th New York Infantry—a regiment comprised solely of men of Irish descent. He became one of 150,000 Irishmen to serve in the Union army; another 30,000 joined the Confederacy.
Burke commanded a company of the 88th New York during its assaults on the Sunken Road at Antietam, Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, and the Wheat Field at Gettysburg; he was eventually promoted to colonel. At the close of the war, Burke returned to Ireland and participated in the movement to free that country from English rule. Arrested in 1867, he was released when the U.S. government intervened on his behalf.
Sword carried by Col. Denis F. Burke, 88th New York Infantry (Joe Maghe Collection)
Frock Coat worn by Maj. Frederick C. Winkler, 26th Wisconsin Infantry (Wisconsin Veterans Museum)
Born in Bremen, Germany, Frederick C. Winkler came to America at the age of six. In 1862, the twenty-four-year-old lawyer recruited an infantry company of German-speaking immigrants from southeastern Wisconsin. These men joined the 175,000 soldiers of German descent who served in the Union army.
Poorly positioned to receive a surprise Confederate counterattack near Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863, the men of the 11th Corps—including Winkler’s 26th Wisconsin Infantry—were routed and the Union army was nearly destroyed. Although Winkler praised the behavior of his men, the German regiments composing 50 percent of the corps became scapegoats for the disaster. This anti-German backlash did much to destroy German-American support for the Union war effort and strengthened their resistance to adopting American culture.
Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart’s Whitney Navy Revolver, c. 1857–62 (Virginia Historical Society, gift of Virginia Stuart Waller Davis, Accession no. 1983.32)
Nearly 73,000 German immigrants lived in the Confederacy and 3,000 served in uniform. Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke arrived from Prussia in 1862 looking for adventure. He found it serving on the staff of the audacious cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. The two became friends and were nearly inseparable until Stuart was mortally wounded after discharging the last barrel of his revolver at the 1864 battle of Yellow Tavern. Von Borcke was at Stuart’s bedside when he died and returned to Prussia after the war.