Karl Frick was in his early twenties when he arrived in the United States from Germany just six years before the Civil War. He married another young German immigrant named Alwine and started a prosperous farm in Missouri and opened a store there as well. A liberal, he was a religious freethinker, opposed to slavery, and he soon joined the Republican Party. When war broke out, he joined a pro-Union militia company in his divided state. 1
Karl wrote to his mother in Germany in 1861 to explain that the Civil War “isn’t a war where two powers fight to win a piece of land, instead its about freedom or slavery, and as you can well imagine dear mother, I support the cause of freedom with all my might.” He told his mother that the war was being fought over the treatment of blacks. He told her slaves were “treated like animals and sold at will, which any civilized human being must be against.” Karl told his mother that the slave trade in America “is the most abominable thing there can be in a civilized nation.” He was particularly upset by the specter of slave families being destroyed for the profit of the masters. He wrote that “parents are torn from children, man from wife, and sold, never to see each other again.” As the war was caused by slavery, Karl believed it could only end through its abolition, “for”, he would write later, “slavery is the sole cause of this disastrous war.” 2
Many German immigrants were disappointed by Abraham Lincoln’ slow move towards emancipation. He had counteracted Union General John Fremont’s declaration freeing Missouri’s slaves in 1861. It was not until September 22, 1862, following Union victories at South Mountain and Antietam, that he issued his own Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation promising to free slaves held in the Confederacy unless the rebellion ended before January 1, 1863. Although the proclamation did not immediately free any slaves, it placed the Federal government on the side of freedom.3
A few days after Karl learned of Lincoln’s proclamation, he wrote that it would “certainly deal the deathblow” to the Confederacy. He said that it was the labor of enslaved blacks that was “the backbone of the rebels, doing their work at home and raising their crops while their owners went of to war.” With slavery ended, the United States would finally fulfill its democratic promise and would “stand on a new firm base, more glorious than ever.” He saw the United States becoming an international force for human rights, writing that “as soon as we have freed our country from the curse of slavery, other countries can be taken care of.” 4
Karl Frick could write proudly now to his family across the Atlantic that, “Our motto is that all men are created equal, whether black or white.” This was the first time in American history that an honest man could say that.5
The blog Civil War Emancipation has regular updates on scholarship about the ending of slavery.
NatGeo on Emancipation
Historian Eric Foner on Emancipation
1. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home by Walter D. Kamphoefner (Editor), Wolfgang Helbich (Editor), Susan Carter Vogel (Translator) published by the University of North Carolina Press (2006) pp. 347-348.
2. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home by Walter D. Kamphoefner (Editor), Wolfgang Helbich (Editor), Susan Carter Vogel (Translator) published by the University of North Carolina Press (2006) pp. 350-351.
3. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America by Allen C. Guelzo published by Simon & Schuster (2006); Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory (Nathan I Huggins Lectures) by Harold Holzer published by Harvard University Press (February 2012)
4. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home by Walter D. Kamphoefner (Editor), Wolfgang Helbich (Editor), Susan Carter Vogel (Translator) published by the University of North Carolina Press (2006) pp. 352-353.
5. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home by Walter D. Kamphoefner (Editor), Wolfgang Helbich (Editor), Susan Carter Vogel (Translator) published by the University of North Carolina Press (2006) p. 353.
The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:
1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.
2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.
3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.
40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.
43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.
49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.
50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites