Union troops began moving towards Confederates in southwest Missouri at the end of January, 1862. They marched through a frontier region beyond railroad resupply. Food and ammunition had to be shipped over rough roads in wagon trains organized by a young officer named Phil Sheridan, the son of Irish immigrants. German-born Brigadier General Franz Sigel led two of the four divisions of this army. Sigel’s division commanders were themselves immigrants; Peter Osterhaus from Germany and Alexander Asboth of Hungary. 1
As a young man, Osterhaus served as a reserve officer in the Prussian army. In his mid-20s during the revolutionary upsurge in 1848, he joined the Liberals and met the young revolutionary military leader Franz Sigel. He, like thousands of others, fled to the United States after the suppression of the revolt. In 1856, he became active in politics in support of the anti-slavery Republicans. That same year he met Abraham Lincoln. In 1860, he moved from southern Illinois to St. Louis. Unlike many of that city’s Liberals who were often critical of religion, Osterhaus was a Catholic who combined strongly abolitionist beliefs with a liberal Catholicism.2
Alexander Asboth was a Hungarian Liberal who was a military academy trained professional soldier. In 1848 he joined Lajos Kossuth’s revolutionary army. Like Sigel and Osterhaus, he left his native land after the failure of the revolutionary movement and immigrated to the United States in 1851. He had been a member of an international movement to replace Europe’s outdated monarchies with republics. Now he fought to eliminate a feudal labor system in Missouri.3
The City of Soldiers that was the Union army camp before Pea Ridge.
The Union Army of the Southwest had 12,000 men under arms, at least a third of whom were immigrants. While the bulk of the foreign-born soldiers were Germans and Irish from St. Louis, many other immigrant soldiers had been living in small German rural communities and isolated farmsteads. The leading historians of this campaign write that these immigrants and their native-born Unionists neighbors ”had a personal stake in the success of the campaign. Since the beginning of the war the secessionists had driven large numbers of unionists from their homes… Thousands of refugees fled” to safety behind Union lines. The only hope these refugee-soldiers had to regain their homes was if the Union won a decisive victory.4
The Confederate force facing the advancing Unionists was larger than their enemy. An army of pro-Confederate Missourians under General Sterling Price included men who had headed south when the St. Louis Germans had helped secure the northern half of their state for the Union the year before. A second army under former Texas Ranger Ben McCulloch was drawn from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The two Southern commanders did not respect one another and often were not even on speaking terms. To end the infighting, Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed General Earl Van Dorn in overall command. Van Dorn’s incompetence would prove even more dangerous to the Confederates than Price’s and McCulloch’s feuding.5
McCulloch’s army of 8,700 Texans, Arkansans, and Louisianans was nearly as large as the entire Union Army of the Southwest. The Confederate Missouri army had almost 8,000 men. Combined, the two Southern forces had nearly 50% more men than the Unionists racing forward to offer battle. 6
Video: The African American Experience During the Civil War in Missouri
1. Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel by Stephen D. Engle published by Louisiana State Univ Pr (1999), Germans for a Free Missouri: Translations from the German Radical Press, 1857-1862 by Steven Rowan, University of Missouri Press (1983); Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West Kindle Edition by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess published by University of North Carolina Press (1997) Kindle Loc. 359-368.
2. Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter Osterhaus by Mary Bobbitt Townsend Published by University of Missouri (2010) p. 9-10, 19-21.
3. National Park Service
4. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West Kindle Edition by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess published by University of North Carolina Press (1997) Kindle Loc. 368-373.
5.,Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West Kindle Edition by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess published by University of North Carolina Press (1997) Kindle Loc. 450-466.
6.,Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West Kindle Edition by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess published by University of North Carolina Press (1997) Kindle Loc. 485.
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