The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

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After weeks of hard marching, when the “German” XI Corps reached Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, it was suffering from the scorn of many American nativists who blamed the “Dutch” for losing the Battle of Chancellorsville in May. Immigrants made up roughly half of the men in the Eleventh, but the crushing blow Stonewall Jackson delivered to the Corps was blamed on supposed German racial characteristics. 1

Many Americans described the Germans as unmanly and not suitable to military life. Referring to the immigrant soldiers as “Damned Dutch”, a mispronunciation of “Deutsch”, some American-born soldiers and newspapermen turned the Eleventh into a scapegoat for the failures of the Union Army of the Potomac. 2

XI Corps soldiers blamed their native-born commander, General O.O. Howard, for the disaster at Chancellorsville. He had laid out their lines facing in the wrong direction. He had ignored repeated warnings that the Confederates had slid around his flank. Worst of all, he had left the Corps right before Stonewall launched his attack. Because Howard refused to admit responsibility for the failure, his men had little love for him.3

Howard, a devout “Puritan” in the view of his men, won no friends by trying to evangelize his mostly Catholic, Lutheran, and Freethinker men to his godly way of life. His religious haughtiness was offensive to the immigrant soldiers, and led to suspicions that Howard did not care about or identify with his men. One man in the ranks wrote that he thought Howard “wanted to have us slaughtered, because most of us are Germans.”4

Perhaps no men felt the “Puritan” yoke more than those commanded by Brigadier General Francis Barlow. Barlow was a Boston lawyer with a Harvard education. On the road to Gettysburg, Barlow had one of his brigade commanders, Leopold Von Gilsa, arrested for allowing his thirsty men to get water. He was known for beating men who were exhausted with the side of his saber to keep them moving. In a letter to his family, Barlow said that he felt “contempt” for the “Dutch” whom he commanded. He added that he had “always been down on the Dutch.” Christian Samito, the editor of his letters, says Barlow displayed “distain for German immigrants.”5

When the XI Corps arrived at Gettysburg shortly before noon on July 1, 1862, fighting had been raging west of the town for several hours. General Howard was told that the commander of the army wing on the field, General John Reynolds, had been killed and that he was now in charge of all the Union forces on the field. Howard learned that while the initial Confederate attack had been west of town, an even greater threat was coming from the north. With only 9,000 men, Howard moved most of the XI Corps to difficult defensive terrain north of Gettysburg. The Corps was further weakened when he decided to keep nearly a third of his men miles behind on Cemetery Hill. This decision would later help save the Union’s strongest defensive line, but it would leave the XI Corps badly outnumbered when the Confederates attacked that afternoon.6

With Howard temporarily in overall command, Carl Schurz became acting commander of the XI Corps. Following Howard’s orders, Schurz moved the depleted XI Corps north through Gettysburg to protect the right flank of the Union army. There he saw the leading edge of the more than 20,000 Confederates who would soon strike him. Schurz halted his men and made a reasonable line to protect the Union right. Recalling the failure of Howard to correctly deploy his far right at Chancellorsville, Schurz made special provision for Barlow’s division to “refuse its right.” This meant that it was supposed to turn its line at an angle towards the southwest so that Confederate troops could not get around it into the Union rear.7

When Barlow got to his position, he saw a slight rise of ground forward of his assigned place. Instead of staying where his orders placed him,  Barlow unilaterally moved his 2,100 men, half the Union troops on this end of the field of battle, towards the hill, ever after known as Barlow’s Knoll. The move disconnected the XI Corps line. As at Chancellorsville, the far right of the Union line would be “up in the air” at the moment of the Confederate attack. Compounding his mistake, in spite of warnings, Barlow seemed to be unaware that 1,500 Confederates were hidden on his right flank. When they attacked along with an equal number of Confederates from the front, the outnumbered Union division reeled. Harry W. Pfanz, longtime Gettysburg National Park Service historian wrote that Barlow “had blundered, and in doing so he had insured the defeat of the corps he so despised.”8advance-thumb

The situation in the late afternoon of July 1, 1863.

A Confederate described the impact of the wild assault on the “Germans”:

It was a fearful slaughter, the golden wheat fields, a few minutes before in beauty, now gone, and the ground covered with the dead and wounded in blue.”9

Although Barlow would later claim that the Germans simply all ran away at the first sight of the Confederates, Henry Hunt, the Union artillery commander wrote that the combat was “obstinate and bloody” and that the “fighting here was well-sustained.” A Confederate in the assaulting column wrote that the “Germans”  “stood firm until we got near them. They then began to retreat in fine order, shooting at us as they retreated. They were harder to drive than we had ever known them before…Their officers were cheering the men and behaving like heroes…”10

Schurz quickly adjusted his remaining regiments, but with half of his troops badly mauled and his right collapsing, his men began to fall back as well. At the same time, Union forces west of town also retreated. Order began to disintegrate as both Union corps crowded into Gettysburg. Men lost their units, got lost, or were shot down or captured by advancing Confederates. By 5:00 PM, as the remnants of the XI Corps were climbing to the new Union position on Cemetery Hill, leaving behind many dead and wounded,  they were already hearing the taunts that the “Dutch cowards had run away again.”11

Video: Part 4 Gary Gallagher on Gettysburg

Video: Part 5 Gary Gallagher on Gettysburg

Resources:

Animated map of the Battle of Gettysburg

Map of Unit Movements at Gettysburg

Feature photo: http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/?p=283

Sources:

1. The Gettysburg Campaign; a study in command by Edwin Coddington published by Scribner’s, 1968; Brigades of Gettysburg by Bradley Gottfried published by Da Capo Press, 2002; Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – The First Day. Chapel Hill by Harry Pfanz published by University of North Carolina Press; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears published by Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
2. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992)
3. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) p. 59.
4. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) p. 59.
5. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) p. 61; Fear Was Not in Him: The Civil War Letters of Major General Francis C. Barlow, U.S.A edited by Christian Samito
6. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) pp. 73-77.
7. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) pp. 76-77.
8. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) pp. 78-79; Pfantz Gettysburg The First Day p. 231;  Schurz Reminiscences Vol. 3 p. 9
9. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) p. 79.
10. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) pp. 79.
11. From Chancellorsville to Cemetery Hill: O.O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership by A. Wilson Greene found in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gary Gallagher published by Kent State University Press (1992) pp. 83-84..

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.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

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.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

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.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

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.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

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