Making Immigrant Soldiers Into Citizens

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A full list of The Immigrants’ Civil War articles appears at the bottom of this page.

The 1850s had been an era in which the United States seriously considered making citizenship next to impossible for an immigrant to achieve. One proposal would have required immigrants to live in this country for 21 years before they could vote! Many Americans understood that the country needed immigrants to do the work that the native born did not want to do, but they did not want to give the Irish and Germans, who did the dirty work, the right to vote, run for office, or hold government jobs. Some also wanted to bar immigrants from serving in the military, adopting the slogan “Put none but Americans on guard.”1

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, immigration fell off dramatically. People generally do not immigrate to countries in a state of civil war, and initially the United States was no exception to this rule. Immigration was further retarded by an economic recession that gripped the country in the months after the attack on Fort Sumter. The disruption in textile manufacturing in the North, which was heavily reliant on cotton from the South, meant that new low-skilled immigrants faced uncertain job prospects. Newcomers were discouraged.

The months after the war began also witnessed a tremendous wave of army enlistments by immigrants already living in the United States. Know Nothing theories of immigrant untrustworthiness were shunted aside as immigrants fought and died shoulder to shoulder with the native born. Some immigrants served in famous ethnic units like the Irish Brigade, but four out of five immigrant soldiers enlisted in regiments of mixed ethnicities.2

As the war ground on in 1862, enlistments generally fell off. Congress decided to turn to the foreign-born as a potentially unlimited source of new troops. In July of that year, Congress passed legislation that reversed the Know Nothing trend of the 1850s. Where the anti-immigrant Know Nothings had sought to lengthen the five year waiting period to become a citizen, Congress now shortened that probationary period for immigrants who served in the military.3

The new law provided that any immigrant in the military who had been honorably discharged could apply for naturalization with only one year of residence in the United States. Immigration had once been such a contentious topic that it provoked riots. Now, legislation making citizenship and the vote easier to obtain for immigrant servicemen was passing both houses of Congress without any debate.4

The collapsing distinction between immigrants and the native born was recognized by John Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, once the state most dominated by the anti-immigrant Know Nothings. A month after the new citizenship amendment was passed by Congress, Andrew assured immigrants that “whether born upon our soil or in other lands and wandering here, you are citizens of a united government, equally sharing in the heritage of freedom. Its opportunities and blessings belong to all of you.” The war would not only end slavery, it would deal Know Nothingisma death blow.5

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A naturalization certificate from 1862 (Source: The Schroeder Family Tumblr)

Sources

1. Becoming American Under Fire by Christian Samito, Cornell University Press (2009) pp. 12-25; Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings & the Politics of the 1850s by Tyler Anbinder, Oxford University Press (1992).

2. Civil War Citizens edited by Susannah J. Ural, NYU Press (2010).

3. Becoming American Under Fire by Christian Samito, Cornell University Press (2009) pp. 37-38.

4. Becoming American Under Fire by Christian Samito, Cornell University Press (2009) pp. 37-38.

5. Becoming American Under Fire by Christian Samito, Cornell University Press (2009) p. 7.

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

Cultural

Painting of the Return of the 69th from Bull Run Unearthed

Blog Posts

The Real Story Behind The Immigrants’ Civil War Photo

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

The Five Meanings of “The Immigrants’ Civil War”

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Civil War Blogs I Read Every Week

First Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award Goes to Joe Reinhart

Damian Shiels Wins Second Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award

Mother Jones: Civil War Era Immigrant and Labor Leader

Juneteenth for Immigrants

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler-Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War


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