German Americans in Missouri: the American Civil War
Louis Gerteis, a Civil War historian, recalls a common image that Americans had of Germans in the mid-19th century: that of a lager-drinking, Sabbath-breaking, and tenaciously proud group of people (74). While there may have been some truth to this stereotypical depiction, German Americans proved that they had much more to offer American nineteenth-century society than just their vices. German Americans used their cultural pride to create real change in the political landscape of the Civil War era in the United States. Missouri, a scene of intense political debate leading up to and during the Civil War, was a destination for many German immigrants, and was a place in which Germans were particularly politically influential. One of these German Missourians was a young man by the name of Henry Voelkner. Henry’s story survives through eight heartfelt letters he wrote to his family in St. Louis during the beginning years of the Civil War. Dated between 1861 and 1862, Henry’s correspondence communicates his experiences as a soldier in the Union army, and offers invaluable insight into how his German heritage guided his perspective. Using Henry’s personal and localized letters as a base, this paper will focus on the greater implications of his writings. Through the analysis of Henry’s eight letters, and aided by other secondary sources, this paper will attempt to illustrate the significance of German Americans in the formation of, and contribution to, the consequential events taking place in Missouri during the Civil War—events which had lasting impacts on the rest of the country.