The Forty-Eighters

Germany in 1848-1849 was the scene of violence and revolution. Numerous individuals participated in attempts to overthrow existing provincial governments. When these revolutions all ended in failure, the would-be revolutionaries were forced to flee Germany or face possible imprisonment or execution. Many fled to Zurich and London; from those cities many then continued on to new homes in the United States.

German immigrants boarding ship headed for the U.S. (Library of Congress image)
German immigrants for the U.S. (Library of Congress)

Most of these German immigrants believed in equality and democracy. They disliked the institution of slavery, sensing how its very existence contradicted the lofty phrases of the Declaration of Independence. A majority of Germans settled in the North, partly because of their opposition to slavery, but also because there were more opportunities for free laborers in the North, and because the climate and landscape in many parts of the North more closely resembled that of their native Germany than did the climate and landscape of most of the South.

Germans in antebellum America tended to live close to one another in ethnic neighborhoods. They spoke German in their day-to-day dealings, and their children's schools were taught in German. Most large northern cities had at least one German-language daily newspaper. The Germans also formed clubs known as Turnvereins, which emphasized exercise and physical culture. Some members of the Turnvereins also formed rifle clubs and joined local militia organizations. When war broke out with the South, these Turners (as members of Turnvereins were called) were a source of ready manpower which authorities in Washington, D.C. sought to mobilize.

SLPL can help persons researching German American ancestors who served in the Civil War. We own books and microfilm sets, and offer access to reference databases like Fold3.com that provide records of men who served in Union Army regiments.

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