A Prussian Observes the American Civil War

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

This post is the second part in a series on Captain Justus Scheibert and international observation of the American Civil War. Read Part 1 of the series here.

“Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke.” Wikimedia Commons.

Helmuth von Moltke, the elder of the two notable Generals von Moltke and who made his fame in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, is noted for allegedly describing the American Civil War as nothing but “two armed-mobs” running around the countryside and beating each other up, from which very little of military utility could be learned. While a proper source for this quotation cannot be pinned down, and it may never have even been uttered at all, it serves as a rather succinct description of how Prussians would ultimately view the military legacy of the Civil War. In his official observations for the Prussian military commander, Captain Justus Scheibert makes an effort to impart what he viewed as the importance of the conflict to military thought and tactics, though he often focuses his writings on the ways in which American warfare was inferior to Prussian methods.

On a grand tactical scale, Scheibert divides the progression of the war into three phases. He characterizes the first phase of the opening days of the war as being disorderly and confused, defined by haphazard skirmishes lead by men who had not yet truly come to grips with warfare (a rather von Moltke-esque description). The second stage, from roughly 1862 to Gettysburg in 1863, represented a maturation of tactics, with special emphasis now being placed on learned battle formations such as the offensive column, giving a sort of linear character to the fighting. The third phase, from Gettysburg to the end of the war, was one focused upon defensive, at least from the Confederate point of view that Scheibert takes. Grand retreats and movements were a thing of the past as advances were, as Scheibert observes, now made inch by inch as each army fortified and refortified across the landscape. Continue reading “A Prussian Observes the American Civil War”

Justus Scheibert and International Observation of the Civil War

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

History likes to look for heroes—individuals with exceptional stories who can serve as the embodiment of others of their kind. In the (very specific) world of international observers to the Civil War, Colonel Arthur Fremantle is that hero. He is familiar even to many casual students of Civil War history as “that British guy who hung around with the Confederates,” in large part thanks to the widespread consumption of Michael Shaara’s popular book The Killer Angels and the aptly-named movie version Gettysburg. His fame is not without merit; Fremantle’s diary detailing his travels through the Confederate States is filled with interesting observations and commentary on the Civil War and the American South through the fascinating lens of a complete outsider.

“Captain J. Scheibert.” Seven Months in the Rebel States by Justus Scheibert. Tuscaloosa, AL: The Confederate Publishing Company, Inc., 1958.
“Captain J. Scheibert.” Seven Months in the Rebel States by Justus Scheibert. Tuscaloosa, AL: The Confederate Publishing Company, Inc., 1958.

Arthur Fremantle was not, however, the only international observer to the Civil War (or even the only British observer), a fact that is often overlooked. Representatives were also sent from Napoleon III’s France, the Austrian Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia, as well as from a handful of other European states. The international implications of any kind of outcome made the war relevant to the interests of European power politics, to say nothing of the military knowledge that could be gained through observation of the war. Continue reading “Justus Scheibert and International Observation of the Civil War”

“An incredible joy filled my heart”: The Capture and Escape of Johannes Sachs

By Drew Hoffman ’15

Born in Mittlesinn, Hessen, Johannes Sachs was a veteran before he left Germany for the United States in 1850. He fought in the extremely chaotic rebellions of 1848 for the liberal idealism of equality and popular sovereignty in Germany. When these rebellions largely all failed, Sachs joined countless others in the 1848 “Revolution” in moving his family to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States he changed his name to John. After their arrival in Baltimore, Sachs found work in Adams County, moving there in 1856. When war broke out in 1861, Sachs moved the family back to Baltimore and enlisted in the 5th Maryland. He survived the bloody Battle of Antietam. He promoted to First Lieutenant a year later.

Sachs
Account of John Sachs’ story written in original German by a local reverend. Courtesy of Special Collections at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College.

Continue reading ““An incredible joy filled my heart”: The Capture and Escape of Johannes Sachs”

A bit about Germans in the CW . . .

By Heather Clancy, ’15 In a changing historical landscape that is constantly evolving to include complexities of race, gender, regional identity, social class, and more into our dialogue about the past, ethnicity is a factor in historical analysis…

By Heather Clancy ’15

In a changing historical landscape that is constantly evolving to include complexities of race, gender, regional identity, social class, and more into our dialogue about the past, ethnicity is a factor in historical analysis that is becoming difficult to ignore. Indeed, in this era fraught with ongoing immigration disputes and the resultant beginnings of a full-on American identity crisis for some, viewing historical events such as the Civil War through the lens of ethnicity is an absolute necessity. German-American immigrants were one group which participated robustly in the Civil War, but whose story is often overshadowed.

Continue reading “A bit about Germans in the CW . . .”