The Civil War
For minorities, as for other Americans, the Civil War was anopportunity to prove their valor and loyalty.Among the first musteredinto the Union Army were a De Kalb regiment of German American clerks, theGaribakdi Guards made up of Italian Americans, a “Polish Legion,” andhundreds of Irish American youths form Boston and New York.But in Ohioand Washington, D.C., African American volunteers were turned away fromrecruiting stations and told, “This is a white man’s war.”Some citizensquestioned the loyalty of immigrants who lived in crowded city tenementsuntil an Italian American from Brooklyn turned that around.In the NewYork Senate, Democrat Francis Spinola had been a vigorous foe of Republicanpolicies and Lincoln.But now he swore his loyalty with stirring words,”This is my flag, which I will follow and defend.”This speech gave greatassurance that the masses in the great cities were devoted to the Union andready to enlist for its defense.
More than 400,000 European immigrants fought for the Union,including more than 170,00 Germans and more than 150,00 Irish.Many sawtheir services as a proud sacrifice.The first officer to die for theUnion was Captain Constatin Blandowski, one of many immigrants who earlierhad fought for freedom in Europe and then joined Lincoln’s army.Born inUpper Silesia and trained at Dresden, Germany, he was a veteran ofdemocratic struggles – a Polish revolt at Krakow, the Polish Legion’sbattles against Austria, and the Hungarian fight for independence.Somenationalities contributed more than their share of Union soldiers.
Some immigrants earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.ItalianAmerican officer Louis di Cesnola, was the Colonel of the 4th CavalryRegiment.At Aldie, Virginia, in 1863, he earned the Medal of Honor andwas appointed a general.He charged unarmed at the foe, read his citation,”rallied his men …until desperately wounded and taken prisoner inaction.”In 1879 Cesnola became director of New York’s Metropolitan Museumof Art.The museum then became, wrote a critic, “a monument to his energy,enterprise, and rare executive skill.”
Italian American privates also won the Medal of Honor.Joseph Sovaof the 8th Cavalry earned it for capturing the Confederate flag atAppomattox.Private Orlando Caruana of the 51st Infantry won it atNewburn, North Carolina.With bullets whizzing past him, he saved woundedmen and rescued the U.S. flag.
As 1865 came on, the feel of victory was in the Northern air.Andso the Civil War was over.Yet even the ending of the war did not bringreal peace.On Good Friday, April 14, 11 days after Union troops hadentered Richmond, an actor named John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln asthe President watched a play from his box in Ford’s Theater, Washington,D.C.The one man who might have brought about a just peace was dead.
The Civil War had solved some old problems for the United States.But it created some new problems as well.But many of the problems createdby the Civil War have been solved.Towns have been rebuilt, new industriesflourish, and new schools have been erected.Most of the damage of war hasbeen long repaired.North and South both enjoy prosperity.But many ofthe human problems still remain.