Two Germans in the Civil War

The Diary of John Daeuble and the Letters of Gottfried Rentschler, 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry

  • Author(s): Reinhart, Joseph R.
  • Series: Voices of the Civil War
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2004-05-28
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $32.00 | Buy Now

“If a full company is needed for some easy service, e.g., Provost-Guard, a German company is never taken. If an entire company is required for rough service, e.g., several days or several weeks as Train-Guard, a German company will be ordered whenever possible. As this happens on a company basis, so it happens to individuals in the mixed companies. As a rule, the German has to wade through the mud, while the American walks on the dry road. The German is a ‘Dutch soldier’ and as a ‘Dutchman’ he is, if not despised, is disrespected, and not regarded or treated as an equal.”  —  Gottfried Rentschler, March 10, 1864

John Daeuble’s diary and Gottfried Rentschler’s letters provide a fresh and much needed addition to Civil War literature. Originally written in German, these rare documents cover the participation of two immigrants in the historic battles around Chattanooga, the pursuit of Longstreet’s corps in East Tennessee, and Sherman’s grueling Atlanta campaign.

More than one third of the 6th Kentucky, U.S., came from Germany, and these comrades describe their experiences from the perspective of “Dutch” soldiers as well as chronicling the military actions of their regiment. Although around 200,000 German immigrants served in the Union army, stereotypes abounded as to their lack of patriotism and courage. Daeuble’s diary and Rentschler’s letters help to counter these stereotypes. Daeuble concentrates on the physical aspects of the war, describing the day-to-day conditions of service, while Rentschler, who was covering the war for a German-language newspaper back home in Louisville, presents information about marches, battles, and camps in more formal language.

Daeuble’s richly detailed diary entries and Rentschler’s lengthy letters are important additions to the still-incomplete mosaic of the Civil War, not only because of their engaging content but also because they help fill significant voids created by an almost complete lack of published sources from Kentucky’s Union soldiers and by the shortage of primary source materials about German immigrants who fought in the war.

Joseph R. Reinhart is a retired partner of the accounting and consulting firm Coopers & Lybrand. He is author of A History of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S.: The Boys Who Feared No Noise and coauthor of the entry on Germans in the Encyclopedia of Louisville. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.