The Civil War
For minorities, as for other Americans, the Civil War was
an opportunity to prove their valor and loyalty. Among the
first mustered into the Union Army were a De Kalb regiment
of German American clerks, the Garibakdi Guards made up of
Italian Americans, a "Polish Legion," and hundreds of Irish
American youths form Boston and New York. But in Ohio and
Washington, D.C., African American volunteers were turned
away from recruiting stations and told, "This is a white
man's war." Some citizens questioned the loyalty of
immigrants who lived in crowded city tenements until an
Italian American from Brooklyn turned that around. In the
New York Senate, Democrat Francis Spinola had been a
vigorous foe of Republican policies and Lincoln. But now he
swore his loyalty with stirring words, "This is my flag,
which I will follow and defend." This speech gave great
assurance that the masses in the great cities were devoted
to the Union and ready 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 saw their services as a proud sacrifice. The
first officer to die for the Union was Captain Constatin
Blandowski, one of many immigrants who earlier had fought
for freedom in Europe and then joined Lincoln's army. Born
in Upper Silesia and trained at Dresden, Germany, he was a
veteran of democratic struggles - a Polish revolt at
Krakow, the Polish Legion's battles against Austria, and
the Hungarian fight for independence. Some nationalities
contributed more than their share of Union soldiers.
Some immigrants earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Italian American officer Louis di Cesnola, was the Colonel
of the 4th Cavalry Regiment. At Aldie, Virginia, in 1863,
he earned the Medal of Honor and was appointed a general.
He charged unarmed at the foe, read his citation, "rallied
his men ...until desperately wounded and taken prisoner in
action." In 1879 Cesnola became director of New York's
Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum then became, wrote a
critic, "a monument to his energy, enterprise, and rare
Italian American privates also won the Medal of Honor.
Joseph Sova of the 8th Cavalry earned it for capturing the
Confederate flag at Appomattox. Private Orlando Caruana of
the 51st Infantry won it at Newburn, North Carolina. With
bullets whizzing past him, he saved wounded men and rescued
the U.S. flag.
As 1865 came on, the feel of victory was in the Northern
air. And so the Civil War was over. Yet even the ending of
the war did not bring real peace. On Good Friday, April 14,
11 days after Union troops had entered Richmond, an actor
named John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln as the
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 created by the Civil War have been solved.
Towns have been rebuilt, new industries flourish, and new
schools have been erected. Most of the damage of war has
been long repaired. North and South both enjoy prosperity.
But many of the human problems still remain.