Prussia and the American Civil War

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While trying to unify the various German states under its banner, Prussia was not participating in the American Civil War. However, there were several members of the Prussian military that served as both officers and enlisted men in both armies, as were numerous men who previously immigrated to the United States. There also were official military observers sent to North America to observe the tactics of both armies, which were later studied by future military leaders of Prussia and unified Germany.

Among the effects Prussia had on the war was the new saddle used by the Union cavalry: Union General George McClellan had studied Prussian saddles and used them as a basis for his McClellan saddle.[1]


Six generals who fought for the Union were Prussian-born. The highest-ranking was Maj. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus, a corps commander who served under William Tecumseh Sherman in the March to the Sea. Carl Schurz was a famous political appointment who later became Secretary of the Interior. Karl Leopold Matthies was involved in charging Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee, only to be wounded. Alexander Schimmelfennig avoided capture for two days at the Battle of Gettysburg by hiding in a pigsty. August Willich was captured at the Battle of Stones River, and was wounded at the Battle of Resaca. The other was Frederick Salomon, brother of the wartime governor of Wisconsin Edward Salomon.[2]

In the south, the most famous Prussian was Heros von Borcke, an officer serving on the staff of cavalry commander Jeb Stuart. The highest-ranking Prussian immigrant in the Confederate States Army was Adolphus Heiman, a veteran of the Mexican–American War who became a Colonel and probably a Brigadier General before he died in 1862. Baron Robert von Massow, the son of the King of Prussia's chamberlain, served under John S. Mosby in the 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion, known as Mosby's Rangers. Massow would later serve as commander of the German IX Corps just prior to World War I.[3] Justus Scheibert was a Prussian military observer who for seven months followed Robert E. Lee's actions at several battles, including the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Upon returning to Prussia in 1864, Scheibert wrote down his observations and placed them in several of Prussia's best libraries. From there what Scheibert learned helped Prussia and later unified Germany in five different wars.[4]

Official action[edit]

Most of the small German states were too interested in the current events of Europe to concern themselves with the American war, although they did tend to sympathize more with the Union's attempt to defeat the Confederacy.[citation needed] As major powers, Prussia and its rival German state, the Austrian Empire, were more interested, but on the whole they were still less involved in the war than Great Britain and France.[5] In regard to Sherman's actions in Georgia, Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke said that "an armed mob" had nothing of value to be learned from. In response, Sherman compared Moltke to an "ass".[6] There is some evidence this story is somewhat apocryphal since Sherman appearing before the Mixed Commission of American and British Claims (1871) has been quoted as saying "Moltke was never fool enough to say that. I have seen Moltke in person; I did not presume to ask him the question because I did not presume he was such an ass to say that. The Prussian army learned many a lesson and profited from them by our war and their officers were prompt to acknowledge it."[7]

In 1862 the British foreign secretary Lord John Russell tried to have Prussia take part along with France and Russia to seek an armistice to end the war, but for naught.[8]


  1. ^ O'Brien p.62
  2. ^ Cartmell p.85
  3. ^ Mackey p.82
  4. ^ Scheibert p.xi,xii
  5. ^ Heidler p.718
  6. ^ Glatthaar p.91
  7. ^ Robins p. 273
  8. ^ Heidler p.1685


  • Cartmell, Donald (2001). The Civil War book of lists. Career Press. ISBN 1-56414-504-2. Retrieved 25 April 2009.
  • Glatthaar, Joseph (2001). The American Civil War: the war in the West, 1863-1865. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-242-3.
  • Heidler, David (2002). Encyclopedia Of The American Civil War. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Mackey, Robert (2005). The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3736-3.
  • O'Brien, Cormac (2007). Secret Lives of the Civil War: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the War Between the States. Quirk Books. ISBN 1-59474-138-7.
  • Robins, Edward (1905). William T. Sherman. George W. Jacobs & Co. ISBN 1-56414-504-2. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  • Scheibert, Justus (2001). Frederic Trautmann, ed. A Prussian observes the American Civil War: the military studies of Justus Scheibert. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1348-0.