Our Wealthy Historical past: Honoring Cincinnati’s German regiments who heeded the decision in the course of the Civil Battle


From Don Heinrich Tölzmann
Especially for NKyTribune

When the Civil War broke out, the Germans of Cincinnati heeded President Lincoln’s call to arms and enthusiastically supported the Union cause by forming several all-German regiments.

Members of the 28th Ohio Infantry Regiment. (Photo provided)

German immigrants and their descendants opposed slavery in what they called “the land of opportunity”. In addition, the German-American press had long advocated abolition and described slavery as “a political and moral cancer”.

The German-Americans, who come from a country that was divided into more than thirty states, were also against secession because they did not want the United States to become the United States. The Germans from Cincinnati formed a total of six German regiments for the Union Army: the 9th, 28th, 47th, 106th, 108th and 165th regiments.

In addition, they formed three Ohio militia regiments during the so-called Siege of Cincinnati: the 6th, 8th and 11th. They were sent to northern Kentucky during the siege and served alongside the 106th regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Tafel, the former head of the Cincinnati gymnastics club. In total, there were four German Cincinnati regiments in northern Kentucky defending the area.

Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Tafel. (Photo provided)

The Confederates referred to German-American troops as “the Dutch devils” because of their perseverance in battle. And legend has it that Robert E. Lee said, “Bring the Dutch out of the Union Army and we could easily whip the Yankees.” The losses were high: of the 1,155 soldiers in the 9th Ohio Regiment, 674 returned home. This regiment consisted mostly of Turners from Cincinnati, but also from other parts of the area, including Covington and Newport.

Ninth-century veterans helped raise funds in 1877 for the construction of the statue in Washington Park, which honored Col. Robert L. McCook, its first in command. When Tafel was mayor of Cincinnati, in 1898 he invited the Great Army of the Republic, an association of Civil War veterans, to hold their national camp in Cincinnati, and it was one of the largest in the group’s history.

Inside the Memorial Hall in Cincinnati is a statue with the names of some of the victims of the 9th Ohio Regiment, as well as a framed picture from a German newspaper from Cincinnati listing the dead and wounded of the regiment. It also contains fragments of the remains of the regiment’s battle-torn flag.

1898 Members of the 106th Ohio Infantry Regiment reunited. (Photo provided)

However, there is no historical marker honoring the civil war of the German-American soldiers of Cincinnati. With a total of nine regiments, about 9,000 would have served in the Union and Ohio militia regiments.

Much of the 20th century was marked by anti-German sentiments emanating from the world wars, so it is not surprising that the memory of Cincinnati’s German civil war regiments faded and faded. A St. Louis, Missouri, Civil War general, Peter Joseph Osterhaus, once said he was “a completely unknown person.”

Osterhaus’s remarks also sound correct in relation to other German-American officers in the Union Army and the many German regiments. A good example of this lack of awareness of their service history was Ken Burns’ PBS miniseries, The Civil War. Not a word was mentioned about them.

The ID card of the German Civil War regiments of Cincinnati and their commanders appears to be generally unknown. Since the outbreak of the civil war is now 160 years ago, it seems perfectly appropriate to erect a historical plaque honoring their services so that they do not remain “completely unknown”.

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Don Heinrich Tolzmann is a nationally and regionally respected historian of German Americana. He has written and edited dozens of books and contributed to many others, including The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky.

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