German Attitude Toward the Civil War

By: Rudolph L. Biesele

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: September 1, 1995

The large German community in Texas had varied reactions to secession and the Civil War. Prior to the war Germans in the state had been split over the issue of slavery. Some, particularly those who had been political refugees from their homeland, opposed slavery; others, however, gave the institution their tacit approval, while many Germans were simply indifferent. Influential newspapers editors Ferdinand Flake and Ferdinand Lindheimer, for example, both publicly defended slavery while opposing the reopening of the slave trade, but other prominent members of the German community, including Adolph Douai and August Siemering, were vocal in their opposition. The issue of German attitudes toward slavery first came to public attention at the time of the annual Staats-Saengerfest (State Singers Festival) on May 14 and 15, 1854. Delegates from various local political clubs of German citizens in western Texas met in San Antonio and, following the lead of the Freier Mann Verein (Freeman's Association) organized by fellow Germans in the northern states, adopted a mildly-worded plank declaring that slavery was an evil and that abolition was the business of the states. The resolution went on to maintain that a state should be able to obtain help from the federal government to effect abolition. By "help" the convention meant that the state would ask the federal government to pay the owners for the freed slaves.

Alarmed by the declaration, members of the American (Know-Nothing) and Democratic parties began to question German loyalty. Conservative Germans such as Lindheimer came out in opposition of the convention, but at the same time they defended the right of the convention to express itself on public questions. The hue and cry might have died down had not Douai, editor of the San Antonio Zeitung, taken an even more stridently antislavery stance in his editorials. German readers and advertisers quickly withdrew support from the Zeitung and Douai, despite receiving financial support from Frederick Law Olmsted, was forced to sell the paper and move to New York. Nonetheless the Anglo-Americans and press continued in their feeling of distrust. At the beginning of the Civil War, many Anglo-Texans feared that the Germans would support the Unionist cause. Their suspicions seemed to be confirmed when sixty-five Union sympathizers among the German settlers of western Texas left Kerr County bound for Mexico. Hamilton P. Bee, who was then stationed at San Antonio, heard of the disaffection in the counties of Kerr, Kendall, and Gillespie, proclaimed martial law in the counties, and sent Lt. C. D. McRae to the region to control the situation. McRae pursued the Union sympathizers commanded by Fritz Tegener, overtook them, and on August 10, 1862, defeated them in the battle of the Nueces. A monument honoring these Unionists was later erected in Comfort, Texas. More disaffection was evidenced in Colorado, Fayette, and Austin counties. Early in 1863 Col. William G. Webb reported to John B. Magruder that about 800 men were "in arms to resist the conscript law and the state draft." Magruder placed these counties under martial law and had the ringleaders "arrested and lodged in jail," whereupon the rest yielded. The prevailing sentiment among the German settlers, however, was for the Confederacy. Ample testimony of the support of the Confederate cause by Texans of German extraction is seen in the work of such men as Marinus von der Henvel of Austin County, who was killed at the battle of Valverde, New Mexico, on February 21, 1862; Capt. Julius Giesecke of Comal County in Henry H. Sibley's brigade; William Eckhardt of DeWitt County in Company K of the Twenty-fourth Texas Cavalry Regiment; Col. Augustus C. Buchel of the First Texas Cavalry Regiment; and Carl Wilhelm von Rosenberg of Travis County, who served as topographical engineer under Magruder. Comal County furnished three companies of men—260 in all for service in the Confederate forces. Capt. Theodore Podewilo organized a company of 79 men for the Texas Mounted Rifles; Capt. Gustav Hoffmann's company of infantry had 71 men; and Capt. Friedrich Heidemeyer's company of infantry had 110 men.

Rudolph L. Biesele, "The Texas State Convention of Germans in 1854," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 33 (April 1930). Walter L. Buenger, Secession and the Union in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984). Sister Paul of the Cross McGrath, Political Nativism in Texas, 1825–1860 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1930). New Braunfels Zeitung, August 18,1938.

  • Peoples
  • Germans
  • Military
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rudolph L. Biesele, “German Attitude Toward the Civil War,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995

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