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Chapter 8 (translation): German Iowans in the Union Army

Joseph Eiboeck, Die Deutschen von Iowa: Chapter 8

Chapter 8
German Iowans in the Union Army

Love and loyalty towards the home country are inherent to the German. For centuries, he has nurtured these noble virtues; he inherited them from his ancestors from the banks of the Rhine and transplanted them here to America. During the War of Independence against perfidious Albion, there were no „Tories“ among the Germans; no German who sympathized with the British. The Germans from Mecklenburg County, South Carolina, were the first to issue a declaration of independence, almost identical to Thomas Jefferson's later and immortal Declaration of Independence of 1776. This also extends to the war against Mexico in which, among the American-born, more Germans took part than men of any other nationality. And this applies to the war for the preservation of the Union also, only on a larger scale. The way how Germans from Cincinnati and especially the ones from St. Louis worked for the cause of the Union is historic. The influence of Germans from Cincinnati, (from the state of) Ohio and from Louisville, K[entuck]y, saved Kentucky for the Union. The Germans from St. Louis achieved even more under the leadership of Franz and Albert Siegel, Osterhaus, and others. They were in the middle of a heavily rebellious-minded southern population. For a long period of time, it was uncertain which side Missouri would choose; the Germans, however, tipped the scales and the state was won for the Union.

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The Germans of Iowa were in no way inferior to their compatriots. They were the first to declare their loyalty towards their adopted fatherland and rushed to arms in order to defend it against the Secessionists' attacks. It is a historical fact that in 1861, the first militia company to volunteer for President Lincoln was from Burlington and almost entirely consisted of Germans. Captain Carl Leopold Mathies from Burlington was later promoted to general; he is due high honors. In all battles of the war against the rebels, which lasted for almost five years, Germans took part and thousands sacrificed their blood and lives so that the country would remain free and unified. Even though the majority of Germans were leaning towards the Democrats before the war broke out, they had no sympathies for the southern slave owners and quickly rallied behind the Star-Spangled Banner when the continuity of the Union was on the line. They hated slavery, even though they did not approve of all the methods that Abraham Lincoln used or was forced to use back then. Lincoln was conservative by nature and never went further than he had to.

The reason why the Germans were the best soldiers at the beginning of the war was because a great number of them had received military training in Europe and understood military drill better than most lieutenants, captains, colonels, and even generals who were drafted from civilian classes, mostly from the legal profession, and who understood little or nothing of rifle practice or the organization of companies, departments and divisions. While they had experienced military officers such as Geo. Mathies, Colonel Perczel etc. in Burlington and Davenport, they recruited Major Brodtbeck in Dubuque. He trained all voluntary regiments that were recruited in the northern part of the state and later turned out to be a courageous leader (colonel of a regiment), but not in an Iowa regiment since the Germans back then, though capable, were already held back in order to make way for native politicians.

Major Brodbeck from the Canton of Baselland, having already enjoyed

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a proper military training in the Old World, set forth from Dubuque in Iowa, where he had arrived from the Illinois Swiss colony of Highland, into the Union War and distinguished himself on the battlefields of the West. He died in Los Angeles, California, shortly after the death of his son-in-law in Munich, of the splendid art critic Dr. Wyl ( “the Yorik“ of the Illinois Staatszeitung).

It was astonishing what kind of people were appointed to be officers during the first and second year of the war. This is the only dark moment in the career of our war governor who became so famous later on. And because of the inability of so many officers, lieutenants and majors alike, many of our willing and courageous boys had to suffer and endure humiliations, which were hard to tolerate for free men living in a free country. It is undeniable that the war was thus prolonged for several years. It is also no wonder that the volunteers grew impatient at times and vividly made their discontent evident.

The following episode, which took place during the first years of the war in Missouri, shows how the volunteers fared a lot of times. Back then, the chaplain of the 9th Iowa Regiment was one of those English sensationalist preachers, who solely served the church for money, but had no heart for the well-being of their fellow human beings and especially the poorer classes. This chaplain despised the commoners in his regiment. He ignored them and never spoke favorably of them. Furthermore, he was never seen in the hospitals where the common soldiers were and he would only keep company with officers. In addition, it was customary for him to always pray for the president, for his cabinet, for congress and for the officers during his Sunday field mass, but never to mention the common soldiers. The boys were taking it to heart. Especially one among them, a Low German from Guttenberg, Iowa, could not stand the chaplain because of it. He decided to play a hoax on him, as soon as an opportunity arose. On a Saturday soon thereafter, a great number of mules for the regiment's provision carriages arrived in the camp.

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On the following day, a Sunday, it was mass again and the chaplain prayed anew: “God bless the president, God bless the cabinet, God bless congress, God bless the officers!” The moment he spoke his last sentence the German recruit shouted out loud: “God blesh de Mules!”. One could imagine the suppressed laughter that arose among the boys and how it turned into a full cackle after the end of mass. The incident later led to the dismissal of the obnoxious chaplain.

Although Iowa provided 50.000 men for the Union Army, who were divided into 48 regiments, each including a certain number of Germans – with many militarily trained people among them –, merely two Germans were appointed as colonels, namely Carl L. Mathies of Burlington and Nicklaus Perczel of Davenport. The crucial points of the following sketches of these two courageous Union heroes are taken from the story of Captain A.A. Stuart of the 17th Iowa Infantry Regiment, which was published in English in 1865 under the title “Iowa Majors and Regiments in the Civil War”.

Brigadier-General C.L. Mathies

Captain Stuart begins as following: “Carl Leopold Mathies was the first man from the state of Iowa and the United States to offer the government a military company to suppress the rebellion. The offer was made to Governor Kirkwood on January 9, 1861. The general could not be any prouder of the honor coming with this act than the state of Iowa.”

General Mathies was born in Bromberg, province of Posen, Prussia, on May 31,  1824. When he was 16 years old, he was sent by his father, a wealthy farmer to the university in Halle where he also received military training. At 20 years, he joined the Prussian army and served during the campaign against the rebellious Poles under General Mieroslawsky. At the end of 1848, he resigned from his position as officer,

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through hard work, and came to America in the spring of 1849. He immediately settled in Burlington, Iowa, and started working as a merchant. He remained there until the war broke out.

In the beginning, General Mathies served as a captain in Company “D” of the 1st Iowa Infantry Regiment. Shortly before the battle on Wilson's Creek, during which the 1st Regiment distinguished itself heroically, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the 5th Iowa Regiment. He was already on his new post when informed about his old regiment's heroic deeds. The battle of Wilson's Creek, in which General Lyon and Lieutenant-Colonel Wm. H. Merritt of the 1st Iowa Regiment immortalized themselves, will live in history as one of the bloodiest battles of the war of the rebellion. After the death of Major Worthington, Mr. Mathies was promoted to colonel. For his courage and vigilance during the campaigns in Missouri, at Island No. 10 and during the siege of Corinth, but mainly in the battle against Price's Army at Iuka under General Rosecranz, he was made brigadier-general. About this battle, in which he excelled with his courageous conduct before any other officer, Captain Stuart states the following in his history:

“The 5th Iowa under Mathies, together with the 10th, 16th and 17th Iowa, the 10th Missouri, and the 8oth Ohio Regiments were the vanguard of Rosecranz' army and the first to attack the enemy. The skirmish lasted long and was exceptionally tenacious. No recording pen can praise the 5th Iowa Regiment enough for its heroic deeds during this terrible battle. On the morning of that day, on the march from Jacinto to Iuka, this regiment served as the vanguard of the 3rd Division. For six miles, it pushed the enemy across the fields, even though the latter was repositioning constantly and kept fighting vigorously. In the beginning, the enemy was weak in numbers but eventually, three miles southwest of Iuka, the 5th Regiment became one of the first to fight against Price's entire army. They held their position until their last cartridge was fired. Their list of casualties is a testament

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to their fortitude. 217 out of 482 men of the regiment that took part in the battle were killed, wounded, or missing. 15 officers were killed or wounded.

In April 1863, after he was promoted to brigadier-general, General Mathies was given command over the 7th Division of the 17th Army Corps. The corps consisted of the 5th and 10th Iowa, the 26th Missouri and the 93rd Illinois regiments. In January 1864, he was entrusted temporarily with the command over a division consisting of various different regiments. Together, they marched to East Tennessee and helped drive back Longstreet who was threatening Knoxville. After he returned from the expedition, he was given an even more important command, the headquarters in Decatur, Alabama. He supervised the Nashville and Decatur railways, northward up to Linnvile, and the Memphis and Charleston railways eastward to Huntsville. Once settled in the Decatur headquarters, he began to reinforce the place. His barricades prevented General Hood from taking control of it when pushing north.

Since all the stress and the campaigns strained his health, General Mathies quit service in May 1864 and returned to Burlington, where he would remain until his death. The Des Moines Soldiers Monument contains a medallion portrait of this brave German-American soldier and commander.

Colonel Nicklaus Perczel

The second German-American colonel of our state was born in Hungary in 1813. He was active in the military before he came to America. In Davenport, he had a store and joined the Union Army when the war broke out in 1861. In September of the same year, he was appointed colonel of the 10th Iowa Infantry Regiment. In January, he and his regiment had been in Missouri and had excelled in the skirmish in Charleston. There, eight men died and sixteen were wounded. He also took part in the capture

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of New Madrid and Island No. 10. His regiment formed part of the army responsible for taking 5.000 enemy troops prisoner in Tiptonville. Afterwards, Colonel Perczel and his regiment joined the siege of Corinth under General Pope. Here, he was in charge of a brigade consisting of his own and the 17th Iowa Regiment. As history teaches us, the rebels retreated from Corinth. Our troops, including Perczel's brigade, chased them to Boonville on the Mobile and Ohio railways. According to Capt. Stuart, the path led through a densely forested swamp, and navigating the heavy artillery and the ammunition wagons of the large army through the area proved to be excruciatingly difficult. In addition, most of our soldiers had been inactive for a while and lacked the sturdiness for such exerting tasks. Later on, when a hapless attack was launched against General Price near Iuka in September, the 10th Iowa Regiment fought with admirable courage. Since the regiment covered the left flank of the brigade, they suffered more than any other regiment. Colonel Perczel remained in service until November. He resigned shortly after, since he was discouraged by the fact that other officers were favored over him with half as much military expertise. Apparently, he had been recommended for promotion to brigadier general but nothing ever came of it, undoubtedly because of jealousy and malevolence. Furthermore, there were no politicians on his side to pull the right strings for his promotion. Captain Stuart says the following about him in his sketch of him:

“Colonel Perczel had a quick-tempered nature but acted deliberately and bravely when in danger. He was popular among his troops.”

He was confident in his military accomplishments, but it bothered him to be under the command of less capable officers who would often show up terribly drunk on duty. The general whom he despised the most died from alcoholism in 1862.

Captain Peter Karberg

One of the bravest officers from Iowa of the Union Army was Captain Peter Karberg, an excellent Republican politician of his time. Captain Karberg was born in Apenrade,

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Schleswig, on August 27, 1840. His father was exiled by the Danish government in 1848 moved with his family to Wandsbeck, Hamburg, where his mother died in the same year. His father, Mr. Lorenz Karberg, was employed as a marine commissioner under the provisional government of Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel. His family lived there until the fall of 1850 when it moved to Hamburg. Peter was raised in Wandsbeck by his uncle Dr. Hermann Fries. In 1857, Peter and his older brother went to the United States and settled in Guttenberg, Clayton Co., Iowa. His brother died in the northern army near Vicksburg in 1863. When the war broke out in 1861, Peter Karberg was a school teacher in Garnavillo, in Clayton Co., Iowa. He resigned from his job immediately and reported for duty with other young people. As the state of Iowa had already fulfilled its quota, these troops went to St. Louis and joined the 17th Missouri Infantry Regiment (Turner Regiment). In 1863, Karberg was promoted to officer as a reward for successfully dispatching a telegram to the fleet in Vicksburg under difficult circumstances. He marched through swamps with Lieutenant Landguth of the 17th Missouri, used an old boat and was eventually forced to swim to deliver General Grant's message to the fleet commander. Afterwards, he joined the 51st US Col. Infantry Regiment as second lieutenant. He quit his service in 1866, a captain at that time and he lived in Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island, for a longer period of time. In the summer of 1869, he returned to Clayton County, Iowa, and worked as a teacher until 1871 when he became a route agent for the postal service and held this position until 1873. During this time, he married Miss Hermine Kiesel von Guttenberg und lived in Dubuque.

In the spring of 1873, he launched the Nord-Iowa Post, a German weekly newspaper, in Lansing, Allamakee County, Iowa. In January 1878, he moved the place of publication to Dubuque, where he remained until the fall of 1880. Then, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and published the Nebraska Staats-Anzeiger. For a while, he held

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the office of assistant state secretary here. He died in 1884 due to complications from a broken leg.

Major A. G. Studer

Major A. G. Studer from Des Moines is also one of those who rose to fame while fighting for the preservation of the Union. Major Studer was born in Switzerland. Even though skilled and capable, he was struggling in his first years in America. His true worth was discovered eventually and was recognized by his fellow American citizens. In the beginning, he was working for Terry and Butler's saddler workshop for 6 $ per week and afterwards for Wm. Dippert, Sen. Later on, he became an accountant and private secretary for B. F. Allen in Des Moines, the biggest bank in Iowa at that time. He was a splendid singer and for several years was in charge of the singing section of the Des Moines gymnastics club. His social talents made him popular in all circles. In 1861, he was appointed captain of a company in the 15th Iowa Regiment and headed out to the battlefield. He had a vast knowledge of military exercise, which could be said about few other officers of that time. He was strict but good with his discipline. He particularly distinguished himself during the battle of Shiloh but he also took part in many other battles during the war and was eventually promoted to major, only a small compensation for what he had accomplished for his adoptive fatherland. As a major, he joined the Reservists’ Corps in Washington, D. C. where he was in charge of the military prisons that held state convicts of higher rank. He was stationary commander on the day President Lincoln was shot. Therefore, he was the first to be informed about the heinous act. He immediately declared the state of emergency in the city. Before dawn, he had made all the necessary arrangements to capture the murderer and his accomplices and it is mainly due to him that the perpetrators were found and convicted so quickly.

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After the end of the war, the government instructed him to build schools for the freed slaves in Louisiana with headquarters in New Orleans. Afterwards, he returned to Des Moines and took up his old position in Allen's Bank. However, he was soon appointed as the United States Consul in Singapore, East India where he remained for 19 years and accomplished more during his service than any other American consul by providing the most meticulous and valuable reports on that country. Later on, because of his deteriorating health, he was given a better consular office in Barmen (Rhineland) where he would only remain for a short period since someone else, an American, desired his position and snatched from him. Then he was sent back to Singapore and he remained there until Grover Cleveland became president for the second time. Afterwards, he spent time among his old friends in Des Moines for a longer period of time. When Wm. McKinley was elected president, he was appointed consular agent in Sorrento, Italy. However, he fell ill and never assumed that office. In late December, he died in Italy.

German-Iowan Officers in the Union Army

Below is a register of German Iowans who held positions as officers in Iowa regiments in the Union Army. The register displays their rank and place of commission.



Place of Residence.

Gustavus Schnittger



Aug. W. Hoffmeister

Regimental Doctor

Fort Madison.

George Pomuty


New Buda.

Theodor Gülich



Claus Henry Albers


Henry Reichenbach

Assistant Doctor


Carl Seb. Bernstein



Wm. Alex. Haw


Martin Choumee

Chas. L. Matthies

“  [page 93]

August Wentz


Friedrich Gottschalk


Carl Kostmann


Charles Schleiter


A.W. Springer


Adolphus G. Studer

Des Moines.

David Stuhr


Henry Seefeldt

John Claussen

John Ruehl


August Timm


Leo Schumacher

William Ruff

Michael Zettler

Fort Madison.

Edward Swandsen


William Stackmann

West Point.

Jakob Sevivel


John Lubbers


Daniel J. Meyer


J. W. Riemenschneider


Henry Blanck


Geo. C. Burmeister

Joseph Mayer

Theod. Waldschmidt


Ernst A. Klingenberg

1st Lieutenant


Charles Ende


G. A. Hesselberger

Cedar Rapids.

Joseph Julius Dengle

Tete des Morts.

Matthias Keller


Joseph Enderle

Joseph Dutle


John A. Demuth


John Schröder


John H. Barger


Hugo Hoffbauer


Friedrich Christoffel


Louis Bunde

Davenport. [page 94]

Friedrich Wiedemann

1st Lieutenant


Joseph A. Fischer

Carl Mehl


Henry Meyer

Eleck Weingartner


George L. Fischer


Fritz Horn


John Corell


John Andrick


Alexander Bliedung

Albert C. Rupe


Friedrich Sommer


Chas. F. Rifley


Frank S. Köhler


John A. Smith

2nd Lieutenant

Fort Madison.

August Schlapp


Henry Saedt


Johannes Ahlefeldt

Joseph Geiger


A. F. Hofer


Edmund Krause


Friedrich Schwertfeger


Balthaser Knöpfel


Friedrich Dettmer


Ernst A. Renner

Johann Vollbehr

Elk River.

Charles Sydow


Conrad Franz


Andrew Hoerner


Theod. Gülich


Besides the Germans who were officers in the Iowa regiments, several more German-Americans served as officers in the Missouri and Illinois regiments.