Gurkhas and Garibaldians

The Thorny Rose: The Americanization Of An Urban, Immigrant, Working Class Regiment In The Civil War. A Social History Of The 39th New York Volunteer Infantry

"I dinks I'll go a-vightin'," outshpoke der Breitemann
"It's eighdeen hoonderd fordy-eight since I kits swordt in hand;
Dese fourdeen years mit Hecker all roostin' I haf been,
Boot now I kicks der Teufel oop and goes for sailin' in."
~Hans Breitmann's Ballads (1)

A little over two chaotic weeks had passed since the rebel outrage upon Sumter. The torch of war had been kindled and all of New York City danced a military quickstep to the tune of Lincoln's call to arms. Recruiting offices sprang up everywhere and like booths at a bazaar beckoned prospective recruits to the glory and rewards of the martial pageant.

Even the immigrant station at Castle Garden, which once hosted not only the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind with her birdlike vibrato and other musical and theatrical favorites, but a "long series of Circus Companies, Menageries, Chinese Junks and monstrosities without number" (2) greeted its new arrivals with a chance to defend the flag that some of them were seeing on its native ground for the first time. (3) In the ethnic wards of the city, the spectacle took on an international flavor. Community leaders began organizing whole companies and in some cases regiments of volunteers of their own ethnic derivation.

It is not difficult to understand the attraction of the Union Army to immigrant men. Certainly, they were just as subject to war fever as anyone else in the excitement of those first months. But economics played a fundamental role as well. Lack of job security, or lack of employment entirely, especially to those fresh from the steamer, could make the Army's steady $13 a month quite attractive: immigrant families, minus one mouth to feed and body to clothe, and with other family members working, could at least keep par with their former finances, and be able to rely upon a steady income from the absent male. But there were other benefits to volunteering as well. Large bounties, especially at Castle Garden, and state subsidies combined to make the Army look quite lucrative:

If the immigrant had no purpose, no friends, and no money, as often happened, it was hard for him to resist the proffered temptation; the bounties offered generally were of sums larger than any he had ever handled or even seen, and many agents in the recruiting tents were of European nationalities. (4)

By the end of the war some bounties added up to as much as $1000-$ 1200 per recruit from both state and private aid sources. (5) In addition, those who enlisted were also promised first choice of homestead land and instant full citizenship rights upon honorable discharge from the Army. (6)

In addition, the city of New York commissioned a Union Defense Committee "representing the heart and energies of the commercial emporium of this county" (7) to raise money for the provisioning of troops and aid for the needy families of volunteers. At a time when the indigent poor had to rely primarily upon charitable institutions for needed support, the U.D.C. acknowledged with its financial support that this war, like all wars, would be a poor man's fight, and that it would be necessary to subsidize the poor soldier's family in order to keep up the morale of the army.

War fever and economic reasons were not the only stimuli encouraging immigrants to join the Union Army. The foreign-born also joined the army to take advantage of what military sociologists have called the "acceleration effects" of the military on the Americanization process and on the "politicization process." The state receives the "full support of the war effort on the part of the minority and its leadership in return for full citizenship rights or other benefits for minority group members." The foreign-born soldier is thus "fighting on two fronts....fighting for freedom and justice abroad or in defense of the country and, at the same time, fighting for the attainment of full citizenship rights perceived by that group being denied the minority at home." Most military sociologists are so called "scholars in uniform", and thus have a relatively conservative methodology, and most have primarily addressed the problems associated with institutionalized racism against African-Americans in the modern military. But their generalizations can be applied just as well to other minorities in other time periods. Most minorities, especially those who have been subject to nativism or racism, have had a "perception of what should take place as a result of military service," i.e. the societal and economic rewards for their military service. This societal debt has not necessarily been acknowledged by those who have recruited minority members. (8) As was mentioned before, immigrant Union soldiers could expect their naturalization papers along with their honorable discharges, if they survived the war. But along with the symbolic papers, immigrants expected much more from the army in the guise of better treatment and better opportunities at the conclusion of their military service in defense of the Union, which many believed should be recognized as the ultimate proof of their loyalty to America. As Cynthia Enloe has found in her study of Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies:

They enter the military thinking that such service will give them greater leverage, greater legitimacy, and thus greater political influence in the system. Some ethnic groups moreover contribute more than their "fairshare" to a war effort and thus feel that they especially deserve a better deal from society?

Although Enloe was writing about conscripted soldiers in this instance, the generalization is also valid in relation to volunteers, perhaps even more valid. The success (and I take this to mean advancement toward Americanization, equal opportunity or better treatment as a result of a smooth service record) of separate or segregated units depends on three factors: "(a) the minority group's orientation toward its military role, (b) its identification with the goals of the polity and the military organization in the armed conflict, and (c) its attitude toward the nature of unit organization and participation." (10)

New York's immigrant leaders, members of elites within the ethnic communities played an important role in defining and facilitating these three factors. Historically, other state systems have created roles for these elites to play in the creation of state military forces. They have found it "more efficient to operate through authority figures within a structured community who can draw upon existing bonds of obligation and credibility for the sake of bringing their communal subordinates into the army." (11) Regardless of the amount of "structure" in the multi-ethnic communities of New York City, many of those forming regiments were "known" in the ethnic institutions of lower Manhattan, be they churches, rifle clubs, benevolent and mutual aid societies, or political circles. In their recruitment of their "communal subordinates" they attempted to define all three of the aforementioned factors in the way that they proposed the organization of ethnic units. For them, the war was an opportunity to gain even more prestige among their own countrymen, and perhaps through political advantage plummet themselves out of the immigrant wards and into the mainstream of political power and economic opportunity. These ethnic "middlemen" articulated the relationship of the immigrants to the Union in the public eye for both natives and the foreign-born and legitimated the recruitment of separate ethnic regiments at a time when nativism was still hiding in the wings fostering an undercurrent of distrust of the loyalty of the newcomers. They also gave their countrymen good reasons to volunteer whatever the nature of the immigrants' attachment to the Union by linking the struggles of Europe with the struggle for the Union. They helped, at least in the beginning, to foster a situational solidarity of common descent for immigrants whose primordial ethnic ties had been challenged by life in urban America, and gave them a new sense of self-esteem by giving them a history, whether they were aware of that history or not. (12) Sociologists have discussed the disintegrative effects of modem institutions, including militaries, on ethnicity. But as Cynthia Enloe points out, the military's situational ethnicity can help shape ethnic pluralism. She also discusses the effect of ethnic military institutions on the soldiers' class, religious and political divisions within the ethnic community, and their effect on the immigrants' self-perception using the Scottish soldier in the British Army as an outstanding example:

Despite his assignment to a Scottish regiment and his culturally symbolic attire, the man's own self-identity is problematic. Prior to enlistment or conscription, the soldier may have thought of himself principally as an unemployed labourer or landless farmer, not as a "Scotsman". In a similar fashion, a conscious "Scottish" identity could have developed as a result of being socialized into the ethnically defined regiment (13)

Thus when historians complain that looking too exclusively at ethnicity masks class divisions and the effects of class on social and cultural behavior, they may be describing a historical phenomenon as well as criticizing contemporary analysis. Ethnicity has served that purpose in past history as well as present historiography. In this case, old national loyalties have been called forth to help create new ones.

Thus, at a war meeting of New York Hungarians in early May, 1861, for example, Alexander Asboth, a veteran of the Hungarian revolution, proclaimed that the "same principle [underlay] American and Hungarian liberty"; that "the dismemberment of the Union would be an encouragement to despots everywhere, and a blow dealt at true liberty and self-government" Asboth reminded his Own countrymen that no nationality received more support and sympathy from the Americans than did the Hungarians in their independence straggle. When Kossuth was "detained" by the Sultan in Asia Minor, the United States alone intervened to effect his release. Another Hungarian leader speaking at the meeting pointed to the "effects disaster to this Government would have in its morale upon the struggling nations of Europe." (14)

But unlike other nation-states that traditionally exploited particular minorities in their militaries, the United States and New York State governments showed some nativist reluctance to accept some of the ethnic regiments so eager to defend the Union. An editorial in the Tribune dated May 11 and entitled "Let the Citizen Soldiery Save the Republic!" protested this reluctance:

The American people want to make this fight themselves—want to put forth all their strength and finish it up and then return to their farms and their shops; and we insist that their instinct is wiser than anybody's military traditions. Here is almost every state calling out Regiments that the Government hesitates to accept; here are our Irish, German,British, Hungarian, and other fellow citizens, pleading by thousands for a chance to strike a blow for the Union and its starry flag; and we insist that it is bad policy and false economy to refuse a single well-filled regiment till the back of Secession shall be broken. (15)

As if to underscore the subtle murmurings of nativism against ethnic troops, the Tribune printed on that same day the protestation of Michael Corcoran, Colonel of the Irish Sixth-Ninth New York, against charges that his unit could not be trusted. (16)

This atmosphere of ambivalence quickly gave way to the overwhelming military needs of the Union Army, and thus it did not discourage other New York ethnic leaders with resources or skills from trying their luck at organizing regiments. One such man, Alexander Repetti, determined to raise a company of Italians for service to their adopted country. Repetti had served in the Italian War for Reunification and Independence in 1848, or so he claimed, and had come to the United States, a political refugee, in 1851, the same year the poor fisherman's son turned military general and liberator of his people, Giuseppe Garibaldi, also sought haven. Repetti had been, according to his own account, a fine officer, and with the help of his American friend, Charles Norton, he was able to enlist rapidly several companies of men into an Italian Legion. (17)

Simultaneously, another political refugee of 1848, who was a scholar of foreign languages and reputedly a former companion of Kossuth, the hero of Hungary, Frederick George D'Utassy, was directing his own efforts toward raising a regiment. D'Utassy was to become a figure of some controversy and deserves a detailed study later in the paper. But by late April, 1861, D'Utassy had submitted the proposition for a Repetti and Norton to combine the two military organizations. Repetti and Norton accepted the offer, and the Garibaldi Guard was born.

Under the merger agreement, D'Utassy, whose efforts were apparently farther advanced, became Colonel, Repetti became Lieutenant- Colonel and Norton became Paymaster. A civil engineer by the name of George Waring, who would later write his memoirs of those first months, became Major. D'Utassy then opened a recruiting office on Broadway, enrolled Hungarians, Germans, Swiss and other nationalities into skeletal military companies, and financed their rations out of his own pocket. (18) By May 3, he had advertised for recruits in both foreign-language and English language newspapers including The New York Times:

ON TO THE SOUTH. All able bodied men, especially those who have seen service can enlist in the Garibaldi Guard, First Regiment of Foreign Riflemen. Americans, Italians, Hungarians, French, Spanish, Portughese,Germans and Poles. Come one, come all. Good rations and perfect drill. Call at once at the Armory, Irving Building, No. 596, Broadway
D'Utassy, Colonel
Charles B. Norton, Paymaster (19)

By the end of the first week in May, nearly six hundred men, forming six companies, had enlisted. (20) In less than a week, the regiment had enlisted two-thirds of its complement.

DUtassy and Repetti utilized a series of measures bound to attract both foreign-born recruits and native American support and money to their regiment. First, they set up the regiment in a unique way with each company of one hundred men representing a national or regional grouping, so that each unit's history would be ethnically defined. However, as regimental description books show (See Descriptive Chart A), there were certain nationality groups scattered throughout the companies regardless of their designation. Much like the immigrant neighborhoods of New York, the companies were identified by the largest grouping of immigrants, but were actually peopled by other nationalities as well. This made the Garibaldi Guard an interesting microcosm of the immigrant wards: (21)






France 11 4 2 9 7 2 3 1 5 2 0


Alsace 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Sweden 1 0 0 0 2 1 2 0 2 0 0


Hungary 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Norway 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 0 0 0


Bohemia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0


Russia 0 0 0 1 2 1 0 1 0 1 0


England 0 0 0 0 6 10 9 4 2 7 4


Scotland 0 0 0 0 2 4 4 2 1 1 1


Ireland 0 0 3 0 17 29 32 14 20 12 8


Canada 1 1 0 1 2 3 0 2 1 0 7


New Brunswick 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 1 0 0


Edward Island 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0


Bay of Funday 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0


United States 0 3 0 1 25 35 21 17 28 13 74


Italy 0 3 17 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0


Spain 0 0 7 0 6 1 0 0 1 0 0


Portugal 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Malta 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Chile 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0




Cuba 0 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0


Buenos Aires 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Germany 3 0 2 4 9 4 8 30 20 40 0


Prussia 15 10 3 16 8 0 2 2 2 2 0


Barvaria 16 15 2 15 0 0 1 2 0 0 0


Baden 5 11 0 9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Wurtemberg 13 12 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Hesse 4 4 2 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Darmstadt 8 8 1 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Mecklenburg 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Hohenzollern 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Hannover 4 4 2 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Saxonia 1 3 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Nassau 2 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Holstein 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Westphalia 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Hamburg 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Gotha 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Liebeck 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Schwarzburg 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Bruinschweg 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Lippe Detmold 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Waldeck 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Saxe Weimer 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Saxe Meininger 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Saxe Bourg 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Siegmaringen 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Hessen Darmst 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Hessen Homb 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Scharz Rudolet 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Lauenburg 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


Denmark 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 0


Poland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0


Galizien 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0


Switzerland 14 4 1 6 0 0 0 0 3 1 0


Austria 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 0


Holland 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 1 0


Belgium 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


None 0 0 43 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0


[2nd 'D' Company enlisted principally at Malone for one year, joined the regiment; June 2, 1865]

In addition to nationality, the Guard's commanders emphasized the proposed military backgrounds of the company officers and the recruits. D'Utassy himself was presented in the press as having been educated in the military academy of Austria, participating in every major battle of the Hungarian Revolutionary War of 1848, "receiving five severe wounds and having his leg fractured in a cavalry charge. " (22) This was sure to attract a large following among immigrant men, especially those who had participated in the pre-war ethnic militia companies mentioned previously. But it was bound to have a different and dual effect upon native American consciousness. D'Utassy and Repetti responded in a timely and dramatic manner to the needs of the Republic at the height of war excitement by alleging all manner of military experience and gallantry under fire, but they also contributed to the stereotypes in many American minds of heartless Hessians and other mercenaries fighting wars for the despots of Europe. Americans of the Civil War era had inherited the traditional American suspicion of large, professional armies as prone to anti-democratic misuse but were forced to face the reality that the Union needed a large professional army as quickly as possible. A newspaper article by a reporter visiting the Union Army campgrounds in early May attributed the tendency of young men to follow the lead of a few "wretched scum...filthy fellows [and] vile, obscene rascals" who "ought to be in jail" and not among the other "noble fellows" of the regiment, to two factors. One shortcoming was that "the masculine mind, when many men are together, unless they are very high-toned, is not especially given to refinement. But the reporter also attributed the young soldiers' path of destruction to the fact that "the army has not been a settled and respectable thing enough in this country to familiarize our young men to the idea of a decent and Christian soldier." His solution to the task of creating the perfect Victorian soldier was to provide the Army with many more chaplains. (23)

But there was more to developing the American soldier than the ethics of young men in their first days away from the sanctuary of domesticity. The ideal Victorian American soldier was an Anglo-American Protestant farm boy citizen turned recruit who had never been exposed to the sins of the city or the camp, much less to the innate corruption of European society, or the dregs of its depraved social and political systems. The young volunteer was perpetually romanticized in a way that precluded any but the most gallant behavior preserving all the while his Christian sensibilities and depth of heart. He was courageous, but never vicious, willing to die, but never glorying in killing. After all, the most valued masculine characteristic was self-control. (24) He would never become a fighting machine. But fighting machines were needed, and better to send a capable European who, hardened by the conflicts abroad, would blindly follow orders(if he remained loyal), do the dirty work, and if he died, preclude the loss of a native, democratic citizen.

Cynthia Enloe calls this the "Gurkha Syndrome" and uses it to analyze the military utilization of so-called "martial races" by multicultural nation-states in the Twentieth Century. In particular, Enloe discusses the Nepalese (Gurkhas) and the Scots in the British Army, the Berbers in the Moroccan Army, and the Sikhs in the Indian Army. According to Enloe, a "perfect 'martial race' was an ethnic group that produced men who were both martial and was assumed such soldiers were traditionally accustomed to obeying authority if authority wielders demonstrated competence. "(25) Ironically, one of the reasons nativists were skeptical of the ability of many immigrants to be "Americanized", i.e. to become competent, free and rational citizens of a democracy, was the habit they were assumed to have of deference and obedience to the despotic governments under which they had lived, or the despotic leaders of those governments and religions(in the case of "Papism). This did not however preclude their use as cannon fodder. But, according to Enloe, the other "key ingredient" that made these martial minorities "most valuable in front lines during combat", was(and is) dependency, an ingredient "necessary to make martial traits and allegiance compatible." (26) Whatever government authorities may have thought the loyalty of ethnic troops during the course of the Civil War, what made them dependent was economic necessity. Here again was the inescapable conjunction of class and ethnicity/race that prevails upon our attention in the last third of the Twentieth Century as well. Just as it did in urban areas during the Civil War, economic necessity today makes the armed services one of very few choices for many unemployed or marginally employed working class youth, particularly those of racial minorities in changing their socioeconomic situation and opening up future possibilities. Hispanic llegal aliens in Texas join the State Guard and get their citizenship papers (then are sent to train fellow Latin Americans to kill other Hispanics in Honduras and Nicaragua.) thus enforcing United States political hegemony abroad. Black AND Hispanic youth find that the Army is their only ticket out of a culture of poverty, and increasing numbers of young Oriental men and women are making the same discovery and joining the Army for the same reasons that minorities, Black freedmen and ex-slaves did during the Civil War.

The Garibaldi Guard and other New York and urban working class regiments, especially those that had a majority of Germans, as well as Black troops(with their perceived habit of docile subservience) would suffer greatly in their operational use by the Army as a result of "the Gurkha syndrome." In those early days of the war, though, despite nativist misgivings and government skepticism, ethnic units gained a great deal of popularity. This popularity that has led many historians to make drastic and invalid assumptions about their transformation into instant Americans without regard to the subsequent war history of ethnic regiments. As early as 1910, E.D. Fite led the pack in his monograph analyzing Social and Industrial Conditions in the North during the Civil War applauding this remarkable metamorphosis while simultaneously castigating organized labor for its skepticism in his own time:

Ten years previously the whole country had been on fire with hatred of foreigners in the Know-Nothing movement; the war came on, and the country gave the foreigners a welcome that was as ardent as was the former hatred. Few instances of such a rapid and complete transformation in public sentiment can be cited in the whole history of the country. Only stern necessity could have brought it about, and labor stands convicted of class selfishness in insisting on its supposed interests in the face of the general welfare. (27)

Just so, back on Broadway, the Garibaldi Guard was a sight to behold. Drilling in infantry tactics began in earnest. Most of the company commanders, each of a differing nationality commanding in his native tongue, each claiming service in European conflicts, now applied their skills and acumen to the training of raw-recruits. In the European custom, the regiment equipped a cantiniere- a woman who usually carried a cask of wine or other refreshing and invigorating beverage, and assigned two vivandieres to each company. Marriage to a man in the regiment was a requirement for these "givers of life" and sustenance who led the men in dress parade and sometimes into battle. But usually, as time went on, they either returned to their homes, or assumed the more practical roles of nurse, cook, laundress, soldier's confidante and matron of the company.28 When the Garibaldi Guard prepared to depart for Washington, one young woman was so overcome by excitement that she married a man she had never before seen to march off with the regiment. (29)

Uniforms and insignia, according to Cynthia Enloe, are often deliberately cultivated in the recruitment of minority soldiers and "martial races" in order to "highlight..the distinction of the unit" , reinforcing ethnicity in order to" bolster morale among the recruits, who would presumably fight not just to defend the state but to uphold communal pride." (30) The uniform and insignia of the Garibaldi Guard was among the most conspicuous of all the regiments that left New York, combining as it did elements of military gear from several European countries. Years later, George Waring would describe it in its officer's version:

....The moths and I have disputed over thirty years the possession of my Garibaldi jacket, and as I unwrap it in the interests of the reader, I find it a tattered garment was a very snug and rigid fit, especially tight at the bottom of its short waist, very full, and oh! how short in the skirt, but extremely brilliant! It is most gorgeous even now in its decay. It is of dark blue cloth. It is bordered and its seams are faced with narrow gold braid. Its deep cuffs and its standing collar of of scarlet cloth, Its breast is padded to a majestic importance. Across its front are five frogs of heavy double gold cord, finished at the sides with trefoil loops, and fastened at the middle with straight gold buttons more than an inch long. The shoulder knots are of the same cord. A flat braid faces the collar, where the single star of the major's grade sparkles at each side of the throat Three chevrons of the same flat braid border each pointed cuff. The colonel's grade called for five of these, and they reached to his elbow. The trousers had double broad red stripes down the outer seams. The hat was a somber foil for the jacket. It was of stiff black felt, round in the crown, very wide in the brim, and loaded with a massive cluster of drooping dark green cock feathers a la Bersaglieri. It was the hat that Repetti had worn in Italy, as the coat was the Hussar jacket that D'Utassy wished he had worn in Hungary. The trousers were a tribute to the French contingent. The whole dress might not have been congruous, but it was conquering. (31)

Shoes with black leather laced up gaiters completed the outfit The vivandiere uniform was patterned after the Figlia-del-Reggimento costume of Italian fashion. It featured the "Garibaldi hat of the regiment, a red flannel basque and blue skirt, and the black laced gaiters of the regiment." (32)

By May 17, little more than a month after the rally to arms, the regiment had raised its full complement (33) Organized into ethnically based companies, the men elected their own officers. The original composition of the unit by company was as follows:

First Company(A) Italian Cesar Osaghni
Second Company(B) Swiss Joseph Schmidt
Third Company(C) German Charles Schwartz
Fourth Company(D) Spanish JoseTorrens
Fifth Company(E) Hungarian John N. Siegl
Sixth Company(F) German Charles Wiegand
Seventh Company(G) Hungarian Franz Takats
Eighth Company(H) German A.O. Bernstein
Ninth Company(I) German H. Von Unwerth
Tenth Company(K) French Louis Tassilier (34)

There were eleven different nationalities represented and 1086 men. (35)

Who were the men of the Garibaldi Guard, 39th New York Volunteer Infantry? In many ways, they were typical Union soldiers. In keeping with the general composition of both Union and Confederate Armies, most were relatively young. The regimental record books show that twenty-eight percent were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one inclusive; twenty percent ages twenty-two to twenty-five and another twenty-percent from twenty-six to thirty years of age. (36)

Benjamin A. Gould, who collected statistics for the United States Sanitary Commission during the war from records of 1,012,273 Union soldiers, found that 98% of them were in the eighteen-forty-five year old age group. The largest single age group at the beginning of the war was eighteen year olds and the average age in 1861 of a typical Union soldier was 25.10 years.37 (See Descriptive Chart B)

The ages of the men made it improbable that there was an outstanding number of veterans of the 1848 revolutions among the rank and file as some descriptions of the Guard claimed, but it impossible that some of the recruits fought in the Crimea, Italy, and other auxiliary conflicts as well as served in European armies in peacetime.



Numbers in Company

Age Group A B C D E F G H I K D


16-21 16 23 7 18 34 25 27 31 39 21 36


22-25 24 24 19 34 21 16 18 23 14 11 18


26-30 29 23 12 24 13 20 22 14 16 18 14


31-35 18 15 6 17 9 15 9 8 13 14 10


36-40 6 9 3 8 9 9 6 7 5 13 10


41-45 3 2 1 5 5 10 3 3 6 5 6


46-50 3 1 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


51-55 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


56-60 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


The occupation of the largest number of men was a particular trade, in keeping with the Germanic nationality of the majority and their recent urban past. Thus, 417 men described themselves as artisans and craftsmen, skilled and semi¬skilled The second largest occupation was farming (146), but the majority of the farmers were native born Americans who were recruited to the 39th New York long after the original numbers of the Garibaldi Guard were depleted. The third largest group was composed of common laborers(141). Many of these were also later recruits and Irishmen. Very closely following this last group were maritime workers(131). Many of the Italians, South Americans and other Latinos fell under this heading. 74 men had what might be defined as their own businesses or professional trades, and only nineteen men claimed soldiering as their primary occupation. (See Descriptive Chart C)


Farmer 146 Milkman 2
Laborer 139 Moulder 2
Sailor 80 Pianomaker 2
Clerk 64 Posamenter 2
Seaman 42 Schoolteacher 2
Tailor 32 Servant 2
Baker 32 Smith 2
Shoemaker 29 Gilder 2
Carpenter 26 Casemaker 2
Butcher 23 Druggist 2
Soldier 19 Plasterer 2
Blacksmith 17 Axemaker 1
Segarmaker 16 Basketmaker 1
Cabinetmaker 13 Boxmaker 1
Machinist 10 Bookkeeper 1
Boatman 9 Bradformler 1
Painter 9 Builder 1
Teamster 9 Carpetmaker 1
Waitor 9 Compositor 1
Printer 8 Crackman 1
Brewer 9 Doter 1
Carver 7 Driver 1
Confectioner 7 Engraver 1
Merchant 7 Farrier 1
Cooper 7 Figuremaker 1
Stonecutter 7 Frapper 1
Mason 6 Gunsmith 1
Mechanic 6 Harnessmaker 1
Locksmith 5 Huester 1
Miller 5 Inn Modeler 1
Peddler 5 Lawyer 1
Varnisher 5 Liquor Dealer 1
Barkeeper 4 Lithographist 1
Cook 4 Looking Glass Maker 1
Engineer 4 Lumberman 1
Gardener 4 Maraco Duss(?) 1
Tinsmith 4 Medical Steward 1
Backer 3 Oysterman 1
Barber 3 Photographist 1
Boilermaker 3 Physician 1
Bookbinder 3 Plumber 1
Fireman 3 Portefitter 1
Hatter 3 Sailmaker 1
Musician 3 Scriber 1
Turner 3 Ship Carpenter 1
Upholsterer 3 Sillmaker 1
Weaver 3 Silver Plater 1
Boatmaker 3 Snuffpacker 1
Bricklayer 2 Spinner 1
Carman 2 Steward 1
Carriagemaker 2 Tanister 1
Decorator 2 Telegraphist 1
Dyer 2 Trimmingsmaker 1
Goldsmith 2 Trunkmaker 1
Hostler 2 Wagoner 1
Jeweler 2 Warehouser 1
Wheelwright 1 Undercook 1


Occupational charts cannot do justice to the years of training, acquisition of skills and pride in craftsmanship that were behind individual soldiers' claims to particular occupations. The Garibaldi Guard was widely representative of the urban working class community in the variety of skills defining the work lives of its members. Some of the occupations escape us; they were declining crafts even in the 1860's. Some were described in unfamiliar terms. A turner, for example, was a person who shaped objects on a lathe. A posamenter made passamenterie, which is braiding, cording and other trim, often of silver or gold, used to decorate clothing. A bradformler probably made brads. A casemaker either constructed cases for books or worked with leather. A compositor set type in a printshop. Cracking has to do with the distillation of petroleum, so we would hope the crackman does just that, as a "cracksman" is someone who breaks into a house for the intention of burglarizing it. Frapping is a nautical term so perhaps a trapper was a maritime worker.

Listing a given occupation also does not mean that the soldier was employed at the time of enlistment, therefore, no generalizations can be made about the economic status of the soldiers, only that these people defined then-work well and it was a part of their identity.

The First Regiment Foreign Rifles, Garibaldi Guard, was mustered into state service on May 17,1861. It was designated a regiment of Riflemen meaning that they would be issued more accurate weapons and would act as skirmishers in the advance of the Army. (38) On May 19th at 9 A.M., the Guard paraded on Tompkins Square for the benefit of the public. (39) A week of festivities, of military pomp and ethnic pageantry preceded their departure for Washington City. All the romanticism attached to the name of Garibaldi as well as the prominence of some of the Guard's officers among their countrymen and countrywomen made the Garibaldians the darlings of the immigrant wards and of the city at large. The immigrant and laboring classes turned out in large, convivial crowds for the Guard's send-off.

The first major ceremony was the presentation of flags on May 23rd. Civil war "colors" represented the cause and the nation itself as well as the self-esteem of the soldiers as a unit The flag spoke not only to their loyalty, but to their manhood as well. Flags were nearly always presented by women, especially young unmarried women, their names sometimes embroidered on the flag itself, attaching, in the Nineteenth Century, the weakness and vulnerability as well as the morality, religious values, and sensibilities of the "angel of the house" to the cause and submitting the values of the home for masculine protection. So many Civil War era cultural artifacts, music, art and literature, reflect these values that they are not to be taken lightly. As the symbol of all of these values and the single most important visual trapping of war, the flag served not only as inspiration to the troops, but also as a means of telling where the regiment and the company stood in battle, charting the progression and movements of the military unit. Even when a soldier could not accurately convey the meaning of the political ideologies and economic conflicts that were at the heart of the struggle, he could claim to be "defending the flag." The extent to which this identification was made also reflected the success of the conglomeration of rhetorical ideas that described war aims and political and cultural hegemony. Attaching political ideas to personal concepts of manhood and self-actualization is fundamentally important to any hegemonic system and certainly every war effort, but it also discourages comment and criticism because national critique becomes self-critique, and national insecurity becomes personal insecurity. Young men turned soldiers are particularly susceptible to this. Rags are nearly always presented to regiments by young women, which, in the nineteenth century, had the additional effect of urging young men on to defend all that was weak and fragile and central to Victorian society epitomized by the cult of true womanhood.

The presentation of three national flags to the Garibaldians at Lafayette Square tied the soldiers' self-concept to not only the ideals, cause and culture of the Federal Union, but to European progressive movements as well—the causes of Hungarian and Italian independence.

The American colors were presented first, at precisely 1 P.M. by a Mrs. A. H. Stevens who addressed the soldiers:

COLONEL, OFFICERS AND SOLDIERS OF THE GARIBALDI GUARD-I desire to commit to your care this sacred flag—the flag of your country. I know you so consider it, although you were not born under its folds, for you are are leaving home and friends to fight against those who have dared to insult it Take then, this beloved flag, the emblem of a freedom won with blood The eagle that surmounts it is our all. We cannot allow it to take wing; you will not allow it to be shot down. That must be its perch while the world stands. Remember this on the field of battle, and let it nerve your hands and strengthen your arms.And now, officers and gentlemen of the Garibaldi Guard, may God bless you and have you in His holy keeping. We expect glorious deeds from you. Follow but your honorable commander. Remember him whose name you bear, Garibaldi, and we shall not be disappointed.

The Times noted that the men listened with "marked attention", although one wonders how many of them had difficulty understanding what was said. At the conclusion of Mrs. Stevens' address Colonel D'Utassy "made a most appropriate response. The band then played the 'Star Spangled Banner' which was received with the greatest enthusiasm."

The second flag to be presented was the Hungarian red, white and green tricolor:

On the white stripe of the flag is a wreath of laurel and oak leaves, surrounding the inscription 'Vincere vel mori'. Across the flag in letters of green and gold, is inscribed 'Garibaldi Guard'. Attached to the which is surmounted by a silver battle-axe is a red, white and blue pennant with the motto, 'brethren before, brethren again', on the reverse, 'Presented to the Garibaldi Guard by Miss Sylvia Grinnell, May 23, 1861'.

Miss Grinnell then gave the address:

It is with pleasure I present to your gallant regiment this native flag, to which is added the emblem of our Union and the almost sacred name of GARIBALDI. Let his past, present and future glory be to you as your guiding star, men who have so manfully fought in their own fatherland, and who have so nobly volunteered their services to their adopted country, will not fail to win new honors and new glory. Be firm and faithful. May God grant in the end we may all be united. Follow your noble and gallant leader. Let your hearts beat with the same noble impulses which have actuated you before, and I am sure America will be proud to claim and welcome back the Garibaldi Guard.

It is obvious that every one of the speakers had some notion that the military service of this particular unit would have something to do with, as Miss Grinnell put it, whether or not the United States would "proclaim and welcome back the Garibaldi Guard." This was a test of immigrant loyalty as well as manhood and simple patriotism. These men had something to prove that went beyond the task of the native soldiers, something to prove and much more to lose.

DUtassy thanked the young woman for the gift of the flag (her father was helping to finance the regiment) and "the band struck up the Ratokzi March."

The third flag the regiment received was perhaps the most impressive. It was the flag under which Garibaldi fought and the same that he placed upon the battlements of Rome in 1849. The Italian liberator had given the flag to his friend and comrade, General Giuseppe Avezzana, who had fled from Italy after the defeat of the Roman Triumvirate in 1849. Avezzana was an instant celebrity in the immigrant wards and was presented with a ceremonial sword by the first New York Italian militia unit Although the General had returned to Italy apparently for the resumption of the battles of the Risorgimento in Sicily, his young daughter presented Garibaldi's tricolor, bearing the inscription "Dio e Popolo", "For God and People" to the Garibaldi Guard.: Then "the flags ...were carried along the lines, and were received with every demonstration of enthusiasm by the men." The Garibaldians then went through several evolutions of the line for the crowd, "were marched back to the barracks and dismissed."

The Times commented upon a problem that would later escalate in the ranks of the Guard: "The effect of the drill was greatly marred by the fact of the men being all unarmed. However, they are expected to arrive daily..." (40)

The lack of weapons must have been quite an embarrassment for the members of the Guard, called upon to defend the Union and having nothing with which to defend it. For those raising regiments, it was certain that politics and one's relationship with New York's Union Defence Committee could help determine how quickly your regiment received its arms, but the management of war resources and finding the funding for them was a major bureaucratic task for which the State and Federal Government were both ill-prepared. The Civil War was a munitions manufacturer's dream, and the major arsenals and armories at Springfield, Massachusetts and Harper's Ferry, Virginia could not produce weapons fast enough for Lincoln's first mass of 75,000 volunteers. In addition, the overzealous designation of the Guard as "riflemen" meant that the men's expectations were already geared up for the receipt of a particular kind of modern and improved rifled muskets. Anything less than that could produce morale problems and internal dissent.

But even as the Guard received its colors, a drama was being enacted in Virginia that would provide the first martyr of the War for the Union. Young Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of the New York Eleventh-First Fire Zouaves, (largely Irishmen from lower income working class neighborhoods who had been firemen), marched to the city of Alexandria to tear down an openly waving Confederate flag that could be seen from Washington City from the top of the Marshall House boarding hotel. Ellsworth had become in little time the darling of Washington City and was personally beloved by Lincoln, all of which did not help him now. Riding ahead of his regiment with his aide, a gaunt man with a five-o'clock shadow named Frances Brownell, Ellsworth climbed the stairs of the hotel, tore down the offensive colors, and made he way back down to the street He was accosted by the proprietor of the hotel, a man named Jackson, shot and killed instantly. Brownell then shot and killed Jackson. The shock of the tragedy reverberated through the northern states, and men who before were eager for the fight were now even more hell-bent for bloody revenge, or at least rhetorical bombast The officers of the Garibaldi Guard released a resolution:

WHEREAS, the cowardice and treachery of the enemies of our country have at this early stage of their assault on our constitutional rights, resulted in the dastardly assassination of our brave and noble young comrade, COL. ELLSWORTH; therefore be it RESOLVED, that we, officers of the Garibaldi Guard, convey to the relations, friends and fellow officers of the brave deceased our sincere regrets for his untimely end; and that we pledge the best efforts and the best blood of our regiment to vindicate in his name the justice and honor of the cause his martyrdom has sealed. RESOLVED, that we wear the usual badge of mourning in his honor for six days. (41)

The Guard was scheduled to leave New York for Washington City on May 27, but their provisioning problems continued and a lack of essential supplies delayed the departure for a day. As if to punctuate their departure, the Times printed a correspondence to a New York friend from Giuseppe Garibaldi on the island of Caprera to which he had retired after the liberation of Sicily and Southern Italy in 1860:

Island of Caprera, Italy,
May 6,1861
My Dear Old Friend: I shall never forget my happy sojourn in your great country, while an exile from my own, nor the many friends I made there while in humble retirement. After centuries of bloody troubles and disunion, Italy is again almost entirely reunited, and soon will be entirely so. In the meantime it pains my heart to see that you are dissolving your great nation into fragments and initiating civil war. May God save you from such a calamity. You may rely on it, no good, but universal evil will come of the dissolution of your Union. If I can aid you in any way, my agent in New York is instructed to take and execute your orders.
Faithfully and forever your friend, Garibaldi (42)

Lincoln later offered Garibaldi a command in the Union Army, but his followers begged him to stay in Italy, and he respected their wishes.

On the 28 th of May, thousands of people gathered in Lafayette Place to witness the final muster of the Garibaldians before their departure by railroad for Washington City. The New York Daily Tribune described what must have been like a great ethnic festival, more European than American, and certainly a source of fierce ethnic pride.

For more than an hour, the stirring notes of the [the Guard's] bugles were heard as each company marched from its quarters to the rendezvous. The regimental line was formed by the Captains, and the men were ordered to rest and await the arrival of Col. D'Utassy and staff. The rapidly increasing crowd now filled the sidewalks, and friends, wives, sisters, sweethearts and brothers pressed close to the lines to avail themselves of the last few minutes left of the society of those about to depart. Conspicuous along the line were the vivandieres, one or more of whom was attached to each company...

As the soldiers awaited the arrival of their colonel, the columns broke forth in national and military camp songs of every nationality represented—German, Hungarian, Swiss, Italian, French and Spanish. The Tribune noted that" sonorous voice[s]" joined in "to good effect, for many of them are members of the various singing societies." After two hours, D'Utassy, Repetti and Waring arrived

mounted on spirited horses, and cantered along the line amidst the cheering of each company as they passed. Shortly afterward the Teutonia Maennerchor and the Germania Society arrived with the flag of their Society, the German and United States flag, to escort the Guard to the Jersey City ferry. A number of the members of these societies are members of the Guard, and several hold commissions in the regiment

After inspection by a member of the Union Defence Committee and the State Medical Inspector, the Guard began their march to the ferry. The Tribune reporter allowed a little of the ambivalence of the crowds to be exposed in his account:

The streets along the line of march were crowded with more curious than enthusiastic spectators; but the steady, soldier-like bearing of the men elicited frequent bursts of applause. The Teutonia and Germania Societies marched in advance as escort The regiment was headed by Manahan's Band, as the Guard has no regimental band. The wild, war¬like blasts of the trumpets are far more stirring than the concerted music of a military band, and Col. D'Utassy, in adopting the corps of trumpetes, at once supplies the most martial music and obviates the necessity for drums, as all the calls are made by trumpet Only one company of the Guard have arms, but the remaining companies are otherwise fully equipped....

The Tribune sized up the Guard's commanders:

The officers of the Guard are men who have held important commands in the Hungarian, Italian, and German revolutionary armies. Many of them were in the Sardinian and French armies in the Crimea and in Algeria. When the Guard is heard from, they will have made their mark. The desire to avenge the death of the gallant young Ellsworth prevails throughout the regiment and his name will mingle with the revolutionary battle cries of many a hard-fought struggle against tyranny in Europe.

The final days in New York were not without their regimental tragedy:

Emil Diverbois, a private in the Guard, died yesterday in the New York Hospital from injuries received on Wednesday last Deceased was in the act of drawing a ramrod from the barrel of his rifle, which was rusty, and while pulling with all his strength, the rod was drawn out with so much force that it entered his nostrils and passed into his brain, inflicting fatal injuries. (43)

A few days later, the New York Times reported that two young working girls, whose jobs were in New York, but who resided in Jersey City, had run away to be vivandieres with the Guard. One of the girls' fathers, a Mr. Quirk, left for the nation's Capitol in hot pursuit. Whether or not he was able to apprehend young Catherine and her friend, Rebecca Ellestein, and bring their romantic adventure to a close is lost to the pages of women's history. (44)


Footnotes for Chapter 3

1 Charles Godfrey Leland, "Breitmann in Battle, " Hans Breitmann's Ballads (New York: Dover Publications, 1965), 57. The Breitmann ballads began publication in the 1850's and were popular during the Civil War, supposedly among native and German-American alike. They were regarded as the best burlesque upon German-Americans, their language, and their transplanted culture; Carl Schurz visited Hecker, a leader of the 1848 revolution, at his midwestern farm during his first months in the United States. He eventually became a Union officer and his men were called "Heckers."

2 Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825-1863 (New York: King's Crown Press, 1949), 31.

3 Maldwyn Jones, American Immigration (Chicago: University Press, 1960), Illustration section; Ernst, 31.

4 Emerson David Fite, Social and Industrial Conditions in the North During the Civil War (New York: Macmillan Co., 1910), 194.

Ibid., 289.

Ibid., 193.

New York Daily Tribune. May 1,1861.

8 Warren L. Young, Minorities and the Military: A Cross National Study in World Perspective (Westport. Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982), 255.

9 Cynthia Enloe, Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980), 53.

10 Ibid., 252.

11 Enloe, 28.

l2 See discussion by Enloe of "ascriptive" and "situational" theories of ethnicity. In situational ethnicity, the importance of ethnic ties increases or decreases according to the situation. There is a "myth of common descent", that disregards class, regional and political divisions and mobilizes those sharing nationality for particular and specific historical reasons. According to Enloe, the "immobilized ethnic group is an ethnic group in hibernation.". Enloe, 4-6.

13 Enloe, 2-3.

14 New York Daily Tribune. May 6, 1861.

15 New York Daily Tribune. May 11, 1861.

16 Ibid.

17 George Edwin Waring, Jr., "The Garibaldi Guard," Liber Scriptorum (First Book of the Author's Club: 1893), 568-569.

18 New York Times. May 3-8, 1861; Waring, 569.

19 New York Times. May 3,1861.

20 Waring, 570.

21 Regimental descriptive records have to be analyzed carefully and critically with regard to what they represent, especially in the case of English speakers compiling statistics from foreign language speakers. In the case of the Garibaldi Guard, original muster rolls and regimental descriptive records are at variance for several reasons. First, the books in the National Archives were compiled in the second year of war when there had already been a certain amount of depletion in the ranks by battle casualties, sickness, discharges, desertions, etc. Second, the books offer a compilation of statistics over four years of war, including replacement troops after the original Garibaldi Guard was reduced to under one hundred of its original number. This was the case by December 1863. Most of the British Isles born and United States born men were mustered in after the second year. Some of the United States born men could also have been second-generation immigrants.

22 New York Daily Tribune. May 1,1861

23 New York Daily Tribune. May 7,1861.

24 Michael Barton, Goodmen: The Character of Civil War Soldiers (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1981), passim.

25 Enloe, 27-29.

26 Ibid., 27, 29.

27 Fite, 195.

28 Waring, 570.

29 "Departure of the Garibaldi Guard," New York Daily Tribune. May 29,1861.

30 Enloe, 30.

31 Waring, 570-571.

32 New York Times. May 26,1861; Waring, 570; "Departure of the Garibaldi Guard," New York Daily Tribune. May 29, 1861.

33 New York Times. May 16, 1861.

34 New York Times. May 18, 1861; New York Adjutant General's Report, 1862.

35 "Defense of Col. F. G. D'Utassy, 39th Regiment New York Infantry," (Washington D.C., 1863), 5.

36 Regimental Descriptive Records: 39th New York Volunteer Infantry, Military Records Division, National Archives, Washington D.C.. See Appendix A.

37 Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1971), 303.

38 D'Utassy Defense, 5.

39 New York Times. May 19, 1861.

40 Ernst, 129; New York Times. May 24, 1861.

41 New York Times, May 26, 1861.

42 New York Times, May 27, 1861.

43 New York Daily Tribune. May, 29, 1861.

44 New York Times. June 1, 1861.

Copyright by Catherine Catalfamo, 1989