Adam Goodheart, "Civil Warfare in St. Louis", The American Scholar, Spring 2011:
The leading city in one of the nation’s most populous slaveholding states, St. Louis was a strategic prize like no other. Not only the largest settlement beyond the Appalachians, it was also the country’s second-largest port, commanding the Mississippi River as well as the Missouri, which was then navigable as far upstream as what is now the state of Montana. It was the eastern gateway to the overland trails to California. Last but far from least, the city was home to the St. Louis Arsenal, the biggest cache of federal arms in the slave states, a central munitions depot for Army posts between New Orleans and the Rockies. Whoever held St. Louis held the key to the Mississippi Valley and perhaps even to the whole American West.
Throughout the winter and early spring of 1861, the Union revolutionaries who would soon fight the battle for Missouri were preparing for the war in hidden corners of the city. They drilled by night in beer halls, factories, and gymnasiums, barricading windows and spreading sawdust on floors to muffle the sound of their stomping boots. Young brewery workers and trolley drivers, middle-aged tavern keepers and wholesale merchants, were learning to bear arms. Most of the younger men handled the weapons awkwardly, but quite a few of the older ones swung them with ease, having been soldiers in another country long before. Sometimes, when their movements hit a perfect synchrony, when their muffled tread beat a single cadence, they threw caution aside and sang out. Just a few of the older men would begin, then more and more men joined in until dozens swelled the chorus, half singing, half shouting verses they had carried with them from across the sea:
Die wilde Jagd, und die Deutsche Jagd,
Auf Henkersblut und Tyrannen!
Drum, die ihr uns liebt, nicht geweint und geklagt;
Das Land ist ja frei, und der Morgen tagt,
Wenn wir’s auch nur sterbend gewannen!
(The wild hunt, the German hunt,
For hangmen’s blood and for tyrants!
O dearest ones, weep not for us:
The land is free, the morning dawns,
Even though we won it in dying!)
These men were part of a wave of German and other Central European immigrants that had poured into St. Louis over the previous couple of decades. By 1861, a visitor to many parts of the city might indeed have thought he was somewhere east of Aachen. “Here we hear the German tongue, or rather the German dialect, everywhere,” one Landsmann enthused.
It's an extraordinary story, and I'm surprised that I've never heard it before. (I'm certainly familiar with the large-scale German immigration to the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries — what was new to me was the nature and scale of the 1861 uprising against the Missouri civic authorities, who were largely pro-secession.) Given recent 1848-like events in the Middle East, it's especially interesting to learn of this significant delayed impact of the failed European revolutions of 1848 on the development of the American Civil War:
Politically, too, the newcomers were a class apart. Many had fled the aftermath of the failed liberal revolutions that had swept across Europe in 1848. Among those whose exile brought them to Missouri was Franz Sigel, the daring military commander of insurgent forces in the Baden uprising—who, in his new homeland, became a teacher of German and a school superintendent. There was Isidor Bush, a Prague-born Jew and publisher of revolutionary tracts in Vienna, who settled down in St. Louis as a respected wine merchant, railroad executive, and city councilman—as well as, somewhat more discreetly, a leader of the local abolitionists. Most prominent among all the Achtundvierziger—the “Forty-Eighters,” as they styled themselves—was a colorful Austrian émigré named Heinrich Börnstein, who had been a soldier in the Imperial army, an actor, a director, and most notably, an editor. During a sojourn in Paris, he launched a weekly journal called Vorwärts!, which published antireligious screeds, poetry by Heinrich Heine, and some of the first “scientific socialist” writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
I suppose that the burial of this fascinating and important piece of U.S. history is due to some combination of uneasiness about popular rebellion (even if this was an anti-rebellion rebellion, so to speak) and the waves of anti-German cultural erasure associated with the two world wars.
Against this background, it's relevant to review some of our past posts about German cultural and linguistic assimilation in America. Thus in 1751, Benjamin Franklin asked "Why should Pennsylvania … become a Colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion?" (More on this here and here.) A Nebraska state law making it a crime to teach German to children was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923. And in 2004, the NYT noted the passing of a woman whose ancestors had immigrated from East Friesland to rural Illinois in 1841, and who at the age of 100 spoke English only with a thick German accent, although she was born more than 60 years after her great-grandparents arrived the U.S.
The cited marching song was apparently written by Theodor Körner around 1813 to celebrate the Lützowsches Freikorps, "a voluntary force of the Prussian army" which fought against Napoleon. You can hear a bunch of sung versions on YouTube. How (and I suppose in truth whether) it ended up in St. Louis in 1861 is not entirely clear to me, but no doubt some readers can explain it to us.