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Americans have long been fascinated by the Civil War, marveling at the size of the battles, the leadership of the generals, and the courage of the soldiers. The Civil War was the deadliest conflict in American history, and had the two sides realized it would take four years and inflict over a million casualties, it might not have been fought. Since it did, however, historians and history buffs alike have been studying and analyzing the military and political history of the conflict ever since.
Immigration to what is now the United States began long before the country was independent. That early immigration included tens of thousands of Germans, many of them religious dissidents like the Dunkards, Amish, and Mennonites, who settled particularly in Pennsylvania and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. However, the steady migration became a flood, with a half million German immigrants coming between 1840 and 1850, and almost a million more between 1850 and 1860.
The more recent immigrants tended to settle in cities like New York City, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago. More than 90 percent of them settled in states that would remain in the Union, and only a relatively small number settled in what became the Confederacy. Still, there were significant populations of German-born immigrants in the Southern cities of Charleston, Richmond, Wheeling and most notably, New Orleans.
In terms of the Civil War, the most important of the German immigrants were the Forty-Eighters, perhaps 5,000 who had been involved in the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848. Their nickname “Forty-Eighters” refers to the year 1848, when revolutions broke out across Europe. The revolutions in the various German states sought to unify Germany into one nation, topple the old aristocratic structure, and turn society toward democracy and socialism.