“No Hired Hessians or Negroes in the Southern Army”

In 1909 Philip K. Fall, Commander of the Dick Dowling Camp in Houston, welcomed the United Daughters of the Confederacy to their annual meeting. His brief welcome acknowledged the UDC’s crucial role in preserving and protecting the memory of the men who fought under the Confederate flag. Fall’s address also reflects the “limits of reconciliation” between North and South at the beginning of the twentieth century by framing the conflict as a defensive war against radical abolitionists fighting to carry out John Brown’s final mission. In the process Fall also shares a little nugget that is lost on those who depict the Confederate army as a racially integrated institution filled with loyal black soldiers.

Being notified only a day since, that our comrade was called away on an important matter and could not represent Dick Dowling Camp, the duty devolves upon me to greet you, on behalf of our Camp. Such short time leaves me ill prepared to do the occasion justice, but I know our good women will accept the will for the deed. The veterans of Houston welcome you, one and all, and we shall prove your humble and loving servants during your stay with us. Command us whenever necessary. As the years pass by we feel more and more the benefits accruing from your loving and valiant struggle in our behalf. Had you not thrown down the gauntlet and assumed the offensive for the old soldiers of the Confederacy, their names would have gone down in a partisan Northern history as rebels and traitors; who tried to disrupt what they call the greatest and best government on earth, when in fact, they in arbitrary, puritanical spirit, brought about the disruption, causing a war such as the world has never known, hiring nearly a million Hessians and nearly two hundred thousand Africans, to slaughter their brethren of the South. Nothing but a civil war could have ever satisfied the John Brown stripe of abolitionists, especially after their leader John Brown was hung.

The war was not the worst feature of the sixties. The myriads of carpet-baggers that flocked like buzzards, all eager to filch from the already impoverished and heartbroken whites, as well as from the poor deluded ex-slaves, what little was left, proved to be a carnival of misery, which can never be blotted from the memory of any who experienced the miserable rule of those Northern birds….

This is a statement of facts, which cannot be controverted. What few of the Southern veterans that yet live, glory in the fact that their noble women are now their protectors, as were they of the women in the long, long, ago. No soldier in the past or present ever received the homage of their women, as do those of Dixie Land. There were no hired Hessians or negroes in the Southern army. All fought for a principle they knew to be right and thousands upon thousands gave up their lives in defense of truth.

Fall is not suggesting that there were no blacks present in the army. Confederate soldiers encountered them performing myriad roles in camp, on the march, and on a wide range of military projects. What Fall is saying is something very different. He is remembering a war of white citizen soldiers defending their homes and a new nation from radical abolitionists and their immigrant and black hirelings. Fall is drawing a sharp distinction between what he believed constituted two very different societies. To suggest that blacks fought as soldiers would be to place the Confederacy on the same moral level as the United States. Fall is sharing his understanding of Confederate Exceptionalism.

It’s a memory of the war that was no doubt filtered through a concern that many Americans expressed at the time over the effects of continued immigration on the cultural and political identity of the nation.

Look, if there were black Confederate soldiers in the army, individuals like Fall would have said so.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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22 comments… add one
  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jun 19, 2013 @ 6:13

    “He is remembering a war of white citizen soldiers defending their homes and a new nation from radical abolitionists and their immigrant and black hirelings.”

    The Black Confederate Myth pushed by neo-Confederates is not just a pillar of the Lost Cause “faithful slave” narrative; it’s also part of the Confederate version of multiculturalism and diversity.

    As seen in recent years, people have talked about Black, Irish, German/Prussian, Jewish, Native American, Hispanic, and women Confederate soldiers. I can’t verify it but I often feel that the people who are highlighting this diversity- whatever it really was- of Confederates are many of the same people who complain about why we have to have ethnic heritage celebrations (Black History Month in particular) and they also ask “why do you have to call yourself an African-American?” My point is, they are fine with diversity and multiculturalism as long as it’s covered in the Confederate Battle Flag. Outside of that, forget it.

  • Stuart W. Sanders Jun 19, 2013 @ 5:52

    Two early Federal victories in the Western Theater that included German-American Union troops led to the “Hessian” charge appearing in Southern newspapers quite early in the war.

    First, in December 1861, German-Americans serving in the 32nd Indiana bested Terry’s Texas Rangers (and other Confederate regiments) at the Battle of Rowlett’s Station, fought near Munfordville, Kentucky. The Germans actually formed a “hollow square” to repulse multiple cavalry charges and Colonel Terry was killed in the fray. Although it was a small fight, it garnered quite a few headlines. The “Hessian” charge started appearing quickly after this battle.

    Second, in January 1862, the German-Americans serving in the 9th Ohio Infantry played a vital role at the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. Many of the men in the 9th were veterans of European conflicts and revolutions and they continued their training as immigrants in pre-war Cincinnati. Therefore, they were probably the best-drilled regiment in the Western Theater at the time, and, at Mill Springs, it showed. Their well-timed bayonet charge against the Confederate left helped push the Southern army from the battlefield. Mill Springs was the first substantial Union victory since the Federal debacle at Bull Run, so this battle–and the Germans’ role–also got a great deal of newspaper coverage. Shameless plug here, but this regiment plays a large part in my forthcoming book “The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky” (The History Press, to be released on July 2).

    Therefore, because of these two Union victories that involved German-American soldiers, you start seeing the “Hessian” card played quite early in the war.

  • Brad Jun 19, 2013 @ 5:05

    In addition to what has been said, I believe the reference to “Hessians” as well as “Negroes” is an implied statement or belief that the South was defended by the true Americans, the native borns, that they were not sullied by those kinds of people, a sort of know-nothing kind of attitude. The vibrancy that the North demonstrated with its different ethnic group these people wanted no part of. That was their inherent weakness.

    However, I do believe — others may know better — that some (not many) did migrate to the South.

    • Pat Young Jun 19, 2013 @ 5:38

      Brad, always good to see you here.

      Roughly 90% of immigrants who fought in the war served in the Union army. Glatthsar’s statistical summary published a few years ago showed a tiny number of immigrants in the Army of Northern Virginia. I’ll try to look the percent up later today.

      The 1860 Census shows the foreign-born populations of the states. The contrast is stark:
      California- 38%
      Wisconsin- 35%
      Minnesota- 34%
      New York- 26%
      Nebraska- 22%
      Massachusetts- 21%
      Rhode Island- 21%
      Michigan- 20%
      Illinois- 19%
      New Jersey-18%
      Connecticut- 17%
      Iowa- 16%
      Pennsylvania- 14%
      Missouri- 14%

      In 1860, the only southern state with a large immigrant population was Louisiana with 11 percent. South Carolina had 2 percent foreign-born and Georgia had 1 percent. While people often write to me about the “Irish in South Carolina” statistics show that there were virtually no immigrants living there at the start of the war. Also neglected is the fact that when the war began very few immigrants left the Northern states while there were many reports of immigrants leaving the South either to head North or to leave the country entirely. Immigration continued at fluctuating rates thoughout the war, but it was almost entirely immigration to the North.

      In New Orleans, Ben Butler was extremely successful in recruiting Louisiana immigrants into the Union army and working with immigrant communities in New Orleans to secure the city for the rest of the war.

      A smart politician who had an immigrant base back in Mass., Butler alleviated the food crisis in the city through a “hearts and stomachs” program. The Union army began distributing free food, taken from the Confederates, to the city’s poor and working class. As many as 30,000 people a week were the beneficiaries of the free food program. Those receiving food had to take a loyalty oath.

      Only one-in-ten of the people receiving free food were native-born whites; 37 percent of recipients were Irish and 33 percent were Germans.

  • London John Jun 19, 2013 @ 0:36

    Confederate propaganda greatly exagerrated the importance of immigrants in the Union army, while also claiming that American-born Union soldiers had had unmanly or menial peace-time occupations. But I don’t see how calling them “Hessians” works – Britain’s Hessians in the American Revolutionary War didn’t have a reputation for being particularly poor soldiers, did they? And Confederate propaganda emphasized the supposed ethnic heterogeneity of Union troops, whereas the Hessians were all, well, Hessian.

    • Pat Young Jun 19, 2013 @ 2:40

      By calling German American soldiers “Hessians” Confederate propagandists were claiming that they were mercenaries. They were also implying that they were not really Americans, only men brought to this country to fight.

      Calling German Americans “Hessians” did not take away the notion of a claimed dangerous heterogeneity in the Union army, it merely allowed the branding of the immigrant group that contributed the most soldiers to the Union cause by identifying them with the extremely hated Hessians of the days of yore. The “Hessian” was not a “good soldier” in American memory of the Revolution, he was a cruel rapist and plunderer who fought against liberty for a pile of money.

      Finally, in describing the Germans with a term used colloquially in the U.S. to mean “mercenary”, the Southern propagandist played to prejudices against native-born Northerners who were depicted as men mainly concerned with material wealth who would hire foreigners to fight their wars while the Northern native-born stayed home to pile up their money.

      In Fall’s speech, he contrasts these Northerners anf their “Hessians” with Southern whites of whom he says: “All fought for a principle they knew to be right and thousands upon thousands gave up their lives in defense of truth.”

  • Craig L. Jun 18, 2013 @ 20:08

    There could also be residual hostility in the southern narrative to immigrants, particularly Germans, whose presence in southern states represented a fifth column in support for what was generally viewed as a Union occupation. My great great grandfather’s unit spent fifteen months of the war in Little Rock and environs. The regiment was commanded by a German who was part of a German chain of command through the brigade and division levels. Nearly half of the regiment spoke German which enabled them to rely on intelligence gathered from German settlers about rebel activity in southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana and Texas.

    • Pat Young Jun 19, 2013 @ 2:52

      Interestingly, when German Union troops were stationed in the South they would often seek out local Germans on the assumption that German solidarity would transcend any Southern loyalty the Germans in places like Louisiana and Tennessee might have.

      I think a study on the failure of the Confederacy to generate nationalist feelings among its (admittedly small) immigrant population might be a nice topic for a dissertation. Both North and South had been through Know Nothingism, so it is not like Northerners could not be bigots, but Southern propaganda emphasized racial homogeneity crafted around a false history identifying the Southern leadership with the British Cavaliers. An Anglo-Scottish racial identity was touted over the “mongrelized” Northern population.

  • Pat Young Jun 18, 2013 @ 18:37

    It must have been odd if you were one of the few immigrants fighting for the Confederacy to hear your fellow immigrants disparaged so blatantly by Southern propagandists during the war.

  • Craig L. Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:00

    The reference to “hired Hessians” strikes me as more of an allusion to the American Revolution than to the Civil War. My dad’s ancestors were German immigrants who fought for the Union in the Civil War, but they weren’t “hired Hessians” or mercenaries. Census records show their birthplace as Prussia and they emigrated from German speaking lands east of the Oder in what has since become Poland. My mother’s family, on the other hand, is descended from Hessians who arrived in Philadelphia on a ship owned by Quakers in 1754, just in time to occupy the western frontier during the French and Indian War. They sided with the colonials in the revolution as part of the 1st Pennsylvania and from what I’ve been able to glean, probably participated in the Battle of the Crooked Billet near Hatboro, which I suspect featured Hessians fighting Hessians, with the colonials led by Scot-Irish officers who were ambushed by British or English officers loyal to the crown.

    • Andy Hall Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:40

      The reference to “hired Hessians” strikes me as more of an allusion to the American Revolution than to the Civil War.

      It is a reference to the American Revolution, but as Pat points out it was a common way during the war to disparage the large number of German immigrants in the Union army.

  • Matt McKeon Jun 18, 2013 @ 6:50

    At some point you have to realize: they don’t care if its true or not. BCS exist to support an certain set of ideas. To the advocates of those ideas, it doesn’t actually matter if they existed or not.

  • Pat Young Jun 18, 2013 @ 5:39

    Forgot that “D” in Django”.

  • Pat Young Jun 18, 2013 @ 5:30

    The “hired Hessians” rhetoric was common among secessionists even during the war. It would typically be combined with the phrase “and the sweepings of the Five Points” to bring in the Irish. The notion being that the one-in-four Union soldiers who were foreign born had no motive for enlistment other than money and that they were little more than mercenaries. I still find this notion fairly common today among those who do not bother to read the letters immigrant soldiers wrote home which discuss everything from abolitionism, to preservation of the Union, to class antagonisms toward “aristocratic Southerners”, to a desire to stand with other immigrants who were enlisting as a way of demonstrating ethnic strength as motives for joining.

    Frankly there were dozens of identifiable classes of motives for immigrants to enlist, including needing the bonus money, but the mercenary one seems to live on in memory out of all proportion. The fact that many immigrants enlisted before the advent of the big bonus bucks does not seem to deter people from presenting this as the sole reason for their enlistment.

    Of course, the same folks seem to forget that after 1861, many Southern enlistees were actually conscripts, so the primary motive for joining the Confederate army could be said to be to avoid jail or being shot.

    On the other hand, you also see many Northerners react to the charge that they only won the war because of “hired Hessians” and “misguided Negroes” by trying to write those two groups out of the memory of the Union war effort.

    It is only in the last half-century that the memory of black participation in the war has been recognized and in the last 30 years that it has come into the public’s consciousness. Immigrant participation was more widely known about among the general public during the first 100 years after the war, although the memories were highly distorted and often fell into ethnically stereotyped forms. Since then, popular understanding of the immigrants’ role has not developed much beyond the “leprechaun” Buster Kilrain or the Clockwork Orange Ultraviolence of Gangs of New York with the possible exception of the more reflective moments of Jango Unchained. The fact that Lincoln appears to meet no immigrants in the recent biopic about him when his secretary John Nicolay was German and his house was filled with Irish servants and the Army of the Potomac was populated with thousands of the foreign born is telling in its subordination of the role of the foreign-born.

  • Barb Gannon Jun 18, 2013 @ 4:51

    I blame this all on a lack of military historians in Civil War. (Barb what do you mean–there are lots of military historians in Civil War?) No, there are Civil War historians who do the military side of the war. To a military historian you are a soldier, you are enlisted formally, you carry a weapon, you receive the honors due to a soldier, or you are, what has been historically called a camp follower, someone who follows the Army and performs the task that soldiers do not do. This type of person has followed Army from ancient times all the way until today. Some are slaves, others are free. No military historian EVER confuses the two.

  • Andy Hall Jun 18, 2013 @ 4:43

    Fall was followed at the podium by Katie Daffan, President of the Texas Division of the UDC. Katie Daffan was also (1) Secretary of the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, (2) Superintendent of the Texas Confederate Women’s Home, and (3) my first cousin, twice removed. Cousin Katie, as she was known in the family, authored a couple of history “readers” herself and was one of the leaders among the UDC in that era to embed the Lost Cause narrative into public schools across the South. She and her colleagues were quite successful at it.

  • BorderRuffian Jun 18, 2013 @ 4:25

    Philip K. Fall? The guy who spent most of the war as a telegraph operator? That Philip K. Fall?

    • Kevin Levin Jun 18, 2013 @ 4:28

      Perhaps. I don’t know since you don’t provide any additional references. I guess you are going to suggest that if it is that he was in no position to be able to make such a claim. Perhaps, but than again no one else that I know of during the war ever confirmed the existence of black soldiers. That is until the very, very end.

      • BorderRuffian Jun 18, 2013 @ 6:33

        Here is Fall’s description of his service. The only thing that can be confirmed from contemporary records is that he was a telegraph operator-

        Autobiographical Entries in the Confederate Memorial Literary Society’s
        “Roll of Honour”


        ” 081: 121
        Philip H. Fall
        1st Heavy Arty., Batt. A, CS Military Telegraph Corps

        In 1861 I joined the Vicksburg Southrons an infantry Co of Vicksburg Mis, when it was preparing to go to Virginia. My mother died at Houston Texas & I got a furlough to go to Houston to make arrangements to settle the estate & Place our negroes in charge of a good agent. When I returned to Vicksburg the Southrons had left for Virginia & I was ordered by Gen’l M. L. Smith, Commanding, to go & stay across the river opposite Vicksburg, taking charge of a telegraph line running up the river to Lake Providence. Major L. S. David of Genl J. C. Breckinridges staff was sent up to Transylvania Landing, 75 miles above Vicksburg, to watch any federal boats passing down & to notify me at once. Christmas evening 1862 he called me up late at night & notified me that eighty one gunboats & transports had all ready passed, filled with troops, & that many more boats were coming down. I immediately closed the river, in spite of a terrible storm prevailing. Marched Vicksburg in safety. Our batteries had orders to respect my red light at night, & green flag by day. Had the storm extinguished my light the batteries would have anniallaited me.

        I notified Gen’l Smith after the enemy’s crossing. He was at a great ball, & on reading my statement, he cried in a loud voice-This ball is at an end. The enemy will be here in the morning. All non combatants must leave the city. Through the telegraph he notified President Davis, & reinforcements were pouring into Vicksburg all next day. the battle of Chicksaw Bayou ensued, & we killed & wounded about 1500 of the enemy, & they hurried to their boats & went back up the river. They let Vicksburg alone for some time after this. Major Daniel, who was sent up the river is now living at Victoria Texas. being transfered to the C. S. Military Teleg’h Corps, I never joined my company. At the fall of Vicksburg I was sent to General J. B. Magruder commanding Texas, & was by his Adjutant Gen’l, Capt E. P. turner, honorably discharged from the army, at the surrender of Texas. I was Gen’l Earl Van Dorn’s operator for a considerable time at Jackson Mis. For a while I was scout for Gen’l Ferguson, on Deer Creek Miss. was also military operator at Vaughn’s Station Miss, & was at Shiloh & other places with our troops. I can conscienciously say I did my duty faithfully, obeying all orders given me with alacrity. I was assigned to A 1st La heavy artillery when I arrived in Texas.

        Truly &C
        Philip K. Fall

        P.S. I was ADC with rank of Colonel on Gen’l J.E.B. Stuart’s staff until he died, and I am now on Gen’l S. D. Lee’s staff with Sam Neal with U.C.V. organization. Was adjutant of Dick Dawling Camp for eight years & was chairman with my [?] state affairs U.D.C.

        [Unable to comfirm service] ”



        He appears in one item in the Official Records/Union and Confederate Armies-

        De Soto, December 25, 1862.
        General PEMBERTON: Sixty-four boats passed Transylvania, which is 65 miles above here, at 11 oclock last night. They ran with lights, at a rate of 18 miles an hour. There are now eighty-one boats between this and Lake Providence.
        PHILLIP FALL, Operator.


        • Kevin Levin Jun 18, 2013 @ 6:37

          Thanks for passing this along. Once again you missed the point of this post.

          • BorderRuffian Jun 18, 2013 @ 7:24

            What does Fall have in common with Clark Lee?

            Neither has a Confederate service record.


            Fall: “I was ADC with rank of Colonel on Gen’l J.E.B. Stuart’s staff until he died.”

            That one really stands out…

            • Kevin Levin Jun 18, 2013 @ 7:42

              The value of the account has nothing to do with Fall’s position. The interesting point is that he apparently did not think twice about making the claim in front of an organization that vehemently defended the Confederate cause. There is no record of anyone disagreeing with Fall’s claim. In fact, there is no reason to think that he was responding to any claims of black soldiers in the army in his short speech. Fall was making the claim as a point of pride that most, if not all, in the audience would have agreed with.

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