As social history garnered popularity within the scholarly field during the mid-twentieth century, historians of the Civil War started to highlight the individual experiences of ordinary soldiers. The profiles highlighted in monographs and major productions, such as Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War, were predominantly native-born and English-speaking soldiers, which effectively erased the narratives of foreign legions who fought in the Union Army.
Immigrants comprised twenty-five percent of the Union Army. Despite their invaluable contribution to the war effort, the potency of nativism within the political discourse of the time resulted in Northerners framed immigrants as soldiers of fortune who lacked allegiance to the United States. This premise not only fails to recognize the multitude of reasons they enlisted but also the fact that immigrants continually enlisted above their quota. Some notable regiments and military officers –– such as the 39th New York Regiment, the Irish Brigade, Carl Schurz, and Franz Siegel –– partook in revolutions across Europe and saw themselves as vehicles of the fight for freedom and democracy. By placing the Civil War within a context that challenges its temporal and geographic boundaries, historians can examine the politics of race, immigration, and the inextricable nature of modern history.
My Project Proposal
For the digital project, I want to produce an educational tool that could possibly help teachers covering American history encourage their students to understand that history does not occur in a vacuum. I want to create a digital map that traces the journeys of foreign legions from their lives in Europe to enlist in the Union Army. I will begin by conducting secondary research on the topic which includes monographs such as The Irish in the American Civil War, Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War, and Germain Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era. I will also conduct archival research by examining digitized military records, letters or diaries written by soldiers to garner an understanding of their personal histories and experiences fighting in the Civil War. I plan to use Google Maps to pin the locations of where individual soldiers or companies immigrated from and some of the campaigns or battles they partook in. I plan to embed either a link or a photograph of primary documents into the descriptions of the pins to incorporate the voices of the soldiers and allow students to garner an understanding of how to read and understand primary sources. I will embed this map into a WordPress website that provides users with contextual information along with other primary documents for them to analyze. I could also use tools such as Voyant to analyze what phrases or words soldiers frequently used. While
Audience and Outreach
My hope is that this could possibly become a crowd-sourcing project that provides students a platform to conduct historical research with digital tools while also learning about immigration trends and the Civil War. To publicize the map I plan to conduct pilot programs by promoting the map on social media and contacting local teachers, historians, and Civil War history buffs. After incorporating feedback from these targeted groups my next step would be to contact the Social and Multicultural Studies Curriculum Resource Teachers of local school districts to try to incorporate this into Civil War lesson plans.
Possible Challenges and Evaluation
One of the major challenges I foresee is the paucity of digital archives, of ordinary privates, that are transcribed into English. There are several higher-ranking individuals, such as Schurz and Siegel, whose lives I can thoroughly trace. Eventually, as more records are digitized I hope to expand the map. This project will partially be evaluated by its ability to entice students to learn about how global immigration and social trends altered the course of American history. I also hope it will encourage Civil War sites to promote the narratives of immigrant soldiers.