Project Reflection: Immigrants in the Union Army

The link to the website can be found here.

My digital project attempted to place the Civil War in a broader context by examining the lives of immigrant soldiers in the Union Army. This project allowed me to explore the intersection of the Civil War and 19th-century immigration, which are two areas of history I am extremely interested in. I first became familiar with the historiography of immigrants in the Civil War when I interned at Gettysburg National Military Park. I gave a program about the third day of the battle through the lens of the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known as the Garibaldi Guards. I originally had the idea of creating one map and plotting the journeys of dozens of soldiers and regiments that heavily consisted of immigrants. However, the constraints of story maps did not allow me to pursue that idea. Instead, I decided to narrow my focus on four soldiers; Albert Cashier, Włodzimierz Bonawentura Krzyżanowski, Joseph Pierce, and Carl Schurz. While I also hoped to explore immigrant soldiers who served in the Confederate Army the time constraints and lack of accessibility to monographs about the topic compelled me to abandon that idea and narrow my focus on immigrants who served in the Union Army.   

Working with story maps was initially frustrating. When I tried to create lines in between each point the points themselves would sometimes move. When I found myself wasting too much time to try and remedy this issue I decided to just leave the points as they are. I originally intended to embed primary source documents to go along with certain points but it became difficult because story maps would not allow me to orient the photo myself. If I had to do this project again it would be interesting to see how the points would look on a different tool, such as google maps.

When I initially proposed this project, I had the idea of it becoming an educational tool that teachers could use to allow students to explore the relationship between the Civil War and immigration patterns to the United States. It could also challenge students to think critically about the intellectual, cultural, and social baggage of immigrants, specifically in the case of those fleeing political persecution. While all the outcomes I initially proposed did not come to fruition I still think the site and maps are capable of raising questions about how we interpret the role of immigration in American history.

I was able to create some of the pages I originally thought about during the proposal phase. I created a page that provides people with a list of monographs, articles, and websites they can use to learn about the experience of prominent immigrants such as Carl Schurz and Franz Siegel as well as the efforts of the Irish Brigade. I also compiled the names of immigrants I came across in my research into a list that could guide those who are interested in learning more. I plan to continue building this list by adding more names and regiments that were made up of immigrants. Furthermore, while I did not have the chance to explore all the avenues I originally intended to I enjoyed constructing a project that challenges people to recognize that critical events such as the Civil War do not occur in a vacuum.

4 Replies to “Project Reflection: Immigrants in the Union Army”

  1. Leah, this is a great project! I love the premise of mapping their lives. I relate a lot to having to adapt your vision around technological issues, and I think you did it really well.

    I also love your “Discover More!” list, compiling more names and urging people to conduct their own research. Not only do you present the lives of these four soldiers in a fascinating way, but you are giving others the chance to do their own research. I think offering a starting point helps people gets past any intimidation or uncertainty, and I think it’s a great way to keep your project relevant even beyond its scope. Great work!

  2. Leah,

    I agree with Cameron– this is awesome, and I love that your site is truly driven by visitor needs/desires. It’s a great springboard for independent research, and curated lists like these are so hard to come by! I think that this can spur great future work on immigrant participation in the Civil War!


  3. This is such a cool project, Leah! It’s clear that you put a lot of work into it, and it really illuminates a lesser-known part of American revolutionary history (lesser known to me, at least). Seconding Cameron, I also really love your “Discover More!” list — it seems very “public history-y,” as you easily make available information for others to continue your research and dive deeper into this fascinating history. Great job!

  4. Great to see how this project has come together! I think your decision to have both a wordpress site and the storymaps makes a lot of sense. Looking around in the maps it’s great to see the level of depth you have in each one for varied points over time in the lives of each of the individuals you focus on in the maps.

    Thank you for sharing a bit about the challenges you faced in getting these tools to deliver on your vision for the project. Finding and working through those challenges is a key objective for our class. Congratulations on building this project!

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