Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Owens: "Hier Snackt Wi Plattdütsch"

The 1861 events in Missouri are my most abiding Civil War interest. Recently, a helpful fellow on the Missouri in the Civil War board directed my attention toward a book from Robert L. Owens titled Hier Snackt Wi Plattdütsch (trans. - Here we speak low German).

Educated only in high German, I was intrigued by the language and dialect differences among the various lowland areas of German speaking Europe. Sadly, my ILL period was far too short to properly appreciate the entire book. Instead I focused on the June 19, 1861 Battle of Cole Camp (Chapter 16). The two sides were evenly matched at around 3-400 militamen per side, but the southern forces were able to achieve tactical surprise and drove off the Unionist home guards after a vicious little 20 minute fight. Losses were heavy, with the Union force suffering at least 32 killed. The victory opened the retreat route for the forces of Governor Jackson, previously routed at Boonville.

With previous works, Cole Camp is mentioned in passing or at most a sentence or two is dedicated to it. However, Mr. Owens seems to have delved deeper into the subject than anyone else and he's has done a marvelous job researching and presenting a detailed blow-by-blow account of this small battle for the reader. The tactical history is bracketed by fine summaries of both the events leading up to the battle and its aftermath. Footnoted and supported by seven fine maps, Owens' work is also enhanced by his decision to include a ream of additional detail in the appendices; including a campaign and battle timeline, geographical and meteorological data, and a casualty list. The author also discusses his management of the source material. I would recommend this fascinating book to anyone interested in the German culture and settlement of Missouri and in the Cole Camp fight (Chapter 17 also briefly discusses the effects of the later guerilla war on the civilian population).


  1. Drew,

    That's a VERY interesting topic to me personally. My ancestors who came to America and settled in Illinois east of St. Louis spoke a version of Low German, and both sets of my grandparents could still speak and understand the dialect. The price is kind of steep, but this might be one I'm willing to bend a little on.


  2. Brett,
    Yes, that is a high price. OTOH, it's a high quality book in terms of paper, binding and the like; plus it's full of photos, maps, illustrations. Clearly a big time labor of love of the Cole Camp community.

    For some reason, my library had a hell of a time getting another library to loan it to me (and transit ate so much into the loan period I didn't have time to read it through), but you might want to try that avenue out first before deciding.



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