Monday, August 17, 2020

Booknotes: Radical Warrior

New Arrival:
Radical Warrior: August Willich's Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General by David T. Dixon (UT Press, 2020).

"An estimated 200,000 men of German birth enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, far more than any other contemporary foreign-born population. One of these, Prussian Army officer Johann August Ernst von Willich, led a remarkable life of integrity, commitment to a cause, and interaction with leading lights of the nineteenth century." David Dixon's Radical Warrior: August Willich's Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General is a full biography, with over one-third of the book devoted to Willich's pre-Civil War life and most of the final three chapters covering his life after the conflict ended. "After resigning from the Prussian Army due to his republican beliefs, Willich led armed insurrections during the revolutions of 1848–49, with Friedrich Engels as his aide-de-camp. Ever committed to the goal of universal human rights, he once dueled a disciple of Karl Marx—whom he thought too conservative. Willich emigrated to the United States in 1853, eventually making his way to Cincinnati, where he served as editor of the daily labor newspaper the Cincinnati Republican."

More from the description: "With exhaustive research in both English and German language sources (the bibliography lists archives in Germany, France, and the Netherlands), author David T. Dixon chronicles the life of this ingenious military leader—a man who could also be stubborn, impulsive, and even foolhardy—risking his life unnecessarily in the face of overwhelming odds."

"As soon as shots were fired at Fort Sumter, fifty-year-old Willich helped raise a regiment to fight for the Union. Though he had been a lieutenant in Europe, he enlisted as a private. He later commanded an all-German regiment, rose to the rank of brigadier general, and was later brevetted major general." Willich distinguished himself in numerous campaigns from West Virginia in 1861 through the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. He was wounded badly (losing an arm) during the latter but returned to the army to serve in rear area postings for the remainder of the war. 

Dixon's "narrative places the Civil War in a global context. For Willich and other so-called “Forty-Eighters” who emigrated after the European revolutions, the nature and implications of the conflict turned not on Lincoln’s conservative goal of maintaining the national Union, but on issues of social justice, including slavery, free labor, and popular self-government."

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