Prussia and the American Civil War

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While trying to unify the various German states under its banner, Prussia was involved in the American Civil War. There were several members of the military elite of Prussia that served as both officers and enlisted men in both armies. There were also official military observers sent to the North American continent to observe the tactics of both armies, which were later studied by future military leaders of Prussia and unified Germany.

Among the effects Prussia had on the war was the new saddle used by the Union cavalry: Union General George McClellan had studied Prussian saddles and used them as a basis for his McClellan saddle.[1]


Justus Scheibert was a Prussian military observer who for seven months followed Robert E. Lee's actions at several battles, including the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Upon returning to Prussia in 1864, Scheibert wrote down his observations and placed them in several of Prussia's best libraries. From there what Scheibert learned helped Prussia and later unified Germany in five different wars.[2]

Six generals who fought for the Union were Prussian-born. Karl Leopold Matthies was involved in charging Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee, only to be wounded. Alexander Schimmelfennig avoided capture for two days at the Battle of Gettysburg by hiding in a pigsty. Among those that assisted Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in his March to the Sea in Georgia was the Prussian Peter J. Osterhaus. August Willich was captured at the Battle of Stones River, and was wounded at the Battle of Resaca. The others were abolitionist Carl Schurz and Frederick Salomon, brother of the wartime governor of Wisconsin Edward Salomon.[3]

In the south, a future military leader of Prussia was gaining first hand experience. The son of the King of Prussia's chamberlain, Baron Robert von Massow, served under John S. Mosby in Mosby's 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, known as Mosby's Rangers. Massow would later serve as commander of the German IX Corps just prior to World War I.[4]

Official action

Most of the small German states were too interested in the current events of Europe to concern themselves with the American war, although they did tend to sympathize more with the Union's attempt to defeat the Confederacy.[citation needed] As major powers, Prussia and its rival Germanic state, the Austrian Empire, were more interested, but on the whole they were still less involved in the war than Great Britain and France.[5] In regard to Sherman's actions in Georgia, Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke said that "an armed mob" had nothing of value to be learned from. In response, Sherman compared Moltke to an "ass".[6] There is some evidence this story is somewhat apocryphal since Sherman appearing before the Mixed Commission of American and British Claims (1871) has been quoted as saying "Moltke was never fool enough to say that. I have seen Moltke in person; I did not presume to ask him the question because I did not presume he was such an ass to say that. The Prussian army learned many a lesson and profited from them by our war and their officers were prompt to acknowledge it."[7]

In 1862 the British foreign secretary Lord John Russell tried to have Prussia take part along with France and Russia to seek an armistice to end the war, but for naught.[8]


  1. O'Brien p.62
  2. Scheibert p.xi,xii
  3. Cartmell p.85
  4. Mackey p.82
  5. Heidler p.718
  6. Glatthaar p.91
  7. Robins p. 273
  8. Heidler p.1685


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  • Glatthaar, Joseph (2001). The American Civil War: the war in the West, 1863-1865. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-242-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Heidler, David (2002). Encyclopedia Of The American Civil War. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04758-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mackey, Robert (2005). The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3736-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • O'Brien, Cormac (2007). Secret Lives of the Civil War: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the War Between the States. Quirk Books. ISBN 1-59474-138-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Robins, Edward (1905). William T. Sherman. George W. Jacobs & Co. ISBN 1-56414-504-2. Retrieved 11 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scheibert, Justus (2001). Frederic Trautmann (ed.). A Prussian observes the American Civil War: the military studies of Justus Scheibert. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1348-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>