Kalundborg og Omegns Museum
The article is a translation of Pedersen,
L. & Findal Andreasen, M.:
“Vestsjællændere i Den amerikanske Borgerkrig
– fra asken i
– Fra Holbæk Amt 2002 (Vejlø Print, Kalundborg,
Denmark, ISBN 87-87575-26-4)
Quotations, etc. from the English version should
include mention of the above source and copyright
Kalundborg og Omegns Museum (text) and
Freddy Volmer Hansen (translation).
Read about Ane and August Rasmussen, who in 1856 emigrated to
Greenville, Michigan, and here founded the Big Dane
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Service medal for participation in the First
Schleswig War (1848-51) between Denmark and
This medal was not awarded to
Christian Jensen for participation in the war, but to another Danish
Montcalm citizen, who participated the war and afterwards applied for the
service medal in 1876.
Christian Jensen was killed during the American
Civil War in the first battle in which he participated (The Battle of
The medal now belongs to Mr.
Clayton Rasmussen, grandson of August Rasmussen.
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The Southern States enjoyed a de facto monopoly on the
production of cotton, at the time one of the most sought-after raw
materials in the western world. In Tennessee, most cotton was harvested in
October. Some, however, would stay on the plants through winter. During the fighting at
Murfreesboro, soldiers would pick this and use it for earplugs in order to
muffle the constant thunder from the battle of Stones River (photo:
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cemetery for Union troops at Murfreesboro. Today, a part
of the battlefield at Murfreesboro has been laid out as a national park,
Stones River National Battlefield, –established in 1933. The cemetery for
more than 6000 soldiers from the North was established as early as in 1865
in a section of "Hell’s Half-Acre" and was the first of its kind in the
USA (photo: Mads Findal Andreasen).
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The grave of S.L. Olsen, a Danish immigrant.
He was a lieutenant
in a unit from Illinois and fell in the New Year’s Battle at Murfreeboro
(photo: Mads Findan Andreasen).
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Fig.15: Unknown warrior’s grave. Christian Jensen rests
as one of the numerous unidentified soldiers under a number in the
military cemetery. In the military archives he is listed as KIA–killed in
action, but his body was never identified. News of his death reached
Greenville on Jan.20, 1863, in a report on the New Year’s Battle printed
in "The Independent", a local paper.
Only one third of the c. 15,000 Michiganders who lost their lives in
the war, died in battle or from their wounds. The rest died from
diseases like measles, smallpox, dysentery, etc. (photo: Mads Findan
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Fig.17: Prisoner’s hut
in Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin. In spite of the rich
resources at their disposal, the Union did not treat enemy prisoners any
better than did the Confederacy. On the contrary, the death rate in
several Union camps occasionally surpassed the ones in the South.
Confederate soldiers had to spend the bitter Wisconsin winters in sheds
like this. Prisoners who survived the death-march to the prison camp would
often die later from cold in the draughty sheds (photo: Lisbeth
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Fig.19: Andersonville 2002.
People from WestZealand were also among those
laid to rest under the near-endless rows of white gravestones in the
Andersonville cemetery. This is the view from Mads Larsens grave (photo:
Andersonville National Historic
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Fig. 22: Peter
Goosman’s grave in Monroe Cemetery, Michigan - one of the graves
that are decorated with an American flag every year on Memorial Day
(photo: Lisbeth Pedersen).
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Fig. 23. Costumes
from West-Zealand on show at The Danish Immigrant Museum, Elk
Horn, Iowa. From October 2002 through February 2003, Kalundborg Regional
Museum exhibited examples of clothes like those worn by emigrates from the
Kalundborg area around 1880.
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West-Zealanders in the
American Civil War
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
Lisbeth Pedersen and Mads Findal Andreasen
A 140th Anniversary
It may possibly be a surprise to most people to learn
that relatively many Danes participated in the American Civil War
The number of Danish combatants in the war was comparatively large,
considering the size of the Danish immigration to America.
A few Danes who reached America by way of
Southern ports, say New Orleans, joined the Confederate forces. However, the
large majority of Danes who fought in the Civil War served in regiments in
the North – not least because New York had at that time become the most
frequently used gateway through which immigrants passed in order to
substantiate their version of the American Dream. And from New York the
roads would most naturally take them to the antislavery states of the
North and Midwest.
In their separate ways letters, newspaper articles,
memoirs and information from military archives describe how the Danes
experienced the horrors of the Civil War. In the following we shall look at the
fates of some of the young men who had spent their childhood in Western
Zealand – then Holbæk County – in the first half of the 19th century.
One illustrative and stirring moment in one such fate
– that of Christian Jensen - is the bloody New Year’s battle between
Confederates and Unionists at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee,
from December 31 to January 2, 1863 (fig. 1). Our protagonist, Christian
Jensen from Halleby Ore, a hamlet SE of Kalundborg, Denmark, was shot dead
when the battle had barely started.
The victory claimed by the Union Army on this
occasion, 140 years ago, may be debatable from a military view, but its
political impact was great: it gave to President Lincoln’s administration
a sorely needed boost at a moment when the president’s policies were at a
very low ebb in the public opinion.
The victory was also exploited diplomatically,
so that England chose not to recognize the Confederacy as an independent
If England had done so, France would in all probability have
followed suit and thus have given England an excuse to intervene in the
war in support of the Confederacy.
Fig. 1: Map
of eastern USA.
Civil War was fought in this area mainly. The 11
Confederate States are marked in a darker shade of yellow. The map shows
the most important locations mentioned in the article. Today the
journey from Greenville, Mich. to Murfreesboro, Tenn. takes about 2
days by car, for Christian Jensen and his regiment the journey, on
foot and by train, it lasted several weeks. (Graphics: Bendt
A few introductory words about the historical
situation on either side of the Atlantic. In the decade before the Civil
War, emigration from Denmark to the United States was as yet quite limited
and came mainly from the islands of Langeland, Møn, Lolland, Zealand and
Within Zealand, especially the population of Holbæk
County were apt to vote with their feet and leave for the USA as a
reaction to the wretched conditions they had to look forward to as day
labourers and unskilled workers in their part of the country.
This aspect of the history was described in detail by
Rasmussen in his memoirs, which appeared in a short version
in English in 1902 and in an expanded version in Danish in 1904. These memoirs
are outstanding by adding an emotional dimension to our statistics of the
Danish emigration. As an additional
bonus, they reveal the whys and wherefores of how a schism within the
Danish State Church between the Indre Mission (i.e. the
puritan-fundamentalist wing) and the Grundtvigianisme (i.e. a liberal,
comparatively permissive movement) was transplanted to the USA in 1869. Above all,
the memoirs describe people’s reactions when ethnic groups have to undergo
the difficult process of assimilating into a foreign culture. In this
context, the Danish immigrants’ participation in the war was a dramatic
chapter in which the ultimate degree of integration was demonstrated by
their willingness to go to war, and possibly die, for a new
Christian Jensen did so. He grew up in
Halleby Ore - near Lake Tissø, about 20 kilometres SE of Kalundborg - in
According to the Danish census lists he was 25 years old in 1850
and appears in the record as a member of his father’s household and doing
military service. This meant that he took part in the
First Schleswig War (1848-50), but, according to his childhood friend
August Rasmussen, he could not reconcile himself to a life as day labourer
for farmers or estates owners afterwards.
So he left his homeland behind, travelled to
France, went to sea, and reappeared in history in Greenville, a small town
in Michigan, USA. From here he wrote home
enthusiastically in 1853 that in America there were “immense
plains and forests to be bought for next to nothing. The Americans
are honest people, the country is ruled by a President, elected for four
Here the trials are fair and the girls beautiful, and I am marrying
one of them”.
This enticed the young newlyweds, August,
a wheelwright, and Ane, a seamstress, to join Christian in America, and
the next year around 36 more persons followed, primarily August’s and
Christian’s parents, sisters and brothers, and they founded the “Little
Denmark Settlement” in Montcalm County in the State of Michigan. (fig.
|Fig.2: Primeval pine
forest in Michigan, c. 1860.
Christian Jensen from Halleby Ore in
West-Zealand settled here around 1853. A few years later, he tempted 38
friends and relatives into going to this part of the
They founded a Danish settlement and triggered
a chain emigration from West-Zealand to the area around Greenville,
where, in the course of the latter part of the 19th century, the
Danish immigrants helped to change the vast forests into arable
Christian’s wife was a Native Indian. American censuses
tell us that she was illiterate, and around 15 years old when she had her
first child by Christian. Regardless of what motives Christian may have
had for marrying the girl, and of the fact that there was great shortage
of women in the pioneer society, marrying an Indian woman was nevertheless
far from being socially acceptable. Indeed, August and Ane were disturbed
when they turned up at Christian’s humble shanty in August 1856 and saw
how little he had accomplished after three years in Michigan.
However, August got him to buy “60 barrels of
land” – i.e. 80 acres - and by 1860, according to the American census of
that year, Christian’s household comprised a young wife of 21, three
children aged from 6 years to 4 months, and his old father, Jens Nielsen,
in 1856, as a man of quite considerable age, Christian’s father had taken
the long trip across the Atlantic. The census also tells us that Christian
Jensen and August Rasmussen were by then the most affluent members of the
The small band of Danes from Halleby Ore
immediately triggered a chain emigration from the Tissø area to this part
What the emigrants did not know was that they were going to a
country in internal strife: North and South in their new homeland were
divided by climate, ethics, religion, economy, and basic views on
lifestyle and honour, but the “Peculiar Institution” of the South -
slavery - remained the fundamental cause of this division.
In the view of the North States, slavery was
ungodly, immoral, and above all at odds with the republican principles of
equality and personal freedom – the very foundation of the nation.
In opposition to this, the American South
regarded slavery as a necessity in order to keep up the production of
cotton and thus maintain the position as the sole supplier of the valuable
white fibre to the North American and the European markets (fig. 3).
The breach between North and South came when
Abraham Lincoln from the Republican Party won the presidential election in
1860, practically without the Southern vote. Altogether,
11 states broke away from the Union and formed their own union, The
Confederate States of America (cf. Fig. 1).
In the North, the majority of the population and the
politicians found that this dissolution would give any minority group the
right to dissolve the federation at their whim, so on April 12, 1861, when
the Confederates attacked the Union Army’s garrison at Fort Sumter in
Charleston Bay in South Carolina – one of the South States – it was also
an attack on national unity and the event that sparked off four years of
Fig. 3: Comparison
of available resources in the Union and the Confederate States in
The Southern States had to rely solely on the
value of their cotton production. All other requirements had to be
imported, and most arms had to be either captured or imported. With
the growing efficiency of the Union’s blockade and the breakdown of
the transport system in the South, the Confederacy found it
extremely difficult to feed its population. (Graphics: Bendt Nielsen
after The Times History of the World).
Throughout the years leading up to the Civil War, the
debate on slavery took up much space in the newspapers in the North. It also
filled many columns in The Independent, the small local paper in
Greenville, Michigan, where the little group of Danes from Halleby Ore had
August Rasmussen described the political
climate of the period in their new homeland as follows: “In these trying
days there was deep concern in America. Men of knowledge of the political sphere predicted
war between the northern and the southern states. There were
black clouds on the southern horizon, and heavy thunder began in
Fort Sumter was where the rebels began their cannonade.”
thunder of the cannon, the explosions of the grenades, the screeches of
the bullets and the screams of the wounded”
The prospects of good pay, land, and a shortcut to
social acceptance were the main reasons that tempted many immigrants in
the North – among them many Danes – to sign up for American military
service when the war broke out.
Whether they – who had been unskilled workers
and day labourers home in Denmark in return for misery wages – had also
formed an opinion on the political and social aspects of slavery remains
to be decided.
Many of them escaped from the horrors of war with their lives, some
completely unscathed, but many were wounded and marked for life.
Many, however, paid the ultimate price –
as did Christian Jensen from Halleby Ore: he fell in the early morning of
December 31, 1862 in the battle of Murfreesboro, SE of Nashville, the
capital of Tennessee, one of the 11 Confederate States (cf.fig 1).
All in all, six Danish immigrants from the Greenville
area followed Governor Harris’s appeal to volunteer for the Northern
The pay was $13 to $15 a month plus $200 to $300 in discharge
money. Like so many
other Danish soldiers who fought in the Civil War, Christian Jensen had
the advantage of having acquired some experience of war in the First
Schleswig War (1848-50): when Danish soldiers succeeded in breaking the
siege of the town of Fredericia by the army of Schleswig-Holstein on July
6, 1849, Christian was one of their number.
He escaped from that war without a scratch and
henceforward considered himself invulnerable.
But there is no armour against Fate: in August
1862 he volunteered for three years’ military service with the Union Army,
was enrolled in Company F, 21st Michigan Infantry Regiment, was called up
on September 3, and spent the Christmas days marching from Nashville
towards the town of Murfreesboro, where the Confederate Army had taken up
its winter quarters (fig 4).
Regiment at a quiet moment in September 1862.
The photograph was taken at the time
when Christian Jensen was enlisted, and he may very well be among
the soldiers portrayed. The authors of this article have
unfortunately not succeeded in identifying him, nor had they – until
the recent appearance of parts of the present article in America -
been able to locate descendants of him or his brother, who arrived
in Greenville in 1857. (Copy of photo in exhibition at Stone
River National Battlefield).
In those very days the weather broke: mild
sunny days were succeeded by cold, fog, rain, and wind. Units from
the Union Army took up positions NW of the town in a low, well wooded,
rock-strewn area, intersected by the Stones River. Christian
Jensen was positioned on the right flank under the command of 31-year-old
Brigadier General Joshua Sill. This was where Fate caught up with
Officers of either side in the Civil War had often
been educated at the same military academies, according to the same
military theories and textbooks.
At Murfreesboro this had the effect that both
the commander of the Union Army, General Rosecrans, and his opposite
number in the Confederate forces, General Bragg, planned identical
strategies: both concentrated their striking power on their own left
flank, which presumably would be facing the weaker flank of their
Therefore, the one who struck first was likely to carry the
At Murfreesboro, the Confederate Army
launched its attack at 6:22 a.m. and took the weak right flank of the
enemy by total surprise – i.e. where Christian Jensen had the misfortune
to be placed (fig. 5).
attack in the morning of Dec. 31, 1862.
At 6:22 am, Confederate units (grey) under
Hardee surprised the right
flank of the Union Army (blue) and drove McCook’s troops almost 2
kilometres back. About 8 o’clock, when the news of
the withdrawal reached him, General Rosecrans, the commander of the
Union Army, cancelled his plan to attack the Confederate right flank
and sent reinforcements to McCook instead. By
then, Christian Jensen’s unit, led by Brigadier General J. Sill, had
already been crushed. The black boxes indicate buildings, kilns,
etc., arrows troop movements, and half-coloured boxes reserve units
(graphics: Bendt Nielsen after Cozzens
During the previous night, Brigadier
General Joshua Sill had repeatedly informed his superiors that the
Confederate Army was planning an attack on Sill and his troops, who
were placed on the right flank of General Johnson’s division,
counting 6,200 men altogether. However, no reinforcements came
forth, and within a couple of hours the right flank of the Union
Army was torn open and forced several kilometres back.
Thanks to their superior and more
powerful artillery, the Union Army eventually saved the day, but by
then both Joshua Sill and Christian Jensen, together with many of
their comrades, had fallen during the early morning hours (fig.
The Union Army held the
troops put up dogged resistance and thus delayed the advance
of the Confederate Army. By mid-afternoon, when the Confederate
troops renewed their attack at Round Forest, Rosecrans had
reinforced his right flank.Eventually Colonel Hazen’s brigade
succeeded in stopping the Southern attack at the railway line
– which was equally important to both sides.
close of the day, the Union Army had regained control of what
was later to be called Hell’s Half Acre.
movements in relation to buildings, kilns, etc. in figs. 5
& 10 (graphics: Bendt Nielsen after Cozzens
Jens Andersen from Kundby – a village some 30
kilometres E of Kalundborg - wrote a gripping eyewitness description
of the battle. Jens Andersen was born at
Maglebjerghuse, Kundby Parish, Holbæk County in 1839, but in the
beginning of the 1850s he had emigrated in order to join a small
group from Kundby, who had settled a few years previously in what is
today Saxville, Wisconsin.
Several other members of this little Danish
colony also volunteered to do military service in the Civil
Together with a number of Norwegians, they came to serve in
the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, which was based at Ford
Randall in Madison, Wisconsin. This is Jens
Andersen’s letter to a friend, written after the battle:
at Murfreeboro, Ten., 1st March, 1863
My good friend
Niels Olsen: I received your
letter of January the 10th on the 25th of last month together
with the one you wrote in February. I am pleased to
see from your letters that you are in good health and are
satisfied with your job.
As to myself, I
am healthy and hale, God be praised, and my limbs are as yet
all as they should be, although many a danger has threatened
me, but God has ever preserved me up to this very hour.
from your writings that you are going to school, and I know
that you will benefit from it with time, and besides, I expect
you have some merriment with the girls who attend the same
your letter of Feb. 20th I see that you have learned about the
skirmish we had on Boxing Day.
That was but a
foretaste of the New Year Party, and we got out of it
excellently with a captured cannon, which our regiment took in
a bayonet charge. During the next days the enemy constantly
In the evening
of December 29, we were 6 miles from Murfreesboro and 1 mile
from the enemy outposts. Due to the immediate proximity of
the enemy, we were forbidden to make fires at night, and
didn’t it rain that night! So there was nothing to do but
throw ourselves on the ground and eat a cracker and drink cold
water with it, and after that humble meal we had to think
about sleep. Those who had any unrolled their
blankets, but on account of the rain and the coldness of the
night, we did not get any sleep.
In the morning,
at daybreak, we were all up and sighted the enemy. At
eight o’clock the weather cleared, and we moved forward in
battle order. The field was low and swampy,
thickly wooded with cedar, and intersected by the Stone
Our line had difficulties in forcing their way through
the thick forest. Having advanced a couple of
miles, we encountered the enemy outposts, who gradually
retreated, however. Our regiment
together with the 21st Illinois were the vanguard of our
brigade and followed right after the skirmish-line [i.e. a
line of sharpshooters ahead of the vanguard, trying to hit
enemy officers. – Ed. note].
p.m. we were suddenly stopped by a large enemy force, which
opened a murderous fire at us with two batteries and thousands
of muskets. We were immediately ordered to
retreat behind a fence (fig. 7) where we stayed
until nightfall, when we withdrew to the reserve, where we lay
that night, embracing our rifles, and almost froze to death,
whereas the next day [i.e. Dec. 31 – Ed. note] became much too
hot for comfort: at the earliest dawn we heard
firing on our right flank where Johnson’s Division was located
[i.e. where Christian Jensen was placed – Ed. note] and one
could tell from the shooting that they were being driven back,
nor was it long before we felt the consequences from this: we
were attacked at the front by a line three ranks deep, and at
the same time they flanked us on both sides, so we were fired
at from three sides; this was quite insufferable, we had to
get away, and everybody took flight, that is, everybody who
was able to flee; for many were down already, swimming in
their own blood, and many more had to bite the dust that day
(fig. 8; cp. figs. 5 & 6).
Colonel together with many another brave officer and bold
soldier fell here. I do not think you can imagine
how terrible that day was for us soldiers, nor can I describe
It seemed as if all the elements were in rebellion:
fire, smoke, thunder from the cannon, the explosions from the
grenades, the screeches of the bullets, and the screams from
the wounded all combined to make it a terrible day (fig. 9).
Finished on the
20th of March, because I have been ill, but am now quite well
Jens Andersen survived the war and ended up as
a farmer in Nebraska.
Cotton field and fence near
Cotton, as seen behind the
cannon, was the essential item in the economy of the South –
including that of Tennessee (cf. fig. 3).
In his letter, Jens
Andersen mentions a fence like the one seen in the background,
a typical feature in the rural environment in which the battle
was fought. In some cases the fences were serious hurdles when
soldiers were commanded to attack, at other times they would
serve as a skimpy cover for soldiers firing at the enemy
(photo: Mads Findal
Fig. 8: After the Battle.
Like this union
soldier killed at Gettysburg Christian Jensen had to
"bite the dust" at Stones River.
from stereoscope photography, Leif Hammelevs
Dogged resistance in combination with the
exhaustion of the Confederate Army decided the battle: by January 2,
1863 the Union Army had won (figs. 10, 11 & 12).
In the mistaken belief that the
Union Army had been reinforced with fresh troops, the Southern
commander, General Bragg, had withdrawn his army in a nightmare of
suffering: the rain was pouring down mercilessly, the thermometer
was near the freezing point, and rations were down at a
worst of all: General Braggs had no clearly defined goal, and the
officers were in strong opposition to their general. On the
other hand, the Union had suffered such great losses that General
Rosecrans gave up pursuit. Not until Jan. 5 did they take
Murfreesboro, where they built Fort Rosecrans just outside the
was here Jens Andersen from Kundby wrote his letter.
10: On January
2nd, 1863, the artillery of the Union Army decided the
In the afternoon, General
Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army, ordered General
Major Breckinridge to launch an attack on the left flank of
the enemy. They drove the "Bluecoats" off a ridge and into the
river, but were stopped by 58 cannon in battle array on the
western bank. The Confederate Army lost 1800 men in a single
hour; they retired and the Union Army claimed a victory.
(Compare positions and troop movements in relation to the
locations marked as reference points in the map with figs. 5
& 6) (graphics: Bendt Nielsen after Cozzens
After the battle, dead and wounded lay
scattered all over the battlefield, which covered several square
kilometres. Having sought shelter in crevices
in the limestone rocks, many simply froze to death during an icy
night pouring with rain while they were waiting for help. 
The Union Army lost about 13,000
(dead, wounded, and captured) of the 44,000 (approx.) that had been
lined up for battle from the start. (Figs. 13 & 14). Confederate
losses were close to 9,8000. So,
losses were 29 per cent to 26 per cent – enormous figures even by
the standards of that day and age.
painting of the Battle of Stones River.
A.E. Mathew’s picture shows General
Rosecrans leading the battle against the Confederate Army.
Rosecrans (on horseback in lower left corner) orders his
"bluecoats" (i.e. soldiers of the Northern Army) to open
artillery fire against the "greycoats" (Confederate soldiers).
In the background can be seen the Stones River and the
important railway line, the control of which the North only
kept by the skin of their teeth (after Cozzens
symbolically, Lincoln’s decree from September 1862 on the abolition
of slavery took effect on January 1, 1863, so four million Americans
of an estimated population of 31 million gained their freedom to the
accompaniment of the cannonades of the battle of Stones River.
One consequence of the victory at
Murfreesboro was that the North States gained control of several
rivers and railroad lines, which facilitated the transportation of
supplies to their army units on their continued advance into the
In combination with the
establishing of an effective maritime blockade, it simultaneously
prevented the Confederate Army and the population of the South
States from receiving supplies of agricultural products.
However, in spite of the fact that
the South also suffered a decisive defeat further to the north, at
Gettysburg, in July 1863, the Civil War did not end until April
1865, when Robert E. Lee, the Supreme Commander of the Confederate
Army, eventually had to capitulate.
Destruction in the South was
enormous, and the many survivors were facing a long period of
reconciliation and reconstruction. General William Tecumseh Sheridan
from the North was responsible for a considerable amount of the
destruction. Sherman held the view that
warfare should also punish a civilian population that had agitated
for and stirred up the conflict. During the famous march from
Atlanta to Savannah he and his army therefore crushed the
infrastructure of the South together with its capacity and appetite
Stones River viewed from the north in 2002.
This was where the New Year’s Battle was
decided on Jan. 2nd, 1863. The Commander of the Southern
force, General Bragg, attempted an attack across the river,
but his troops never established a foothold on the opposite
river-bank owing to heavy and continuous artillery fire from
Union positions on the western bank. The local tradition had
it that the river ran red with blood on that day (photo: Mads
In 1904, the Danish immigrant August Rasmussen,
Greenville, described the defeat of the South as follows:
“He who lived in those days and who
is still alive knows how it was. Everything was either at a
standstill or had gone completely wrong. The
young and less educated left farms, stores and workshops and
enlisted as soldiers, and the more civilized and educated became
officers. Bloody battle followed bloody battle for four long
Fear, death, tears, and prayers to God were mixed as the
order of the day.
In the winter of 1864 I heard a man in Grand
Rapids (the nearest largish town. – Ed. note) say with an oath: “The
North will have to put its head under the yoke.” He knew that I
sided with the North, and the reply he got was “That will never
happen, as long as God lives”. That man killed himself when he
saw how the war ended and the South lost its cause. I must
pray God forbid that America should see such a war again”.
Dane meets Dane
As mentioned above, there were also Danish
soldiers on the Southern side, but they must necessarily have been
few in numbers as hardly more than 2000 Danes had immigrated to that
part of the USA by 1860.
One of those who came to experience
the war as a Southerner was Anders Rudolf Rude. He was
born in Copenhagen in 1812, went to the USA in 1836, became a
Lutheran preacher, and later married a rich widow in Virginia. He
thus became the owner of both a plantation and of slaves.
During the war Rude’s wife and his
eldest daughter were killed by soldiers of the Union Army. He
himself was harassed by soldiers from the North, who came in order
to plunder, as he was sitting lonely and forsaken at Rude’s Hill,
his ruined plantation.
This exploit was described by another
Dane, Ole R. Olsen, who originally came from Falstria, one of the
Danish islands. Ole Olsen had emigrated to the USA
in 1861, and had immediately enlisted in the Union Army. To a great
extent, the soldiers had to live off the land, and down south in
Virginia Ole Olsen together with his fellow-soldiers once tried to
loot a ruined, but once beautiful house.
Here he noticed that several
objects were Danish or had something Danish about them. The soldiers
only found one living creature, an elderly grey-bearded man; nor
were there any victuals. In their frustration the soldiers
showered him with profanities and curses – Ole Olsen in Danish. The old man
showed surprise at being addressed in Danish, but – wisely – did not
After the war, Rude took up preaching again,
became a well-known clergyman and professor in Texas, where he died
After the war, Ole Olsen settled in Waupeca, Wisconsin, where
he recounted the episode to his vicar. If the
report is to be believed, it must be regarded as a statistical
coincidence that these two Danes, from either side in the conflict,
should meet each other in such circumstances.
“The American Blood Test”
The American Civil War cost more than 620,000
soldiers their lives. That was tantamount to 2 per cent of the
population and almost equal to the combined number of American
losses in all the other wars in which the USA has been involved.
Thousands died on the battlefields
like Christian Jensen. He was not identified after the
battle and was buried as an unknown warrior in the large military
cemetery of the Union Army NE of Murfreesboro (fig. 15).
It is a well-known fact that history is written
by the victors, so if one wants to see a memorial to the young men
of the Confederacy who fell in the Battle of Murfreesboro on New
Year’s Day, one will have to look in the local churchyard. Here
you may see a memorial, erected in 1980 on local initiative, to the
Southerners who fell in the battle (fig. 16).
The different views of the North and the South
are reflected even in details like the names of the battlefields: as
often as not, the South States would name the battlefield for the
nearest town – like Murfreesboro – whereas the North States would
name the same battlefield after some characteristic feature of the
landscape. In the official American history, therefore,
the battle of Murfreesboro is referred to as The Battle of Stones
In the course of the war, the number of
prisoners of war, like the number of casualties, became very high
indeed on both sides. Moreover, the problems involved
with dealing with the POWs were aggravated in July 1863 when General
Grant of the Union Army signed a decree suspending all exchange of
He held the view that every exchange helped to prolong the
This was the official idealistic
The hidden agenda was strategic: the
size of the population of the Confederate States – and consequently
the potential size of their army – was limited in comparison with
that of the North States, which – due to immigration - benefited
from a constant influx of manpower in general and, in particular, of
young men who could be mobilised (cf fig 3).
Cessation of the exchange of
prisoners would therefore slowly help to drain the South of young
men fit for military service.
Altogether, about 410,000 men were taken
prisoner, but neither side had foreseen or prepared for the
practical management of the prisoners.
In both North and South the solutions to
the problems went beyond conventional rules and norms, which gave
rise to public anger and outrage as the conditions were exposed in
all their gory details, because photography and war correspondence
were used by the news media for the first time in history.
The POW problems were most serious
in the South, where the blockade by the North reduced supplies to a
minimum – which also affected the 200,000-plus Union soldiers
Andersonville, August 1864.
Prisoners lived in tents or in so-called
shebangs, i.e. shelters built of boards or earth.
The area was intersected by a small brook
that provided the prisoners with drinking water and, as can be
seen in the foreground of the picture, also served as their
latrines (photo from Burnett
The Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia in
particular became emblematic of the horrors of the camps.
Established in 1863, it was intended to house about 10,000
prisoners, but at one point more than 33,000 were imprisoned behind
the effective palisades surrounding the camp, which covered an area
of about 25 acres (fig. 18). In the course of its
14-month-long existence, the camp housed some 49,000 prisoners. Close
to 13,700 died from overpopulation, hunger, fatal hygienic
conditions, and insufficient medical treatment (fig. 19).
The more fortunate of the prisoners
lived in simple wooden sheds, scraps of tents, and dugouts, but many
had no protection at all against sun, heat, rain and cold.
The prisoners were given no
clothing, and the daily rations were down to an absolute
Guards posted in towers along the perimeter of the camp would
shoot at any prisoner trying to cross the so-called death line.
water could only be obtained from a small brook that crossed the
camp, but as it also functioned as the camp latrine, it was a
ticking bacteriological bomb, which could but explode in Georgia’s
sweltering summer heat. It is no wonder, then, that many
prisoners died from dysentery, gangrene, diarrhoea and scurvy.
Mads Larsen, born in Holbæk County in
1840, was among those who died in Andersonville. Like
Jens Andersen, who hailed from West-Zealand, he had joined the 15th
Wisconsin Regiment, but was taken prisoner at Chickamauga on
September 20, 1863.
He died from dysentery in
Andersonville on September 1, 1864, and he rests in grave No: 7522
in the large cemetery (fig.20). Lars Hansen from the Roskilde
area, who served in the same regiment, was also taken prisoner at
Chickamauga. He died from scurvy three days
after Mads Larsen mentioned above, and lies in grave No: 7649
Fig.20: Grave No: 7522. Here
Mads Larsen from Kundby, Denmark, found his last resting-place
on Sept. 1, 1864 (photo: Andersonville National Historic
Fig.21: Grave No: 7649. Lars
Hansen, who came from the Roskilde area in Denmark, died a few
days after Mads Larsen (photo: Andersonville National Historic
The reason why we are in possession of
information of the fates of these two Danes – among others – in
Andersonville is that in Andersonville the death of a prisoner was
registered, in contrast to the practice in other camps in the North
and South alike.
is due to a prisoner, Dorence Atwater, who smuggled copies of the
records out when he was released and, at considerable expense to
himself and with the help of friends, had them published in 1868:
the government in Washington DC and the army command under the
leadership of General Ulysses Grant did not want relatives to learn
about the hard fate their friends and family members had
They wanted to avoid a debate about Grant’s decision to
suspend the exchange of prisoners, which might prove harmful to the
General’s chances of being elected president.
Nevertheless, Atwater succeeded in having his lists
published, and was punished severely. The General
and Hero of the Union was president from 1869 to 1877.
When all is fair in love and war – and politics
- it is often difficult to get to the bottom of all aspects of a
Some did succeed in escaping from the horrors
of Andersonville and survived the war Peter
Goosman, 28, a saddler from the Danish colony in Michigan, was one
of the lucky ones.
He had signed up for three years’
military service with the Union Army at the same time as Christian
Jensen, and he survived several battles as well as eight months’
imprisonment in Andersonville, escaped with his life and signed off
from his unit in the Union Army after three years’ service in the
summer of 1865, a few months after the war had ended. He
died, aged 72, in his home in Greenville, Michigan, in 1908.
Whether the Danes’ motives for
volunteering for military service in the American armies were the
prospect of good pay, a shortcut to American citizenship, land,
adventurousness or a thirst for social recognition, they, as an
ethnic group, passed what some have called “the American
blood-test”, which won them the respect of their fellow Americans.
They bought the ticket and paid the price.
Every year on Memorial Day, the last Monday in
May, an American flag is placed on their graves, as it is the custom
on the graves of all American participants in the Civil War, whether
they lie buried in one of the numerous military cemeteries, in the
prison camps, or in graveyards near their homes.
This tradition is also observed at
the grave of Peter Goosman, who is buried in Monroe Cemetery near
Gowen in Michigan (fig.22). The present article is intended as a
memorial to the Danish veterans in their native country on the
occasion of the 140th anniversary of the bloody battle of
Murfreesboro, in which young men from as far away as West-Zealand
took part–and in which some of them sacrificed their lives for their
Kalundborg og Omegns Museum
Translation: Freddy Volmer Hansen
1917 p.185, pp.189-190, pp.359-360. Some of the first Danish settlers
in the USA, whose children were grownups at the outbreak of the war,
let their sons go to Denmark or Canada, where they would stay for
the duration of the war
 Rasmussen 1904 p. 13 & pp
1995 p 50 & McDonough 2000 p.231
McDonough 2000 p. xii & p.45
 Rasmussen 1904 p.13 &
 Hvidt 1971; Hvidt 2000 p. 211,
& Mackintosh 2002 p. 213
 Findal Andreasen: Dansk
kirkekamp i USA, in preparation
Rasmussen 1904, Pedersen & Findal 2000a & 2000b
Clayton Rasmussen, Sheridan, Greenville, Michigan is credited with
this information. Mr Clayton Rasmussen is the
grandchild of August Rasmussen, and has provided us with much
information on the Danish descendants in the Greenville area for
which we would like to express our gratitude
McDonough 2000 pp 42-43 & Ward 2002 p.287
 Rasmussen (1904), pp. 56-57
 Vig (1917) pp. 190,-192
 Rasmussen (1904), p. 57; Vig
(1917), p.191 & p. 284; Dunbar (1965), p. 320
Rasmussen (1904), p. 58
(1904), p. 17; Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Index
(1991), p. 8; McDonough (2000) p. 75
Independent, Jan. 20, 1863
(1991), pp.84-100; McDonough (2000) pp. 84-108
(1991) pp. 101-143; McDonough (2000) pp.81-85, p. 101 & pp.
(1917), pp. 202-204
(1917), pp. 205-207
(1995), p. 10; Cozzens (1991), pp. 201-205 & p. 218; McDonough
(1995), p.48; McDonough (2000), p.69
McDonough (2000), p.43; Ward (2002), p.12
McDonough (2000), p. 14, pp. 17-18 & p. 64; Roberts
(1998), p. xx; Ward (2002), p76
 Roberts (1998), p. 15; Ward
(2002), pp. 321-349)
 Rasmussen (1904), p. 59
p. 151; McDonough (2000), p. 12; Ward (2002), p. xix
River National Park in correspondence
(1998), p. 9
(1998), pp. 13-16
(2002), pp. 161-163 & pp. 222-223; Roberts (1998), p. 85
(1995), p. 12, p. 15 & p. 39; Roberts (1998) pp. 12-90
(1917), p. 271 & p. 296; Andersonville National Historic Site in
correspondence, 2003. According to Vig, Mads Larsen
lies in grave No: 7532, whereas Andersonville National Historic Site
gives his grave number as 7522 (fig.22)
(1998), pp. 153-208
(1995), p. 17; Roberts (1998), p, 47
Rasmussen (1904), p. 57; Vig, p. 260; Michigan
Soldiers and Sailors Index (1915)
(1998), p. 54
support from West-Zealand County Council, Kalundborg Regional Museum
has in the last few years been engaged in research aimed at throwing
light upon the history of emigration from West Zealand, the museum’s
’special research responsibility’ within regional history.
Donations from the Farumgaard Foundantion and from the
Dedenroth-Lindenskov Family made it possible for the authors of the
present article to undertake a study tour to Michigan, Iowa,
Nebraska, and Tennessee in October 2002 to collect material about
West-Zealanders involved in the American Civil War.. At the same
time, they moved to The Danish Immigrant Museum in Iowa an
exhibition arranged by Kalundborg Regional Museum to illuminate the
emigration from West-Zealand to Greenville in 1856-57. The
exhibition had been on show at Flat River Historical Museum in
Greenville 2001-02. The authors would like to use
this opportunity to express their warmest thanks to the donors
mentioned above for their financial support and encouragement, which
made it possible to trace the fates of some of the immigrants who
appeared on the battlefields in the American Civil War.
We would like to extend out thanks to the staff
at the National Park Service, Murfreesboro, and at Andersonville
National Historical Site for all their help, to friends, old and
new, in the Greenville area, to Flat River Historical Society and
Museum, Greenville Community Foundation, Cranbrook Institute of
Science, Detroit, and to The Daily News, Greenville, for several
years a staunch supporter and helper in our research. Our very
special thanks go to the proprietors and patrons of The City
Inn and the Byrne-Roberts Inn in Murfreesboro for an
unforgettable initiation into the charms and potency of Southern
Comfort and into the Southern version of the story of the
American Civil War.
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