The Dis-United States: Ensuring Diversity Isn’t New

Most Americans seem to forget that one-hundred fifty years ago the political system couldn’t resolve the main issue of the day — slavery — and a civil war ensued. Over six-hundred thousand military deaths alone resulted from the carnage. (This is adding North and South together.)

During the Civil War, President Lincoln had to constantly balance the ethnic, demographic, and political backgrounds of generals he appointed to maintain support from their constituencies. The Irish had to be appeased. Catholics. New Yorkers. Pennsylvanians. Even Democrats. Lincoln brought them all into the fold by appointing generals with those identities.

Although not well known, over fifteen percent of the Union Army was comprised of German immigrants who did not speak English. That’s correct. Fifteen percent of the Union Army only spoke German. Their champion? Major General (two stars) Franz Sigel, a German revolutionary and military officer who had immigrated to the US in 1852 to escape from the Prussian authorities. Most German soldiers could speak only one line of English: “I fights mitz Sigel.”

They were proud of Sigel which was unfortunate since he wasn’t much of a general but there was nothing Lincoln could do. He had to keep the guy since he had to have the support of the ethnic German population in the Union.

Not enough diversity for you? The Confederacy, which wanted the support of various Indian tribes, appointed Stand Waite, Chief of the Cherokee nation, a brigadier general. Waite began his service to the Confederacy as a colonel after he raised and commanded the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles of the Confederate Army. He did not officially give-up the fight until late June of 1865. Thus the last Confederate general to surrender was a full blooded Cherokee Indian.

Not to be outdone, the Union appointed Ely S. Parker, an attorney and full blooded Seneca, as a Lt. Colonel on General Grant’s staff. After the war, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

Lured with all sorts of promises by both sides which were never kept, almost 30,000 Native Americans fought in the Civil War, approximately 65% for the Union and the remainder for the South.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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