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The Baden Revolution and the American Civil War, a Crossover?
Friedrich Hecker was popular due to his open character, his winning charms, his decorative marketing with hat and blouse and his fiery temperament. Once he had decided on his Heckerzug he had shouted at the intellectuals debating a German National Assembly in Frankfurt full of public appeal: Stop threshing empty straw, rather join me! [Stru49].
Hecker left the Old World already in 1848. When he arrived in New York on October 5, more than 20,000 persons hailed him as Germany's freedom fighter. In spite or rather due to his lost cause he always remained popular. His halo may also be due to the fact that he had left Baden so early. Hecker did not become involved in the revolution's agony in 1849 although he nearly had when the revolutionary government had called upon him as figurehead, as their last resort. However, it was all over when Hecker arrived in Strasbourg in June 1849: I finished my reckoning with the Old World, he resigned and returned to his farm in the States.
In the States Hecker started his new political life in 1856 engaged as a member and speaker of the newly founded Republican Party. He joined Abraham Lincoln as elector for the state of Illinois and in reviving his ideas of 1848 engaged himself for the abolishment of slavery. Still full of idealism Hecker preached free trade and technical advancement as guaranty for the well-being and freedom of the people.
In 1848 Lincoln had made his famous statement: Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better [Murr11]. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right - a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Hecker could not have said this in a better way and wholeheartedly supported Lincoln's election in 1860. But then Lincoln had continued in his speech: Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit, a situation the Union now faced and Lincoln as its President had to fight.
Soon Hecker found himself on the side of his president in the Civil War. At an age of 49 he crossed the Mississippi River in a rowboat, as I read, to join his old comrade-in-arms Franz Sigel offering his and his son’s service as a private. In Hecker’s eyes Sigel was the professional, he the subordinate. He did not reckon that in Chicago his admirers were already building up a regiment of German speaking volunteers called Jägerregiment in remembrance of the Freikorps that had fought against Napoleon in Germany.
Colonel Friedrich Hecker
Hecker promoted to the rank of colonel reluctantly took command of the 24th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It turned out that his presentiment had been right because he soon became disgusted by the lack of order and discipline of his men. Was this attitude typical German? With an additional lack of support and supplies for his troops Hecker soon felt haunted by the specter of his aborted uprising in 1848 causing seizures of paranoia followed by uncontrolled outbursts. Frustrated, and quarrelling with junior officers his regiment was disbanded and Hecker retired on his farm in December 1861.
However, concerned by the course of war Hecker took a second chance in December 1862 when in the rank of Colonel he joined the 82. Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment under the command of Carl Schurz. During that period he saw his comrade-in-arms Struve again. An anti-German sentiment nourished by those natives who had graduated from West Point permeated the war. Colonel Cross's remark about the Battle of Chancellorsville clearly was one of the strongest: The cowardice of the Germans was downright ridiculous. They sneaked into the woods and overran our trenches [Enge11]. This statement surely must have insulted Hecker who as Kevin Kurdylo writes grabbed his regiment's flag and stepped forward with a loud cry. Finding his way impeded by retreating Union soldiers, he mounted his horse to encourage his men. He was then shot in the upper thigh and fell from the saddle [Kurd10].
Dedicated to his old friend,
and fellow combatant in two parts of the world G. Struve
Nevertheless, once recovered Hecker returned into combat but in fall 1863 feeling being mistreated he came across with his superiors. In February 1864 he resigned from his command in protest and returned to his farm. Rumors have it that the main reason was that he had not been promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
Following the formation of the 2nd German Reich in 1871 he visited his former fatherland in 1873. Though hailing Germany's long desired unity he openly criticized in his many public appearances the authoritarian rule in comparing it to the liberty of the United States. Following his speech on the 4th of July he was accused of making America effectively shine in blackening Germany such that the German-Nationals blamed him of being a denigrator of his fatherland (Nestbeschmutzer). Hecker replied: I remained a German but not as most of you want to see me. I remained a republican German and I want a free country. Such am I and will remain so demanding a free country and a free fatherland [Haaß81].
Old Hecker back in Germany: Ich blieb ein republikanischer Deutscher und will ein freies Land
He returned to the States disappointed and when he died on his farm in 1881 he died as a true American.
This page was last updated on 04 Dezember, 2013