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Celebrating Ethnic Voices: Appreciating German Heritage USA

Updated on March 13, 2013

Intro: A March of Time in America For German Americans

German Americans comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group. California, Texas and Pennsylvania have the largest numbers of German origin, although upper Midwestern states, including Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, have the highest proportion of German Americans at over one-third.

None of the historical German states had overseas colonies, so not until the 1680s did the first significant groups of German immigrants arrive in the British colonies, settling primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. Immigration continued in very large numbers during the 19th century, with some eight million arrivals from Germany. They were pulled by the attractions of land and religious freedom, and pushed out of Europe by shortages of land and religious or political oppression.

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A Brief History Of German Americans from Colonial Time to Beyond CIvil War

At the time of the American Revolution and prior, German Americans were an important part of the American colonies. During the French and Indian War, Great Britain utilized the large German population in North America by forming the Royal American Regiment, whose enlisted men were principally German colonists. The regiment's first commander was General Henry Bouquet, a Swiss native.

During the American Revolution, King George III of England, the last king of America, had family connections to a number of prominent German principalities., Frederick II of Hessen-Kassel, The ruler of an important north German prinicipality, was an uncle of King George. In fact due to this family relationship, this German prince provided 12,000 so called Hassian soldiers to fight with the King's forces in America.

But the American side under the Continental Congress also had prominent German Americans in the leadership circle. Geman colonists were most remembered in Pennsylvania.

the German soldiers in Pennsylvania stand in contrast to the large, pacifist Quaker population in Pennsylvania, who often needed protecction against the frontier Native Americans who did not appreciate the new immigrants encroching on their land.

Frederick Muhlenberg, a Pennsylvania born 2nd generation German American, a leader of Continental Congress was elected Speaker of House, during this period. He was a Lutheran Pastor by profession from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the most well-known German to support the Patriot cause was Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben from Prussia, who came to America independently, through France, and served under George Washington as inspector general. General von Steuben is credited with training the Continental Army at Valley Forge, and he later wrote the first drill manual for the United States Army. In June 1780 he was given command of the advance guard in the defense of Morristown, New Jersey from General Knyphausen - a battle briefly led by two opposing German generals .

German-Americans In the American Civil War were the largest ethnic contingent to fight for the Union. More than 200,000 native Germans served in the Union Army, with New York and Ohio each providing ten divisions dominated by German-born men.

Approximately 516,000 (23.4% of all Union soldiers) were German Americans; about 216,000 of these were born in Germany. New York supplied the largest number of these native-born Germans with 36,000. Behind the Empire State came Missouri with 30,000 and Ohio with 20,000.

A popular Union commander and native German, Major General Franz Sigel was the highest ranking German-American officer in the Union Army, with many Germans enlisting to "fight mit Sigel." Sigel was a political appointment of President Abraham Lincoln, who hoped that Sigel's immense popularity would help deliver the votes of the increasingly important German segment of the population

On the Confederate side, Capt. Hubert Dilger, who had been trained at the Karlsruhe Military Academy. Veteran Prussian military officer Heros von Borcke slipped through the Union blockade into Charleston Harbor and eventually became one of Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's closest confidants and his Chief of Staff and Adjutant. In 1866, he became one of the few former Confederate officers to fight in the Austro-Prussian War.

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