Cover image for Melting pot soldiers : the Union's ethnic regiments
Melting pot soldiers : the Union's ethnic regiments
Burton, William L., 1928-2016.
Second edition, new edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Fordham University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xvi, 282 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E540.F6 B87 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Melting Pot Soldiers is the story of the way immigrants responded to the drama of the Civil War. When the war began in 1861, there were, in most states in the North (primarily from Western Europe), large populations of immigrants whose leaders were active in American politics at the local, state, and national levels. Just as native-born Americans, both individually and collectively, reacted to war, so did these newcomers. A characteristic feature of the formation of the Union armies was the role played by politicians in the recruitment of the regiment, the basic unit of the army. Ethnic politicians (and a few were women!) like their native-born counterparts, actively recruited young men into regiments- in this case regiments based upon the country of origin of the recruits.

There were dozens of such regiments, mostly German and Irish, but also a Scandinavian unit, a polygot outfit, and there was an attempt to form a Scottish regiment. AS the war progressed and casualties mounted, these regiments gradually lost their ethnic composition. Ethnic entreprenuers were the key figures in the organization of these regiments, and such men ordinarily intended to parlay their military service into a post-war political career. Burton examines the impact ethnic entreprenuers had during the war, both by their key role in the organization of their regiments and by their post-war political careers.

Author Notes

William L. Burton is Professor of History Emeritus at Western Illinois University.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Burton offers a full-scale, scholarly study of those Union Army regiments during the Civil War that were predominantly recruited from the major groups of immigrants. The author cogently shows how these ``ethnic regiments'' played a major part in the war effort and, hence, in the further assimilation of their groups into the American mainstream. The text discusses not only the well-known Irish and German regiments, but also those composed of Scandinavians, Scots, Italians, and others. Thorough research and keen insight make this volume a desirable acquisition for larger collections. Notes, bibliography; index. RG. 973.7'4 U.S.-History-Civil War, 1861-1865-Participation, Immigrant / U.S.-History-Civil War, 1861-1865-Regimental histories / U.S. Army-Minorities-History-19th century / U.S. Army-History-Civil War, 1861-1865 / Immigrants-U.S.-History-19th century [CIP] 87-3299

Choice Review

Burton (Western Illinois University), a specialist in the history of the Civil War, here provides the first scholarly study of the ethnic regiments that served in the Union Army during that war. His book differs from Ella Lonn's Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy (1951) in its focus on the volunteer units made up of foreign-born Americans, and in its perspective on ethnicity in the US. Early chapters give essential background by dealing with ethnic politics during the immediate presecession period, the initial reactions of various ethnic groups to the outbreak of war, and the recruitment of ethnic units. The longest chapters treat German and Irish regiments; a short chapter discusses other ethnic regiments. Concluding sections cover the rhetoric and ceremonies associated with ethnic units, and the wartime attitudes of ethnic Americans and old-stock Americans. Narrative outweighs analysis in the chapters on the regiments themselves; coverage of the war experience is more subtle and convincing than that of prewar politics. A few minor errors mar the text. Fine illustrations; no maps. Recommended for community college, undergraduate, and public libraries. -S. T. McSeveney, Vanderbilt University