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The 32nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Many of the 1848ers were followers of Turnvater Jahn and had established Turnvereine (Turner Clubs). When the war broke out they joined up. Read more about Germans in the Civil War.

The Thirty-second Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also called the First German, was composed of German immigrants and the descendants of local German settlers. The ten companies which comprised the 32nd Indiana were formed by Turner Clubs from all over the state--Indianapolis, Madison, Lafayette, Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Aurora, Evansville, Lawrenceburg-- and Cincinnati, Ohio. On August 24, 1861 these volunteers were mustered at Camp Morton, Indianapolis.

August Willich, the regimental commander (b. Nov. 14, 1810) received his training at Potsdam Military School and served for nineteen years as an artillery officer in the Prussian Army. After the Revolution of 1848, he immigrated to America, where he worked as civil engineer and newspaper editor. At the request of Governor Oliver P. Morton, he assumed command of the Thirty-second Indiana. Willich drilled his regiment, in German, to a high degree. It made a favorable impression wherever it served. An innovative officer, he suggested construction of special wagons convertible to pontoon boats by removing of wheels. To speed up troop movement and assure combat condition of troops upon arrival at the battle- field, he recommended wagon transport of troops. His superiors rejected both ideas. Yet, Willich's concern for his men's well-being earned him the nickname "Papa". When possible, he ordered bakery ovens constructed that troops would have fresh bread.

The Thirty-second gained nationwide recognition for its stand against Confederate forces at Rowlett's Station, Ky. A detachment of 500 men under Lt. Col. Henry von Trebra fought off 1300 men of Terry's Texas Rangers and infantry under General Hindman. The 32nd formed the "hollow square", and drove the attackers back, losing 10 and 22 wounded, but killing thirty-three of the enemy, including Col. Terry and wounding fifty others.

The 32nd saw action at Shiloh on the second day, during which Col. Willich displayed great leadership. When his troops became unsteady under fire, he stood before them, his back to the enemy, and conducted the regiment through the manual of arms. He had the regimental band play "La Marsaillaise', regarding it as a stirring, inspirational tune, even though it was, and is, the French National Anthem. Recovering its stability, the 32nd launched a bayonet attack. Willich was promoted to brigade command. The 32nd remained in his brigade, under command of von Trebra and, later, Frank Erdelmeyer.

At Stone's River, the regiment, roughly handled, was forced to retreat. Willich was captured and sent to Libby Prison, Richmond, Va. Eventually he was paroled, returned to brigade. The regiment fought resolutely at Chickamauga and, after Snodgrass Hill, under General Thomas, helped cover the retreat of Federal forces.

During the Siege of Chattanooga, the 32nd played a conspicuous part, as Willich's Brigade captured Orchard Knob. Willich ordered the assault up Missionary Ridge. The 32nd Indiana and the 6th Ohio were the first to reach the top. The 32nd participated in the Atlanta Campaign with General William Tecumseh Sherman. Before the fall of Atlanta, the 32nd was pulled back and sent via Nashville, Tn. to Indianapolis. Enroute, the 32nd was assigned to counter Confederate guerrilla forces in Kentucky. After three days fighting, the 32nd returned to Indianapolis. Willich who had been wounded at Resaca, Ga., was promoted to brevet major general and put in command of Cincinnati.

Due to the anti-German sentiment in the nation, and the army in particular, veterans of the 32nd did not re-enlist. Nor did most other all-German regiments. It rankled the German-American soldier that General Joseph Hooker had blamed German troops of the 11th Corps for his defeat at Chancellorsville. The New York Times labeled the 11th Corps "Dutch Cowards." Actually, of the Corps's 12,000 men, 7,000 were American. Of the remaining 5,000, only one-third were German, these having been the units offering the stiffest resistance to the Confederate attack made by "Stonewall" Jackson.

The three-year veterans were mustered out on Sept. 7, 1864. The remaining 200 replacements whose terms had not expired were organized into a battalion of four companies under Hans Blume. At war's end they were stationed with General Sheridan's occupation forces in central Texas. They returned to Indianapolis and were mustered out on Dec. 4, 1865.

Several Indiana regiments ended the war in Texas as part of Sheridan's 500,000-man army of observers. With French troops in Mexico, a war with France was possible. Tactics slowly evolved during the course of the Civil War. The basic formation was a 1,000-man regiment, drawn in two ranks. Skirmishers were advanced to provide security and, if possible, push back the enemy without committing the main body of troops. Units marched into battle in columns-of- four abreast or columns of platoons. Battles were slug fests. Whichever side suffered the most gave way. The defense had the advantage and battles were rarely decisive as in Napoleonic Wars. As the war continued, more skirmishers were sent out. Log fortifications and entrenchments were used. Casualties could be severe. Yet, because of poor sanitary conditions, four times as many soldiers died of disease as were killed in battle.

The uniform remained much the same throughout the war. The typical Western Soldier wore a slouch hat or forage cap. The four-button sack coat was navy blue wool, with sky blue wool trousers. Most soldiers felt undressed without a vest. During the winter, a greatcoat was worn if it had not already been discarded. Sometimes a veteran regiment would "requisition" from a new regiment what they needed.

The armament and accouterments of the Civil War soldier were varied, but the most common weapon was the three-banded, muzzle-loaded, rifle musket with an effective range up to 600 yards. A marksman could hit a target at 1,000 yards, although most battles were fought around 200. The musket fired a one-ounce conical lead bullet which upon impact took every- thing with it.

The soldier carried what he needed. Beside the musket, he slung his cartridge box over his shoulder. On his belt he wore a cap box, bayonet scabbard, and canteen. In his haversack were tinplate, knife, fork, tin cup and rations. The ration could consist of salt pork, various vegetables and the ever-present hardtack, a very solid biscuit.

Early in the war, soldiers carried a knapsack, but later, especially in the West, the trooper rolled a blanket in a rubber poncho and slung it over his shoulder. He slept in the open or in a dog tent, the equivalent of today's pup tent, open at both ends.

As told by Don Heitman

Don has a Civil War re-enactment group and demonstrates the drills of the 32nd Indiana. For futher information contact him at 2909 East 62nd Street, Indianapolis, IN 46220, (317) 253-292

Eberhard and Ruth Reichmann
Max Kade German-American Center

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