1865 Nativism

Nativism (from dictionary.com) - the policy of protecting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants.

Nativism was not a new concept or expression in the United States in 1865. There had been a rising sentiment against the increasing numbers of immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s, particularly against the Irish and German peoples. The Know Nothing Party was a direct response to the increasing numbers of peoples fleeing famine and monarchical rule. Author David T. Dixon I believe covers the topic well in his biography of August Willich (Radical Warrior: August Willich’s Journey from German Revolutionary to Union General, University of Tennessee Press) so I will not delve into the history and controversy of nativism here.


Born in Quebec, Thomas F. Wildes was a thirty year-old newspaper editor living in Athens, Ohio in the early 1860s. He had served as a lieutenant colonel in the 116th Ohio Volunteer Infantry from August 1862 until discharged for promotion to colonel of the 186th Ohio in March 1865. He would be made a brevet brigadier general for his wartime service, and he apparently hated Germans.


On March 20th, 1865, Wildes would pen the following letter to Robert H. Milroy (the latter known variously as the War or Gray Eagle), with whom Wildes had served in the Shenandoah Valley in 1863.[1]


Thomas F. Wildes

Head Quarters 186th Ohio Vols.

Cleveland Tenn. March 20, 65

Dear General,

I passed through Tullahoma a few days ago en route home and was very sorry I could not stop to see you and Maj. Cravens. But the train did not make a halt there. I tried hard when at Nashville to get assigned to your command but could not move the heart of Maj. Hoffman. In the very first place I suppose I ought to have stated that I have been appointed Colonel of the 186th Ohio Regt. by Gov. Brough and am here in command of it.

You know that I am not pretending when I assure you I am very anxious to be assigned to your command. We are here under a whole generation of Dutchmen – Three German Regts being in the Brig. Our Brigade Commander is the notorious Col. Felix Prince Salm Salm – whatever that may mean.[2] The 149th Ill. and 150th Ill. are also here – the former commanded by Col. Keuffner – german the latter by Col. Keener – german.[3]

You witnessed through the newspapers our humiliation in the Shenandoah Valley last Summer under Sigel, Stahl and the rest of them.

We all got our fill of “fighting mit Sigel” or any other Dutchman last summer. I can't feel towards this "Prince Salm Salm" as I ought to feel towards my Brigade Commander. While I am not a “know-nothing”, as you know I could not be, yet I cannot brook being commanded by these foreign imposters and pretenders who come here as adventurers. They know nothing of our people, of our institutions, and are not fit to command Americans on the field of battle. Now, Dear General, I desire with all my heart to get with you again.

I believe you might have a change made so as to get my Regt. ordered to report to you. I may be mistaken of course, but if you cannot accomplish that perhaps if you have any influence with Genl. Steedman you might secure our removal from here. Could you not, General, intimate to Genl. Steedman that I am a friend of his for governor of Ohio, that I control a newspaper in Southern Ohio of considerable circulation and influence, that I have already served nearly three years as Lt. Col. and that one year of that time I have commanded a Brigade. I have, moreover, lately been recommended for promotion by Brevet Maj. Gen by Crook, Sheridan and Terry. I have copies of some of the recommendations with me. I mention this to you because I know you will not regard it as boasting.

I am here at the bottom of the heap with three Dutchmen above me, with not a single associate across the whole lot. There is not that I think Gen. Steedman does not know me at all, or anything about me, I would regard myself rather shabbily to be put with a Brigade with three thoroughly german Regt’s and with a regular Prince(!) to command me. If I do not get out of here soon I will resign.

I would rather go straight to the front, green as my Regt. is than stay here even to drill.

But with all my disgust for the arrangement here, I am confident you will need no assurance, that it is pure desire to be with you, that urges me to endeavor to be in your command, I read of your success against Hood’s horde with delight. You may well believe the old 116th was rejoiced to see you so highly spoken of by the same papers that in June '63 belittled you. I would like to show you what a splendid Regt. I have and how well satisfied I would be under your command again. Hoping, General, you may be able to relieve us from our present uncomfortable situation.

I remain Yours Fraternally

Thomas F. Wildes, Col. 186th O. V. I.


[1] For more information concerning Milroy, please consider Jonathan A. Noyalas' "My Will Is Absolute Law": A Biography of Union General Robert H. Milroy.

[2] Felix Salm-Salm was a native of Westphalia. He had served as colonel of the Eighth New York Infantry and then the Sixty-Eighth New York. He was made a brevet brigadier general on April 13th, 1865. He would be killed in the Franco-Prussian War at Metz, France on August 18th, 1870.

[3] William Charles Kueffner was born in Mecklenburg. He had served as a sergeant in the Ninth Illinois Infantry, was severely wounded at Shiloh, spent time in the Veteran Reserve Corps, and was made colonel of the 149th Illinois in February, 1865. He would be made a brevet brigadier general in March of that same year. George W. Keener was made colonel of the 150th Illinois on Valentine's Day, 1865. He would resign his commission in July.


Permission to publish the letter from the Jasper County (Indiana) Public Library.

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