Union Army - Ethnic Groups

Ethnic Groups

The Union Army was composed of many different ethnic groups, including large numbers of immigrants. About 25% of the white people who served in the Union Army were foreign-born.

The estimate of 25 percent of the Union armed forces being foreign-born is very accurate. This means that about 1,600,000 soldiers and sailors were born in the United States, including about 200,000 African-Americans. About 200,000 soldiers were born in one of the German states (although this is somewhat speculative since anyone serving from a German family tended to be identified as German regardless of where actually born). About 200,000 soldiers and sailors were born in Ireland. Although some soldiers came from as far away as Malta, Italy, India, and Russia, most of the remaining foreign-born soldiers came from England, Scotland and Canada.

Breakdown of the approximately 2.2 million Union soldiers
Number Percent Origin
1,000,000 45.4 Native-born white Americans.
516,000 23.4 Germans; about 216,000 were born in Germany.
210,000 9.5 African American. Half were freedmen who lived in the North, and half were ex-slaves from the South. They served under white officers in more than 160 "colored" regiments and in Federal regiments organized as the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
200,000 9.1 Irish.
90,000 4.1 Dutch.
50,000 2.3 Canadian.
50,000 2.3 Born in England.
40,000 1.8 French or French Canadian. About half were born in the United States of America, the other half in Quebec.
20,000 0.9 Scandinavian (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Danish).
7,000 Italian
7,000 Jewish
6,000 Mexican
5,000 Polish (many of whom served in the Polish Legion of Brig. Gen. Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski)
4,000 Native Americans
Several hundred of other various nationalities

Many immigrant soldiers formed their own regiments, such as the Irish Brigade (69th New York, 63rd New York, 88th New York, 28th Massachusetts, 116th Pennsylvania); the Swiss Rifles (15th Missouri); the Gardes Lafayette (55th New York); the Garibaldi Guard (39th New York); the Martinez Militia (1st New Mexico); the Polish Legion (58th New York); the German Rangers (52nd New York); the Highlander Regiment (79th New York); and the Scandinavian Regiment (15th Wisconsin). But for the most part, the foreign-born soldiers were scattered as individuals throughout units.

For comparison, the Confederate Army was not very diverse: 91% of Confederate soldiers were native born and only 9% were foreign-born, Irish being the largest group with others including Germans, French, Mexicans (though most of them simply happened to have been born when the Southwest was still part of Mexico), and British. Some Southern propaganda compared foreign-born soldiers in the Union Army to the hated Hessians of the American Revolution. Also, a relatively small number of Native Americans (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek) fought for the Confederacy.

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