German American

New York, Union

Adolphus Wagner, 39th New York Volunteer Infantry

In 1861, Adolphus Wagner, a native of the Grand Duchy of Baden, joined the ranks of the 39th New York, aka the Garibaldi Guard. It was the most diverse regiment in the Union Army, its ranks made up of men from nearly fifty different countries. It is remembered as one of the most colorful regiments of the American Civil War, but also one of the most controversial. In the years leading up to Gettysburg, Adolphus would bear witness to mutinies, ethnic riots, high-ranking court-martials, and more. Despite their controversial beginnings, the Garibaldians ultimately proved their mettle at Gettysburg, where Adolphus was mortally wounded on July 2. He lingered on for nearly two months in a Union hospital, reflecting the experience of thousands of Civil War soldiers who did not face their fate immediately on the battlefield, but slowly met their demise with a painful whimper, far from the loving touch of friends and family. His story speaks to the myriad contours of immigrant-soldiers’ experiences in America during the Victorian era, and the important international context and geo-political framework in which the American Civil War unfolded.