West-Zealanders in the American Civil War

- out of the frying pan and into the fire -

From Stones River National Battlefield. Photo Mads Findal Andreasen 2002

by Lisbeth Pedersen and Mads Findal Andreasen


It may possibly be a surprise to most people to learn that relatively many Danes participated in the American Civil War 1861-65.  The number of Danish combatants in the war was comparatively large, considering the size of the Danish immigration to America. 
A few Danes who reached America by way of Southern ports, say New Orleans, joined the Confederate forces.  However, the large majority of Danes who fought in the Civil War served in regiments in the North – not least because New York had at that time become the most frequently used gateway through which immigrants passed in order to substantiate their version of the American Dream. And from New York the roads would most naturally take them to the antislavery states of the North and Midwest.[1]

In their separate ways letters, newspaper articles, memoirs and information from military archives describe how the Danes experienced the horrors of the Civil War.  In the following we shall look at the fates of some of the young men who had spent their childhood in Western Zealand – then Holbæk County – in the first half of the 19th century.[2]
One illustrative and stirring moment in one such fate – that of Christian Jensen - is the bloody New Year’s battle between Confederates and Unionists at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, from December 31 to January 2, 1863 (fig. 1). Our protagonist, Christian Jensen from Halleby Ore, a hamlet SE of Kalundborg, Denmark, was shot dead when the battle had barely started.[3]

The victory claimed by the Union Army on this occasion, 140 years ago, may be debatable from a military view, but its political impact was great: it gave to President Lincoln’s administration a sorely needed boost at a moment when the president’s policies were at a very low ebb in the public opinion.[4]  
The victory was also exploited diplomatically, so that England chose not to recognize the Confederacy as an independent state.  If England had done so, France would in all probability have followed suit and thus have given England an excuse to intervene in the war in support of the Confederacy.[5]

Fig. 1:  Map of eastern USA.  
The Civil War was fought in this area mainly. The 11 Confederate States are marked in a darker shade of yellow. The map shows the most important locations mentioned in the article.
Today the journey from Greenville, Michigan, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, takes about 2 days by car, for Christian Jensen and his regiment the journey, on foot and by train, it lasted several weeks. (Graphics: Bendt Nielsen)


A few introductory words about the historical situation on either side of the Atlantic. In the decade before the Civil War, emigration from Denmark to the United States was as yet quite limited and came mainly from the islands of Langeland, Møn, Lolland, Zealand and Fuenen.

Within Zealand, especially the population of Holbæk County were apt to vote with their feet and leave for the USA as a reaction to the wretched conditions they had to look forward to as day labourers and unskilled workers in their part of the country.

This aspect of the history was described in detail by August Rasmussen in his memoirs, which appeared in a short version in English in 1902 and in an expanded version in Danish in 1904.[6]  These memoirs are outstanding by adding an emotional dimension to our statistics of the Danish emigration.[7] As an additional bonus, they reveal the whys and wherefores of how a schism within the Danish State Church between the Indre Mission (i.e. the puritan-fundamentalist wing) and the Grundtvigianisme (i.e. a liberal, comparatively permissive movement) was transplanted to the USA in 1869.[8]  Above all, the memoirs describe people’s reactions when ethnic groups have to undergo the difficult process of assimilating into a foreign culture.  In this context, the Danish immigrants’ participation in the war was a dramatic chapter in which the ultimate degree of integration was demonstrated by their willingness to go to war, and possibly die, for a new homeland.

Christian Jensen did so.  He grew up in Halleby Ore - near Lake Tissø, about 20 kilometres SE of Kalundborg - in the 1830s.  According to the Danish census lists he was 25 years old in 1850 and appears in the record as a member of his father’s household and doing military service.  This meant that he took part in the First Schleswig War (1848-50), but, according to his childhood friend August Rasmussen, he could not reconcile himself to a life as day labourer for farmers or estates owners afterwards. 

So he left his homeland behind, travelled to France, went to sea, and reappeared in history in Greenville, a small town in Michigan, USA.  From here he wrote home enthusiastically in 1853 that in America there were  “immense plains and forests to be bought for next to nothing.  The Americans are honest people, the country is ruled by a President, elected for four years.  Here the trials are fair and the girls beautiful, and I am marrying one of them”.[9] 

This enticed the young newlyweds, August, a wheelwright, and Ane, a seamstress, to join Christian in America, and the next year around 36 more persons followed, primarily August’s and Christian’s parents, sisters and brothers, and they founded the  “Little Denmark Settlement” in Montcalm County in the State of Michigan. (fig. 2)[10]

Fig.2: Primeval pine forest in Michigan, c. 1860. 

Christian Jensen from Halleby Ore in West-Zealand settled here around 1853. A few years later, he tempted 38 friends and relatives into going to this part of the USA. 
They founded a Danish settlement and triggered a chain emigration from West-Zealand to the area around Greenville, where, in the course of the latter part of the 19th century, the Danish immigrants helped to change the vast forests into arable land. (Flat River Historical Museum)

Christian’s wife was a Native Indian.[11] American censuses tell us that she was illiterate, and around 15 years old when she had her first child by Christian. Regardless of what motives Christian may have had for marrying the girl, and of the fact that there was great shortage of women in the pioneer society, marrying an Indian woman was nevertheless far from being socially acceptable.  Indeed, August and Ane were disturbed when they turned up at Christian’s humble shanty in August 1856 and saw how little he had accomplished after three years in Michigan. 

However, August got him to buy “60 barrels of land” – i.e. 80 acres - and by 1860, according to the American census of that year, Christian’s household comprised a young wife of 21, three children aged from 6 years to 4 months, and his old father, Jens Nielsen, 80.  So, in 1856, as a man of quite considerable age, Christian’s father had taken the long trip across the Atlantic.  The census also tells us that Christian Jensen and August Rasmussen were by then the most affluent members of the little community. 


The small band of Danes from Halleby Ore immediately triggered a chain emigration from the Tissø area to this part of America.  What the emigrants did not know was that they were going to a country in internal strife: North and South in their new homeland were divided by climate, ethics, religion, economy, and basic views on lifestyle and honour, but the “Peculiar Institution” of the South - slavery - remained the fundamental cause of this division. 

In the view of the North States, slavery was ungodly, immoral, and above all at odds with the republican principles of equality and personal freedom – the very foundation of the nation. 

In opposition to this, the American South regarded slavery as a necessity in order to keep up the production of cotton and thus maintain the position as the sole supplier of the valuable white fibre to the North American and the European markets (fig. 3). 


The breach between North and South came when Abraham Lincoln from the Republican Party won the presidential election in 1860, practically without the Southern vote.  Altogether, 11 states broke away from the Union and formed their own union, The Confederate States of America (cf. Fig. 1).

In the North, the majority of the population and the politicians found that this dissolution would give any minority group the right to dissolve the federation at their whim, so on April 12, 1861, when the Confederates attacked the Union Army’s garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay in South Carolina – one of the South States – it was also an attack on national unity and the event that sparked off four years of civil war.[12]

Fig. 3: Comparison of available resources in the Union and the Confederate States in 1861.
The Southern States had to rely solely on the value of their cotton production. All other requirements had to be imported, and most arms had to be either captured or imported. With the growing efficiency of the Union’s blockade and the breakdown of the transport system in the South, the Confederacy found it extremely difficult to feed its population. (Graphics: Bendt Nielsen after The Times History of the World).


Throughout the years leading up to the Civil War, the debate on slavery took up much space in the newspapers in the North.  It also filled many columns in The Independent, the small local paper in Greenville, Michigan, where the little group of Danes from Halleby Ore had settled.[13] 

August Rasmussen described the political climate of the period in their new homeland as follows: “In these trying days there was deep concern in America. Men of knowledge of the political sphere predicted war between the northern and the southern states.  There were black clouds on the southern horizon, and heavy thunder began in Charleston.  Fort Sumter was where the rebels began their cannonade.”[14] 


“The thunder of the cannon, the explosions of the grenades, the screeches of the bullets and the screams of the wounded”

The prospects of good pay, land, and a shortcut to social acceptance were the main reasons that tempted many immigrants in the North – among them many Danes – to sign up for American military service when the war broke out[15]

Whether they – who had been unskilled workers and day labourers home in Denmark in return for misery wages – had also formed an opinion on the political and social aspects of slavery remains to be decided.  Many of them escaped from the horrors of war with their lives, some completely unscathed, but many were wounded and marked for life. 

Many, however, paid the ultimate price – as did Christian Jensen from Halleby Ore: he fell in the early morning of December 31, 1862 in the battle of Murfreesboro, SE of Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, one of the 11 Confederate States (cf.fig 1).

All in all, six Danish immigrants from the Greenville area followed Governor Harris’s appeal to volunteer for the Northern cause.  The pay was $13 to $15 a month plus $200 to $300 in discharge money.[16]  Like so many other Danish soldiers who fought in the Civil War, Christian Jensen had the advantage of having acquired some experience of war in the First Schleswig War (1848-50): when Danish soldiers succeeded in breaking the siege of the town of Fredericia by the army of Schleswig-Holstein on July 6, 1849, Christian was one of their number. 

He escaped from that war without a scratch and henceforward considered himself invulnerable.[17]

But there is no armour against Fate: in August 1862 he volunteered for three years’ military service with the Union Army, was enrolled in Company F, 21st Michigan Infantry Regiment, was called up on September 3, and spent the Christmas days marching from Nashville towards the town of Murfreesboro, where the Confederate Army had taken up its winter quarters (fig 4).[18] 

Fig. 4: 21st Michigan Regiment at a quiet moment in September 1862. 
The photograph was taken at the time when Christian Jensen was enlisted, and he may very well be among the soldiers portrayed. The authors of this article have unfortunately not succeeded in identifying him, nor had they – until the recent appearance of parts of the present article in America - been able to locate descendants of him or his brother, who arrived in Greenville in 1857. (Copy of photo in exhibition at Stone River National Battlefield).


In those very days the weather broke: mild sunny days were succeeded by cold, fog, rain, and wind.  Units from the Union Army took up positions NW of the town in a low, well wooded, rock-strewn area, intersected by the Stones River.  Christian Jensen was positioned on the right flank under the command of 31-year-old Brigadier General Joshua Sill.  This was where Fate caught up with Christian.[19][20] 

Officers of either side in the Civil War had often been educated at the same military academies, according to the same military theories and textbooks. 

At Murfreesboro this had the effect that both the commander of the Union Army, General Rosecrans, and his opposite number in the Confederate forces, General Bragg, planned identical strategies: both concentrated their striking power on their own left flank, which presumably would be facing the weaker flank of their opponent.  Therefore, the one who struck first was likely to carry the day. 

At Murfreesboro, the Confederate Army launched its attack at 6:22 a.m. and took the weak right flank of the enemy by total surprise – i.e. where Christian Jensen had the misfortune to be placed (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: The Confederate attack in the morning of Dec. 31, 1862.
At 6:22 am, Confederate units (grey) under Hardee  surprised the right flank of the Union Army (blue) and drove McCook’s troops almost 2 kilometres back.  About 8 o’clock, when the news of the withdrawal reached him, General Rosecrans, the commander of the Union Army, cancelled his plan to attack the Confederate right flank and sent reinforcements to McCook instead.  By then, Christian Jensen’s unit, led by Brigadier General J. Sill, had already been crushed. The black boxes indicate buildings, kilns, etc., arrows troop movements, and half-coloured boxes reserve units (graphics: Bendt Nielsen after Cozzens 1995).


During the previous night, Brigadier General Joshua Sill had repeatedly informed his superiors that the Confederate Army was planning an attack on Sill and his troops, who were placed on the right flank of General Johnson’s division, counting 6,200 men altogether. However, no reinforcements came forth, and within a couple of hours the right flank of the Union Army was torn open and forced several kilometres back[21]


Thanks to their superior and more powerful artillery, the Union Army eventually saved the day, but by then both Joshua Sill and Christian Jensen, together with many of their comrades, had fallen during the early morning hours (fig. 6).[22]

Fig. 6: The Union Army held the line.
Sheridan’s troops put up dogged resistance and thus delayed the advance of the Confederate Army. By mid-afternoon, when the Confederate troops renewed their attack at Round Forest, Rosecrans had reinforced his right flank.Eventually Colonel Hazen’s brigade succeeded in stopping the Southern attack at the railway line – which was equally important to both sides.
At the close of the day, the Union Army had regained control of what was later to be called Hell’s Half Acre. (Cp. troop movements in relation to buildings, kilns, etc. in figs. 5 & 10 (graphics: Bendt Nielsen after Cozzens 1995).


Jens Andersen from Kundby – a village some 30 kilometres E of Kalundborg - wrote a gripping eyewitness description of the battle.  Jens Andersen was born at Maglebjerghuse, Kundby Parish, Holbæk County in 1839, but in the beginning of the 1850s he had emigrated in order to join a small group from Kundby, who had settled a few years previously in what is today Saxville, Wisconsin. 


Several other members of this little Danish colony also volunteered to do military service in the Civil War.  Together with a number of Norwegians, they came to serve in the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, which was based at Ford Randall in Madison, Wisconsin.[23] This is Jens Andersen’s letter to a friend, written after the battle:



In Camp at Murfreeboro, Ten., 1st March, 1863

My good friend Niels Olsen: I received your letter of January the 10th on the 25th of last month together with the one you wrote in February. I am pleased to see from your letters that you are in good health and are satisfied with your job.

As to myself, I am healthy and hale, God be praised, and my limbs are as yet all as they should be, although many a danger has threatened me, but God has ever preserved me up to this very hour. 

I see from your writings that you are going to school, and I know that you will benefit from it with time, and besides, I expect you have some merriment with the girls who attend the same school. 

From your letter of Feb. 20th I see that you have learned about the skirmish we had on Boxing Day.

That was but a foretaste of the New Year Party, and we got out of it excellently with a captured cannon, which our regiment took in a bayonet charge. During the next days the enemy constantly gave ground. 

In the evening of December 29, we were 6 miles from Murfreesboro and 1 mile from the enemy outposts. Due to the immediate proximity of the enemy, we were forbidden to make fires at night, and didn’t it rain that night! So there was nothing to do but throw ourselves on the ground and eat a cracker and drink cold water with it, and after that humble meal we had to think about sleep. Those who had any unrolled their blankets, but on account of the rain and the coldness of the night, we did not get any sleep.

In the morning, at daybreak, we were all up and sighted the enemy. At eight o’clock the weather cleared, and we moved forward in battle order. The field was low and swampy, thickly wooded with cedar, and intersected by the Stone River. Our line had difficulties in forcing their way through the thick forest.  Having advanced a couple of miles, we encountered the enemy outposts, who gradually retreated, however.  Our regiment together with the 21st Illinois were the vanguard of our brigade and followed right after the skirmish-line [i.e. a line of sharpshooters ahead of the vanguard, trying to hit enemy officers. – Ed. note]. 

At 3 p.m. we were suddenly stopped by a large enemy force, which opened a murderous fire at us with two batteries and thousands of muskets. We were immediately ordered to retreat behind a fence  (fig. 7) where we stayed until nightfall, when we withdrew to the reserve, where we lay that night, embracing our rifles, and almost froze to death, whereas the next day [i.e. Dec. 31 – Ed. note] became much too hot for comfort: at the earliest dawn we heard firing on our right flank where Johnson’s Division was located [i.e. where Christian Jensen was placed – Ed. note] and one could tell from the shooting that they were being driven back, nor was it long before we felt the consequences from this: we were attacked at the front by a line three ranks deep, and at the same time they flanked us on both sides, so we were fired at from three sides; this was quite insufferable, we had to get away, and everybody took flight, that is, everybody who was able to flee; for many were down already, swimming in their own blood, and many more had to bite the dust that day (fig. 8; cp. figs. 5 & 6).

Our Lieutenant Colonel together with many another brave officer and bold soldier fell here. I do not think you can imagine how terrible that day was for us soldiers, nor can I describe it. It seemed as if all the elements were in rebellion: fire, smoke, thunder from the cannon, the explosions from the grenades, the screeches of the bullets, and the screams from the wounded all combined to make it a terrible day (fig. 9).

Finished on the 20th of March, because I have been ill, but am now quite well again.” 


    Fig. 9: Cotton plant.  The Southern States enjoyed a de facto monopoly on the production of cotton, at the time one of the most sought-after raw materials in the western world. In Tennessee, most cotton was harvested in October. Some, however, would stay on the plants through winter.  During the fighting at Murfreesboro, soldiers would pick this and use it for earplugs in order to muffle the constant thunder from the battle of Stones River (photo: Lisbeth Pedersen).

Jens Andersen survived the war and ended up as a farmer in Nebraska[24].


Fig. 7: Cotton field and fence near Murfreesboro. Cotton, as seen behind the cannon, was the essential item in the economy of the South – including that of Tennessee (cf. fig. 3). In his letter, Jens Andersen mentions a fence like the one seen in the background, a typical feature in the rural environment in which the battle was fought. In some cases the fences were serious hurdles when soldiers were commanded to attack, at other times they would serve as a skimpy cover for soldiers firing at the enemy (photo: Mads Findal Andreasen).


Fig. 8: After the Battle.
Like this union soldier killed at Gettysburg Christian Jensen had to "bite the dust" at Stones River. (Detail from stereoscope photography, Leif Hammelevs Billedsamling).


Dogged resistance in combination with the exhaustion of the Confederate Army decided the battle: by January 2, 1863 the Union Army had won (figs. 10, 11 & 12). 

In the mistaken belief that the Union Army had been reinforced with fresh troops, the Southern commander, General Bragg, had withdrawn his army in a nightmare of suffering: the rain was pouring down mercilessly, the thermometer was near the freezing point, and rations were down at a minimum.  But worst of all: General Braggs had no clearly defined goal, and the officers were in strong opposition to their general.  On the other hand, the Union had suffered such great losses that General Rosecrans gave up pursuit.  Not until Jan. 5 did they take Murfreesboro, where they built Fort Rosecrans just outside the town[25]

It was here Jens Andersen from Kundby wrote his letter. 

Fig. 10: On January 2nd, 1863, the artillery of the Union Army decided the battle.
In the afternoon, General Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army, ordered General Major Breckinridge to launch an attack on the left flank of the enemy. They drove the "Bluecoats" off a ridge and into the river, but were stopped by 58 cannon in battle array on the western bank. The Confederate Army lost 1800 men in a single hour; they retired and the Union Army claimed a victory. (Compare positions and troop movements in relation to the locations marked as reference points in the map with figs. 5 & 6) (graphics: Bendt Nielsen after Cozzens 1995).


After the battle, dead and wounded lay scattered all over the battlefield, which covered several square kilometres.  Having sought shelter in crevices in the limestone rocks, many simply froze to death during an icy night pouring with rain while they were waiting for help. [26] 

The Union Army lost about 13,000 (dead, wounded, and captured) of the 44,000 (approx.) that had been lined up for battle from the start. (Figs. 13 & 14). Confederate losses were close to 9,8000.[27]  So, losses were 29 per cent to 26 per cent – enormous figures even by the standards of that day and age.

Fig. 11: Historical painting of the Battle of Stones River.
A.E. Mathew’s picture shows General Rosecrans leading the battle against the Confederate Army. Rosecrans (on horseback in lower left corner) orders his "bluecoats" (i.e. soldiers of the Northern Army) to open artillery fire against the "greycoats" (Confederate soldiers). In the background can be seen the Stones River and the important railway line, the control of which the North only kept by the skin of their teeth (after Cozzens 1995).


Almost symbolically, Lincoln’s decree from September 1862 on the abolition of slavery took effect on January 1, 1863, so four million Americans of an estimated population of 31 million gained their freedom to the accompaniment of the cannonades of the battle of Stones River.[28] 

One consequence of the victory at Murfreesboro was that the North States gained control of several rivers and railroad lines, which facilitated the transportation of supplies to their army units on their continued advance into the South. 

In combination with the establishing of an effective maritime blockade, it simultaneously prevented the Confederate Army and the population of the South States from receiving supplies of agricultural products.[29] 

However, in spite of the fact that the South also suffered a decisive defeat further to the north, at Gettysburg, in July 1863, the Civil War did not end until April 1865, when Robert E. Lee, the Supreme Commander of the Confederate Army, eventually had to capitulate. 

Destruction in the South was enormous, and the many survivors were facing a long period of reconciliation and reconstruction.  General William Tecumseh Sheridan from the North was responsible for a considerable amount of the destruction.  Sherman held the view that warfare should also punish a civilian population that had agitated for and stirred up the conflict.  During the famous march from Atlanta to Savannah he and his army therefore crushed the infrastructure of the South together with its capacity and appetite for war.[30]

Fig.12: Stones River viewed from the north in 2002.
This was where the New Year’s Battle was decided on Jan. 2nd, 1863. The Commander of the Southern force, General Bragg, attempted an attack across the river, but his troops never established a foothold on the opposite river-bank owing to heavy and continuous artillery fire from Union positions on the western bank. The local tradition had it that the river ran red with blood on that day (photo: Mads Findal Andreasen).


In 1904, the Danish immigrant August Rasmussen, Greenville, described the defeat of the South as follows: 

“He who lived in those days and who is still alive knows how it was.  Everything was either at a standstill or had gone completely wrong.  The young and less educated left farms, stores and workshops and enlisted as soldiers, and the more civilized and educated became officers. Bloody battle followed bloody battle for four long years.  Fear, death, tears, and prayers to God were mixed as the order of the day.

In the winter of 1864 I heard a man in Grand Rapids (the nearest largish town. – Ed. note) say with an oath: “The North will have to put its head under the yoke.” He knew that I sided with the North, and the reply he got was “That will never happen, as long as God lives”.  That man killed himself when he saw how the war ended and the South lost its cause.  I must pray God forbid that America should see such a war again”.[31]


Dane meets Dane

As mentioned above, there were also Danish soldiers on the Southern side, but they must necessarily have been few in numbers as hardly more than 2000 Danes had immigrated to that part of the USA by 1860. 

One of those who came to experience the war as a Southerner was Anders Rudolf Rude.  He was born in Copenhagen in 1812, went to the USA in 1836, became a Lutheran preacher, and later married a rich widow in Virginia. He thus became the owner of both a plantation and of slaves. 

During the war Rude’s wife and his eldest daughter were killed by soldiers of the Union Army.  He himself was harassed by soldiers from the North, who came in order to plunder, as he was sitting lonely and forsaken at Rude’s Hill, his ruined plantation. 

This exploit was described by another Dane, Ole R. Olsen, who originally came from Falstria, one of the Danish islands. Ole Olsen had emigrated to the USA in 1861, and had immediately enlisted in the Union Army. To a great extent, the soldiers had to live off the land, and down south in Virginia Ole Olsen together with his fellow-soldiers once tried to loot a ruined, but once beautiful house. 

Here he noticed that several objects were Danish or had something Danish about them. The soldiers only found one living creature, an elderly grey-bearded man; nor were there any victuals. In their frustration the soldiers showered him with profanities and curses – Ole Olsen in Danish. The old man showed surprise at being addressed in Danish, but – wisely – did not answer. 

After the war, Rude took up preaching again, became a well-known clergyman and professor in Texas, where he died in 1883.  After the war, Ole Olsen settled in Waupeca, Wisconsin, where he recounted the episode to his vicar.[32]  If the report is to be believed, it must be regarded as a statistical coincidence that these two Danes, from either side in the conflict, should meet each other in such circumstances.


“The American Blood Test”

The American Civil War cost more than 620,000 soldiers their lives. That was tantamount to 2 per cent of the population and almost equal to the combined number of American losses in all the other wars in which the USA has been involved.[33] 

Thousands died on the battlefields like Christian Jensen.  He was not identified after the battle and was buried as an unknown warrior in the large military cemetery of the Union Army NE of Murfreesboro (fig. 15)[34]

It is a well-known fact that history is written by the victors, so if one wants to see a memorial to the young men of the Confederacy who fell in the Battle of Murfreesboro on New Year’s Day, one will have to look in the local churchyard.  Here you may see a memorial, erected in 1980 on local initiative, to the Southerners who fell in the battle (fig. 16). 



Fig 16: Our unknown dead
Menorial for Confederate soldiers in Murfreesboro. Photo: Mads Findal Andreasen


The different views of the North and the South are reflected even in details like the names of the battlefields: as often as not, the South States would name the battlefield for the nearest town – like Murfreesboro – whereas the North States would name the same battlefield after some characteristic feature of the landscape.  In the official American history, therefore, the battle of Murfreesboro is referred to as The Battle of Stones River[35]

In the course of the war, the number of prisoners of war, like the number of casualties, became very high indeed on both sides.  Moreover, the problems involved with dealing with the POWs were aggravated in July 1863 when General Grant of the Union Army signed a decree suspending all exchange of POWs.  He held the view that every exchange helped to prolong the war.[36] 


This was the official idealistic motive.  The hidden agenda was strategic:  the size of the population of the Confederate States – and consequently the potential size of their army – was limited in comparison with that of the North States, which – due to immigration - benefited from a constant influx of manpower in general and, in particular, of young men who could be mobilised (cf fig 3). 

Cessation of the exchange of prisoners would therefore slowly help to drain the South of young men fit for military service.

Altogether, about 410,000 men were taken prisoner, but neither side had foreseen or prepared for the practical management of the prisoners.

In both North and South the solutions to the problems went beyond conventional rules and norms, which gave rise to public anger and outrage as the conditions were exposed in all their gory details, because photography and war correspondence were used by the news media for the first time in history.[37] 

The POW problems were most serious in the South, where the blockade by the North reduced supplies to a minimum – which also affected the 200,000-plus Union soldiers imprisoned there. 

Fig.18: Andersonville, August 1864.
Prisoners lived in tents or in so-called shebangs, i.e. shelters built of boards or earth. The area was intersected by a small brook that provided the prisoners with drinking water and, as can be seen in the foreground of the picture, also served as their latrines (photo from Burnett 1995).


The Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia in particular became emblematic of the horrors of the camps. Established in 1863, it was intended to house about 10,000 prisoners, but at one point more than 33,000 were imprisoned behind the effective palisades surrounding the camp, which covered an area of about 25 acres (fig. 18).  In the course of its 14-month-long existence, the camp housed some 49,000 prisoners.  Close to 13,700 died from overpopulation, hunger, fatal hygienic conditions, and insufficient medical treatment (fig. 19). 

       Fig.19: Andersonville 2002. People from West­Zealand were also among those laid to rest under the near-endless rows of white gravestones in the Andersonville cemetery. This is the view from Mads Larsens grave (photo: Andersonville National Historic Site).


The more fortunate of the prisoners lived in simple wooden sheds, scraps of tents, and dugouts, but many had no protection at all against sun, heat, rain and cold. 

The prisoners were given no clothing, and the daily rations were down to an absolute minimum.  Guards posted in towers along the perimeter of the camp would shoot at any prisoner trying to cross the so-called death line.

Drinking water could only be obtained from a small brook that crossed the camp, but as it also functioned as the camp latrine, it was a ticking bacteriological bomb, which could but explode in Georgia’s sweltering summer heat.  It is no wonder, then, that many prisoners died from dysentery, gangrene, diarrhoea and scurvy.[38] 

Mads Larsen, born in Holbæk County in 1840, was among those who died in Andersonville.  Like Jens Andersen, who hailed from West-Zealand, he had joined the 15th Wisconsin Regiment, but was taken prisoner at Chickamauga on September 20, 1863. 

He died from dysentery in Andersonville on September 1, 1864, and he rests in grave No: 7522 in the large cemetery (fig.20).  Lars Hansen from the Roskilde area, who served in the same regiment, was also taken prisoner at Chickamauga.  He died from scurvy three days after Mads Larsen mentioned above, and lies in grave No: 7649 (fig.21).[39]

Fig.20: Grave No: 7522. Here Mads Larsen from Kundby, Denmark, found his last resting-place on Sept. 1, 1864 (photo: Andersonville National Historic Site).   Fig.21: Grave No: 7649. Lars Hansen, who came from the Roskilde area in Denmark, died a few days after Mads Larsen (photo: Andersonville National Historic Site).


The reason why we are in possession of information of the fates of these two Danes – among others – in Andersonville is that in Andersonville the death of a prisoner was registered, in contrast to the practice in other camps in the North and South alike.

Credit is due to a prisoner, Dorence Atwater, who smuggled copies of the records out when he was released and, at considerable expense to himself and with the help of friends, had them published in 1868: the government in Washington DC and the army command under the leadership of General Ulysses Grant did not want relatives to learn about the hard fate their friends and family members had suffered.  They wanted to avoid a debate about Grant’s decision to suspend the exchange of prisoners, which might prove harmful to the General’s chances of being elected president.  Nevertheless, Atwater succeeded in having his lists published, and was punished severely.[40] The General and Hero of the Union was president from 1869 to 1877. When all is fair in love and war – and politics - it is often difficult to get to the bottom of all aspects of a matter.

Fig. 22: Peter Goosman’s grave in Monroe Cemetery, Michigan - one of the graves that are decorated with an American flag every year on Memorial Day (photo: Lisbeth Pedersen).

Some did succeed in escaping from the horrors of Andersonville and survived the war[41]  Peter Goosman, 28, a saddler from the Danish colony in Michigan, was one of the lucky ones. 

He had signed up for three years’ military service with the Union Army at the same time as Christian Jensen, and he survived several battles as well as eight months’ imprisonment in Andersonville, escaped with his life and signed off from his unit in the Union Army after three years’ service in the summer of 1865, a few months after the war had ended.[42] He died, aged 72, in his home in Greenville, Michigan, in 1908. 

Whether the Danes’ motives for volunteering for military service in the American armies were the prospect of good pay, a shortcut to American citizenship, land, adventurousness or a thirst for social recognition, they, as an ethnic group, passed what some have called “the American blood-test”, which won them the respect of their fellow Americans. They bought the ticket and paid the price.


Every year on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, an American flag is placed on their graves, as it is the custom on the graves of all American participants in the Civil War, whether they lie buried in one of the numerous military cemeteries, in the prison camps, or in graveyards near their homes.[43] 

This tradition is also observed at the grave of Peter Goosman, who is buried in Monroe Cemetery near Gowen in Michigan (fig.22). The present article is intended as a memorial to the Danish veterans in their native country on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the bloody battle of Murfreesboro, in which young men from as far away as West-Zealand took part–and in which some of them sacrificed their lives for their new homeland.[44]


[1]  Vig 1917 p.185, pp.189-190, pp.359-360.  Some of the first Danish settlers in the USA, whose children were grownups at the outbreak of the war, let their sons go to Denmark or Canada, where they would stay for the duration of the war
[2]  Vig 1917 pp.81-393
[3]  Rasmussen 1904 p. 13 & pp 57-58
[4]  Cozzens 1995 p 50 & McDonough 2000 p.231
[5]   McDonough 2000 p. xii & p.45
[6]  Rasmussen 1904 p.13 & pp.57-58
[7]  Hvidt 1971; Hvidt 2000 p. 211, & Mackintosh 2002 p. 213
[8]  Findal Andreasen: Dansk kirkekamp i USA, in preparation
[9]  Rasmussen 1904 p. 18
[10]  Rasmussen 1904, Pedersen & Findal 2000a & 2000b
[11]  Mr. Clayton Rasmussen, Sheridan, Greenville, Michigan is credited with this information.  Mr Clayton Rasmussen is the grandchild of August Rasmussen, and has provided us with much information on the Danish descendants in the Greenville area for which we would like to express our gratitude
[12]  McDonough 2000 pp 42-43 & Ward 2002 p.287
[13]  The Independent,  1850-60
[14]  Rasmussen (1904), pp. 56-57
[15]  Vig (1917) pp. 190-192
[16]  Rasmussen (1904), p. 57; Vig (1917), p.191 & p. 284; Dunbar (1965), p. 320
[17]  Rasmussen (1904), p. 58
[18] Rasmussen (1904), p. 17; Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Index 1915
[19]  Cozzens (1991), p. 8; McDonough (2000) p. 75
[20]. The Independent, Jan. 20, 1863
[21]  Cozzens (1991), pp.84-100; McDonough (2000) pp. 84-108
[22]  Cozzens (1991) pp. 101-143; McDonough (2000) pp.81-85, p. 101 & pp. 109-130
[23]  Vig (1917), pp. 202-204
[24]  Vig (1917), pp. 205-207
[25]  Cozzens (1995), p. 10; Cozzens (1991), pp. 201-205 & p. 218; McDonough (2000, pp.221-228
[26]  Cozzens (1991), pp.167-176
[27] Cozzens (1995), p.48; McDonough (2000), p.69
[28]  McDonough (2000), p.43; Ward (2002), p.12
[29]  McDonough (2000), p. 14, pp. 17-18 & p. 64; Roberts (1998), p. xx; Ward (2002), p. 76
[30]  Roberts (1998), p. 15; Ward (2002), pp. 321-349)
[31]  Rasmussen (1904), p. 59
[32]  Vig (1917), pp.359-387
[33]  Esman, p. 151; McDonough (2000), p. 12; Ward (2002), p. xix
[34]  Stones River National Park in correspondence
[35]  Roberts (1998), p. 9
[36]  Roberts (1998), pp. 13-16
[37]  Ward (2002), pp. 161-163 & pp. 222-223; Roberts (1998), p. 85
[38]  Burnett (1995), p. 12, p. 15 & p. 39;  Roberts (1998) pp. 12-90
[39]  Vig (1917), p. 271 & p. 296; Andersonville National Historic Site in correspondence, 2003.  According to Vig, Mads Larsen lies in grave No: 7532, whereas Andersonville National Historic Site gives his grave number as 7522 (fig.22)
[40]  Roberts (1998), pp. 153-208
[41]  Burnett (1995), p. 17; Roberts (1998), p, 47
[42]  Rasmussen (1904),  p. 57; Vig, p. 260; Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Index (1915)
[43]  Roberts (1998), p. 54
[44]  With support from West-Zealand County Council, Kalundborg Regional Museum has in the last few years been engaged in research aimed at throwing light upon the history of emigration from West Zealand, the museum’s ’special research responsibility’ within regional history.  Donations from the Farumgaard Foundantion and from the Dedenroth-Lindenskov Family made it possible for the authors of the present article to undertake a study tour to Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee in October 2002 to collect material about West-Zealanders involved in the American Civil War.. At the same time, they moved to The Danish Immigrant Museum in Iowa an exhibition arranged by Kalundborg Regional Museum to illuminate the emigration from West-Zealand to Greenville in 1856-57.  The exhibition had been on show at Flat River Historical Museum in Greenville 2001-02.  The authors would like to use this opportunity to express their warmest thanks to the donors mentioned above for their financial support and encouragement, which made it possible to trace the fates of some of the immigrants who appeared on the battlefields in the American Civil War.

We would like to extend out thanks to the staff at the National Park Service, Murfreesboro, and at Andersonville National Historical Site for all their help, to friends, old and new, in the Greenville area, to Flat River Historical Society and Museum, Greenville Community Foundation, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Detroit, and to The Daily News, Greenville, for several years a staunch supporter and helper in our research. Our very special thanks go to the proprietors and patrons of The City Inn and the Byrne-Roberts Inn in Murfreesboro for an unforgettable initiation into the charms and potency of Southern Comfort and into the Southern version of the story of the American Civil War.



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Read about Ane and August Rasmussen, who in 1856 emigrated to Greenville, Michigan, and here founded the Big Dane Settlement: The Escape to America


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