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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: January 2013

6 - German Catholic Communalism and the American Civil War: Exploring the Dilemmas of Transatlantic Political Integration


Consider the dilemma of returning U.S. Civil War veteran George Hansen - German, Catholic, and American. Hansen had had what a later generation would term a “good war.” He had enlisted in Company G of Minnesota's Fourth Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the late autumn of 1861. He was a 23-year-old carpenter at the time, an active member of the younger crowd that, with its drinking, dancing, politicking, and institution-building, set the tone for German life in St. Cloud, the county seat of Minnesota's German and Catholic-settled Stearns County. He had been born in Obersgegen, Kreis Bitburg, under the shadow of the great, dismantled Luxemburg fortress at Vianden, as the youngest of six sons of a Napoleonic veteran, and was named Gregor after his godfather. His family may have regarded themselves as among the peasant elite in Germany and certainly quickly acquired security and status in America. His older siblings emigrated in 1852 to the stone quarry area near Joliet, Illinois, and three years later trekked north in covered wagons to the new Stearns County frontier, driving twenty head of cattle before them. Here they were joined by their youngest brother and aging parents in 1857. The family military tradition may have played a role in young Gregor's decision to join the St. Cloud City Guards, the Democratic Party-linked militia company formed by the town's Germans in June 1860. But the decision also may have grown out of the same commitment to his new country evident in the anglicizing of his name to George.