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The Civil War

For minorities, as for other Americans, the Civil War was an

opportunity to prove their valor and loyalty. Among the first mustered

into the Union Army were a De Kalb regiment of German American clerks, the

Garibakdi Guards made up of Italian Americans, a "Polish Legion," and

hundreds of Irish American youths form Boston and New York. But in Ohio

and Washington, D.C., African American volunteers were turned away from

recruiting stations and told, "This is a white man's war." Some citizens

questioned the loyalty of immigrants who lived in crowded city tenements

until an Italian American from Brooklyn turned that around. In the New

York Senate, Democrat Francis Spinola had been a vigorous foe of Republican

policies and Lincoln. But now he swore his loyalty with stirring words,

"This is my flag, which I will follow and defend." This speech gave great

assurance that the masses in the great cities were devoted to the Union and

ready to enlist for its defense.

More than 400,000 European immigrants fought for the Union,

including more than 170,00 Germans and more than 150,00 Irish. Many saw

their services as a proud sacrifice. The first officer to die for the

Union was Captain Constatin Blandowski, one of many immigrants who earlier

had fought for freedom in Europe and then joined Lincoln's army. Born in

Upper Silesia and trained at Dresden, Germany, he was a veteran of

democratic struggles - a Polish revolt at Krakow, the Polish Legion's

battles against Austria, and the Hungarian fight for independence. Some

nationalities contributed more than their share of Union soldiers.

Some immigrants earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. Italian

American officer Louis di Cesnola, was the Colonel of the 4th Cavalry

Regiment. At Aldie, Virginia, in 1863, he earned the Medal of Honor and

was appointed a general. He charged unarmed at the foe, read his citation,

"rallied his men ...until desperately wounded and taken prisoner in

action." In 1879 Cesnola became director of New York's Metropolitan Museum

of Art. The museum then became, wrote a critic, "a monument to his energy,

enterprise, and rare executive skill."

Italian American privates also won the Medal of Honor. Joseph Sova

of the 8th Cavalry earned it for capturing the Confederate flag at

Appomattox. Private Orlando Caruana of the 51st Infantry won it at

Newburn, North Carolina. With bullets whizzing past him, he saved wounded

men and rescued the U.S. flag.

As 1865 came on, the feel of victory was in the Northern air. And

so the Civil War was over. Yet even the ending of the war did not bring

real peace. On Good Friday, April 14, 11 days after Union troops had

entered Richmond, an actor named John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln as

the President watched a play from his box in Ford's Theater, Washington,

D.C. The one man who might have brought about a just peace was dead.

The Civil War had solved some old problems for the United States.

But it created some new problems as well. But many of the problems created

by the Civil War have been solved. Towns have been rebuilt, new industries

flourish, and new schools have been erected. Most of the damage of war has

been long repaired. North and South both enjoy prosperity. But many of the human problems still remain.

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