In 1848-1849, revolutions rocked the European continent. A peaceful effort, initially, by left-leaning intellectuals to democratize the Austro-Hungarian Empire, brutal repressive reaction lead first to war, and then to emigration by the losers.
It has been estimated that in the area now comprising the German Republic, alone, as many as One Million people emigrated as a result of the revolutions. Many of the “’48’ers”, as they were known, came to Missouri. In fact, as a result of this migration in 1861 St. Louis had the largest proportionate population of persons of foreign birth of any city in North America. ’48’ers and other European expatriates played an important role in the American Civil War and particularly in Missouri’s Civil War. German-Americans, organized around St. Louis Turnvereins, composed the largest body of troops participating in the Camp Jackson affair in St. Louis, May 10, 1861. Among the units at Camp Jackson was the 3rd Missouri Volunteer Regiment commanded by (then Colonel) Maj. General Franz Sigel. The most famous of the ’48’ers, Freiderich Hecker, was at Camp Jackson in the uniform of a private of the 3rd Missouri. At one time, Hecker was one of the most famous men in the western world. Look for his biography on our website. The 3rd Missouri, organized at Belleville, Illinois, and other German-American units from St. Louis, fought with Sigel at the Battles of Carthage and Wilson’s Creek. The nearly all-German 3rd regiment is memorialized today by a Civil War re-enactment group in Stuttgart, Germany. Polish expatriate Captain Constantin Blandowski, a veteran of the European revolutions, immigrated to the United States and was a fencing instructor in New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis. At Camp Jackson, Blandowski received a wound to the knee and died from complications of his wound two weeks later. He thus became the first officer of either army killed in the American Civil War. “Fremont’s Body Guard,” a cavalry unit organized in St. Louis in 1861, was commanded by Hungarian revolutionary Major Karoly (Charles) Z’gonyi. On October 25, 1861, 300 troopers successfully attacked a force of Confederates estimated at 1,000 at the western edge of Springfield, Missouri, in an action known as “Z’gonyi’s Charge” or “Z’gonyi’s Death Ride.” This was arguably the first great cavalry charge of the Civil War, and Fremont himself is said to have compared it to the “Charge of the Light Brigade.”