SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

German Americans on the Middle Border

German Americans on the Middle Border

From Antislavery to Reconciliation, 1830–1877

Add to Cart

Zachary Stuart Garrison


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
4 illustrations


Additional Materials

  • Table of Contents
  • News / Publicity

Table of Contents

Table of Contents



About the Book

Before the Civil War, Northern, Southern, and Western political cultures crashed together on the middle border, where the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers meet. German Americans who settled in the region took an antislavery stance, asserting a liberal nationalist philosophy rooted in their revolutionary experience in Europe that emphasized individual rights and freedoms. By contextualizing German Americans in their European past and exploring their ideological formation in failed nationalist revolutions, Zachary Stuart Garrison adds nuance and complexity to their story.

Liberal German immigrants, having escaped the European aristocracy who undermined their revolution and the formation of a free nation, viewed slaveholders as a specter of European feudalism. During the antebellum years, many liberal German Americans feared slavery would inhibit westward progress, and so they embraced the Free Soil and Free Labor movements and the new Republican Party. Most joined the Union ranks during the Civil War.
After the war, in a region largely opposed to black citizenship and Radical Republican rule, German Americans were seen as dangerous outsiders. Facing a conservative resurgence, liberal German Republicans employed the same line of reasoning they had once used to justify emancipation: A united nation required the end of both federal occupation in the South and special protections for African Americans. Having played a role in securing the Union, Germans largely abandoned the freedmen and freedwomen. They adopted reconciliation in order to secure their place in the reunified nation. Garrison’s unique transnational perspective to the sectional crisis, the Civil War, and the postwar era complicates our understanding of German Americans on the middle border.


Zachary Stuart Garrison teaches history at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis, Missouri. He previously taught at the University of Cincinnati and Lindenwood University and worked at Ohio Valley History.


"Melding the best of recent scholarship with his own research and creative interpretation, Garrison alternately reaffirms and challenges much of what has been popularly written about the German Americans of the Civil War era. . . . German Americans on the Middle Border is exquisitely crafted history, both in its nuanced reassessment of the nature and results of German antislavery activism before, during, and after the Civil War and its lucid explanation of the many complicated reasons behind the dizzying rise and fall of German social and political influence and status in the region over that period of time."—Andrew J. WagenhofferCivil War Books and Authors

“This concise study based on excellent research in the appropriate primary and secondary sources is a delightful read. . . . This reinterpretation of the role of German immigrants in the American Civil War has been long overdue and will appeal to general readers as well as scholars interested in the history of the American Midwest.”—Petra DeWittThe Annals of Iowa

German Americans on the Middle Border is an important book and makes for good reading for those new to the field as well as those already versed in the debates over mid-nineteenth-century German Americans. It is clearly written and nicely organized.”—Aaron AstorH-Net Reviews

“The inclusion of southeast Missouri brings to light Germans who have not been heavily studied. . . . Altogether this is an intriguing work written by a vigorous researcher with a good sense of history.”—Robert W. FrizzellMissouri Historical Review

“Zachary Stuart Garrison’s dynamically researched book offers a new starting point in the discussion of German American participation in the Civil War. Living on the middle border and the border west, these men and women can be seen dealing with slavery, nativism, and America’s political party system in ways that cut them free from the historical stereotypes to which students of the nineteenth century have become accustomed. To his credit, Garrison depicts the range of German-speaking immigrants and settlers as very real people who negotiated their new surroundings by finding a middle ground between their high-minded ideology and the evolving reality of life on the border between North and South.”—Joseph M. Beilein Jr., author of Bushwhackers: Guerrilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri
“Zachary Stuart Garrison offers a thorough and engaging study of the ways in which German Americans on the Midwestern border responded to the issues of slavery, sectionalism, and the Civil War. In the process, Garrison includes an original explanation of how nineteenth-century understandings of nationalism, liberalism, and abolitionism developed in a transatlantic context.”—Andre M. Fleche, author of The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict
“I was very interested to read Zachary Stuart Garrison’s book German Americans on the Middle Border. It is a coherent and useful summary of the existing published literature on politically and militarily active German-Americans before, during, and after the Civil War. I hope it will inspire further exploration in the untranslated materials that still remain open to research.”—Steven Rowan, author of Germans for a Free Missouri: Translations from the St. Louis Radical Press, 1857–1862
“What did it mean for an ethnic minority to embrace free labor along slavery’s western border, where the vast majority of white people felt they must maintain the institution or risk economic and social ‘degradation’? Zachary Stuart Garrison’s German Americans on the Middle Border grapples with such critical questions, skillfully tracing the genealogy of German American liberalism and political ideology in an understudied region.”—Matthew E. Stanley, author of The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in the Middle America
“Zachary Stuart Garrison makes a powerful case for the importance of German liberal ideology to the development of antislavery thought in the Midwest. This nuanced depiction of the evolution of that ideology during the middle of the nineteenth century demonstrates the centrality of German liberalism to explaining both why so many Germans became radical Republicans during the Civil War and why so many sought moderation during Reconstruction.”—Kristen Layne Anderson, author of Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America