06 November 2014

Swedes in the Civil War

"Your father wishes you to read the letters to your mother for he can not get eney one to write Swede for him for the Swede boys that were in the reg 't are cild or wonded"       Letter from Charles Gorman1 after the battle of Cold Harbor

Charles Gorman, Pvt, Co. H, 112th NY
Infantry Regiment.  Born 24 June 1824 and
baptized Carl Gårdman in Målilla Parish, 
Kalmar län, son of a Swedish Army reservist; 
immigrated  August 5, 1853 aboard  the
Franklin King, migrated from Chautauqua to
Audrain County, Missouri about 1868 where
he died in 1897. First cousin of John Halgren,
Augustus Halgren and Mrs. A.F. (Anna) Niel.
This is an introduction to the topic of participation by Swedes from Chautauqua and Warren Counties in the American Civil War.

I am currently studying the period from 1850-1855. However, there are so many references to Civil War veterans in the biographies of early Swedish immigrants that I wanted to begin structuring the information that I am coming across. For now, this is a first glimpse based on incomplete research. 

I have been surprised that the participation of area Swedes has been UNDERESTIMATED in local histories. My data is incomplete, but the estimate of 50 or so Swedes2 is much less than the 70 Swedes so far documented. In addition there are another 9 who are likely Swedes who I have not yet been able to document, plus I assume there will be a few additional Swedes after studying the immigrants that arrived from 1855-1860.

Larger questions await completion of the research: Did Swedish immigrants participate more than native-born Warren-ites [sic?] or Chautauquans?  Did the Swedes participate more than other ethnic groups?  Did the Swedes suffer a higher casualty rate? Did the sons of Swedish military families participate more than other Swedes?

So why this difficulty in the research, why the underestimation?

One reason may be a dissimilarity between pre-war and post Civil War Swedes. The latter group dominated the area when the histories were written and often had no familial connection with the earlier Swedes.

A second reason for the underestimation may be the migration of early Swedes away from the area after the Civil War.  This factor is easy to overlook.

A third reason is clerical.  Start with the differences between New York and Pennsylvania in both record keeping and histories, and then superimpose Swedish names that often varied, morphed or were aliases and the resulting confusion3 is difficult to untangle.  For example, George Thompson was a Swede who enlisted in Company H of the 112th NY Infantry Regiment and died from a shell wound in the right thigh in Black Island, South Carolina on 25 August, 1863. He is easily confused with George A. Thompson who served in the same company of the same regiment but who was not Swedish and lived until 1907.  Or he could be confused with George Thompson of Company K of the 112th who was from New York City.  Our phrase red tape has its origin in the administration of the Civil War pensions.  Thanks to the paperwork required for his widow's pension, we know that one of those George Thompsons was also known as Augustus Anderson, was Swedish and had a connection to Iowa before he enlisted in Chautauqua County.

A fourth reason for the difficulty of the research (but not for the underestimation) is that many of the Swedes reenlisted in other units. For example, Adolph F. Ekholm (Adolf F. Eckholm/Adolphus Eckholm) served for the last eighteen months of the war in three different units: the 72nd, 120th and 73rd NY Infantry Regiments.

A fifth reason for the underestimation is that several Swedes decided to enlist in the Union Navy later in the war.  Civil War research commonly overlooks service in the Navy and it is said that the record keeping of the Navy makes research more difficult.  The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) available on the National Park Service website has listings for more than 6 million soldiers.  It's database includes only a subset, 18,000 African American sailors, of the estimated 26,000 to 51,000 sailors who served during the war.

The day-to-day recounting of the Civil War in Opinionator/Disunion columns of the New York Times has illustrated the hardships of the duration of our war a hundred and fifty years later. We have now passed the anniversary of the tragedy of the battle of Cold Harbor that hit the 112th NY Infantry (The Chautauqua Regiment) hard. But still ahead there is more difficult fighting to remember before celebrating the sesquicentennial mustering-out of the regiment in Raleigh, North Carolina on 13 June 1865.

I’ll get to the stories of F. Mauritz Fincke, a Swedish doctor whose participation has been ignored and August N. Jones (my great-grandfather’s uncle) who lost his right arm at Cold Harbor. But before that I’ll return to the saga of the Johnson girls and a three-part description of the Swedish settlement in Sugar Grove.

The list below is in process and is not complete. If you know of omissions in this list or find errors, please contact me or leave a comment. Thanks.

Principal Units for Recruits in Chautauqua and Warren Counties

Jul 186172nd New York Infantry RegimentNYS Unit InformationRoster
Aug 186152nd New York Infantry RegimentNYS Unit InformationRosterweb site
Sep 1861100th New York Infantry RegimentNYS Unit InformationRoster
Sep 186149th New York Infantry RegimentNYS Unit InformationRosterweb siteweb site
Nov 18619th New York Cavalry RegimentNYS Unit InformationRosterweb site
Sep 1862112th New York Infantry RegimentNYS Unit InformationRosterweb site
111th Pennsylvania Infantry RegimentPA Unit Information
21st Pennsylvania Cavalry RegimentPA Unit Information
82nd Pennsylvania Infantry RegimentPA Unit Information


Barram, Rick. The 72nd New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster, McFarland Publishers (http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=1664168), 2014.

Bates, Samuel P.  One Hundred and Eleventh RegimentHistory of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Volume III,  Singerly, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1870, p 1013-1058.

Bidwell, Frederick D.  History of the Forty-Ninth New York Volunteers. Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, Printers, 1916.

Brown, Henri Le Fevre.  History of the Third Regiment, Excelsior Brigade, 72d New York Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865. Journal Printing Co., Jamestown, New York, 1902.

Cheney, Newel. History of the Ninth Regiment, New York Volunteer Cavalry, a War of 1861-1865: Compiled from Letters, Diaries, Recollections and Official Records. Poland Center, New York, 1901.

Hokanson, Nels.  Swedish Immigrants In Lincoln's Time, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, 1942.

Hyde, William L., History of the One Hundredth and Twelfth Regiment N.Y. Volunteers, Fredonia, New York, 1866.

New York. Adjutant General's Office. Annual Report of the State of New York, Albany, various years. A record of the commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers and privates, of the regiments which were organized in the State of New York : and called into the service of the United States to assist in suppressing the Rebellion caused by the Secession of some of the Southern States from the Union, A. D. 1861, as taken from the muster rolls on file in the Adjutant General's Office, S. N. Y. New York. Adjutant General's Office. A record of the commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers and privates, of the regiments which were organized in the State of New York : and called into the service of the United States to assist in suppressing the Rebellion caused by the Secession of some of the Southern States from the Union, A. D. 1861, as taken from the muster rolls on file in the Adjutant General's Office, S. N. Y.
Note:  These records are an essential secondary source for military service, however, there are frequent omissions regarding the full service record of individual soldiers.

  1. Naomi Lewis, The Gormans - The Swedish Connection, September 30, 2010 blog, transcription from a copy of the original letter in the private collection of the Gorman family (http://storytailorlegends.blogspot.com/2010/09/gormans-swedish-connection.html accessed: 2014.11.06).
  2. Norman P. Carlson, The Civil War in M. Lorimer Moe Saga from the Hills, 1983,  p 216.  Carlson bases his estimate on Lannes (46 Swedes mentioned) and a review of George D. Graham’s list for Swedish names.  Nels Hokanson’s Swedish Immigrants in Lincoln’s Time, 1942 also relies on this methodology of “Swedish Names” and arrives at 51 Swedes.  The more complex historical reality is that not all Andersons, Johnsons and Samuelsons were Swedes nor were all men named Augustus, etc.  Anglicized names like Jones, Smith, Baker, Brown, Lake, et al, were so frequent in this early period of immigration (1850-1855) that it is insufficient to identify Swedes in Muster Rolls simply by their names.  The recent availability of digitized images of original documents makes this research much easier.  Nevertheless, I have been surprised how difficult documenting the Swedish origin of Civil War soldiers and sailors remains. 
  3. The compilation by Dolores Davidson (Chautuaqua County Genweb, 2003-4) proves useful because its multiple entries under a single name highlight the confusion/complexity in this research.