Colonel Kozlay’s regimental journal (http://dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/54thInf/54thInfKozlayJournal1.htm) is a fascinating document. It is not what one would expect and challenges the preconceptions of who the “German” soldiers were. We rejoin Kozlay and the 54th New York in October 1861. Kozlay was originally determined the “German division” of Louis Blenker, even writing to Blenker before his departure for Washington; however, the 54th was ordered to serve under a General Casey instead. In the course of 24 hours, Kozlay is encouraged by one Hungarian to join Blenker’s division (with the added bonus that this Hungarian will receive a Brigadier General’s commission upon the transfer) and discouraged from transferring by another Hungarian who describes gambling, swindling and financial shenanigans by officers including Blenker.
Kozlay actually decided it would be best to stay in Casey’s command, but four days later he receives the orders he originally desired—to transfer the 54th to Blenker’s division. By November 20, the 54th’s officers had petitioned General McClellan to serve anywhere but with Blenker. Kozlay himself offered his resignation in an attempt to save his regiment. At first refused, he insisted his resignation be accepted. He returned to New York in early December, but conditions in the 54th deteriorated so badly during his absence that he received a new commission on December 11 and returned to Virginia.
“I have no doubt that I will have plenty of trouble with Steinwehr.” So wrote Kozlay shortly after New Years Day 1862. The officers who ran the regiment during Kozlay’s absence were notorious drunks who were probably unsuitable for any command, yet they were considered to be protected by Blenker and the brigade commander Adolph von Steinwehr. Kozlay does not object to putting rumors to paper in his journal, yet, even with those officers of whom he does not seem particularly fond, he tries to be objective. For example, in January 1862, he refuses to characterize Steinwehr’s military qualifications as good or bad but does note he has never seen Steinwehr’s brigade at drill. Of Blenker he says his staff is more to blame for the negative, if not criminal, atmosphere, and that Blenker seems a good man whose weakness is covering up others’ failings to preserve his division’s public reputation.
Kozlay spent much of the winter trying to rid the 54th New York of incompetent and mischievous officers. If, according to him, his superiors interfered with courts-martial, then he would appeal to President Lincoln. At the end of February, Kozlay notes, his disgust with Steinwehr increases such that he submits a report to Blenker recommending that Steinwehr be reprimanded for unmilitary conduct. True to Kozlay’s portrayal of him, however, Blenker solves this problem by detaching the 54th from Steinwehr’s brigade and leaving Steinwehr’s reported misconduct alone. By March the regiment is assigned to Bohlen’s brigade and later that month begins its march to the Shenandoah Valley. In my next post, I’ll give Kozlay’s account of the regiment’s participation in the 1862 Valley Campaign including the battle of Cross Keys.
So, here is a prime example of how the conventional wisdom of Civil War history would make it seem that those with the same cultural or ethnic background stuck together; that Germans would not be arguing with Germans but would only be fighting the prejudice of “native” Americans. Yet Kozlay finds it incredible that “Germans persecute germans, and slander each other.” A primary source such as Kozlay’s journal tells us these things. Insisting on objective research uncovers these thoughts, which are not found in most, if any, secondary sources.