Max Kade German-American Center, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis & Indiana German Heritage Society

Volume 15 (2005)

Antonius Holtmann

A Lost American Dream

Civil War Letters (1862/63) of Immigrant Theodor Heinrich Brandes in Historical Contexts

Translated by Eberhard Reichmann

NCSA Literatur
430 Kelp Grove Road, Nashville, IN 47448
(109 pp.,  ISBN 1-880788-15-2, $12.95)



“The river of history carries off the stories of individuals and drowns them. The wave of forgetting wipes them from the memory of the world. Writing means, among other things, to walk alongside the river, travel upstream, rescue shipwrecked failures and find some flotsam again that was caught at water´s edge, in order to give it a temporary home on a Noah`s ark of paper” (Claudio Magris).

Theodor Heinrich Brandes looked at war as being an utter humbug. Nevertheless, in 1862 he enlisted in the Union Army voluntarily and as a substitute. Through the promise of rewards for such military service he wanted to achieve his American dream: a modest life in peace for his family.

The introduction presents Brandes` social background and life in mid-19th century northwest Germany before his emigration to the U.S.A. in 1853. His immigrant experience of new socio-economic conditions in Cincinnati and Indiana is meticulously reconstructed for the time leading to the tragedy of the Civil War.

The letters, kept by a descendant, the late Emma Wallpe of Oldenburg, IN, are embedded in the actions of the 83rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the campaigns leading to the siege of Vicksburg under the command of Generals Grant and Sherman.

Disease took Brandes` life four weeks before he would have been honorably discharged from the army. He belongs to the “millions of victims who, throughout time have perished in unspeakable and cruel circumstances, . . . have fallen into oblivion without a trace in the annals of world history” (Claudio Magris).

Numerous illustrations and an extensive bibliography add greatly to this work.

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