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While trying to unify the various Germanic states under its banner, Prussia was involved in the American Civil War. There were several members of the military elite of Prussia that served as both officers and enlisted men in both armies. There were also official military observers sent to the North American continent to observe the tactics of both armies, which were later studied by future military leaders of Prussia and unified Germany.

Among the effects Prussia had on the war was the new saddle used by the Union cavalry: Union General George McClellan had studied Prussian saddles and used them as a basis for his McClellan saddle.[1]


Justus Scheibert was a Prussian military observer who for seven months followed Robert E. Lee's actions at several battles, including the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Upon returning to Prussia in 1864, Scheibert wrote down his observations and placed them in several of Prussia's best libraries. From there what Scheibert learned helped Prussia and later unified Germany in five different wars.[2]

Six generals who fought for the Union were Prussian-born. Karl Leopold Matthies was involved in charging Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee, only to be wounded. Alexander Schimmelfennig avoided capture for two days at the Battle of Gettysburg by hiding in a pigsty. Among those that assisted Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in his March to the Sea in Georgia was the Prussian Peter J. Osterhaus. August Willich was captured at the Battle of Stones River, and was wounded at the Battle of Resaca. The others were abolitionist Carl Schurz and Frederick Salomon, brother of the wartime governor of Wisconsin Edward Salomon.[3]

In the south, a future military leader of Prussia was gaining first hand experience. The son of the King of Prussia's chamberlain, Baron Robert von Massow served under John S. Mosby in Mosby's 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, known as Mosby's Raiders. Massow would later serve as commander of the German IX Corps just prior to World War I.[4]

Official action[]

Most of the small German states were too interested in the current events of Europe to concern themselves with the American war, although they did tend to sympathize more with the Union's attempt to defeat the Confederacy. As major powers, Prussia and its rival Germanic state, the Austrian Empire, were more interested, but on the whole they were still less involved in the war than Great Britain and France.[5] In regard to Sherman's actions in Georgia, Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke said that "an armed mob" had nothing of value to be learned from. In response, Sherman compared Moltke to an "ass".[6]

In 1862 the British foreign secretary Lord John Russell tried to have Prussia take part along with France and Russia to seek an armistice to end the war, but for naught.[7]


  1. O'Brien p.62
  2. Scheibert p.xi,xii
  3. Cartmell p.85
  4. Mackey p.82
  5. Heidler p.718
  6. Glatthaar p.91
  7. Heidler p.1685


  • Cartmell, Donald (2001). The Civil War book of lists. Career Press. ISBN 1564145042. Retrieved 25 April 2009. 
  • Glatthaar, Joseph (2001). The American Civil War: the war in the West, 1863-1865. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841762423. 
  • Heidler, David (2002). Encyclopedia Of The American Civil War. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 039304758X. 
  • Mackey, Robert (2005). The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806137363. 
  • O'Brien, Cormac (2007). Secret Lives of the Civil War: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the War Between the States. Quirk Books. ISBN 1594741387. 
  • Scheibert, Justus (2001). Frederic Trautmann. ed. A Prussian observes the American Civil War: the military studies of Justus Scheibert. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0826213480. 

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