by Al Benson Jr.
Some folks who have read Donnie Kennedy’s and my book Lincoln’s Marxists have intimated that we were blowing a lot of hot air when it came to the Forty-Eighters we wrote about–those socialist/communist revolutionaries from Europe that came over here after their revolts failed in Europe in 1848-49. After all, it was something they’d never read about in their “history” books, and it went against their grain to read what we said about their secular deity the Great Socialist er, sorry, I meant the Great Emancipator.
I have to admit, the history of the Forty-Eighters has been pretty well kept out of the “history” books, and not altogether by accident. This was brought home to me recently by a friend in Georgia, L. L. Barfield, who has been both a teacher and an author. She’s on my email list so she receives all the articles I do on most anything.
Some of what I have written about the Forty-Eighters on this blog has really caught her attention because she had a Confederate ancestor who was a POW during the War. I will let her speak to this: “Today, my old friend, Al Benson, sent documented information about the Union army of the War Between the States that I had hardly known about! Grandpa Barfield (her Confederate ancestor) was twice a Union prisoner. At Fort Delaware, he was left for dead by the Union, but friends held him up and walked him away from the prison in an exchange, leaving the Union to declare in their official records that he had died! Grandpa Barfield said that Germans were their guards and shot at random as they pleased,killing whomever they aimed at.” That sounds about right. German guards, not American guards–and the commandant of the POW camp at Fort Delaware was Albin Schoepf, one of the Forty-Eighters who was a Hungarian socialist.
Barfield has been a teacher and she said: “You should believe that I have been familiar with almost every ‘Civil War history book’ that Georgia school children have been taught from the 1950s…in the 60s…and years later in the 70s! None of the information that Al has written in this essay was ever, ever taught or published for school children, in primary, secondary, and even on the college level, where I received a degree in Secondary Ed, majoring in history. I had heavy doses of Civil War history! I know for certain that none of this is in present public school material.” So here is a lady that is familiar with school history books in her state, at all levels. She majored in history in college and she never saw anything about the Forty-Eighters in any of her history books. I don’t know about you but that makes me wonder. Also, another lady, awhile back sent me her old college history book and it was the same story–Nothing about the Forty-Eighters and their influence on the early Republican Party and in the Union armies during the War–and their influence was considerable. For the general public the Forty-Eighters are the “hidden people.” You are not supposed to be aware they even existed let alone influenced one of your major political parties and that they were present during the War of Northern Aggression. If you knew that, it might change your whole outlook as to what was really going on during that war–which was hardly a “noble crusade” to free the slaves. If you do happen to find out about them, then all you are supposed to know is that a small number of them fought for “freedom” in Europe before they came here.
And Barfield has credentials. She has had five books published and at present is the chairman of an important foundation’s research and history committee, so she knows whereof she writes. Yet she recognizes that she was never told the whole story and she did not connect her grandfather’s comments about German guards with anything until she read some of the articles on my blog spot. At that point she began to connect the dots, and the German guards at a Yankee POW camp began to make sense.
I have often said that you get more history out of biographies than you do from history books. A friend in Illinois told me this years ago and I found it to be true. The same holds true for books written about a particular subject. They go into depth in areas the history books just can’t or won’t cover.
Years ago I bought a book called Germans for a Free Missouri which dealt with articles from radical leftist papers in St. Louis, Missouri from 1857-1862. In the introduction Steven Rowan noted, quite accurately, that: “The Forty-eighters were largely religious skeptics or freethinkers at a time when many Germans still took their confessions quite seriously.” In other words, they were unbelievers who held the Christian faith in contempt. Rowan also observed: “For better or worse, the Republican Party would be the chief channel by which the Forty-eighters entered the mainstream of American politics. Their contribution to the formation of the radical wing of that party is a story that has not yet found its historian.” He wrote that in 1983. Lincoln’s Marxists was first published in 2007, and then a second and enlarged edition was published in 2011 by Pelican Publishing in Gretna, Louisiana. Donnie Kennedy and I have sought to make up for that history of those “hidden people” that had never been published with our book. Lord willing we have a least made a start that others can carry further.
The goal of the Forty-Eighters was to complete the socialist/communist revolution in this country that they had been unable to complete in Europe,and the Republican Party was the main vehicle that enabled them to do that. And if you think they weren’t successful just take a look at what you have in Washington today. And as much as current Republicans claim they don’t like it, they are more than willing to go along with it, which tells you where they are really at. So start learning the history. You won’t be able to connect the dots and put it all together until you know the history–at least more of it than the “history” books will ever give you.