Were the 1848 Socialists the Real Backbone of the Union Army?

by Al Benson Jr.

This is one of those nagging little questions the “history” books will never bother to answer, not even address, if their authors can avoid it. Fully 95% of the information dealing with the “Forty-eighter” socialists involvement in the Union army and the early Republican Party has been carefully swept into a nice, neat little pile and quietly dumped down the memory hole. It is fervently hoped by most public educators that most students will continue on in their programmed ignorance, not even knowing in what century the War of Northern Aggression was fought in, nor what the real issues were.

That way none of the educrats parading as historians will ever have to answer any embarrassing questions. But, here and there, some little tidbit, like a dust bunny caught in the breeze, manages to avoid the memory hole and comes back to haunt the educrats.

Years ago, when researching for our book Lincoln’s Marxists I came across an interesting quote from Friedrich Engels that was noted in his biography, Friedrich Engels written by Gustav Mayer and published back in 1936 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Whatever else he was, Engels was a keen observer and Mayer noted his comments regarding the two armies, Northern and Southern, at the beginning of the War. Engels had observed that: “…at first neither side had a real army, and their was an appalling lack of trained officers; and (as Engels pointed out) had it not been for the experienced soldiers who entered America after the European revolution–especially from Germany–the organization of the Union army would have taken still longer than it did.” Stop and analyze that statement.

Some have analyzed the number of men in the Union army at the start of the War to be around 15,000 men, coming from all over the country. When the Southern states legally seceded many of those men went south to fight for their states. Thus the size of the Union army, not large to begin with, was further reduced. It has been estimated that between 4-5000 Forty-eighter socialists fled to this country as their revolutionary activities in Europe started to wind down. Not all ended up being soldiers, but a lot did. What Engels was telling us is that, at the start of the War, the backbone of the Union army was the Forty-eighter socialists! Now that’s from an original source who was around at the time. Maybe Engels may have been prone to exaggerate a little, but there is still an element of truth in his statement. The Union army, at the beginning of the War, had lots of Forty-eighter socialists in it–some of whom became generals before too long. There was a real socialist faction in the Union army at the war’s start, which remained throughout. I don’t ever recall seeing this in any history book about the War I ever read. Did the “historians” just miss this aspect, or was it omitted intentionally. lest such a fact raise lots of questions as to what the War was really all about–and folks, it wasn’t slavery. Class struggle might just be closer to it.

One way you can note the socialist influence on the Union armies was by the amount of Southern private property destroyed, the number of Southern churches either burned or turned into stables for Yankee horses, and quite possibly the number of Southern women, both black and white, that were raped. The socialists abhorred the concept of private property. To them it was anathema. So, destroying it in the South was second nature to them–except for what the could steal, which was alright, because then it has been rescued in the name of “the people.”

If you depend on the miserable “history” texts in most public schools you will seldom learn any of this. There is a good chance that the Union army,  at   the beginning of the War, was about 30-40% socialist. That’s sure not what I was taught in school, but, then, the history books I was taught from mostly lied to me, and I don’t think all that much has changed regarding history books.

The socialist/communist influence over the War and the early Republican Party has only begun to be explored and more work needs to be done. Walter Kennedy and I have sought to make a start with Lincoln’s Marxists. It is our hope and prayer that this will make a difference and that others will carry on.