If I asked you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind when I say the phrase “brother versus brother,” it would surprise me to no end if you did not parry back with “The War Between the States.” It would be equally surprising to me if this phrase “brother verses brother” was not one of the first ways every grade school social studies teacher in the United States began to describe Lincoln’s war to their students. We are all familiar with this time-honored colloquialism and while the expression certainly holds true to a certain extent, it is very peculiar that this same narrative is never applied to the previous conflict just eighty-five years prior.
Perhaps applying this same narrative would somehow undermine one of America’s founding myths? By identifying the snarling redcoat stormtrooper as not only a familiar and oft-welcomed friend -but as a son or cousin or brother – would that make George Washington any less valiant? No, it would not, but it may have made King George less scary to future generations. That was not something the a newly established Republic could afford, especially during the westward expansion of the early 19th century and with the large influx of a non-Protestant immigrant population. The United States, in its infancy, needed unity, a very clear “us” and an even clearer “them.”
The American Revolution, or the Second English Civil War to the more initiated, was truly a brother’s war. Whereas, the War Between the States was a much more ethnically diversified battlefield. For instance, entire infantries on the Union side were composed of immigrants. Most everyone with a passing knowledge of the war knows that there were 150,000 Irish volunteers to the Union side, but fewer know of the some 200,000 more German immigrants who volunteered for the same side; even fewer know of the Marxist underpinnings of many of these German immigrants fleeing the Revolutions of 1848 in the old countries of Europe. The Union Army’s XI Corps was formed with the expressed intent of recruiting German speaking immigrants. Major General Franz Sigel, a German born military officer who was hand-picked by Lincoln for his Marxist politics would have to have his orders translated from German to Hungarian so his officers in the field could act on those orders. These men were not the brothers of Jackson and Lee, nor any of the men who marched under the Southern flag, and it showed in their performance during the Shenandoah campaign.
Some may counter that these immigrant soldiers were not a proper representation of the demographics of the Union Army and they would be wrong. More than half of the Union Army were not of the original founding Anglo, Scottish or Dutch stock. In addition to the over 350,000 German and Irish troops, 200,000 negroes, 40,000 French Canadian and a virtual hodgepodge of other nationalities estimated at nearly another 250,000 troops that filled the ranks of the Federal forces. In this day and age an army of this nature would be called the United Nations Peace Keeping Force and light blue helmets would replace the dark blue kepi on the heads of these foreign-born mercenaries sent to quell a rebellious foe.
Standing in stark contrast to this diversity found on the side of the Union in the War Between the States is the absolute homogeneity on both sides of the American Revolution. In South Carolina alone, there were 137 instances of combat. Out of that number 105 instances, South Carolinians exchanged volleys, and at one another!
Transitioning from the field of battle to the realm of politics – Peyton Randolph, the first President of the Continental Congress and nearly the first President of the United States had death not elected him sooner, had a brother who bore the nickname John “The Tory” Randolphv for his decision to sail back to England at the onset of the rebellion and not return until his death, his dying wish to be buried in his beloved home country of Virginia. Their father before them, Sir John Randolph of Tazewell Hall, held the rank of Knight. The bulk of the Colonial fighting force was composed of the Puritan descendants turned Congregationalist of New England. The blood flowing through their puritan veins was the same blood flowing through the veins of General William Howe, perhaps this explains his treating of the war with kid gloves, but that is another article for another day. The youngest enlisted man in Washington’s Army would have only been three or maybe four generations removed from England at most. The men who wore red in the American Revolution were more kin to George Washington or Nathanael Greene than over half of the great “American” army of the 1860s.
It is both sad and telling that this fact is so little known or either being purposely obfuscated by those who write the curricula taught to pupils nationwide. Instead of embracing this ethnic kinship with learning and understanding, these same pupils have an anti-British sentiment instilled into the very fabric of who they are from the very first time they are exposed to this subject, as is required by the founding myth of these United States. Due in part to this anti-Anglo posturing in public education, we now have a situation where the founding stock of this country is now becoming an increasingly despised and numerically inferior population. The same anti-British tropes of “stuffy old white men in powdered wigs” or “boring tea drinkers” that were taught to us, along with the narrative of “They’re not like us, we are different!” is wielded as an axe, carving out our very own identity by chopping away at our roots. It is now being used to fell the final tree we have left standing, ourselves.
The acute irony of it all is that future historians will probably call those left holding the axe our “brothers,” as we lie at their feet to rest in the ruins they will build upon.