Corporal Ludwig Wilhelm Kühner explains the reason for the American Civil War

Boyd Cemetery in Maiden, N.C.
“I hope that right prevails.” — Corporal Keener (Dec. 22, 1861)

My German paternal ancestors came to the New World in the mid-Eighteenth Century. They settled in the Carolina backcountry, and the family eventually fought in the American Revolution (on both sides) and owned slaves. At least two of their descendants served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, which I have written about previously. But neither of them had anything to say about why they fought in this “miserable war” (Alexander Keener).

Two other members of the Kühner clan arrived in 1851. Ludwig Wilhelm Kühner and his older brother, Karl, settled in northern Ohio where “there are nothing but Germans for 3 or 4 miles and a schoolhouse where things are lively and just like at home” (according to his sister-in-law) among a region dominated by New Englanders who were Abolitionists and Republicans.

These Nineteenth Century Kühner immigrants quickly assimilated and became Keeners. A decade later they both “signed up, we weren’t drafted, nor were we tempted by money or the excitement” for service in the Union Army. There was simply “nothing else we can do if we want to preserve freedom for ourselves and our children.”

While Private Rabb “didn’t know much about the issue,” except that his “father was no slave owner and that issue never came into my mind,” Corporal Lewis William Keener knew what he was getting into from the beginning.

“Freedom and slavery can’t exist side by side, one of the two will be abolished.” — Corporal Keener (Dec. 22, 1861)

Near the end of the war, he reflected on the black soldiers he had fought alongside…

“I think the war will be over soon, we beat the South in every battle last year and have taken many cities away from them, they have all the white men they have in the field, and now they want to make their slaves into soldiers, but the slaves know well enough that the North is their friend and defect to us. We have a lot of black soldiers who used to be slaves, they make good soldiers.” — Corporal Keener (February 14, 1865) as quoted by Walter D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich (2009)

But Lewis knew what had caused the war when he signed up…

“The reason for this war is slavery.” — Corporal Keener (Dec. 22, 1861)

Which also may explain why my Confederate ancestors either didn’t write about the cause of the war at the time (Alexander) or “didn’t know much about the issue” in retrospect (Rabb).

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