I am looking for ways to determine whether Civil War soldiers were hired mercenaries. I know the name of my great-great grandfather only from a census record when he was living with his son. From that 1880 census I also have his approximate age. From city directories I know he lived in Philadelphia from 1875 - 1891. His son Emanuel (my great-grandfather), when being interviewed after being awarded a silver star, told stories to the reporter of "his grandfather who fought against Napoleon at Waterloo, or of his father who fought for the Union under Lincoln and later ag[ai]nst France under Bismar[c]k." (From newsclipping). Emanuel told those same stories to my father as a child. These are my only hints to find my great-great grandfather, or anyone before him in that line.

Supposing the war stories told by my great-grandfather about his father are true, how could I go about finding a Frederick Ziegler who fought in the Civil War (there were many) from Württemberg (still quite a few) but who was a paid mercenary who returned to Germany to fight in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871)? While it is possible he immigrated and joined the army right off the boat, it seems more likely that he was a paid mercenary because he returned (according to the stories) to Germany to fight in the Franco-Prussian War.

Any suggestions?

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    Catherine, this a good question. However, I assume you mean the US Civil War so I've edited the title accordingly
    – user104
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 17:24
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    Catherine comments, "I know nothing about him except his children, 1 census, and stories." genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1686/… My suggestion is that you (a) focus on a question (or a series of questions) that will lead to a more complete identification of your Frederick Ziegler. Then, when he has been more fully identified, inquire more about a service record overseas. In the mean time, the current question could be re-written as, "Did German mercenaries serve in the US Civil war?
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 15:40
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    Of course Lincoln hired mercenaries- and specifically German ones- any US Civil War armchair historian knows that. My problem is I cannot narrow down the Frederick Zieglers of German ancestry who served in the Union armed forces. If I could narrow it down by a list of which regiments/companies etc were mercenaries, or contained mercenaries, I might be able to narrow down which F.Ziegler was mine. I was inquiring how to determine if soldier in the US Civil War was a mercenary, which if some designation exists would help me narrow it down. Otherwise I have exhausted all other avenues.
    – Catherine
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 16:51
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    And the book The German soldier in the wars of the United States by Rosengarten, while it names regiments with soldiers of German ancestry, does not make any distinction for mercenaries, so practically every F. Ziegler in the Union armed forces was in one of those regiments, simply by being from a State with a large proportion of German immigrants.
    – Catherine
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 16:57
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    Is it possible that he returned to fight in the Franco-Prussian war for patriotic or personal reasons, rather than for money? Have you taken any steps to investigate this from the German end?
    – user104
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


From my understanding of the American Civil War, which isn't that great I admit, but have been doing some reading for this thread.

  • The Union armies consisted mainly of American Volunteers & drafted soldiers as well as Immigrant volunteers.
  • While the south was less successful in attracting Immigrant recruits, thousands of immigrant mercenaries served in the confederate armies.

So if this information stands up to historical scrutiny then it would stand to reason that if your Great Great Grandfather was living in Philadelphia (so I assume that he would have fought for the Union?) it seems less likely that he was a mercenary and more likely that he was an Immigrant volunteer.

As to going about checking for records as to if he was in fact a paid mercenary or an Immigrant volunteer / draftee, then from what I have read there seems to be no (surviving) records or documents other than a few written personal accounts from the time.

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