April 12th marks the sesquicentennial/150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

Retired Macalester Religious Studies Prof. Cal Roetzel has been translating Civil War letters for 20 years. These are not usual letters, however.  These letters came from a Prussian immigrant, whose parents left their home country in 1850 to avoid conscription for their sons, only to have all three enlist in America’s Civil War.

Roetzel came to these letters from his wife who’s a great-granddaughter of Private Henry Hoberg’s, the soldier who wrote the letters.

Roetzel maintains these letters tell a different story than the usual Civil War tale. He calls these “The Civil War from the Bottom Up…Letters in German from Union Private Holberg.”

Holberg was a Union soldier for three “dark and dreadful” years.  During that time, the war claimed one of his brothers.  Roetzel says the private’s letters were images of “terror, frustration, heartbreak and a simple and dogged devotion to duty.”

The 10 letters consist of seven Henry wrote to his sister and her husband, two from his brothers-in-law sent to him at war’s end, a copy of a popular Civil War ballad in which he attached as a note, and finally a letter written 63 years after the war to his daughter, two months before he died.

April 4 2011

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