Saturday, February 6, 2021



As most people know, General McClellan was early on given charge over the Northern Army by Lincoln.  However, McClellan was extremely cautious and slow; so much so that Lincoln eventually replaced him.  One of the most colorful units in McClellan's army was that led by General Louis Blenker, a soldier of fortune, "and his men were known as Germans, too, this being the current generic term for immigrants of all origins except Ireland.  But the fact was, they were almost everything: Algerians, Cossacks, Sepoys, Turks, Croats, Swiss, French Foreign Legionnaires, and a Garibaldi regiment with a Hungarian colonel, one d'Utassy, who had begun his career as a circus rider and was to end it as an inmate of Sing Sing.  Blenker affected a red-lined cape and a headquarters tent made of 'double folds of bluish material, restful to the eye,' where the shout, "Ordinans numero eins!" was the signal for serving of champagne.  His soldiers got lager beer and there was a prevailing aroma of sauerkraut around the company messes."  [from page 272 of Shelby Foote's The Civil War, Fort Sumter to Perryville]

I had to stop there and wonder about the sauerkraut.  Growing up, I never tasted sauerkraut until my mother married her second husband Welker Williams from Kentucky.  Her first husband, my father, she knew from high school and (I suppose) they liked the same sort of food, but Welk liked sauerkraut.  My brother, sister and I on the other hand, hated it.  I do recall his saying it was a German dish, and since it was assumed we were German with the German-sounding Helm as a last name, he thought we should learn to like German food. 

Unbeknownst to any of us at the time,  I later learned, thanks to, that we had DNA that was nearly 100% from the Britain, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  There was a smidgen identified as Northern Europe that could contain some German, but it could as easily have been French or Dutch.  In any case, I have always hated sauerkraut.

I wonder now about the sauerkraut.  Did it come here along with just German immigrants?  Louis Blenker was German, but if there was a "prevailing aroma of sauerkraut around the company messes," others besides Blenker probably liked it . . . shudder . . . hideous stuff.

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