New working title? — Luther’s Dear Angels in Swede Town: Redemption and Table Fellowship in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860″
Tom Emery, “Q-C area Swedes played role in Civil War,” Moline Dispatch-Rock Island Argus, Sept. 21, 2013 https://qconline.com/news/illinois/q-c-area-swedes-played-role-in-civil-war/article_da991c6f-a524-50cc-b062-9b88d120b296.html.
Dr. Dag Blanck, director of the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, also cites the political leanings of Swedish in Illinois. “An overwhelming majority of Swedish immigrants supported the Republican Party and President Lincoln,” said Blanck. “The issue of slavery played a significant role, but the view of Lincoln as a self-made man from humble origins also made them strong supporters of the Union.”
Swedish immigrants comprised nearly three entire companies, all of which later fought at Shiloh in April 1862. One was the Swedish Union Guard of Bishop Hill, which became Company D of the 57th Illinois Infantry. The Bishop Hill company included Eric Johnson, the son of Bishop Hill Colony founder Erik Jansson, and blacksmith Olof Krans, who later became a renowned folk artist. In 1896, Krans began a series of paintings from memory of his youth in Bishop Hill.
In Knox County, a company of Swedes became the Galesburg Light Guards and mustered as Company C of the 43rd Illinois, a regiment composed primarily of Germans. Of the original 103 recruits in the company, 29 died of wounds or disease, and another 30 were discharged for disability.
A third Swedish company was recruited from the Chicago and Quad-Cities areas and became Battery H of the First Illinois Light Artillery. Commanded by Capt. Axel Silfversparre, the company was trained in the Swedish artillery tactics that Silfversparre had learned in service back home. The captain, however, was acquitted in two court-martials and resigned in 1863.
He transferred to another unit but was captured and spent 10 months at the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond. However, he managed to bribe a guard and escape, making his way to Wilmington, N.C., disguised as a Confederate officer. For the rest of the war, he remained in disguise, presumably to save himself, and served as an engineer on a Confederate blockade runner. He later became a successful civil engineer and reportedly drew up the plans for the new city of Denver.
Stolbrand, Silfversparre and Malmborg all were veterans of the Swedish military, with varying degrees of success.
“There are several examples of Swedes with a military background who came to the U.S. during both the Revolutionary and Civil wars,” said Blanck. “Sweden was at peace, and America provided an opportunity to gain military experience.”
Some Illinois Swedish served in other states, as a handful enlisted in such units as the 15th Wisconsin Infantry. The exploits of the Swedish soldiers were well-covered in Swedish-interest newspapers such as the Hemlandet, established in Galesburg in 1855.
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and researcher who lives in Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
George M. Stephenson, Review of Swedish Immigrants in Lincoln’s Time, by Nels Hokanson, Journal of American History, 30, no. 1 (1943), 117, https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/30.1.117Published: 01 June 1943