A Very Civil War: The Swiss Sonderbund War of 1847


A Very Civil War is the dramatic but little-known story of Switzerland's civil war of 1847, the Sonderbundskrieg. This conflict, as much as any other single event, inspired the revolutionaries of 1848 to action. As the German poet Ferdinand Freiligrath wrote at the time: "In the highlands was the first shot fired./What now, we still are waiting./But I know that there will be/A new burst of liberty." Remak's is the first complete account of an important but much neglected turning point in Swiss and in European history. What will be most striking to American readers of Remak's lucid account are the similarities to and the contrasts with our own Civil War. Each war was crucial to its nation's subsequent history, and both in essence were fought over the same issues- federal power versus states' rights, the preservation of the Union, and the defense of certain ways of life. Yet Switzerland's was a war that, unlike its American counterpart, was fought with a minimum of violence. The war that might have destroyed Swiss union instead contributed to a sense of cohesion and established a firm foundation for modern Swiss society. The Swiss Civil War settled the great issues of nationhood at a cost of fewer than a hundred dead and lasted less than three weeks. There was no implacable Swiss Sherman, bent on the utter destruction of the enemy. Instead, General Guillaume Henri Dufour, commander in chief of the Federal Forces, chose to outmaneuver his opponents rather than outfight them. The Sonderbund War was also notable for the constant regard shown by the armies on both sides for the rights of noncombatants (General Dufour went on to help found the International Red Cross), and the conflict was followed by quick, genuine, and lasting reconciliation. This lavishly illustrated book, the first account in English of this "very civil war," is based on Professor Remak's extensive, original research in Swiss archives.


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