Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Stonewall's Prussian Mapmaker: The Journals of Captain Oscar Hinrichs

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Stonewall's Prussian Mapmaker: The Journals of Captain Oscar Hinrichs

Article excerpt

Stonewall's Prussian Mapmaker: The Journals of Captain Oscar Hinrichs. Ed. by Richard Brady Williams. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2014. Pp. ix, 392, illustrations, maps, appendices, bibliography, index. Cloth, $45-oo.)

Oscar Hinrichs was more than a mapmaker. In his wartime journals, edited by independent historian Richard Brady Williams, he guides readers through the unknown territory of the rebel army and the Confederate states, locating both the famous and the forgotten on the fields of war, and by his words illustrates the landscape of the times. His words, in part translated from German, have the precise detail of the maps he and his colleagues produced for the military.

It is a stereotype of Civil War history that German-Americans, especially those who had recently escaped the oppression of the fatherland, were progressive, pro-Union, and opposed to slavery. The German community in St. Louis, for example, is often credited with keeping Missouri in the Union. But there were exceptions, and Oscar Hinrichs was one. Leaving behind his German birthplace while an infant, Hinrichs grew up in New York. Before the war, he became a cartographer for the Coast Survey. His tour of duty in North and South Carolina, mapping the coastal features, and his Southern stepmother, in large part influenced his decision to join the rebellion along with his Southern friends. He reported he was frustrated that he could cheer the rebel victory at First Bull Run surrounded by Yankees. The federal government did not want him to leave even to the point of employing a detective to trail him. He managed to slip the surveillance and in a kind of reverse Underground Railroad was aided to travel south and cross into Confederate territory. Helping him smuggle himself were members of the Surratt family, who later played a pivotal role in the Booth conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln.

Once safely in the South, Hinrichs joined the army at the beginning of 1862 despite some suspicions that he might be a northern spy. …

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