Between 1840 and 1880, more than ten million people immigrated to the United States. Most were Europeans—predominantly from Ireland, the German-speaking countries and principalities of central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Great Britain. Although the chaos of the Civil War curbed the flood of immigration somewhat, hundreds of thousands continued to arrive. During the war years, the nation—especially the Union states and territories—was assimilating the 4.2 million immigrants who arrived between 1840 and 1860. Although the circumstances of life in their countries of origin differed, most immigrant women and men left their homelands because of inhospitable economic conditions and because the possibility of prosperity and advancement in their native lands was poor.
From the outbreak of hostilities, European immigrants were vital to the war effort. Large numbers of Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrant men voluntarily enlisted or were drafted into both the Union and Confederate militaries. And in the North, especially, immigrant male and female workers kept agricultural and industrial production at peak levels.
Despite differences, all immigrant groups formed close-knit communities, whether in the cities or in rural areas. They established their own churches and preferred to form their own schools, primarily to pass on religious and cultural teachings. They worked hard to acquire capital, property, and, in many cases, land. Although men were the most involved in establishing civic, public, and religious organizations, the correspondence of female immigrants indicates that women of all ethnic groups formed close bonds with other immigrant women of their own nationalities. These cooperative female networks helped women to accul-