Note: Is is estimated that some 6,000 Norwegian immigrants participated as soldiers or sailors in the American Civil War, a large number in proportion to the relatively small population of new residents who had come from Norway by 1861. Anxiety over the war, as well as panic among white settlers caused by the sudden outbreak in 1862 by Minnesota’s Dakota Indians, are reflected in this anonymously-written letter. It was sent by an immigrant in Dodge County and published in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet, on 22 November 1862. (Theodore C. Blegen quotes the letter briefly on p. 406 of his book, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, pub. 1940.) (See also http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAEnorway.htm More documentation to be added.)
Letter of 1862 from Dodge County, Minnesota
At this time life is not very pleasant in this so-called wonderful America. The country is full of danger, and at no time do we feel any security for our lives or property. Next month (October) there is to be a levy of soldiers for military service, and our county alone is to supply 118 men, in addition to those who have already enlisted as volunteers.
Last week we, therefore, all had to leave our harvesting work and our weeping wives and children and appear at the place of enlistment, downcast and worried. We waited until 6 o’clock in the afternoon. Then, finally, the commissioner arrived, accompanied by a band, which continued playing for a long time to encourage us and give us a foretaste of the joys of war. But we thought only of its sorrows, and despite our reluctance, had to give our name and age. To tempt people to enlist as volunteers, everybody who would volunteer was offered $225, out of which $125 is paid by the county and $100 by the state.
Several men then enlisted, Yankees and Norwegians; and we others, who preferred to stay at home and work for our wives and children, were ordered to be ready at the next levy. Then who is to go will be decided by drawing lots. In the meantime, we were forbidden to leave the country without special permission, and we were also told that no one would get a passport to leave the country. Dejected, we went home, and now we are in a mood of uncertainty and tension, almost like prisoners of war in the formerly do free country. Our names have been taken down – perhaps I shall be a soldier next month and have to leave my home, my wife, child, and everything I have been working for over so many years.
But this is not the worst of it. We have another and far more cruel enemy nearby, namely, the Indians. They are raging, especially in northwestern Minnesota, and perpetrate cruelties which no pen can describe. Every day, settlers come through here who have had to abandon everything they owned to escape a most painful death. Several Norwegians have been killed and many women have been captured.
From this you may see how we live: on the one hand, the prospect of being carried off as cannon fodder to the South; on the other, the imminent danger of falling prey to the Indians; add to this the heavy war tax and everybody has to pay whether he is enlisted as a soldier or not. You are better off who can live at home in peaceful Norway. God grant us patience and fortitude to bear these heavy burdens.