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August Wentz

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Patriotism can sometimes be devoted to an idea as well as to a country. Take the German immigrants who settled in Davenport, Iowa, just across the river in 1848. That year, 250 of them arrived to build new lives after the failure of the revolution in Germany. They were the first of many others from Schleswig-Holstein who came to Davenport.

The Schleswig-Holsteiners were financially stable, cultured and well educated, eager to be good citizens, and eager also for the good life America promised. They built a cultural hall, and soon Davenport was alive with music and theater. Unfortunately, they arrived just in time to be drawn into the dark events leading to our Civil War. They had every right to bemoan their timing.

Not so these immigrants. They believed in freedom. The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the Dred Scott Decision in 1857, and the execution of John Brown on December 2, 1859, galvanized the Germans into action. They were even ready to fight in "bleeding Kansas" over a cause they had merely inherited as new Americans.

When the news of Fort Sumter reached Davenport on April 13th, 1861, along with Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers, the Germans were ready. By April 16th, they had already raised a company of soldiers under August Wentz, which left for St. Louis to become part of the First Iowa Regiment. They wore uniforms made by the women of Davenport.

So many Germans volunteered in the first days of the war that many of them had to be put on a waiting list in order to serve.

On November 9th, 1861, Lieutenant Colonel August Wentz was killed at the Battle of Belmont. His body was returned to Davenport, where it lay in state in Metropolitan Hall. His funeral on November 13th was accompanied by a grand military display while Davenport schools and most businesses closed.

Apparently, no one in Davenport remembered these German patriots sixty years later, during World War I, when their descendants were ostracized, their stores boycotted, and their language forbidden by the State of Iowa, even in churches.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.