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Sons of the White Eagle book

Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War

Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War: Divided Poles in a Divided Nation describes the fascinating story of nine transplanted Poles who participated in the Civil War. They span three generations and are connected by culture, nationality and adherence to their principles and ideals. The common thread that runs through their lives—the Polish White Eagle—is that they came from a country that had basically disintegrated at the end of the previous century, yet they carried the concepts of freedom they inherited from their forefathers to the New World to which they immigrated.

Once in America the pre-war political feuds, ferocious ensuing battles, captures, prison camp escapes and privations of war—often in the words of the soldiers themselves—are fully described. More highly trained in warfare than their American brethren—and certainly more inured to struggles for nationhood—the Poles made a more significant contribution to Civil war combat than is usually described.

The first group had fought in the 1830 war for freedom from the Russian Empire. The European revolutionary struggles of the 1840’s molded the next generation. The two of the youngest generation came of age just as the Civil War began, entered military service as enlisted men and finished as officers. Of the group, four sided with the North and four with the South, and the other began in the Confederate cavalry and finished fighting for the Union side. All but one came from aristocratic backgrounds.

In a war commonly categorized as a “brother against brother” struggle between two American regions, history has not devoted a great deal of attention to the participation of Poles, and foreigners in general. These men fought with a belief in European democratic liberalism. Whether for the North to keep a Union together or to form a new nation from the Southern states, they held to their ideals, and in America’s own greatest conflict continued to fight for their beliefs.


“The historiography of this unfortunate period of American history has certainly been enhanced by Mark Bielski. The research is impressive…”

-Stuart McClung, New York Journal of Books

“In recent decades, immigrant studies have assumed a much more prominent place in the Civil War literature. However, even after taking into account the comparatively minute scale of their contributions to both armies, the Polish experience has been unduly buried beneath the weight exerted by the far more numerous European ethnic groups. Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War not only brings into sharp focus the actions and significance of a number of prominent military figures (and one civilian), it also usefully examines the cultural and political connections between Poland and the United States throughout the turbulent first half of the nineteenth century.”

-Civil War Books and Authors

“This thoroughly researched text with photos, maps, historical documents, an impressive bibliography and index, offers nine personal portraits of Poles who fought for the North, the South, and in one case both. Although Bielski is an academic, Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War is not a difficult read. Basic knowledge of Polish and U.S. history is all that is needed for this informative and enjoyable book.”

-Mary Lanham, Polish American Journal

“Mark F. Bielski offers a welcome take on the Polish Civil War story in his new book, Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War: Divided Poles in a Divided Nation. Whereas many recent studies of other ethnic groups are geographically constrained, Bielski’s study is evenly divided between four Polish Confederates and four Unionists, with another switching sides during the conflict. The author helpfully puts his story into the larger context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Polish history as well as the previous military service of Polish heroes such as Thaddeus Kościuszko and Casimir Pulaski in the American Revolutionary War.”

-William B. Kurtz, Journal of Southern History