Thousands of Germans fleeing the failed revolution and uprisings of
1848-1849 settled in free states, but some settled in the Kentucky cities of Louisville,
Covington, and Newport. Most of these so-called "Forty-Eighters" disliked
slavery and tended to settle in cities with manufacturing capabilities or in agricultural
settlements along Kentucky's borders with Ohio and Indiana.
German-born Kentuckians were divided evenly between the Protestant and
Catholic faiths. Most German-born Kentucky Protestants belonged to the Lutheran,
Evangelical, or Reformed churches. Many of the Germans who participated in the failed
revolutions of 1848-1849 were atheists and abolitionists. Neither of these was a belief
system likely to endear them to native-born Kentuckians. There was also some tension
between "Forty-Eighters" and other German-born Kentuckians, since many of those
persons were neither atheists nor abolitionists.
Prior to the mid-1850s, most German immigrants became members of the
Democratic Party. The Democrats welcomed foreigners and opposed strict temperance and
Sabbath laws, as did many German-born. The fact that many German and Irish-born
Kentuckians were Catholics resulted in the creation of nativist sentiment in some circles
and helped bring about various nativist political organizations like the Know-Nothing
Party. Widespread anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiment in Kentucky sometimes resulted
in violence like the Bloody Monday Election Riot of August 6, 1855, in Louisville. Some
German-born Kentuckians, including most "Forty-Eighters," supported the 1860
Republican Party because of its opposition to the expansion of slavery into the
territories, but the Republican Party was not on the ballot in the 1860 Kentucky election.
Lincoln and the Republicans received less than one percent of votes cast in Kentucky.
Twenty-seven thousand residents of Kentucky enumerated in the 1860 census were
German-born, out of a total Kentucky population in of 1,150,000. Kentucky initially
declared itself neutral when hostilities broke out in 1861 between the North and South.
Many Kentuckians enlisting in the Union Army in June-September 1861 cross over to Indiana
or Ohio to do so. Recruiting for Kentucky Union regiments began in October. The 6th
Kentucky Infantry Regiment included many German-born Kentuckians from Louisville. Many of
these men spoke only German, so commands were given in that language. The 4th Kentucky
Cavalry Regiment includes three companies composed primarily of German-born Kentuckians.
Bugle calls came into increasing use during the Civil War partly so that some commands
could be issued ina language (music) that German or English speakers could understand.
Kentucky Union regiments with large German-born contingents fought mainly in Kentucky,
Tennessee, and Georgia. Most Kentucky Confederates also fought in these states.