Foot Soldiers to Statesmen: Greeks in the US Civil War


Published in The National Herald, October 17-23, 2015 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos
TNH Staff Writer


We are excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group. 


CHICAGO - Official records documenting the direct and considerable involvement of Greeks in the American Civil War 1861-1865 continue to appear, in ever increasing numbers, with each passing year.  These records outline the manner in which specific Greeks took an active role in both the Union and the Confederate forces.

The names and actions of these Hellenes are found in the ranks of the average foot soldier onward to a cadre of government statesmen in both the union and confederate governments.  Beyond even these two points of the spectrum yet another group of Hellenes (comprised of both immigrants and the children of Greek immigrants) were notably for their contributions to the legal and ideological positions of both the north and the south.

While it is true that Greeks in the United States have long recognized that various specific individual Hellenes had participated in this war it is only recently that the full scope of this involvement is now being recognized.  The identities of Greeks found in the source documents report upon not just lone individuals but entire families as well.  Given that new data appears on almost a daily basis unfortunately these new accounts are not now coordinated.  What now exists is a vast mixed collection of data.  In these various accounts digesting and integrating the available material has largely taken backseat to simply noting the names of individuals and the military units in which they served.

Why it has taken so long to even begin to see the outline of this considerable participation is due to an array of factors.  First, we have the old prejudicial position (held by Greeks as well as non-Greek academics) that Greeks have never contributed in any really significant way to the development of the United States.  This basic tenet saw expression in first what academics of this period labeled the "race" literature and later the "immigration" literature.  According to both, these areas of study given that Greeks were latecomers to this nation and of low overall demographic numbers they could only hope to be mere bit-players on the stage of the nation's history.  In point of fact, Greeks were engaged as abolitionists, soldiers, government leaders and influential intellectuals before, during and long after this bloody conflict.

For Greek-American studies, the importance of these individuals carries special significance.  The arrival of the massive waves of Greek workers to this nation did not taken place until the 1880s.  By focusing exclusively on demographics scholars have largely ignored any and all Greeks before this specific decade.  Symbolism typically trumps demographics.  From the 1830s onward Greeks began arriving in North America.  These scattered individuals quickly learned that classical studies along with the personal memories of the average American's recollections and involvement in the Grecian Fever (e.g. American philhellenic efforts sparked by the Greek War of Independence 1821-1829) informed the general public's response to each and every living Hellene who arrived on American shores.

It is an undeniable fundamental of Greek-American history that Greek veterans of the American Civil War, confederates as well as those who fought on the side of the union, were later leading figures in the establishment of Eastern Orthodox churches in New Orleans and Chicago.  Just as George Dilboy (1896-1918), Greek immigrant and recipient of the medal of honor recipient, was used by later Greek immigrants to argue for exceptionalism so too did the Greek civil war veterans come forward to publicly endorse the establishment of these two churches.

Now let us be clear, early historians on Greeks in the United States such as Seraphim Canoutas, Thomas Burgess, George P. Perros and others have long acknowledged the existence of Greek involvement in the American Civil War.  It is with the contemporary generation of academics that the roles of Greek veterans in the American Civil War utterly disappear.  This being the case we hear nothing of their efforts to establish churches by invoking their status as loyal veterans of the American Civil War.  That Greek-Americans, at the end of World War I, would remember the efforts of this earlier generation of veterans and so rally around the glory of Dilboy's valiant death is equally impossible for these ideologies to comprehend.  Fortunately, while the current class of academics continue to ignore such individuals independent scholars and writers have vigorously continued to explore this forgotten, or should I say forbidden, zone of Greek-American Studies.  When this new data is considered we find new collectives as well as individual Greeks involved in virtually every aspect of this decisive American war.  The blog spot Hellenic Genealogy Geek has drawn upon newly available public sources to find the names of 39 Civil War participants who identified Greece as their place of birth (  All the dates of birth are approximate and as one can see these men were forced to anglicize their names.  These veterans were:  Alex Agelasto (b.1831), William H. Allen (b.1823), Francis Allison (b.1832), Mathew Ashland (b.1819), Delos Balch (b.1835), Stephen Blasko (b.1823), Dominic Carra (b.1823), A. Charles (b.1838), Seon Charles (b.1839), A.M. Crisson (b.1831), Antonia Cutis (b.1829), Hypolite Demor (b.1843), Peter Dennis (b.1831), Constanti Desilia (b.1827), John Effmon (b.1826), George Ellis (b.1823), Phocius Fiske (b.1819), Peter Loraine (b.1832), Horace Love (b.1839), Roger Love (b. 1842), Samuel Mellichansky (b.1843), Lucas M. Miller (b.1826), John Mitchell (b. 1827), William Moloy (b.1841), Peter Mounell (b.1833), Frank Nichols (b.1835), George Pearce (b.1819), George Peirce (b.1823), Anistus Petracki (b.1843), Leuncolus Pismucle (b.1829), Stretus Ralli (b. about 1834), Constantine Reily (b.1823), William Scoffield (b.1826), Hanford Squires (b. 1828) Otto Stezene (b. 1826), John Williams (b.1824), Augustina Zara (b.1828), William Zeigler (b.1822), James G. T. Zeigler (b.1826) and Peter Zenos (b.1841).  To the best of my knowledge only Fisk and Miller have seen mention in previous studies of role of Hellenes in this war.

That said, this very same blog site has posted the photograph of John Christy, credited as an American Civil War veteran as seen in Seraphim Canoutas' 1918 book Hellenism in America - who as you can see is not on this list.  While identifying as many Hellenes as participated in this war is essential what is now emerging with the flood of new data are the wider patterns of involvement and influence these persons exerted on the world around them.

Greeks can be found among abolitionists and secessionists even before the war.  Prominent among those advocating state's rights we find Robert James Turnbull (1774-1833) son of Dr. Andrew Turnbull (1718-1792) and his Greek wife, Maria Gracia Dura Bin.  Dr. Turnbull was the driving force behind the ill-fated New Smyrna colony in Florida that brought the first Greek born settlers to North America in 1768.  Florida born, Robert Turnbull, became an intrepid and successful asserter of the right of the States.  Turnbull was author of the CRISIS, an address made at the Convention to the people of South Carolina and other able productions in support of Constitutional Liberty.

Another defender of the south was Reverend George Patterson (born Papathakes 1828-1901).  Patterson became such a devotee of the South and of the institution of slavery he wrote (and we must suspect, at least, that he also preached) in support of the institution of slavery on Biblical grounds.  Patterson's views on slavery are revealed in a pamphlet, entitled, 'The Scripture Doctrine with Regard to Slavery,' which he published anonymously in Pennsylvania in 1856.  In the pamphlet, Patterson asked "Is slavery a sin?" and attempted to argue in the negative by citing dozens of passages from the Old and the New Testament that seemed to provide at least Scriptural approval of the practice.  The piece became one of the most prominently known defenses of slavery.

Two especially notable Northern Greek-born abolitionists were Professor John C. Zachos (1820-1893) and Reverend Photios Fisk.  Zachos was the first superintendent of the Port Royal Experiment.  In the mid-1800s, it was believed by many White Anglo-Saxon Protestants that Negroes could not learn to read and write.  Zachos was among the Northern abolitionists and freed Negro slaves who proved this "belief" a lie.  After the end of the war Zachos was to go on to have a stellar career as an educator, inventor and much published author.

Photios Fisk (originally Anastasius Karavelles), a Greek immigrant, became a Protestant minister in the United States Navy.  Fisk's report to Congress on flogging in the American navy brought about an end to that practice as well as Fisk's career.  Many abolitionists had literally given everything to their cause and so died as paupers, Fisk took it upon himself to pay for the burial of many of these individual always providing an expensive and imposing tombstone.

George Brown and Constantine Mitchell, veterans of the American Civil War, along with three other Greek-born veterans who stood up in Chicago to publicly defend the establishment of an Eastern Orthodox Church in their city.  That they did so as American citizens and war veterans may have kept them from Greek school books but they are venerated in the historical accounts of the establishment of the Greek community in Chicago.  We must learn more about those Greeks who fought in the American Civil War.  Their contributions to the establishment of Greek communities in North America as well as to the American nation itself, must not be forgotten.


  1. Amazing story! I have worked on a NARA project to help digitize the Civil War Widow's Pension Records and I have not yet come across a Greek name. I am showing this to those who work with me and the project manager. Thanks!

  2. THis is great...thanks for posting, filinada mou!!


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