830-629-1572 | Open Tue-Sat 10 a.m.-4 p.m., archives by appointment.

New Braunfels forty-eighters

Sketch: 1865 funeral in Comfort of the young Germans killed at the Nueces River. This is a copy of the sketch made by a representative of Harper’s Weekly who attended and reported on the event. It shows Eduard Degener delivering the funeral oration. Two of his sons are among the remains of the 36 young men in the coffin built of native cypress by local men.

Sketch: 1865 funeral in Comfort of the young Germans killed at the Nueces River. This is a copy of the sketch made by a representative of Harper’s Weekly who attended and reported on the event. It shows Eduard Degener delivering the funeral oration. Two of his sons are among the remains of the 36 young men in the coffin built of native cypress by local men.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

The forty-eighters were refugees of the failed German Revolution of 1848. They were idealists. They fought to establish a liberal and unified Germany using liberty, democracy and unity as their main tenets. The designation “forty-eighter” excludes the hundreds of thousands who emigrated from 1848-1852 for mostly economic reasons. It also does not include political refugees from previous periods of political unrest.

There were as many as 4,000 forty-eighters who came to America. Many of the Forty-eighters were young men in their twenties and thirties willing to risk their future. Many of them came from the southwestern Germanic states, from towns like Baden, Hesse, Wurtemburg, the Palatinate, and the Rhineland. Many were highly educated professionals: journalists, soldiers, physicians, pastors, bankers, engineers, lawyers, innkeepers and merchants. And many were “free-thinkers” or even atheistic in their views.

In the book, The Forty-eighters, edited by A.E. Zucker (1950), eleven professors put together a list of several hundred of these men who fled to America. The list includes six who emigrated to Texas — and interestingly enough, five of them have ties to New Braunfels. Let’s take a look at these guys.

Eduard Degener (1809-1890) was the son of a wealthy banker in Braunschweig. He was privately tutored and studied in England. He ran in aristocratic circles even though he favored liberal, democratic ideals. In his elected government positions, he voted for proposals pushing a German republic. He was a member of the first German National Assembly at Frankfurt in 1848. When the revolution failed, Degener emigrated to Maine and in 1850 he made it to Texas. He lived near New Braunfels, and then in Sisterdale, as a gentleman farmer. Degener was a German Unionist and vocal abolitionist. Two of his sons were in the group of young men who tried to get to the North via ship from Mexico in 1862. Overtaken at the Nueces River by a force of Confederate soldiers, many of the men, including the Degeners, were killed. Eduard was put in prison in San Antonio for several months. After the war, he was a wholesale grocer in San Antonio, elected to two constitutional assemblies in Texas and also served in the Forty-first Congress for two terms. In 1865, Degener, with William Steves and William Heuermann, bought land in Comfort. There, they buried the remains of those massacred at the Nueces and put up the “Treue der Union Monument” in their honor.

Carl Daniel Adolf Douai (1819-1888) was born in Altenburg. He studied at the University of Leipzig, got his doctorate and then travelled to Russia where he became a private tutor. He also married a baroness. From 1846 to 1850, Douai was in and out of prison five times! His revolutionary writings and his experimental school made him a target. Leaving Germany in 1852, he settled in New Braunfels and founded his own school. By 1853, he had become editor of the San Antonio Zeitung in which he advocated the gradual abolishment of slavery. Public outcry against his editorials necessitated the help of the Sam Antonio Turnverein (Athletic Club) to protect his offices. He moved to Boston in 1856. He founded a kindergarten and school but after several years this closed due to his atheistic articles. Moving to New York in 1866, he opened another school and edited a socialist newspaper. Through it he became one of the first to popularize Marxist philosophy in the US. Douai wrote articles on philosophy, German grammar, world history and education, as well as short stories and a novel. He was “a brilliant and courageous writer, unafraid of offending his readers’ opinion.” He was also a musician who composed over 60 songs.

Julius Dressel (1816-1891), born in Geisenheim, Rhineland, was the son of a prosperous wine merchant. He studied history, literature and law in Heidelberg. Julius joined his father’s wine business and promoted Rhenish wines around Europe. The Dresel home welcomed guests with radical political ideologies; Julius soon joined the ranks of these revolutionaries and was present at their major meetings. At the failure of the 1848 Revolution, Julius was exiled and he emigrated to Texas where his brother Gustav was employed by the Adelsverein (The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants) as general agent. He was good friends with Lindheimer and many of the early New Braunfelsers. He bought land in Sisterdale but he first worked the New Braunfels farm of John O. Meusebach. Several years later, he moved out to the Sisterdale property. During the Civil War, his abolitionist leanings caused the Confederates to place him in prison in San Antonio. After release, Julius did business in the city until his brother Emil died in California. He became heir to the estate and moved his family to the Sonoma Valley where he took over his brother’s vineyard until his own death. Dressel wrote and published essays and poems in various journals and newspapers, many dealing with the subject of homesickness for his Vaterland.

Gustav Wilhelm Eisenlohr (1811-1881) was born in Loerrach, Baden. He studied theology in Karlsruhe, Halle and Heidelberg. He became the vicar in Emmendingen. Eisenlohr was very outspoken in his support of the 1848 Revolution. Accused of high treason and imprisoned, Gustav was given the choice of being sentenced or to leave Germany. Fleeing to Switzerland, he then emigrated to America in 1850 with his young son. He first took a pastorate in Richmond, Ohio. Eisenlohr then answered an advertisement for the pastorate of the German Protestant Church in New Braunfels. He was installed by Hermann Seele in 1851. After six years, he accepted a pastorate in Cincinnati. He edited and wrote many poems for the Protestantische Zeitlaetter (newsletter) for 20 years. It was “for the instruction and edification of thinking Christians.” Educated in Greek and Latin, this liberal theologian also translated the poems of Petrarch! Pastor Eisenlohr and his second wife returned to New Braunfels 22 years later to retire. Both he and his wife are buried in Comal Cemetery.

Oskar von Roggenbucke (1811-1883), born in Suhl, Thuringia, was a career soldier who attained the rank of major in the Prussian army. Like many other soldiers, he resigned his commission and joined the forty-eighters. A political refugee, he emigrated and came to Texas in 1854. He and his family stayed six months in New Braunfels before settling on a farm in Comfort. He was also an abolitionist. His two sons refused to become soldiers for the Confederacy. They joined the group of Germans headed for Mexico and were among those slaughtered on the Nueces River. Von Roggenbucke lived in Comfort until his death.

Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives: Oscar Haas Collection; Dresel Family History; The First Protestant Church Its History and Its People, O. Haas; The Forty-Eighters, A.E. Zucker; A Hundred Years of Comfort in Texas, G. E. Ransleben.