Louis Hensel: My Life in America

Details of mid-19th-century life come alive in the letters of a German immigrant, translated by Sigrid Wilshinsky and recently published as My Life in America Before, During and After the Civil War.

Louis Hensel was born in 1817 and lived a life of travel and adventure, as colorfully described in letters to his granddaughter back in Germany. Wilshinsky translated them from Suderlein German into modern English.

Hensel worked and traveled from Germany to France and Holland and finally arrived in New York City in 1848. On his first day in Manhattan, he sought and found a job and began working as a carver of artistic ivory pieces in an Art Shop. He later moved to Long Island to become a farmer.

“Reading Louis Hensel’s letters is like peeking through a rip in the curtain of history and seeing through the eyes of one who had experienced so much,” Wilshinsky says.

At the onset of the Civil War, he entered the Cavalry regiment in Brooklyn as an Officer and Master of the Horse. Later, Hensel spent many years traveling with the German Opera Company of New York which performed city to city, from New Orleans to St. Paul, where he vividly describes a wanton destruction and disruption of Southern cities in the path of the War.

Hensel had the opportunity to meet President Abraham Lincoln which facilitated a visit to the White House on March 27, 1863, where Lincoln greeted representatives of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, Comanche, Apache and Caddo Tribes in the East room of the White House, a meeting covered in The Atlanta Century. The eye-witness report by Hensel of this meeting, is believed to have never been published before.

Hensel ended his years as a music teacher in the town of Hawley, PA as his base. His insightful recollections and description of country life and changing society is an exciting and inspiring story about surviving in America before, during, and after the Civil War era.

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