John Maurath has recently identified a photograph that should be of great interest to zither players. The photograph clearly shows a Union soldier, more than likely a soldier of German heritage, playing a concert zither. Although the picture speaks for itself, the question remains: Who was he and what did he play?
Although it is clearly apparent that the soldier is playing a zither, we're not completely sure at this time what type of music was played by Germans on the zither during the American Civil War. Clues exist, however, in the form of letters written by Germans to friends and family members in Germany during the course of the war. This excerpt, from  Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home, was written by Captain August Horstmann, originally from Schweiburg, Germany.
Captain Horstmann, in his reference to  "Hinaus in die Ferne", does not mention the zither specifically. However, this is a documented reference to a song that was known by Germans fighting in America's Civil War. As such, it is highly probable that this song would have been performed on the zither by German Civil War soldiers.
John Maurath, whose research originally brought this photograph to light, is interested in finding the name of this zither player (this officer of the 4th US Colored Infantry) and what songs were played by Germans on the zither during the American Civil War. John's ultimate goal is to publish a Civil War Music CD that features the zither. Should this project bear fruit, it will undoubtedly be of great interest to both Civil War historians and zither players alike.
UPDATE: It is believed that the zither-playing officer pictured above is Capt. John J Eberhardt of Company D, 4th United States Colored Infantry. If you have supporting information that can help us confirm this, or addtional details of Capt. Eberhardt's life, please contact us.
Kamphoefner, Walter D., and Wolfgang Helbich, eds. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. Trans. Susan Carter Vogel. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006
Feurzeig, Lisa, ed. Deutsche Lieder für Jung und Alt Middleton: A-R Editions, Inc. 2002
About John Maurath: John is a Missouri Civil War buff, researcher and zither enthusiast. John's great-grandfather, born during the Civil War, was a zither player, and the zither was in the family until recently. John currently works for the Missouri Civil War Museum at Historic Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, MO.
Do you have information that can assist John Maurath in his research? Do you have additional information of historical interest pertaining to the zither? If so, contact us.