An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

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Marie Tepe was honored for her bravery during and after combat.

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After failing twice to destroy the Confederate army in its entrenchments at Spotsylvania in mid-May 1864, Union commander Ulysses Grant had to make a decision. As one Union private wrote later, “Every intelligent enlisted man in the [Union] Army of the Potomac knew that we could not wrest the Confederate entrenchments at Spotsylvania from Lee’s veteran army.” Grant had decided that the only way to get Confederate General Robert E. Lee out of his trenches was to march around him and force Lee to follow. On May 20, the Union army, a quarter of whose soldiers were immigrants, was on the move to the east around the Confederates, and then south towards the Confederate capital at Richmond.1

The badly bloodied Union men knew they were in grave danger as they headed deeper into Virginia toward the heart of the rebel government. They began to exhibit an indifference toward the lives of the Confederate civilians they encountered along the march. A Union artillery officer wrote with disgust to his wife that “pillaging and marauding” were “more characteristic of this campaign than any other I ever participated in.” The officer concluded “a shame and disgrace is all this to our army and cause,” and added that the depredations inflicted along the army’s march was “doing us no good, but working us great evil.” Civilians began to flee the rapidly advancing Union army, and a refugee flow of whites heading south and escaped black slaves heading north left many settlements depopulated.2

overland-campai-map The Overland Campaign May and June 1864.

Among the scores of Union regiments in the line of march, the 114th Pennsylvania had two unique immigrants around its banner.

Charles Collis was an Irish Protestant who had come to America as a teenager in 1853 with his father. The Collises were not poor famine Irish. They were from the country’s educated professional class. While his father’s money bought the family some comfort on the trip, it could not buy safety. When Collis’s mother and five sisters and brothers left for America the following year, their ship was lost as were all 480 passengers. Although Collis arrived in the United States without friends or prospects, he studied law in the offices of John Read, an anti-slavery Republican who was prominent in Philadelphia. In 1859, Collis was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.3

When war broke out, Collis volunteered as a private to defend the Union. After Bull Run, Collis returned to Philadelphia to recruit a company of Zouaves. He picked a French immigrant to serve as his second in command. Many of the men in the new company were immigrants. French immigrants were particularly well represented.4

In 1862, Collis was authorized to add nine more companies to his command and create the 114th Pennsylvania regiment. The immigrant colonel would go on to win the Medal of Honor for his gallantry leading his men later that year at Fredericksburg. Only 10 years in the United States and a citizen for only half a decade, Collis was a successful defender of his adopted land.5

collis-at-fredericksburgThis painting depicts the 114th Pennsylvania at Fredericksburg. Collis took the flag up to rally his men. The regiment dressed in the Zouave-style of French North African troops. Most soldiers in the regiment were native-born.

Marie Brose Tepe was a 27 year old French immigrant who joined the regiment as its Vivandière. The Vivandière was an adoption from the French revolutionary armies that had women serve in uniform in support roles for the regiment. The 114th Pennsylvania was a Zouave unit, modeled on French North African troops and it was organized according to the French style.6

Marie had come to the United States as a teenager and settled in Philadelphia. Called “French Mary” by many American soldiers, she was one of two women awarded the Kearny Cross for bravery. Marie Tepe was shot at Fredericksburg while caring for her men, carrying the bullet in her ankle for the rest of her days. Her later suicide may have been linked to complications from the wound. The regiment awarded her a commemorative cup after the battle inscribed “To Marie, for noble conduct on the field of battle.”7

marie-tepe-roundMarie Tepe shown here with her Kearny Cross worn over her heart.

At Chancellorsville, Marie Tepe served so close to the front line that “Her skirts were riddled by bullets during the battle,” according to one witness. A nurse from Maine wrote after the battle that “[S]ince I left . . . for the hospital at Chancellorsville, I had not seen a woman, and I did not know that any other woman crossed the [Rappahannock] river at this place . . . excepting ‘Mary,’ the vivandiere of the 114th P.V., who was a brave and faithful worker.”8

Marie-Tepe-on-EastMarie Tepe stayed behind to nurse the wounded after the Battle of Gettysburg. She was photographed several weeks after the battle on East Cemetery Hill.

In the hard fighting from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania, Marie Tepe was a surprising sight to men new to the army. “I looked around,” a soldier at Spotsylvania wrote. “Sure enough there was a woman! She was about 25 years of age, square featured and sunburnt, and dressed in Zouave uniform in the Vivandiere style.” Frank Rausche, the regiment’s band leader judged her as “wonderfully courageous.” 9

On May 21, 1864 Collis was leading his regiment towards Richmond when he encountered Confederate cavalry blocking the Guinea Bridge. Collis was ordered to “drive the enemy from the bridge and hold it.” Collis took command of his own regiment, another nearby regiment, and some engineers and cavalry and soon began an assault. The first attack failed when Collis’s men came up against Confederate barricades, but a second assault routed them and the bridge was captured. 10

114th-gettysburgThe 114th Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg.

The Union army would fight many small engagement like this in its massive movement towards Richmond. During this fighting advance, word came that Union troops under Ben Butler had failed to exploit weak Confederate numbers to capture Petersburg, a crucial rail link south of Richmond, and that German General Franz Sigel had been defeated by a Confederate force in the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia. A Union army commanded by the know-nothing politician Nathaniel Banks that had moved up the Red River in Louisiana had done the worst of all and was falling back from a Confederate force less than half its size. Union troops in the Army of the Potomac understood that any chance that the war would end in the next year required that they suffer and die in a constant struggle with the best army and general that the Confederacy had to oppose them with. 11

Video: An examination of the ways the war’s increasing brutality impacted the soldiers who fought it in 1863

Resource:

The Civil War Trust gives an in-depth description of the Overland Campaign from historian Gordon Rhea.

Sources [Complete list to be posted]:

1. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13—25, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea published by LSU Press (2000) Kindle location 4095-4099
2. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13—25, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea published by LSU Press (2000) Kindle location 4682
3. Collis’ Zouaves: The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War by Edward Haggert published by Louisiana State University Press, (1997) pp. 2, 12, 14.
4. Collis’ Zouaves: The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War by Edward Haggert published by Louisiana State University Press, (1997) p. 23.
5. Collis’ Zouaves: The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Civil War by Edward Haggert published by Louisiana State University Press, (1997)
6. Civil War Nurses http://cwnurses.tripod.com/mtepe.html
7. Civil War Nurses http://cwnurses.tripod.com/mtepe.html
8. Civil War Nurses http://cwnurses.tripod.com/mtepe.html
9. Civil War Nurses http://cwnurses.tripod.com/mtepe.html
10. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13—25, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea published by LSU Press (2000)
11. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13—25, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea published by LSU Press (2000)

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings

108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence

109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General

110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”

111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address

112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation

113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery

114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal

115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga

116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga

117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga

118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle

119. Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga

120. German Immigrants Pinned Down at Chickamauga

121. Hans Heg: To Die for His Adopted Country at Chickamauga

122. Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness

123. Immigrants March Out of The Wilderness and Into a Wicked Hail of Gunfire

124. Peter Welsh in the Irish Brigade’s Purgatory at Spotsylvania

125. Peter Welsh: What Sacrifice Must the Immigrant Make for His Adopted Land?

126. A Second Irish Brigade’s Catastrophe at a Forgotten Fight Near Fredericksburg

127. An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

Blog Posts

The Real Story Behind The Immigrants’ Civil War Photo

Why I’m Writing The Immigrants’ Civil War

The Five Meanings of “The Immigrants’ Civil War”

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War

New Immigrants Try to Come to Terms with America’s Civil War

Important Citizenship Site to be Preserved-Fortress Monroe

Should Lincoln Have Lost His Citizenship?

The First Casualties of the War Were Irish-Was that a Coincidence?

Civil War Anniversaries-History, Marketing, and Human Rights

Memorial Day’s Origins at the End of the Civil War

Germans Re-enact the Civil War-But Why Are They Dressed in Gray?

Leading Historians Discuss 1863 New York City Draft Riots

The Upstate New York Town that Joined the Confederacy

Civil War Blogs I Read Every Week

First Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award Goes to Joe Reinhart

Damian Shiels Wins Second Annual The Immigrants’ Civil War Award

Mother Jones: Civil War Era Immigrant and Labor Leader

Juneteenth for Immigrants

Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites

Fort Schuyler-Picnic where the Irish Brigade trained

No Irish Need Apply: High School Student Proves Yale PhD. Wrong When He Claimed “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Never Existed

The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

Books for Learning More About The Immigrants’ Civil War

Free Yale Course with David Blight on the Civil War

Cinco de Mayo Holiday Dates Back to the American Civil War


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