Franz Sigel emerged from the March 1862 Pea Ridge campaign with a national reputation among German Americans. Although his military career had been restricted to Missouri and Arkansas, his “brilliant” career was a hot topic in immigrant homes everywhere.1
For example, when a German school teacher in Philadelphia wrote to his parents in Germany he used some of the precious space in his letter to tell them that “the Germans are always the ones who…fight the best.” He added that “the bravest fighter of all is…Sigel.” 2
In the late Spring, Sigel was transferred to the East, the main theatre of war. He arrived soon after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson had embarrassed Union commander John C. Fremont in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A division of Freemont’s German troops had suffered greatly in the campaign, having been starved by the Union supply system and badly handled by their commanders. Sigel was placed in command of these demoralized Germans as well as some native-born regiments. They were organized into a corps of 12,000 men that would eventually form the framework of the “German” XI Corps.3
If Lincoln’s intent was to bring Sigel to Virginia to revive German support for the war in the East, he succeeded. German American General Carl Schurz saw the reaction of his men to their new corps commander:
The German-American troops welcomed Sigel with great enthusiasm, which the rank and file of the native American regiments at least seemed to share. He brought a splendid military reputation with him. He had bravely fought for liberty in Germany, and conducted there the last operations of the revolutionary army in 1849. He had been one of the foremost to organize and lead that force of armed men, mostly Germans, that seemed suddenly to spring out of the pavements of St. Louis, and whose prompt action saved that city and the State of Missouri to the Union. On various fields, especially at Pea Ridge, he had distinguished himself by personal gallantry as well as by skillful leadership. The popular war-cry, “fighting mit Sigel,” had given his name an extraordinary vogue.4
Sigel’s Corps was placed in a newly organized army under Major General John Pope. The two men did not like each other. The prejudiced Pope saw Sigel as incompatible “with his fellow officers of the Regular army.” Even though Sigel had been a professional military man in Europe, he would always be viewed as a “political general” by the West Point fraternity that included Pope and General in Chief Henry Halleck.5
This was the flag of Company H of the 119th New York Volunteers. The regiment was made up mainly of Germans and it had companies with names like “The Sigel Life Guards” and “Sigel’s Sharpshooters”. Company H was a non-German company recruited on Long Island. The flag was “made by women from Hempstead, Long Island and reportedly received by Company H in the fall of 1862 while on duty near Washington, D.C., this silk national flag includes 34 appliquéd stars in the canton. The stars are arranged in a star pattern sometimes referred to as the “Great Luminary Pattern.” In the late 1930’s the flag was “restored” by Mrs. Katherine Fowler Richie using a technique patented by her mother Mrs. Amelia Fowler, the woman who treated the Star Spangled Banner,” according to the New York State Military Museum.
Sigel viewed Pope as an irrational braggart. He said that Pope was “affected with looseness of the brains as others with looseness of the bowels.” Pope’s performance at the Second Battle of Bull Run would bear out Sigel’s opinion of him.6
Months of hard marching and bloody fighting did not diminish the trust his men had in Sigel. In September 1862, Albert Kraus, a German immigrant from Buffalo in the German 116th New York Volunteers bragged to his parents that he was “under the command of the best general in the North, the German General Siegel [Sigel].” He told them that “half the men are Germans, and they are in the best fighting spirits.” Within 9 months, that “fighting spirit” of loyal Germans would be mocked by many in the North.7
1. Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel by Stephen D. Engle published by Louisiana State Univ Pr (1999); The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907); Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, University of North Carolina Press (2006).
2. Carl Hermanns April 12, 1862 found in Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, University of North Carolina Press (2006) p. 114.
3. Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel by Stephen D. Engle published by Louisiana State Univ Pr (1999) pp. 123-127.
4. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz Volume 2 by Carl Schurz (1907) p. 348.
5. Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel by Stephen D. Engle published by Louisiana State Univ Pr (1999) p. 128.
6. Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel by Stephen D. Engle published by Louisiana State Univ Pr (1999) p. 129.
7. Albert Kraus Sept. 11, 1862 found in Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home edited by Walter Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, University of North Carolina Press (2006).
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.
5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants
10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.
12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.
17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers
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.
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.
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.
54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.
60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation
Immigration Vacation -Civil War Sites