Sigel removed after defeat

Vanquished: The German-trained Union commander at New Market was removed from field duty after the defeat, but he lived for 40 years after the war and was active in New York politics.

May 09, 2004|By Robert M. Duff | Robert M. Duff,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Union Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, the losing commander in the Battle of New Market, was born in Germany in 1824. He matured in the atmosphere of unrest preceding the German revolution of 1848, in which he fought on the losing side.

According to Great Civil War Heroes and Their Battles (edited and with introduction by Walton Rawls), Sigel "was educated first at the gymnasium of Bruchsal, after which he entered the military school at Karlsruhe, graduating in 1843. After entering the German army, he was stationed first at Mannheim as a lieutenant."

"He was ever of a bold and independent disposition, and with a tendency to revolutionary ideas. During his stay at Mannheim he published a number of writings which contained very free expressions of disapprobation [regarding] the condition of the standing army, and as a result a number of quarrels with his fellow-officers ensued."

One of these quarrels resulted in a duel. Sigel killed his opponent and thus was compelled to resign.

The Baden Revolution

The following year, 1848, the Baden Revolution began. Not surprisingly, Sigel found he could not remain silent. As reported in Great Civil War Heroes and Their Battles, he raised a body of about 4,000 volunteers, who rallied readily to his call, and marched against Freiburg. He encountered the royal troops twice and was badly beaten both times. This was not surprising, since Sigel's force consisted of men hastily trained, and many of them fighting together for the first time. His opposition was an army of well-disciplined, experienced soldiers.

Great Civil War Heroes and Their Battles reports, "After these unfortunate engagements Sigel, left almost alone, escaped across the border into Switzerland. In May 1849, however, an insurrection at Baden recalled him to that place, and his service during that year is briefly summed up as follows: He was made commandant of the Lake and Upper Rhine District, then placed in charge of the Army of the Neckar, met the royal forces at Heppenheim on May 30, became minister of war, and finally succeeded to the chief command of the troops. He fought in several battles under General Louis Mieroslawski, whom he succeeded: conducted the army of 15,000 men in retreat through three hostile army corps, and crossed the Rhine with the remnant into Switzerland on July 11.

"Considerable search was made for him during the following months, and early in 1851 he was arrested by the federal authorities at Lugano, who handed him over to the French government. They proposed disposing of this man of revolutionary disposition by shipping him to a country ... for the exercise of those qualities that had already rendered him so conspicuous in Europe. With the purpose of sending him to the United States, he was taken by the French police to Havre; but the plan was altered, and Sigel went to England instead, living in London and Brighton until May 1852, when he sailed for the United States, and made his new home in New York."

He taught in New York City schools, translated German works and edited Die Revue, a military magazine. He married a daughter of Rudolph Dulon, owner of a school in New York. He received an invitation to a mathematics professorship in the German Institute in St. Louis. Eventually, his patriotic political activity brought him to public attention, and he was elected director of the St. Louis public schools.

Sigel was an opponent of slavery. At the beginning of the Civil War, he immediately joined the Union army. He was commissioned colonel of the 3rd Missouri Regiment but within a few weeks he was promoted to brigadier general.

There were many bitterly conflicting elements in the St. Louis city government. In order, therefore, to have in readiness a sufficient force for emergencies, Sigel and his associates organized the home guards, composed of volunteers from the city. These were chiefly of German extraction, and attracted to the cause by Sigel's leadership.

Welcomed by Germans

According to the Autobiography of Carl Schurz, "The German-American troops welcomed Sigel with great enthusiasm. He brought a splendid military reputation with him. 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 for the Union. On various fields, especially at Pea Ridge, he had distinguished himself by personal gallantry as well as by skillful leadership."

According to Ezra J. Warner's Generals in Blue, "`I fights mit Sigel' became almost a password among the Dutch and his influence with them never waned."

Active in combat

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