Germans in the Civil War:
I goes to fight
I goes to fight mit Sigel--a popular song of the Civil
War era--reflects the fact that a large number of the soldiers fighting
for the Union cause were either recent immigrants from the German states
or sons of such immigrants. These Germans on the Northern side--to the
soldiers in Southern gray either the "Damned Dutch" or the
"Hessians"--rallied to the cause in no small measure because they saw the
"war to save the Union" as the continuation of the German Revolution of
1848-49, which failed to unite the German states and provide for
democratic reforms. They were led into battle by many of the same military
leaders who had played prominent roles during the Revolution in Germany,
such as Friedrich Hecker, Carl Schurz and especially Franz
Sigel had been raised in the liberal
German state of Baden near the Black Forest. Trained as a military officer
in the regular army of Baden, he quickly sided with the revolutionaries in
1848 and eventually was minister of war in the provisional republic
hastily declared in May 1849. With the total collapse of the Revolutionary
movement, Sigel and thousands of his fellow Badensians were forced into
American exile. A large number of these exiles eventually found themselves
in Missouri at the beginning of the Civil War.
As the Southern states left the Union one
after another in the spring of 1861, the governor of Missouri sought to
bring his state to the aid of her Southern brethren. The governor was
thwarted in that attempt by the Federal forces under Gen. Nathaniel Lyon,
who together with Franz Sigel, formed five nearly all-German regiments in
St. Louis to keep Missouri in the Union. Among the volunteers for the
Missouri 5th Regiment in spring 1861, was Fred Buehrle, recently arrived
in Missouri from Baden. Fred's regiment together with the 3rd Missouri was
placed under the command of Sigel and sent by rail to Rolla, Missouri, and
on to Springfield to cut off the Missouri forces sympathetic to the
Fred had immigrated with his older
brother Wendelin in 1852, first to Indiana and in 1857 to Missouri. They
had made new homes in Jefferson City. Wendelin, who had fought as an
irregular in the Revolution under Sigel in Baden, also joined the Missouri
Home Guard in June 1861 to defend Jefferson City from rebel attack.
Meanwhile, the two columns of Federal troops under Lyon and Sigel,
respectively, were converging on Springfield in pursuit of the Missouri
governor and his militia. Sigel's men had their first skirmish at
Carthage, Missouri, on July 5, then withdrew back to Springfield.
After the arrival of Lyon's column at
Springfield in July, the Union forces determined to attack the combined
Confederate and Missouri forces encamped along Wilson's Creek about 10
miles southwest of Springfield at sunrise on August 10, 1861. Sigel's
Germans, including Fred Buehrle, circled around the rebel's right flank
and routed the first enemy troops encountered. While Lyon engaged the
enemy in a bloody contest on the main part of the battlefield--losing his
life in the process--Sigel's men waited to capture the retreating
Confederates. To the surprise of Sigel's men, the Confederates attacked at
point blank range and the two German regiments scattered in full-blown
retreat. Sigel arrived back at Springfield ahead of his troops with only
one aide. Those not killed or left wounded on the battlefield, like Fred
Buehrle who was finally found after four days by the Confederates and
taken to a hospital, had to make it back to Springfield on their own.
Sigel continued to lead Union forces
throughout the Civil War. He had some success at the Battle of Pea Ridge,
Arkansas, in 1862. However, his reputation among the professional officer
corps was forever tarnished by his ignominious retreat at Wilson's Creek.
He remained, though, the hero of the German-Americans and those German
soldiers in the Union Army, who, like Wendelin and Fred, were proud that
"they had gone to fight with Sigel."
Fred recovered from his wounds and
Wendelin completed his enlistment as a sergeant in the 42nd Missouri
Militia. After the war, the two brothers joined the local chapter of the
Grand Army of the Republic and were proud to be known as true Americans,
firing salutes with an old cannon on the Missouri capitol grounds on the
Fourth of July and other patriotic occasions throughout the 1890s and into
the first decade of the twentieth century. At Wendelin's death in December
1914, his obituaries in both the German and English newspapers emphasized
that he had fought under Gen. Sigel in two wars! His brother Fred died in
March 1915 after catching cold while standing in the rain to honor the
parade of GAR veterans in Kansas City.
[Note: Wendelin Buehrle is the great-great-grandfather of Dr.
William Keel, professor of German at the University of Kansas and Chair of
the KU Germanic Languages and Literature Department]
(Ford County Historical Society Inc. William Keel,
Adam Schmidt's Civil War Service
From Adam Schmidt's death notices:
made a brilliant military record during his three years and nine months of
service in the Civil war. He was a member of Co. B. of the First Missouri
Light Artillery, and was with Siegel at Pea Ridge and Grant at Vicksburg.
He participated in many of the other hard fought engagements of the Civil
(from the Dodge City Times, May 4,
In 1861, when 21 years of age he enlisted in Company B.,
1st Missouri light artillery. Only once it is said did he disobey orders.
The Union forces were hard pressed and were preparing for a retreat.
Artilleryman Schmidt was ordered to bury the mortars, that they might not
fall into the hands of the enemy. Saluting his captain, the German fighter
said, "I did not enlist to bury the Union." For this refusal he was taken
to the guard house.
(from the Dodge City Journal, May 5,