Carl Schurz

Carl Schurzórevolutionary, orator, ambassador, senator, editor, polemicist, and major general of United States volunteersówas born in the Rhenish village of Liblar, near Cologne, Prussia, on March 2, 1829. He received a superior education at Cologne and at the University of Bonn. When the revolutions of 1848 swept across Europe, Schurz served as a subaltern for a few months against the Prussian forces and then made his way to Switzerland. Expelled from France as an undesirable in 1851, he lived in England before coming to the United States in 1852. He resided in Philadelphia for three years. Schurz, who possessed a remarkable oratorical talent, soon mastered the English language and for the rest of his life was greatly in demand as a bilingual speechmaker on a wide range of subjects. He settled in Wisconsin in 1856 and, having taken up the antislavery cause, campaigned vigorously and effectively, first for John C. Fremont and in 1860 for Abraham Lincoln. He was rewarded with the Spanish legation by Lincoln, but returned to the United States in January, 1862, to press for immediate abolition of slavery. Lincoln would not be hurried; and it may be inferred that his commissioning of Schurz as a brigadier general of volunteers (to rank from April 15, 1862) rid him, at least temporarily, of a sometimes troublesome adviser, as well as having a happy effect on many thousands of loyal German-Americans. That Schurz was virtually without military experience seems to have mattered little. He was immediately assigned to command of a division of Fremont's army, then in the Shenandoah. Upon the formation of John Pope's Army of Virginia, Fremont was supplanted by Franz Sigel, in whose corps Schurz fought at Second Manassas in creditable fashion in spite of the fact that the battle constituted a Union disaster. In the campaigns of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg he was less fortunate. On both battlefields his division was thrown into headlong rout, and the so-called Dutch units were execrated throughout the rest of the Army of the Potomac. How much of this obloquy was deserved by Schurz and his men and how much was deserved by his corps commander Oliver O. Howard has been debated for almost a century. In any event, Schurz, who had been promoted to major general on March 17, 1863, proceeded to the western theater with the XI and XII Corps under General Joseph Hooker. After the battle of Chattanooga, Schurz, having fallen out with Hooker, was assigned to command a recruit depot in Nashville. He spoke throughout the North in behalf of Lincoln's reelection in 1864 and, after the election, served as chief of staff to General Henry W. Slocum in the campaign of the Carolinas. For forty years after the end of hostilities, as lecturer, Senator, and editor of five different nationally known publications, Schurz was a tireless advocate of equal rights for the Negro, the suppression of the spoils system, anti-imperialism, and the preservation of the public domain. Although he served only one term in the Senate (1869-1875, from Missouri), he exercised a large influence on every presidential election from 1860 to 1904. The last years of his life were devoted mainly to literary pursuits, pronouncements on public questions, and occasional addresses. Toward the end he became regarded as the dean of elder statesmen and was consulted on virtually every question of national importance. Alternating his residence between the Pocantico Hills, Lake George, New York, Augusta, Georgia, and New York City, he died at his residence on 91st Street on May 14, 1906, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown. At his death he had completed his autobiography to the year 1869; with an added sketch of his later career by Frederic Bancroft and William Dunning, it was posthumously published in three volumes (1907-1909), as The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.