Shortly after the start of the war, Sigel was commissioned colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry, a commission dating from May 4, 1861. He recruited and organized an expedition to southwest Missouri, and subsequently fought the Battle of Carthage, where a force of pro-Confederate Missouri militia handed him a setback in a strategically insignificant fight. However, Sigel's defeat did help spark recruitment for the Missouri State Guard and local Confederate forces. Sigel later took part in a skirmish at Dug Springs.
Throughout the summer, President Abraham Lincoln was actively seeking the support of anti-slavery, pro-Unionist immigrants. Sigel, always popular with the German immigrants, was a good candidate to advance this plan. He was promoted to brigadier general on August 7, 1861, to rank from May 17, one of a number of early political generals endorsed by Lincoln.
Sigel served under Brig. Gen. Nathaniel
Lyon in the capture of the Confederate Camp Jackson in St. Louis and at the
Battle of Wilson's Creek, where his command was routed after making a march
around the Confederate camp and attacking from the rear. Sigel conducted the
retreat of the army after the death of General Lyon.
His finest performance came on March 8, 1862, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, where he commanded two divisions and personally directed the Union artillery in the defeat of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn on the second day of the battle.
Sigel was promoted to major general on March 21, 1862. He served as a division commander in the Shenandoah Valley and fought unsuccessfully against Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, who managed to outwit and defeat the larger Union force in a number of small engagements. He commanded the I Corps in Maj. Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Bull Run, another Union defeat, where he was wounded in the hand.
Over the winter of 1862Ė63, Sigel commanded the XI Corps, consisting primarily of German immigrant soldiers, in the Army of the Potomac. During this period, the corps saw no action; it stayed in reserve during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Sigel had developed a reputation as an inept general, but his ability to recruit and motivate German immigrants kept him alive in a politically sensitive position. Many of these soldiers could speak little English beyond "I'm going to fight mit Sigel", which was their proud slogan and which became one of the favorite songs of the war. They were quite disgruntled when Sigel left the corps in February 1863, and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, who had no immigrant affinities. Fortunately for Sigel, the two black marks in the XI Corps' reputationóChancellorsville and Gettysburgówould occur after he was relieved.
The reason for Sigel's relief is unclear. Some accounts cite failing health; others that he expressed his displeasure at the small size of his corps and asked to be relieved. General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck detested Sigel, and managed to keep him relegated to light duty in eastern Pennsylvania until March 1864. President Lincoln, for political reasons, directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to place Sigel in command of the new Department of West Virginia.
In his new command, Sigel opened the Valley Campaigns of 1864, launching an invasion of the Shenandoah Valley. He was soundly defeated by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge at the Battle of New Market, on May 15, 1864, which was particularly embarrassing due to the prominent role young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute played in his defeat. After the battle, Sigel was replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter. In July, Sigel fought Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early at Harpers Ferry, but soon afterward was replaced by Albion P. Howe. Sigel spent the rest of the war without an active command.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Franz Sigel was born November 18,
1824, at Sinsheim in the grand duchy of Baden, Germany. Like many of the young
German revolutionaries, he graduated from a military academy (at Karlsruhe) in
1843 and became a subaltern in the service of Grand Duke Leopold. During the
1848 insurrections he acted as minister of war for the revolutionary forces
which were overthrown by the Prussians. He fled first to Switzerland, then to
England, and finally to New York in 1852. In the years before the Civil War he
taught school in both New York and St. Louis and held a major's commission in
the 5th New York Militia. By 1861 he was director of schools in St. Louis, a
community with a large minority of German-born citizens. By virtue of the
administration's policy of wooing all immigrants whose affections were Union and
antislavery, Sigel became a brigadier general on August 7, 1861, to rank from
May 17 and a major general on March 22, 1862. Despite his military shortcomings,
he did much to unify the large German population of the Northern states and
contributed thousands of recruits to the Union ranks. "I fights mit Sigel"
became almost a password among the Dutch and his influence with them never
waned. He performed well at the capture of the secessionist Camp Jackson in St.
Louis under Nathaniel Lyon and at the engagement at Carthage, Missourióboth
minor skirmishes which served mainly the purpose of reestablishing Federal
authority. At Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) in Arkansas he contributed greatly to
the Union victory. His career thereafter was not as successful. Acceding to the
command of John C. Fremont's corps during the campaign of Second Manassas, his
troops were not engaged at Sharpsburg or Fredericksburg; and, while in command
of the Department of West Virginia in 1864, he had the misfortune to fight the
battle of New Market against the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, by
whom he was soundly trounced. Subsequently he was removed from field duty and on
May 4, 1865, resigned his commission as major general.
General Sigel lived for nearly forty more years, during which he ran for public office, changed his party allegiance from Republican to Democratic, and ultimately served as United States pension agent at New York by appointment of President Cleveland. He died at his residence in New York City, on August 21, 1902, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.
Previous Page--Back to the Army of Virginia