Godfrey Weitzel

Taken in the Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio, Hamilton County.

GODFREY WEITZEL, a native of Cincinnati, had the unique distinction of being the first Union general to occupy the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, signaling the end of the Civil War. He was born November 1,1835, in Cincinnati, and after education in the local schools went to West Point where he graduated second in his class in 1855. He then served in the engineer corps, working on harbor defenses at New Orleans. From 1859 to 1861 he taught at West Point. He served as General Benjamin Butler's second in command in the capture of New Orleans and as acting mayor of that city during its military occupation. On August 29,1862, Weitzel, than a first lieutenant in the regular army, was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers. He commanded a division in the successful operations against Port Hudson on the Mississippi River in 1863. Then in 1864 he successively commanded the XVIII and XXV army corps in the operations along the James River in Virginia. In the final campaign in Virginia, Weitzel, who had risen to the rank of major-general, commanded all of the Union troops north of the Appomattox River and led the successful charge through the Confederate lines surrounding Richmond on April 2,1865. On April 3,1865, he electrified the nation with his telegram to General U. S. Grant: "We entered Richmond at eight o'clock this morning." This meant to the nation that the Civil War was near an end. At the close of the war General Weitzel remained in the army as a captain in the engineer corps. He was responsible for a number of notable engineering achievements including the construction of the ship canal at the Falls of the Ohio, the great lock at Sault Sainte Marie, and the lighthouse on Stannard's Rock in Lake Superior, thirty miles off the Upper Michigan shore. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army on June 23,1882. General Weitzel was stationed in Philadelphia when he died March 19,1884, at age forty-eight.

Godfrey Weitzel, the son of German immigrants, was born on November 1, 1835, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His early education was obtained in the local schools, but he was appointed to the Military Academy and was graduated in 1855, ranking second in the class. Commissioned in the Engineer Corps, he was detailed, for the next four years, to the construction and repair of the fortifications guarding the approaches to New Orleans. From 1859 until 1861 he was on duty at West Point as assistant professor of engineering. After discharging some relatively minor responsibilities, he was appointed chief engineer of General Benjamin F. Butler's expedition against New Orleans in the spring of 1862. After the occupation of the city, Butler made Weitzel his second in command and acting mayor, and on August 29, 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. Weitzel commanded a division under N. P. Banks at the siege of Port Hudson in 1863 and the following year returned to the East to become chief engineer of Butler's Army of the James operating against Petersburg. He was brevetted a major general of volunteers (August 29, 1864) and subsequently was assigned to the successive commands of the XVIII and XXV Corps—the latter was composed of entirely Negro infantry. On November 17, 1864, he was made a full-rank major general. In December he again acted as second in command to Butler, this time in the first attack on Fort Fisher. The failure of this encounter could hardly be charged to Weitzel, but it did link him to a certain extent with Butler, who was shortly relieved. Nevertheless, during the final operations of the war which culminated in the breaking of R. E. Lee's line on April 2, 1865, Weitzel commanded all the troops north of the Appomattox River and on April 3 electrified the nation with his brief telegram: "We entered Richmond at eight o'clock this morning." After he was mustered out of volunteer service in March, 1866, Weitzel reverted for a time to his regular rank of captain of engineers, but was promoted to major in August, a grade which he would occupy for sixteen years. General Weitzel's most notable engineering accomplishments in the years following the war were the construction of the ship canal at the Falls of the Ohio, the great lock at Sault Sainte Marie, and the lighthouse on Stannard's Rock in Lake Superior, thirty miles off the Upper Michigan shore. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1882, but declining health dictated his assignment to less arduous duties in Philadelphia, where he died on March 19, 1884. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati.

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

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