Louis Blenker

Union General Louis Blenker        Louis Blenker was born in Worms, Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, 31 July 1812; died in Rockland County, New York,. In his youth he was apprenticed to a jeweler, but on becoming of age he enlisted in the Bavarian legion that was raised to accompany Prince Ottho, then recently elected king, to Greece. When the legion was disbanded m 1837, he received the rank of lieutenant. He then returned home and began the study of medicine in the University of Munich, but soon gave this up to engage in the wine business in Worms. In 1849 he was a leading member of the revolutionary government in that city, and also burgomaster and commander of the national guard. He fought in several successful engagements with the Prussians ; but the revolutionists being soon completely crushed, he retired into Switzerland. In September 1849, having been ordered to leave that country, he came to the United States and settled in Rockland County, New York, where he undertook to cultivate a farm.

        Later Blenker engaged in business in New York, and so continued until the beginning of the civil war, when he organized the 8th New York Volunteer Infantry (also known as the First German Rifles), the first German-American regiment in the Union army, of which he was commissioned colonel, 31 May 1861. Like other volunteer troops, the 8th New York drilled assiduously and paraded often, much to the delight of the citizenry. When Carl Schurz and his wife came to New York for a visit, Blenker invited them to attend one of his reviews. Blenker never failed to put on a good show and the occasion left an indelible imprint on the Schurzes. Recalled Schurz in his Reminiscences written decades after the event: "A fine regimental band struck up as we were conducted by Colonel Blenker, in full uniform, to a little platform erected for the purpose, and the regiment passed before us in parade, . . . This was done, the officers were dismissed by Colonel Blenker with a wave of the hand that could not have been more imperial if Louis XIV himself had performed it. Of all the official functions that it has been my fortune to witness, none was more solemnly ceremonious than this." Despite his penchant for theatrics and gaudy uniforms, Blenker was a thoroughly brave man, an excellent organizer, a fine horseman, and an efficient commander. His regiment was a model unit. 

        The 8th New York left the city at the end of May with Blenker making a grand appearance at the head of his troops on a superb horse. Just before their embarkation to Washington, D.C., Belmont, a banker, presented the regiment with flags and banners in front of City Hall. Commenting on their departure, the New York Tribune said: "Col. Blenker has had a thorough military education, and has served in Greece, . . . He also fought with distinction throughout the German Revolution of 1848. " 

Louis Blenker at Cross Keys        At the First Battle of Bull Run, July 20, 1861, the 8th New York was assigned to the First Brigade of the Fifth Division. With Blenker in command of the brigade, Stahel led the regiment. Since the division constituted the Union army's reserve at Centreville, it was not engaged in the battle proper. Unlike many of the Union troops, Blenker's men did not disintegrate into a fleeing mob as the Confederates gained the upper hand, but held their ground in perfect formation, covering the retreat to Washington. Commented a contemporary author: "I need not speak much in praise of Blenker and the officers who served him so well. The events speak for them. . . . With three regiments he stood to fight against an outnumbering enemy already flushed with victory..." For their valiant conduct on the battlefield, both Stahel and Blenker were promoted; Blenker was advanced to brigadier-general and Stahel became colonel of the 8th New York. 

        Blenker remained with the Army of the Potomac until the beginning of the Peninsular Campaign, when he was ordered to western Virginia. He took an active part in the battle of Cross Keys, 8 June 1862; but after the arrival of General Fremont he was succeeded by General Sigel. General Blenker was then ordered to Washington, and on 31 March 1863, was mustered out of service. He returned to his farm in Rockland County, where he remained until his death - 31 October 1863 - which resulted from internal injuries received from a fall of his horse in entering the town of Warrenton, Virginia while with his command.

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General Blenker's troops in the Union service, mostly Germans, could not fight on white bread, and so got an extra allowance for the supply of rye and black bread from their own ovens. Beer was also an essential, and permission was granted to trundle barrels to their camps. Business was so good that William Russell, writing for the London Times, reported that Blenker got from $6,000 to $8,000 monthly for granting beer licenses in his lines. A quartermaster officer seemed to have been the guilty party.