Franz Sigel

Union General Franz Sigel        Franz Sigel was born in Sinsheim, Baden, Germany, on 18th November, 1824. A graduate of Karlsruhe Military Academy, he retired from the German Army in 1847 and became involved in radical politics. An officer in the army of Baden, he was a leader (184849) of the Baden revolutionary forces. After Prussia suppressed them, he fled to Switzerland and then to England. Sigel lived in England, Italy and France for a while until emigrating to the United States in 1852. He taught in New York City schools and served in the militia ; in 1857 he went to St. Louis, where he held the position of professor of mathematics, American history and French at the German-American Institute of that city; and was also elected director of the St. Louis public schools in 1860. He was influential in the emigrant community there and drew Missouri Germans to the Union cause when he openly supported it in 1861. An opponent of slavery, he immediately joined the Federal Army on the outbreak of War. Sigel resigned his previous civilian positions, and organized a regiment of infantry, a battalion of artillery of three batteries, and a squadron of cavalry. He commanded the expedition to southwest Missouri, and fought the battle of Carthage with eight hundred against four thousand men. Sigel was commissioned Colonel of the 3rd Missouri and within a few weeks promoted to the rank of Brigadier General as part of President Abraham Lincolns plan of courting anti-slavery, Unionist immigrants (August 7, 1861). He served under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon in the capture of the Confederate Camp Jackson in St. Louis and at the Battle of Wilsons Creek, where his command was routed by the Southerners. His finest performance came on March 8, 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge where, under Major General Samuel R. Curtis, he commanded two divisions and personally directed the Union artillery in the defeat of Major General Earl Van Dorns Confederates. 

Sigel was promoted to Major General on March 22, 1862. After transferring to the Eastern theater, he served in the Shenandoah Valley; there he and other Union generals had the misfortune of going up against Confederate General Thomas 'Stonewall" Jackson who bedeviled the blue coats with his lightning movements and superior strategy. Then Sigel commanded the I Corps in Major General John Popes Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Bull Run, which was another Union debacle. Although his generalship was not what one would have expected from a German-trained military officer, he nevertheless rose to the XI ("German") Corps command in the Army of the Potomac, a position he held until poor health forced him to take on lesser duties in the winter of 1863. He returned in March, 1864, but his military usefulness ended when, as commander of the Department of West Virginia, he was defeated at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. This battle was made famous by the charge of the Virginia Military Institute cadets. In July he fought Major General Jubal Early at Harpers Ferry but soon afterwards was relieved of his command for "lack of aggression" and replaced by David Hunter. 

        Sigel was an inept general, but his ability to rally the German element to the Federal colors had been important. "I fights mit Sigel" had been their slogan. He resigned his commission on May 4, 1865 and went to live in Baltimore where he worked as a journalist. He later moved to New York City where he became involved in publishing and lecturing. He filled numerous political positions, and was a republican until 1876, at that time declaring for Tilden; then, he advocated the policy of the democratic party. In 1887 he was appointed pension agent, by President Cleveland, for the city of New York. Franz Sigel died in New York on 21st August, 1902.

I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel (A Song of the War of 1861-1865)


Major General John Pope on Major General Franz Sigel: the God damndest coward I ever knew.

German-born troops under Federal General Franz Siegel marched toward the Battle of Cross Keys singing, "Shackson [Jackson] in a shug [jug], boys, Shackson in a shug! When they came back worse the wear after meeting Jackson, young Virginia ladies cried out, Hey, thought Jackson was in a jug! prompting the response, Ach, der stopper flew out!

Following his defeat at New Market by General John C. Breckinridge, Major General Franz Sigel reported to the Unions Adjutant General: The retrograde movement was effected in perfect order. The troops are in very good spirits and will fight another battle if the enemy should advance against us." General Halleck translated this when he reported to General Grant, Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do nothing but run: never did anything else.

Federal troops prepared to bivouac on the grounds of an estate in Rappahannock County, Virginia. Their commander, General Franz Sigel, arrived at the house with his staff. The aristocratic lady of the mansion eyed them calmly, rang for her servant, and told him, John, tea for fourteen.

Taken from SIDELIGHTS AND LIGHTER SIDES OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES: A Feast of History in Small Bites Cooked Up by Ralph Green, Past Commander-in-Chief Sons of Confederate Veterans. Used with permission.