Julius Stahel

Union General Julius Stahel        Julius Stahel was born in Szeged, Hungary, on November 5, 1825, into a typical middle class family. After being educated at Szeged and Budapest, he entered the Austrian army and had risen from the ranks to be 1st lieutenant when the Hungarian revolution occurred. Stahel became a proponent of Hungarian independence, joined the revolutionists and served on the staffs of General Arthur Gorger and General Richard Debaufre Guyon. In the battle of Branyiszk, February 5, 1849, Stahel sustained serious wounds and was decorated for bravery. When the revolt was suppressed in 1848, he fled abroad. After working as a teacher and journalist in Berlin and London, he moved to New York City in 1859 and began working for the " Deutsche illustrirte Familienblatter," an illustrated German weekly. His association with the German-American press earned him widespread recognition and respect among the German-speaking population of the city. 

        When the War began, he and Louis Blenker, a German revolutionary expatriate, organized the the 8th New York Volunteer Infantry (1st German Rifles), the first German-American regiment in the Union army. Stahel became the regiment's lieutenant-colonel and Blenker its colonel. Stahel commanded that regiment in the first battle of Manassas. 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. 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. Shortly afterwards, he was promoted brigadier-general, 12 November, 1861, and given a brigade in General Louis Blenker's German division. In the beginning of April 1862 Stahel and the rest of Blenker's division were ordered to General John C. Fremont's Mountain Department. Owing to the distance and the rugged terrain they had to traverse they did not reach Fremont until May 5. Because of the poor flow of supplies along their route, they arrived ragged, shoeless, tentless, without sufficient provisions, and exhausted. Fremont was directed to assist in the frantic attempt to cut off the retreat of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson from the strategic Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. On June 8, at Cross Keys, halfway between Harrisonburg and Port Republic, Fremont overtook some of Jackson's troops commanded by General Richard S. Ewell. Stahel's brigade bore the brunt of the fighting in this battle and sustained severe casualties accordingly. The 8th New York alone lost 46 killed and 135 wounded. Fremont praised Stahel's "cool and effective" leadership on the "hottest part of the field." Reporting on the engagement, the New York Times stated: ". . . the part taken by Gen. Stah[e]l, and his brigade of Germans, is the theme of general commendation. He has won the popular favor among American as well as foreign officers . . . He is brave and enthusiastic, and was seen during the day in the thickest of the fight, encouraging and urging on his men."

        Stahel was subsequently in command of a division of General Franz Sigel's First Corps and took part in the 2nd Battle of Manassas. In wake of various corps reorganizations and reassignments, Stahel assumed temporary command of the Eleventh Corps on December 18, 1862, during the absence of Sigel, and on January 10, 1863, he was named to the command when Sigel assumed command of the divisions comprising the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps. A few days after John Singleton Mosby's daring raid behind the Federal lines at Fairfax Court House during the night of March 8, Lincoln summoned Stahel to the White House and ordered him personally to take charge of the Union cavalry at Fairfax. The three brigades of cavalry in the Department of Washington were organized as a division, which together with the outposts were placed under Stahel's command. On March 14, he was raised to the rank of major-general and ranked just under Philip Henry Sheridan. Stahel's elevation to this rank was due not only to his service record, but also to his prominence in the German-American community and his close ties with Carl Schurz, one of the most outstanding figures of the German-Americans and a trusted friend of Lincoln.

        On June 27, 1863, General Joseph Hooker relieved Stahel of his command and assigned his division to General Alfred Pleasonton's Cavalry Corps. Stahel was ordered to report to General Darius Couch in the Department of the Susquehanna. There he organized the 20th, 21st and 22nd regiments of Pennsylvania cavalry. When President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19 at the dedication of the military cemetery established for those who had fallen at the battle of Gettysburg, Stahel commanded the guard of honor. 

        On March 13, 1864, Stahel was transferred to the Department of West Virginia where he became Sigel's chief of cavalry and chief of staff. In late April, Sigel marched his army into the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley. Consolidating Confederate forces in the Valley, General John C. Breckenridge met Sigel's column at the small town of New Market on May 15. In the ensuing engagement, often called "the biggest little battle of the war," the Confederates scored a resounding victory. Sigel was immediately relieved of his command and was succeeded by General David Hunter. Hunter was ordered to move up the Shenandoah Valley, cross the Blue Ridge Mountains to Charlottesville, and then invest Lynchburg. To contest Hunter's movement, Confederates under General William E. "Grumble" Jones met Hunter's army at the village of Piedmont, some seven miles southwest of Port Republic, on June 5. After repelling two attacks, the Southerners were disastrously beaten by a flank attack. Stahel played a conspicuous role in the victory. Personally leading some of his dismounted troopers to support the infantry, he was hit by a bullet in the left shoulder. "It . . . struck the bone and glanced off," he recalled decades later, "and the whole of my left arm turned black - probably from the shock of the bullet blow on the bone." He left his command only for the time required to allow his surgeon to dress the wound. With his arm heavily bandaged and quite useless, Stahel had to be helped onto his horse. Despite the encumbrance and intense pain, he led his mounted men in the decisive charge which routed the Confederates. Twenty-nine years later, on November 4, 1893, Stahel was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor in this battle. 

General Stahel's Grave         Due to his wounds, Stahel was temporarily relieved of his command and served on courts-martial until he resigned in February of 1865. After the War, Stahel worked in the consular service in Japan and China for 20 years. According to one biographical sketch, Stahel "represented his adopted country with dignity, ability and tact." He resigned because of ill health, and returned to the United States in 1885, establishing an association with the Equitable Life Insurance Company of New York. A lifelong bachelor, Stahel died of angina pectoris in a New York Residence Hotel on December 4, 1912, at the age of 87. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His honorary pallbearers included several military and civilian notables: General Nelson Miles, Rear-Admiral Adolph Marix, George P. Wilson and Simon Wolf.

 

               

 

X