Sigel, Franz, 1824-1902

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1824-11-18
Death 1902-08-21
English, German

Biographical notes:

Army officer and editor. He served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War.

From the description of Papers, 1861-1902. (Rhinelander District Library). WorldCat record id: 18375966

American army officer.

From the description of Letter signed : St. Louis, Mo., to a Secretary Woods, 1861 Sept. 3. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270664904

German army officer. Immigrated to the U.S., 1852. Union army officer during the Civil War and editor of German language newspapers in Baltimore, Md., and New York, N.Y.

From the description of Franz Sigel papers, 1863-1870. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980462

Union General who was born in Germany, came to the U.S. where he settled in St. Louis and taught math. After the war he moved to New York and became a journalist.

From the description of Letter, Oct. 9, 1862. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 54848376

Officer in the Union Army, journalist, and editor; resident of St. Louis, Missouri, and New York City. Born in Sinsheim, Baden, Germany, and emigrated to the United States in 1852.

From the description of Franz Sigel papers, 1861-1862, 1900-1901. (New York University, Group Batchload). WorldCat record id: 58776354

Officer in the Union army, journalist, and editor; resident of St. Louis, Missouri and New York City. Born in Sinsheim, Baden, Germany, and emigrated to the United States in 1852, after involvement in the Revolution of 1848.

From the description of Franz Sigel papers, 1806-1901 (bulk 1860-1862). (New York University, Group Batchload). WorldCat record id: 58781930

Brig. general in the Union Army.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Headquarters, 2nd Brig. St. Louis, Mo., to George F. Heidemann, 1861 Sept. 9. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270662670

  • November 18, 1824: Sigel born in Sinsheim in the Grand Duchy of Baden (modern day Germany)
  • 1843: Sigel graduated from the Military Academy at Karsruche and joined the army of the Grand Duke of Baden
  • 1848: Sigel joined the Germany revolution and resigned his military commission
  • May 1852: Sigel moved to New York after being in exile in Switzerland and England
  • 1855: Sigel established the German-American Institute in New York City with his father-in-law, Rudolf Dulon where Sigel taught mathematics, history, and languages
  • 1857: Sigel was hired as a professor at the German-American Institute in St. Louis
  • 1860: Sigel was elected director of St. Louis public schools
  • May 4, 1861: Sigel was commissioned as a colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry
  • August 7, 1861: Sigel was promoted to brigadier general (effective May 17)
  • Winter 1861: Sigel resigned from the Union Army in protest when his command was given to Samuel R. Curtis. This is the first of his two resignations.
  • March 7 - 8, 1862 : Sigel led a division at the Battle of Pea Ridge. This was one of Sigel's few notable military victories during the Civil War.
  • March 21, 1862: Sigel was promoted to major general of volunteers
  • Winter 1862 - February 1863 : Sigel was given command of the XI Corps in the Army of the Potomac, which was mainly made up of German immigrants who wanted to “fight mit Sigel.” Sigel was relieved by Major General Oliver O. Howard in February 1863
  • February 1864: Sigel was given command of the Department of West Virginia
  • May 15, 1864: Sigel suffered an embarrassing defeat at the Battle of New Market
  • July 8, 1864: Sigel was removed from active command
  • May 4, 1865: Sigel resigned from the Union Army for the second and final time
  • 1869: Sigel ran for New York Secretary of State only to be defeated by the Boss Tweed’s candidate
  • 1886: Sigel was appointed U.S. Pension Agent for New York, a position he held through to 1889
  • August 21, 1902: Sigel died in New York City

Franz Sigel was born on November 18, 1824 in Sinsheim in the Grand Duchy of Baden, what is now modern day Germany. His military career began upon his graduation in 1843 from the Military Academy at Karsruche when he joined the Grand Duke of Baden’s army. His time in the army was short though, because Sigel resigned his commission in order to partake in the the Revolutions of 1848 in Germany. Sigel was rather notable among the revolutionaries because he had actual military experience. After the Prussians put down the revolution, Forty-Eighters (those who had supported the revolution) fled Germany in droves. Sigel was one of those Forty-Eighters and lived in exile in Switzerland, France, and England.

At some point after the revolution, Sigel married Elsie Dulton with whom he eventually had five children, which included three sons and a daughter: Rudolph, Paul, Franz Jr., and Lulu. No information is available about the fifth child. Sigel's granddaughter, Paul’s daughter, Elsie, was a missionary among Chinese immigrants in New York City. She gained notoriety 1909 when there was extensive newspaper coverage of her sensational murder allegedly committed by one of the immigrants she had been helping.

In May 1852, Sigel, like many Forty-Eighters before him, came to the United States and settled in New York City. Sigel began building his ties with the German immigrant community when he established the German-American Institute in New York City with his father-in-law, Rudolf Duton. Sigel taught mathematics, history, and languages at the Institute. Sigel also taught at the German Turner Society, which was an institution that believed in mixing learning and exercise. During this period Sigel was also active in the 5th New York Militia. Sigel then moved to St. Louis in 1857 to become a professor at the German-American Institute there. In 1860 Sigel was elected director of St. Louis’ public schools.

Like many other Forty-Eighters, Sigel was considered a progressive who opposed slavery. When the American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, Sigel was ready to join the fray. He was commissioned as a colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry in the Union Army on May 4, 1861. Soon Sigel became a household name--at least in German households. In what was considered a political maneuver, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Sigel to the rank of brigadier general. The reason for this promotion most likely had something to do with the rallying cry from German immigrants-“I goes to fight mit Sigel.” (There was also a popular civil war song with that slogan for a title.) Sigel was a significant help when it came to recruiting German immigrants for the Union Army. Interestingly, there were several Civil War generals who were German Forty-Eighters including Carl Schurz, Louis Blenker, and Alexander Schimmelfennig.

Unfortunately Sigel’s recruiting successes did not carry over to the battlefield. There were some notable victories during the early years of the war, such as the Battle of Pea Ridge which took place on March 7-8, 1862. However, Sigel’s American military career was punctuated by a resignation in 1861, which he did in protest over being replaced, and numerous losses on the battlefield. Although he was removed from active command, Sigel managed to stay in Lincoln’s good graces due to his popularity with the German immigrants. On May 15, 1864, Sigel suffered an embarrassing loss at the Battle of New Market where the Confederate force had a number of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute whose average age was eighteen. Sigel continued in the Union Army without active command until his second and final resignation on May 4, 1865.

As a civilian, Sigel kept active in politics. He attempted to run for New York Secretary of State in 1869, but he was defeated by Boss Tweed’s candidate. Boss Tweed was a political machine boss. He is associated with Tammany Hall, a notorious New York political machine which was founded in 1876, devoted to Democrats, and fueled by Irish immigrants. In 1886, Sigel was appointed U.S. Pension Agent for New York and he held the position until 1889. On August 21, 1902 Sigel died in New York City.

Sources:

Stephen D. Engle, Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

“Franz Sigel,” Civil War Trust, available at http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/franz-sigel.html.

“Franz Sigel,” Encyclopedia Virginia, available at http://encyclopediavirginia.org/Sigel_Franz_1824-1902

“Gen. Franz Sigel Dead,” N.Y. Times, Aug. 22, 1902.

From the guide to the Franz Sigel Papers, 1806-1930 (Bulk 1848-1880), (@ 2011 New-York Historical Society)

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Subjects:

  • German Americans--Missouri--St. Louis--History
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, German American
  • German Americans
  • Generals--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc
  • German American soldiers
  • Germans
  • Pea Ridge, Battle of, Ark., 1862
  • Germans--United States
  • German Americans--New York (State)--New York

Occupations:

  • Military officers
  • Collector
  • Officers (military officers)
  • Generals
  • Publisher
  • Army officers

Places:

  • Ohio (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Missouri (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)