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Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas

Germans in the Civil War:
I goes to fight mit Sigel

I goes to fight mit Sigel--a popular song of the Civil War era--reflects the fact that a large number of the soldiers fighting for the Union cause were either recent immigrants from the German states or sons of such immigrants. These Germans on the Northern side--to the soldiers in Southern gray either the "Damned Dutch" or the "Hessians"--rallied to the cause in no small measure because they saw the "war to save the Union" as the continuation of the German Revolution of 1848-49, which failed to unite the German states and provide for democratic reforms. They were led into battle by many of the same military leaders who had played prominent roles during the Revolution in Germany, such as Friedrich Hecker, Carl Schurz and especially Franz Sigel(Siegel) .[photo: Franz Sigel (Siegel)]

     Sigel had been raised in the liberal German state of Baden near the Black Forest. Trained as a military officer in the regular army of Baden, he quickly sided with the revolutionaries in 1848 and eventually was minister of war in the provisional republic hastily declared in May 1849. With the total collapse of the Revolutionary movement, Sigel and thousands of his fellow Badensians were forced into American exile. A large number of these exiles eventually found themselves in Missouri at the beginning of the Civil War.

     As the Southern states left the Union one after another in the spring of 1861, the governor of Missouri sought to bring his state to the aid of her Southern brethren. The governor was thwarted in that attempt by the Federal forces under Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, who together with Franz Sigel, formed five nearly all-German regiments in St. Louis to keep Missouri in the Union. Among the volunteers for the Missouri 5th Regiment in spring 1861, was Fred Buehrle, recently arrived in Missouri from Baden. Fred's regiment together with the 3rd Missouri was placed under the command of Sigel and sent by rail to Rolla, Missouri, and on to Springfield to cut off the Missouri forces sympathetic to the South.

     Fred had immigrated with his older brother Wendelin in 1852, first to Indiana and in 1857 to Missouri. They had made new homes in Jefferson City. Wendelin, who had fought as an irregular in the Revolution under Sigel in Baden, also joined the Missouri Home Guard in June 1861 to defend Jefferson City from rebel attack. Meanwhile, the two columns of Federal troops under Lyon and Sigel, respectively, were converging on Springfield in pursuit of the Missouri governor and his militia. Sigel's men had their first skirmish at Carthage, Missouri, on July 5, then withdrew back to Springfield.

     After the arrival of Lyon's column at Springfield in July, the Union forces determined to attack the combined Confederate and Missouri forces encamped along Wilson's Creek about 10 miles southwest of Springfield at sunrise on August 10, 1861. Sigel's Germans, including Fred Buehrle, circled around the rebel's right flank and routed the first enemy troops encountered. While Lyon engaged the enemy in a bloody contest on the main part of the battlefield--losing his life in the process--Sigel's men waited to capture the retreating Confederates. To the surprise of Sigel's men, the Confederates attacked at point blank range and the two German regiments scattered in full-blown retreat. Sigel arrived back at Springfield ahead of his troops with only one aide. Those not killed or left wounded on the battlefield, like Fred Buehrle who was finally found after four days by the Confederates and taken to a hospital, had to make it back to Springfield on their own.

     Sigel continued to lead Union forces throughout the Civil War. He had some success at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in 1862. However, his reputation among the professional officer corps was forever tarnished by his ignominious retreat at Wilson's Creek. He remained, though, the hero of the German-Americans and those German soldiers in the Union Army, who, like Wendelin and Fred, were proud that "they had gone to fight with Sigel."

     Fred recovered from his wounds and Wendelin completed his enlistment as a sergeant in the 42nd Missouri Militia. After the war, the two brothers joined the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic and were proud to be known as true Americans, firing salutes with an old cannon on the Missouri capitol grounds on the Fourth of July and other patriotic occasions throughout the 1890s and into the first decade of the twentieth century. At Wendelin's death in December 1914, his obituaries in both the German and English newspapers emphasized that he had fought under Gen. Sigel in two wars! His brother Fred died in March 1915 after catching cold while standing in the rain to honor the parade of GAR veterans in Kansas City.

[Note: Wendelin Buehrle is the great-great-grandfather of Dr. William Keel, professor of German at the University of Kansas and Chair of the KU Germanic Languages and Literature Department]

(Ford County Historical Society Inc. William Keel, author.)

Adam Schmidt's Civil War Service

From Adam Schmidt's death notices:

Mr. Schmidt made a brilliant military record during his three years and nine months of service in the Civil war. He was a member of Co. B. of the First Missouri Light Artillery, and was with Siegel at Pea Ridge and Grant at Vicksburg. He participated in many of the other hard fought engagements of the Civil war.

(from the Dodge City Times, May 4, 1911)

In 1861, when 21 years of age he enlisted in Company B., 1st Missouri light artillery. Only once it is said did he disobey orders. The Union forces were hard pressed and were preparing for a retreat. Artilleryman Schmidt was ordered to bury the mortars, that they might not fall into the hands of the enemy. Saluting his captain, the German fighter said, "I did not enlist to bury the Union." For this refusal he was taken to the guard house.

(from the Dodge City Journal, May 5, 1911)

WWW-VL: History: United States: Civil War History 1861-1865
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