Going back to a previous posting of a winter letter , I am devoting this post to a quick review of the author of that letter and his position within the 11th Corps.
The name most frequently attached to the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac is that of Oliver Otis Howard. However, the first commander of the corps, both chronologically and in the hearts of the men, was Franz Sigel. Yes, the same Franz Sigel who was blamed for the Federal defeat at the opening of the 1864 Valley Campaign in New Market, Virginia.
The men of the 11th Corps had a strong attachment to Franz Sigel in 1862 and 1863. Attachment might not even be an adequate word to describe their feelings to their general. They were devoted to him; he was like so many of them, an immigrant German with strong feelings for the American union.
One of the “Forty-Eighters” who fought for a more democratic Europe in 1848, Franz Sigel was not unfamiliar with military defeat. He immigrated to the United States in 1852; his teaching career brought him to St. Louis, Missouri, where he became director of the public school system in 1860.
Sigel served as Colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry for only three months when President Lincoln commissioned him a Brigadier General, more for his political influence with German immigrants than for military success. In fact, a quick glance at his military career shows Sigel’s only military success was at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March, 1862, as a division commander.
Franz Sigel came east and served in the 1862 Valley Campaign and the 2nd Bull Run Campaign, both times without victory. In fact, 2nd Bull Run would be his last battle for approximately twenty months.
Unfortunately, with many of my posts, it seems the more one tries to answer questions, the more questions arise. Why was Sigel so popular with his men? Why was he so unsuccessful (in military affairs) as a general officer? Why does he have, not one, but two horseback statues honoring him (in St. Louis and New York City)? He could, if he wanted to, claim credit for a reasonably successful intelligence operation … but chose to spent cold winter days plotting grand strategy beyond the scope of his corps operations.
More to come…