Julius Stahel, the Mysterious General

Perhaps not so surprisingly, my post this week (and first new substantive post in awhile) is not on one of the topics I mentioned last week.  Not directly anyway.  Going back into “research mode” I’ve found some interesting letters online, mainly from 11th Corps generals to Lincoln.  One would think with all the management details these men needed to handle that they wouldn’t have time to evade the chain of command and meddle in promotion decisions.  But they were human, and they were looking out for their careers.  Some letters are direct; von Steinwehr writing that he is the senior commander with the most experience leading various size units.  Some letters are more helpful in tone; one general wrote Lincoln hoping that his commander’s resignation would not be accepted, but, if it was, that he would be promoted in his place.

In looking over letters to Lincoln between October 1862 and May 1863, one comes across much pro-Sigel sentiment from the German officers of the 11th Corps.  One lesser-known name keeps popping up, though—Julius Stahel, Hungarian revolutionary, Union general, Medal of Honor recipient, subject of today’s post.

In 11th Corp “lore”, one hears of Howard especially, perhaps Schurz, maybe Steinwehr or Schimmelfennig in Gettysburg trivia; however some generals seem to pass on with no notice.  Franz Sigel is an excellent example of this; he more than anyone defined the spirit of the 11th Corps before it even officially existed (and I’ll return to Sigel in this and later posts).  Julius Stahel is another example.

Before examining Stahel, I think it’s important to take a brief detour.  The men of the 11th Corps got the reputation of being “Dutch” or German, but there quite a few Hungarians as well.  I’ve written about the Hungarians before, but have found some statistics to share.  On the Cleveland Memory website (http://clevelandmemory.org/Hungarians/pg089.htm) one can read that twenty percent of Hungarians in the United States served in the Federal army during the Civil War, more than any other ethnic group.  Stephen Beszedits, in an article (http://suvcw.org/mollus/art018.pdf) from 2001 states that the number was closer to approximately 300 out of 4,000 (roughly 7.5%).  While not as dramatic as twenty percent, it is still a significant sacrifice on the part of immigrants who mostly likely were not residing in the United States for more than twelve years.

Remember that Europe in 1848 was in the midst of revolution, including Hungary, where the Hungarians tried to gain autonomy from the Hapsburg royalty.  Their war was not successful and resulted in many refugees first to western Europe and then across to the United States.  Julius Stahel was one of these refugees, arriving in New York in 1856 where he began a career in journalism with a German newspaper.  Stahel, a former officer of the Austrian army before he turned Hungarian revolutionary, began his Civil War military career as lieutenant colonel of the 8th New York Infantry.

The regiment was responsible for covering the retreat from the First Bull Run battlefield and Stahel’s reputation was enhanced by the quality of his regiment’s actions during the retreat.  Brigade command followed as Stahel served under Fremont in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign and the battle of Cross Keys, where again, even though the battle was a defeat for the Federal army, Stahel’s military reputation was apparently left intact.  In the summer and fall of 1862, he commanded a brigade in Sigel’s corps of the Army of Virginia, became acting commander of his division during Second Bull Run while his command again helped cover an army’s retreat.  In November 1862 Stahel was promoted to Brigadier General and commanded a division in the 11th Corps under Sigel.  As mentioned earlier, Sigel wanted him to take over the corps after his resignation.  In March 1863 Stahel was promoted to Major General and given command of cavalry around Washington.  He was transferred to command of the cavalry of the Department of the Susquehanna in the weeks before Gettysburg.

Stahel returned to Virginia in the spring of 1864, again with Franz Sigel, as a commander of his 1st Cavalry Division.  After the defeat at New Market, he continued service under David Hunter and was severely wounded at the battle of Piedmont in June 1864, effectively ending his military career.  For his bravery at Piedmont, Julius Stahel was awarded the Medal of Honor (in 1893).  His post-war career included diplomatic service, mining engineering and life insurance sales before he died in 1912.  Stahel is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The question I am left pondering, and to which I need an answer, is why Stahel was, in effect, removed from the Army of the Potomac in the winter/spring of 1863?  I intend to dig deeper into this for my next post.  Along with that research, I have the opportunity to visit a significant field in 11th Corps history in the next few weeks.  Hopefully it will not be 35 degrees.

Julius Stahel, Major General, Medal of Honor Recipient

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One Response to Julius Stahel, the Mysterious General

  1. Stefan says:

    Stahel coveted a substantial cavalry command. And he got it…

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