John Held and Joseph Seitz: Soldiers of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry

By: Jaeger Held ’23

In the early afternoon of July 1, 1863, several hundred soldiers of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry advanced through the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On that summer day, the German–American regiment would suffer heavier losses than on any other day during the American Civil War. Among its members were John Held, a private in Company D, and Joseph Seitz, a private in Company K, the author’s 4th great-uncles.

John Held was born in Prussia in 1839. He and his elder brother Joseph immigrated to the United States and settled in Racine, Wisconsin, by the 1850s. When the American Civil War began he was living in Racine and his occupation was listed as a cooper. On August 19, 1862, during the second year of the war, he enlisted in the Union army for three years’ service around the age of twenty-three. He was described at enlistment as having gray eyes, light hair, a light complexion, standing five feet, five inches in height, and having a slender build.

Corporal John Held, Co. D, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862 portrait, image courtesy Terrence Held.
 

Joseph Seitz was born on March 2, 1836, in Heiligenzell, located in present-day Baden-Württemberg, Germany. He and several members of his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Wisconsin by the 1850s. Joseph’s younger sister Marianna Seitz met and married Joseph Held of Racine, Wisconsin, the brother of John Held. When the American Civil War began he was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his occupation was listed as a painter. Milwaukee, along with Cincinnati, Ohio and St. Louis, Missouri, formed what came to be called the “German Triangle” of settlement in the midwestern United States in the mid-19th century. On August 21, 1862, Joseph enlisted in the Union Army for three years’ service at the age of twenty-six. He was described at enlistment as having brown eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, standing five feet, four and one-half inches in height, and having a medium build. Joseph and John were both mustered in on September 17, 1862, and each was paid a bounty of $25.

Private Joseph Seitz, Co. K, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, postwar portrait, image courtesy Terrence Held.

The 26th ‘Sigel Regiment,’ also known as the ‘Second German Regiment’ of Wisconsin, named in honor of German-born major general Franz Sigel, was composed almost entirely of men of German birth or German parentage. On the day their regiment was organized in Milwaukee, the bloodiest single-day battle of the war was fought along Antietam Creek in western Maryland. John Held and Joseph Seitz were both listed as being present with their regiment during the fall of 1862. After a brief period of training at Camp Sigel in Milwaukee, the 26th Wisconsin was transported by rail to Washington, D.C., in early October 1862 where it was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, of General Sigel’s largely German 11th Corps, recently attached to the Army of the Potomac, then stationed around Fairfax, Virginia. The 11th Corps was held in reserve during the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in December, and John and Joseph were both listed as present that winter as their regiment participated in the infamous Mud March in January. The near brothers-in-law were both listed as present throughout the spring of 1863 as the Army of the Potomac again prepared to fight the Army of Northern Virginia.

Recruitment poster in German for the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, image courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society.

In early 1863, Sigel resigned as commander of the 11th Corps, and corps command was given to Major General Oliver O. Howard. The 11th Corps’ 3rd Division, to which the regiment belonged, was commanded by Major General Carl Schurz, a German revolutionary, and the 2nd Brigade was led by Polish-born Colonel Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski. In late April and early May 1863, John, Joseph, and the 26th Wisconsin participated in the Chancellorsville Campaign in Virginia. During the evening of May 2, 1863, as the regiment rested at the edge of a forest known as the Wilderness, Confederate soldiers led by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson attacked. Jackson’s 28,000 men struck the exposed end of the 11th Corps, the right flank of the Union line. The 26th Wisconsin formed into line of battle and delivered several volleys into the advancing Confederates. After a twenty-minute struggle, the Badger state Germans were forced to retreat. In its first battle, out of 471 engaged, the 26th Wisconsin suffered 204 casualties in killed, wounded, and missing, including their colonel, the fifth-highest losses of any northern regiment on the field. After the Union withdrawal back across the Rappahannock River, John and Joseph were with their regiment as the Army of the Potomac pursued the Confederates northward into Pennsylvania.

26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry 1862 national colors, image courtesy Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

On the morning of July 1, 1863, the 26th Wisconsin and the rest of the 11th Corps were encamped around Emmitsburg, Maryland when they received word that Confederate infantry were advancing in force near the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Wisconsin Germans set out on a forced march north towards Gettysburg. After a fatiguing thirteen-mile journey, the regiment arrived in the borough by early afternoon and rested in a peach orchard at the northern edge of town. Krzyżanowski’s brigade eventually received orders to advance across the plains of Gettysburg to reinforce Brigadier General Francis Barlow’s exposed 1st Division of the 11th Corps, positioned on a knoll owned by farmer John Blocher. As the 26th Wisconsin advanced on the right of the brigade, the regiment engaged Georgians of George Doles’ and John B. Gordon’s brigades. The regiment exchanged volleys with the Confederates but was eventually flanked and forced to retreat through the town of Gettysburg. In the savage fighting north of town, the regiment suffered severely, losing their state colors, both remaining field officers, and 210 casualties in killed, wounded, and missing out of 458 men present at Gettysburg. The regiment was positioned on Cemetery Hill during the second and third days of the battle and not engaged. For his actions in the battle, John Held was promoted to the rank of Corporal, dated July 1, 1863.

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the Sigel Regiment and the remainder of the Army of the Potomac pursued the Army of Northern Virginia back into Virginia. In September 1863, two divisions of the 11th Corps, including the 26th Wisconsin—so reduced in number the regiment was now led by a company officer, Captain Frederick C. Winkler—were transferred by rail to northern Alabama to relieve the Army of the Cumberland then under siege in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Second German regiment was present at the Tennessee battles of Wauhatchie, during the night of October 28-29, 1863, and Missionary Ridge, on November 25, 1863. During a reorganization of the Union armies in the spring of 1864, four divisions of the 11th and 12th Corps were combined to form the new 20th Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. The Sigel Regiment, led by Major Winkler, was assigned to the 20th Corps’ 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division. As part of this command, the 26th Wisconsin participated in the Atlanta Campaign in north Georgia, fighting in many battles including Rocky Face Ridge, Buzzard’s Roost Gap, Resaca, Cassville, Burnt Hickory, Dallas, and New Hope Church in May 1864 and Pine Mountain, Golgotha Church, Lost Mountain, Muddy Creek, Noyes’ Creek, Kolb’s Farm, and Kennesaw Mountain in June. By mid-July, the Union army had advanced to within a few miles of Atlanta. On July 20, 1864, Confederate forces launched a massive frontal assault against Union lines positioned along the southern bank of Peachtree Creek. The Confederates were repulsed, though at a heavy cost. The 26th Wisconsin, led by Lieutenant Colonel Winkler, lost thirteen soldiers killed or mortally wounded in the action and captured the colors of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry. Numbered among the slain was Corporal John Held, who fell, according to his company commander, “in the line of his duty as a soldier by a Rifle Ball fired by the enemy of the U.S. in consequence of which he was killed instantly.” After a six-week siege, Atlanta fell to Union forces on September 2, 1864.

Corporal John Held’s military headstone, Marietta National Cemetery, Georgia, image courtesy Helen Gaskill.

In the fall of 1864, Joseph Seitz was reassigned from the Sigel Regiment and served on detached service in Chattanooga, Tennessee until he rejoined the regiment at war’s end in the spring of 1865. Three of Joseph’s brothers, Fidel, Ferdinand, and Charles, also served in the Union Army. Fidel Seitz enlisted in 1861 and served in Company B, 1st Nebraska Infantry, fighting at the Battles of Fort Donelson, Tennessee on February 15, 1862, and Shiloh, Tennessee on April 7, 1862. He deserted on February 22, 1863, near Arcadia, Missouri. Ferdinand and Charles were drafted in 1864. Charles Seitz served in Company F, 39th Wisconsin Infantry, a unit of ‘Hundred Days Men’ assigned to garrison duty in Memphis, Tennessee, where his regiment defended the city from an attack by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry in the Second Battle of Memphis on August 21, 1864. Ferdinand Seitz was drafted into Company B, 18th Wisconsin Infantry, attached to the 93rd Illinois Infantry, and participated in the Savannah Campaign in November and December 1864 and the Carolinas Campaign in early 1865, fighting at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina on March 20-21, 1865. Joseph Seitz mustered out with the remainder of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry near Washington, D.C., on June 13, 1865. John Held was initially buried on the Peachtree Creek battlefield, before being reinterred in the Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, Cobb County, Georgia in the fall of 1866. Joseph Seitz returned to Wisconsin and died on April 14, 1913, in Racine, and he is buried in the Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Caledonia, Racine County, Wisconsin.

26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry 1864 state colors, image courtesy Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

During three years of service, the 26th Wisconsin Infantry lost 191 men, including Corporal John Held, killed and mortally wounded, the fourth-highest percentage of any Union regiment. Colonel James Wood, commanding the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 20th Corps, in his official report, said this of the conduct of the 26th Wisconsin in the Battle of Peachtree Creek: “Where all behaved well, it may be regarded as invidious to call attention to individuals, yet it seems to me I cannot discharge my duty in this report without pointing out for especial commendation the conduct of the Twenty-sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and its brave and able commander. The position of this regiment in the line was such that the brunt of the enemy’s attack fell upon it. The brave, skillful and determined manner in which it met this attack, rolled back the onset, pressed forward in a counter charge and drove back the enemy, could not be excelled by the troops in this or any other army, and is worthy of the highest commendation and praise.”

Sources:

1st Regiment, Nebraska Infantry. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UNE0001RC.

18th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UWI0018RI.

26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. https://www.facebook.com/26thWisconsin/.

26th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry. National Park Service.https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UWI0026RI.

39th Regiment, Wisconsin Infantry. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UWI0039RI.

Bartsch, August. “Letter to the family of Corporal John Held from Captain August Bartsch, Company D, 26th Wisconsin Infantry, October 10, 1864.” Held Family Tree. Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/65399329/person/48148725537/media/5623717e-1d36-4371-87f3-90d3402a5bf8?_phsrc=KrZ838&usePUBJs=true.

Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers who Served in Organizations from the State of Wisconsin. The National Archives.

Gettysburg Stone Sentinels, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment monument. https://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/wisconsin/26th-wisconsin/.

Germans in the Midwest. National Museum of American History – Smithsonian Institution. https://americanhistory.si.edu/many-voices-exhibition/peopling-expanding-nation-1776%E2%80%931900/pushed-and-pulled-european-immigration-0.

Held Family Tree. Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/65399329/family/familyview.

John Held (1839-1864). Findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3950710/john-held.

Joseph Seitz (1836-1913). Findagrave.com. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/7112143/joseph-seitz.

Pula, James S. (1998). The Sigel Regiment: A History of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865. Savas Publishing Co.

U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Ancestry.com.https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=1555&h=3701107&ssrc=pt&tid=65399329&pid=48148725537&usePUB=true.

U.S., Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, Wisconsin. Ancestry.com.https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2123&h=377934&ssrc=pt&tid=65399329&pid=48148725537&usePUB=true.

Speaker Interview: Sharpshooting at Gettysburg

By Dr. Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Tim Orr is an Associate Professor of History at Old Dominion University, where he teaches classes in nineteenth-century America and Civil War history. A graduate of Gettysburg College, he received his PhD from Penn State University. Prior to his arrival at ODU, Dr. Orr worked for 8 years as a seasonal park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park. His first book, “Last to Leave the Field”: The Life and Letters of First Sergeant Ambrose Henry Hayward, Company D, 28th, was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2010. He is the author of several book chapters and articles on the battle of Gettysburg as well as a co-author of the book Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway, with Laura Lawfer Orr and N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss (William Morrow, 2017)

Photograph by Miranda Harple
Dr. Tim Orr leading a tour at a previous CWI Conference

CWI:  You’re leading our new Active Track option this year, which will focus on sharpshooting at Gettysburg. On its own, this package is shorter (weekend only) and more physically intensive, with rigorous climbs and walks mostly centered on the Union left. Before we get to the specifics of Gettysburg, can you tell us a little bit about sharpshooting and what that term meant for both the Union and Confederate armies in the early summer of 1863?

ORR: In many ways, sharpshooting was a new concept for American armies. Prior to the Civil War, taking care to aim was not something that many soldiers did. Smooth-bored weaponry did not allow for combat range beyond seventy yards, so battles often emphasized the massing of firepower, not marksmanship. (A few rifle regiments had been used during the Revolution and the War of 1812, but rarely did they have a tangible effect on the flow of battle.) During the Civil War, with the addition of a new skirmish drill manual and rifled-musket technology, Civil War infantry were required to fight at long range more and more. This, in turn, required soldiers to surmount an emotional hurdle. Quite often, soldiers considered sharpshooters as akin to murderers, and that killing a soldier when he wasn’t expecting it was dishonorable. However, that feeling died quickly. By 1863, in the Eastern Theater, sharpshooting was en vogue, and Gettysburg is an excellent battlefield to find evidence of that.

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Winslow Homer, The Army of the Potomac – A Sharp-Shooter on Picket Duty, from Harper’s Weekly, vol. 7, November 15, 1862, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

CWI: Many students of the Civil War have heard of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, but their stories aren’t usually the first or second that we hear about Gettysburg–a battlefield that has many intriguing regimental narratives. How important were the sharpshooters on these fields? How did they shape the outcome of the fighting at Gettysburg and why were their contributions important?

ORR: This active-track package is going to focus primarily upon Berdan’s 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, two of the first specialized regiments in U.S. Army history. We will allocate each day to studying a pivotal action played by Berdan’s men: the 1st U.S.S.S. at Pitzer’s Woods and the 2nd U.S.S.S. at the Slyder Farm and on Big Round Top. Both of these regiments had important roles to play. At noon on July 2, the 1st U.S.S.S. engaged Confederate infantry under Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox inside Pitzer’s Woods, and the resulting combat influenced Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles’s decision to redeploy the Army of the Potomac’s 3rd Corps to the Joseph Sherfy Peach Orchard, one of the pivotal decisions of the battle. Then, later in the day, when Maj. Gen. John B. Hood’s Confederate division arrived to sweep up the Union left flank, it encountered a stubborn skirmish line consisting formed by the 2nd U.S.S.S. During this excursion, we will, in essence, see how a handful of soldiers influenced the tide of battle. It’s a dramatic story!

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Alfred Waud, Soldiers shooting from behind rock at Round Top, 1863, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

CWI: What are the most common misconceptions about Civil War sharpshooters?

ORR: At the time, many soldiers in both armies despised sharpshooters, thinking them ungentlemanly. However, that stigma eroded over time, and by 1863, both armies deployed regiments of sharpshooters to augment their fighting abilities. Nowadays, I’m not sure what misconceptions about them exist. Although, I generally assume that most people believe that 1860s rural America produced the best sharpshooters. In reality, the best marksmen came from the cities, where shooting clubs tested riflemen’s skill. In some ways, the North–not the South–had the natural advantage in sharpshooting.

Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace

By Kevin Lavery ’16

If you’re a frequent reader of the Compiler, it comes as no news to you that the Gettysburg area is historic for more than just its battlefield. From a pre-war African American community to the World War I tank camp commanded by a young Dwight Eisenhower, Gettysburg has a rich and vibrant history that the time-frozen battlefield, however majestic in its own right, all too often obscures. One of my favorite places in the region, however, is a state park located just fourteen miles west of town. Nestled amidst the ridges of South Mountain, Caledonia State Park stands on land once part of the Caledonia Furnace complex owned by the famed congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

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Evidence abounds of Caledonia’s industrial origins. Photograph by the author.

In the last two years, I have tried whenever possible to get out to the park, which serves as a gateway to some of my favorite hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail runs right through Caledonia, and just north of the park there is a vast network of trails that wind their way through the neighboring Michaux State Forest. Not only is it an excellent park for recreation, but it has a long and storied past that I’ve had the opportunity to explore for the Compiler, redoubling my appreciation for the scenic place. Continue reading “Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace”

“Consternation was depicted on all their countenances”: Gettysburg’s African American Community and Confederate Invasion

By Brian Johnson ’14

On June 15, 1863, Albert Jenkins’s Confederate cavalry brigade became the first of Lee’s men to enter the North when it crossed the Potomac River and headed for Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Lee had issued strict orders forbidding his men to damage or confiscate private property unless it was a requisition made for necessary supplies, and overseen by authorized Confederate staff. Jenkins’s men half-heartedly obeyed, and scoured the area for anything valuable, including African Americans, fugitive or legally free, who might be sold into slavery. One horrified Chambersburg resident watched local blacks attempt to hide in cornfields only to have troopers chase them down through the young stalks. Others capitulated after troopers fired at them. When Lee arrived in Chambersburg on June 27, his horror at scenes of looting and robbery compelled him to reissue his order concerning private property. But he made no mention of over 200 captured African-Americans – some of whom had been born in Chambersburg – removed south by Jenkins’s cavalry. On the same day in nearby Mercersburg, one startled local watching fugitive-filled wagons roll towards Maryland asked a guard how he could do such a thing. Confederates, he replied, were simply “reclaiming their property.” Continue reading ““Consternation was depicted on all their countenances”: Gettysburg’s African American Community and Confederate Invasion”