Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Willich, August
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|Edition of 1889. Written by Henry Stone. See also August Willich on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer.|
WILLICH, August, b. in Gorzyn, in the Prussian province of Posen, in 1810; d. in St. Mary's, Mercer co., Ohio, 23 Jan., 1878. His father, a captain of hussars during the Napoleonic wars, died when August was three years old. With an elder brother, the boy found a home in the family of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the famous theologian, whose wife was a distant relative. He received a military education at Potsdam and Berlin, and at eighteen years of age was commissioned 2d lieutenant of artillery in the Prussian army, becoming a captain in 1841. In 1846, in company with a number of the younger and more ardent officers of his brigade, he became so imbued with republican ideas that he tendered his resignation from the army in a letter written in such terms that, instead of its being accepted, he was arrested and tried by a court-martial. By some means he was acquitted, and afterward was permitted to resign. When the great revolution of 1848 threatened the overthrow of all European monarchies, Willich, with several former army friends, among whom were Franz Sigel, Friederich K. F. Hecker, Louis Blenker, and Carl Schurz, went to Baden and took an active part in the armed attempt to revolutionize Germany. After its failure, Willich and many of his compatriots became exiles. He escaped to Switzerland, but afterward made his way to England, where several of his fellow-exiles had also found refuge. Here he remained till 1853, devoting much of his time and labor to aiding his distressed countrymen to reach the United States. He had learned the trade of a carpenter while in England, and so earned a livelihood. Coming to the United States in 1853, he first found employment at his trade in the navy-yard at Brooklyn. Here his attainments in mathematics and other scientific studies were soon discovered, and he found more congenial work in the coast survey. In 1858 he was induced to go to Cincinnati as editor of the “German Republican,” in which work he continued till the opening of the civil war in 1861. He enlisted, at the first call to arms, in the 1st German (afterward 9th Ohio) regiment, which within three days mustered about 1,500 men. He was at once appointed adjutant, and, on 28 May, commissioned major. This regiment afterward became one of the best in the service. In the autumn of 1861 Gov. Oliver P. Morton, of Indiana, who was raising a German regiment in that state, commissioned him as its colonel. This was the 32d Indiana infantry, famous in the Army of the Cumberland for its drill and discipline, as well as for its gallantry in action. Willich devoted himself to this regiment, and with such good results that, on 26 Nov., 1861, three companies, deployed as skirmishers, repelled in confusion a regiment of Texan rangers. This affair gave it a prestige that it retained to the end of the war. On 17 July, 1862, he was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers. At the battle of Stone River, 31 Dec., 1862, he was captured almost before the action began, and was held a prisoner for several months. He was exchanged in season to take part, at the head of his brigade, in the battle of Chickamauga, 19 and 20 Sept., 1863, and from that time on he shared in all the movements and battles of the army, including the Atlanta campaign and the march to the sea and through the Carolinas. He was made brevet major-general, 21 Oct., 1865, and was mustered out of service, 15 Jan., 1866. On his return to Cincinnati he was chosen county auditor, which post he held for three years. He was visiting his old home in Germany at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war, and at once offered his services to the king, whom he had before attempted to dethrone. His offer was gratefully acknowledged, but, on account of his advanced age, it was not accepted. He found consolation, if not more congenial occupation, in attending lectures on philosophy at Berlin. Returning to the United States, he chose St. Mary's, Ohio, as his residence.