The Writings of Carl Schurz/Franz Sigel

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The coffin around which we are assembled awakens great memories. I stand here as one of the few surviving contemporaries of our departed friend—a brother in arms of two wars, both wars for high ideals of human rights and liberty. The one was the insurrectionary war in the old Fatherland for national unity and popular government. It is a sad degeneracy of sentiment which of late has accustomed itself scornfully to scoff at that period of the “springtime of peoples” as it was then justly called. The many thousands who then were willing to sacrifice their lives for a great cause certainly need not be ashamed of their idealism, even if they did succumb in the struggle. It has been our fate—a not uncommon fate—to see the seed sown by us bloom and ripen otherwise than we had hoped. The unprejudiced know full well and recognize the fact, that without the national spirit awakened by the commotions of 1848, the great national development which later created the great German Empire would not have been possible.

Thus have many things for which we then strove, although in unforeseen fashion, since become realities; and many others, still more nearly approaching our ideals, will doubtless become realities in the future. Truly, the men of 1848, who fought for high ends, have not fought in vain.

And among those fighters I saw—it is now fifty-three years since—Franz Sigel as one of the leaders on the field. He was in the very bloom of youth. His liberal sentiments had driven him to abandon his lieutenant's place in the regular army, and with all the ardor of his nature he had thrown himself into the movement for national unity and free government. In spite of his youth his recognized military ability soon lifted him to high places of command—and even to the highest, when all hope of victory was gone. With the most praiseworthy self-sacrifice he undertook to lead his hopeless battalions, pressed on all sides by the victorious enemy, to a place of security on foreign soil; and the defeat of his cause left to him the name of a faithful, brave and uncommonly able soldier.

One of the German Forty-eighters, he came to America, not merely to seek for himself as a fugitive a place of refuge, but also because, with many others, he hoped to find here the realization of the ideals which in the old world had inspired him to fight for nationality and freedom. But few years elapsed when the peril of the Republic, brought on by the secession of the slave States, again put the sword in his hand. And that sword he wielded again for National existence and human rights, this time in his new fatherland.

He was one of the foremost of those who in the critical days of 1861 with Frank Blair and Nathaniel Lyon and the patriotic German-Americans of St. Louis rendered the Republic the inestimable service of saving by a bold stroke that city and the State of Missouri to the Union. And then he went from campaign to campaign, from battlefield to battlefield, rising in rank and renown, until the winged word “fighting with Sigel” became the warcry of many thousands.

And now, under the burden of old age, the grizzled hero has sunk into his grave. The world has not always been just to him under the confusing influence of jealous ambitions. But impartial history will not fail to place his name among the most patriotic and most meritorious defenders of the country. To his glory be it said, he lifted his sword only for the cause of high ideals. It has been my fortune, as one of his subordinates, to see him under the thunder of cannon and in the rain of bullets, with the fire of battle in his eye, but also with the calm gaze of the leader. I have heard the enthusiastic shouts with which his men greeted him on the bloody field. And now I am here, an old friend and brother-in-arms, to lay with you the laurel upon the bier of my old general. His name will forever fill a most honorable place in the history of the Republic—the pride of his German-American compatriots, and a shining example of American citizenship in arms.

  1. Remarks at the funeral services in Melrose Hall, New York City, Aug. 24, 1902.