Brown County’s Sigel Township is named after Franz Sigel, a famous German-American who served the Union during the American Civil War. Sigel was a German military officer, a leader in the German revolution in 1848, and an immigrant to the United States who became a teacher, newspaperman, politician and served as a General in the Union army.
Franz Sigel was born Nov. 18, 1824, in Sinsheim, Baden, Germany, about 80 miles northwest of Ulm. He graduated from Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843. In 1848, he became a Colonel of the Baden revolutionary forces and led the “Sigel-Zug” (Sigel-Platoon) recruiting 4,000 volunteers in a siege against the city of Freiburg.
His army was annihilated by Prussian and Württemberg troops. Sigel led the retreat of his remaining revolutionarys to Switzerland. Along with many other ’48ers, he emigrated to the United States in 1852.
In America, Sigel became a professor at the German-American Institute in St. Louis, Mo. He was influential in the German-American community and attracted Germans to the Union side. He was commissioned Colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry May 4, 1861. Because Sigel was popular with German immigrants, he was promoted to Brigadier General, one of President Lincoln’s “political” generals. In 1862-63, Sigel commanded the XI Corps consisting primarily of German immigrant soldiers.
A humorous song was written in his honor, “I GOES TO FIGHT MIT SIGEL,” which pokes fun at the German accent as well as their eating and drinking habits. It begins: “Ven I comes from der Deutsche Countree, I vorks somedimes at baking, Und den I runs a beer-saloon, und den I tries shoe-making; But now I march mit musket out to safe dot Yankee Eagle, Dey dress me up in soldier’s clothes to go and fight mit Sigel. Yah, das is true, I shpeaks mit you. Ve goes to fight mit Sigel.”
Sigel was not successful militarily, but his ability to recruit and motivate German immigrants kept him alive in a politically sensitive position. He was relegated to light duty and resigned his position in May of 1865.
Sigel Township, Brown County, was settled in 1856 and organized March 17, 1862, when General Sigel was at the peak of his popularity. Many of the organizers’ family names still appear in the township today: Brandt, Forstner, Guggisberg, Hillesheim and Kuehn.
In 1954, the New Ulm Review published an article reporting “The Visit of General Sigel,” by an anonymous author. Some excerpts read: “ ...it must have been in the fall of 1879, that General Franz Sigel...came to New Ulm to renew some wartime friendships... During the General’s stay at New Ulm it was suggested that he call on his name sake, and a group of men brought him out to the school at Clear Lake. It was a great day for the school. Some of the older girls went down to the trees near the lake and made a wreath of oak leaves. Callie Brandt presented it to him and he put it around his hat. Our teacher, Mr. Velikanje was happy to greet such notable guests. Of course the General spoke to us. There were other short speeches, some in German. Even some of the children were called upon. We watched the two carriages drive away and then we all returned to ‘readin, ‘writin and ‘rithmetic.”
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Thereafter Sigel worked as a newspaper editor and in a variety of political positions. He published the New York Monthly, a German-American periodical. Franz Sigel died in Morrisania, N.Y. on Aug. 21, 1902.