Franz Sigel (1824-1902) was a graduate of the German Military Academy who came to the United States by way of Switzerland and England after resigning his commission in the German Army and fighting in that country's failed revolution. As a director of schools in St. Louis, he was influential in the emigrant community there and drew Missouri Germans to the Union cause when he openly supported it in 1861. Although his generalship was not what one would have expected from a German-trained military officer, he nevertheless rose to corps command in the Army of the Potomac, a position he held until poor health forced him to take on lesser duties in the winter of 1863.
General Franz Sigel
General Officers of the Civil War
After suffering his most famous defeat at the hands of Confederate General John C. Breckenridge at the Battle of New Market in 1864 and only delaying General Jubal Early at Harpers Ferry, he was relieved of command for "lack of aggression." Sigel resigned from the army in May of 1865, moving to Baltimore and becoming a journalist. He eventually moved to New York City, where he continued in publishing and became a popular draw in the lecture halls.
Sigel's German troops were proud of serving under one of their own, and their rallying cry, "I fights mit Sigel," became well known in the Army of the Potomac.
The term "Blenkered" used in the first verse is a reference to another Union general of German extraction, Louis Blenker, who, like Sigel, was a former German military leader. In March of 1862, Blenker's 10,000-man Midwestern German division was ordered to leave General George McClellan's command on the Virginia peninsula and join General John Fremont in West Virginia. Because the War Department failed to supply them with provisions for the six-week march, Blenker's men were forced to find their own and thus resorted to looting local farms. The term "Blenkered" was thereafter applied to any goods appropriated to maintain the army in the field, whether that appropriation was justified or not.
For more information on Germans in the Civil War, visit Scott Franks' excellent Web site of the same name.
Many thanks to Dave Smith of the Cincinnati Civil War Round Table for supplying this poem.
"I Fights Mit Sigel"