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Who Was Civil War Veteran Herman Borghardt?

Immigrant, or son of immigrants, enlisted at the first call for volunteers and would have been present at the first great battle of America's greatest and most tragic conflict.

Who was Herman Borghardt?

His death certificate notes the following:

He was a farmer by trade but listed an address of 700 27th St., Milwaukee, when he was admitted to the Milwaukee County Hospital in 1898.

He died Oct. 7 that year of interstitial endocarditis, a chronic heart condition.

His marital status was: "Widower... ?"

He was recorded as 77 years old, although that doesn't exactly compute with his stated year of birth, 1827. He should have been 71 or 72.

  • Related: The search for a Civil War vet's remains.

He was a white, male, Caucasian, parents Gustav and Mary, both born in Germany. No indication as to whether he was born in Germany as well, or here.

He was also listed as indigent and buried in the "Milwaukee Co. Farm Cemetery" — and as "a Soldier or Sailor in the service of the United States," an enrolled member of "Co. G, 41 Reg. N York Vols."

That gibes with an entry in the roster of the 41st New York Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, which says:

"BORGHARDT, HERMAN. – Age, 34 years. Enlisted at New York City, to serve three years, and mustered in as corporal, Co. G, June 6, 1861; discharged for disability, March 3, 1862, at Hunter's Chapel, Va."

A patriot in his new country

Borghardt might have been among the generation of German immigrants known at "the '48ers," after a failed revolution in that year, when what we now know as Germany was a conglomeration of feudal states. The object was social unification; the result for most of the losers was exile.

Whether he came to the United States to escape political repression or for some other reason, whether he came with or without his parents and other family, we do not know.

We do know that he volunteered, like tens of thousands of other German immigrants, to fight for the Union. He did so in the first flush of enlistment, early in the first year of the Civil War.

The way things worked then, in the spring of 1861, was that a man didn't just enlist in the Army, he enlisted in a regiment, and that regiment wasn't accepted into service until it was enlisted at full strength.

Only when a regiment demonstrated full strength — a minimum of 800 men, 1,000 at most, ready to serve — was it mustered into service.

Borghardt was mustered in on June 6, 1861, in New York, and two days later the 41st was sent to Washington, D.C., to defend the capital.

The first meeting of arms

Less than two months after mustering in, on July 21, the green-as-grass regiment was at Bull Run, the first large-scale battle in the Civil War. The 41st New York was not bloodied in combat — it was held in reserve, but helped to cover the retreat of the routed Union Army.

By March 3 of the next spring, Borghardt was discharged for disability. At 34, he would have been old for a rookie combat infantryman. Many men younger than he deserted during that winter. Many more died of disease.

There is nothing to indicate what disability Borghardt suffered, but disease and infirmity in the ranks of all Civil War units far outnumbered combat casualties. And whatever sent Borghardt home, it was not considered dishonorable. He volunteered to serve his country and spent nine months in the ranks. He was almost certainly present for at least one major battle, and but for orders, would have risked his life in combat.

Afterward is a great void. We do not know anything of Herman Borghardt's life between then and until he died in the care of Milwaukee County, poor and without any known relatives to claim him.

He apparently farmed somewhere. He may have had a wife. He perhaps had no children, or if he did, they moved on without him.

German volunteers proved their worth

Borghardt's regiment, the 41st New York, went on without him to both infamy and fame. The nearly all-German regiment was among the beaten by Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Cross Keys in the Shenandoah Valley. It was among those slaughtered at Second Manassas when thrown against Jackson's rebels in a frontal assault, losing more than 100 men.

It was the regiment at the extreme right of the whole Union Army at Chancellorsville when Jackson, its nemesis, fell upon that flank, and the 41st was criminally mauled because its officers had warned of an impending attack but couldn't get anyone at command levels to listen.

Finally, two months later at Gettysburg, the brigade including then 41st, part of the much-maligned "Damned Dutch" of the XI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, were thrust forward into an exposed position to blunt the attack of the Confederates against Culp's Hill.

The 41st, numbering just 218 men by then, stood and would not run, and lost another 75 men shot down, killed or wounded.

Herman Borghardt was not there, but as near as any two brief documents can say, he would have been. He enlisted at 34 in a young man's war. He lasted nine months when many younger men didn't.

He was one of a total of about 75,000 Americans on both sides of the conflict who could have honestly said, "I was at Bull Run."

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