August Willich (November 19, 1810 – January 22, 1878), born Johann August Ernst von Willich, was a military officer in the Prussian Army and a leading early proponent of Communism in Germany. In 1847 he discarded his title of nobility. He later immigrated to the United States and became a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
With Schapper, he was the leader of the Left fraction of the Communist League. In 1849, he was leader of a Free Corps in the Baden-Palatinate uprising. Revolutionary thinker Friedrich Engels served as his aide-de-camp. In 1850, when the League of Communists split, he (together with Schapper) was leader of the anti-Karl Marx grouping. A Forty-Eighter along with Franz Sigel and other prominent future Civil war generals, he moved to the state of Ohio in the United States and became a carpenter, working in this role from 1853, and then as a journalist from 1858. He also edited a German-language free labor newspaper.
At the request of Governor Oliver P. Morton, he assumed command of the Thirty-second Indiana. Willich drilled his regiment, in German, to a high degree. It made a favorable impression wherever it served. An innovative officer, he suggested construction of special wagons convertible to pontoon boats by removing of wheels. To speed up troop movement and assure combat condition of troops upon arrival at the battle-field, he recommended wagon transport of troops. His superiors rejected both ideas. Yet, Willich's concern for his men's well-being earned him the nickname "Papa". When possible, he ordered bakery ovens constructed that troops would have fresh bread.
The Thirty-second gained nationwide recognition for its stand against Confederate forces at Rowlett's Station, Ky. A detachment of 500 men under Lt. Col. Henry von Trebra fought off 1300 men of Terry's Texas Rangers and infantry under General Hindman. The 32nd formed the "hollow square", and drove the attackers back, losing 10 and 22 wounded, but killing thirty-three of the enemy, including Col. Terry and wounding fifty others.
The 32nd saw action at Shiloh on the second day, during which Col. Willich displayed great leadership. When his troops became unsteady under fire, he stood before them, his back to the enemy, and conducted the regiment through the manual of arms. He had the regimental band play 'La Marsaillaise', which was the anthem for all republican movements in Europe. Recovering its stability, the 32nd launched a bayonet attack. Willich was promoted to brigade command. The 32nd remained in his brigade, under command of von Trebra and, later, Frank Erdelmeyer.
Rewarded by a promotion to brigadier general in July 1862, Willich fought at the Battle of Perryville under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky. He commanded the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, XIV Corps in December at the Battle of Stones River. He was captured by the Confederates when his horse was shot out from under him. He was sent to Libby Prison for four months, but was paroled and exchanged in May 1863. Returning to the Federal army later that year, he was assigned to command of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, XX Corps and served with distinction during the Tullahoma Campaign. He led a division at the Battle of Chickamauga and saw additional action during the Chattanooga Campaign.
During the Siege of Chattanooga, the 32nd played a conspicuous part, as Willich's Brigade captured Orchard Knob. Willich ordered the assault up Missionary Ridge. The 32nd Indiana and the 6th Ohio were the first to reach the top. The 32nd participated in the Atlanta Campaign with General William Tecumseh Sherman. Before the fall of Atlanta, the 32nd was pulled back and sent via Nashville, Tn. to Indianapolis. Enroute, the 32nd was assigned to counter Confederate guerrilla forces in Kentucky. After three days fighting, the 32nd returned to Indianapolis. Willich who had been wounded at Resaca, Ga., was promoted to brevet major general and put in command of Cincinnati.
Due to the anti-German sentiment in the nation, and the army in particular, veterans of the 32nd did not re-enlist. Nor did most other all-German regiments. It rankled the German-American soldier that General Joseph Hooker had blamed German troops of the 11th Corps for his defeat at Chancellorsville. The New York Times labeled the 11th Corps "Dutch Cowards." Actually, of the Corps's 12,000 men, 7,000 were American. Of the remaining 5,000, only one-third were German, these having been the units offering the stiffest resistance to the Confederate attack made by "Stonewall" Jackson.
The three-year veterans were mustered out on Sept. 7, 1864. The remaining 200 replacements whose terms had not expired were organized into a battalion of four companies under Hans Blume. At war's end they were stationed with General Sheridan's occupation forces in central Texas. They returned to Indianapolis and were mustered out on Dec. 4, 1865.
In 1864, Willich led his brigade through Tennessee and Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign. He suffered a severe wound during the Battle of Resaca that forced him to leave the field. For the rest of the war, he served in various administrative roles, commanding Union posts in Cincinnati, Covington, Kentucky, and Newport, Kentucky. He received a brevet promotion to major general of U.S. Volunteers on October 21, 1865, then resigned from the army to return to civilian life.
In 1870, he returned to Germany for awhile, offering his services to the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War. His age, health and communist views caused him to be refused, however. He stayed in Germany long enough to receive a college degree in philosophy, graduating from the University of Berlin at the age of sixty. Returning to the United States, he died in St. Marys, Ohio, and was buried there in Elmwood Cemetery.
In his concluding note to the Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne Marx writes: In the Civil War in North America, Willich showed that he is more than a visionary.
Long Road to Liberty: The Odyssey of a German Regiment in the Yankee Army: The 15th Missouri Volunteer Infantry/ Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home/ August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry
May 01, 2008; Long Road to Liberty: The Odyssey of a German Regiment in the Yankee Army: The 15th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. By Donald...
A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War/ Banners South: A Northern Community at War/ August Willich's Gallant Dutchmen: Civil War Letters from the 32nd Indiana Infantry/ Broken Glass: Caleb Cushing and the Shattering of the Union
Jun 01, 2007; A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War Scott Nelson and Carol Sheriff. New York: Oxford, 2007. Banners...