Letter – August Willich, 19 January 1876


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Letter written by former Brigadier General August Willich of the U.S. Volunteers, to the editor of the Cincinnati Commercial, from St. Mary’s, OH. Willich is criticizing a letter written by General Judson Kilpatrick, concerning the battle at Missionary Ridge which was published in the newspaper. Willich writes that Kilpatrick manufactured heroes in his article by giving credit to a few select officers, rather than the whole Army of the Cumberland, whomoved forward as one without the direct orders of their leaders during the battle. Willich hopes that his letter will be published, to “help lessen the stupid and nefarious hero worship.” A note written in the margins, possibly by the editor, gives the title, “The Battle of Chattanooga and the vindication of history.”

St. Marys January 19th 1876

Editor Comercial!

The Comercial of January, 13th contains General Kilpatrick’s story of the storming and taking of Missionary Ridge.

Public opinion had settled down to the belief, that the whole line of the army of the Cumberland had been carried simultaneously forward and over the entrenchments of the enemy, on the top of the ridge, by an enthusiastic impulse of the soldiers, without order of their leaders.

Those next concerned in this act were willing to let it rest so. Gen Kilpatrick now opens again the manufactory of heros, kept in full blast during the war by so many correspondents, and writers of official reports. In a few phrases, in the sparkling of ey[e]s of one or another intended hero, he absorbs, all the merits of thousands of galant and devoted soldiers and their leaders. A statement of the naked facts of the storm of Miss. Ridge will have the approval of all, who participate in it, and who do not claim, but their due share of the credit connected with it. It may also throw some light on the manner of heromaking, and may help to lessen the stupid and nefarious hero whorship. I ask the favor of you Mr. Editor to give this a place in your paper and oblige Yours Respectfully

August Willich

August von Willich was born in Brausberg, Prussia on November 19, 1810. After graduating from a Berlin military academy he entered the Prussian army, rising to the rank of captain. A follower of Karl Marx, was court martialed and fled to the U.S. in 1853. He worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a carpenter, and in 1858 became the editor of a German language newspaper in Cincinatti. After serving as a lieutenant and A.A.G. of the 8th OH Infantry in 1861, he recruited and was commissioned colonel of the 32nd IN Infantry. His strong combat record at Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River (where he was captured) resulted in his promotion to brigadier general July 17, 1862. Once exchanged, Willich fought as a brigade commander at Chickamauga, and was foremost in leading his troops in the famous assault of November 25, 1863, up Missionary Ridge. His troops were the first to reach the crest and break the enemy line at “Sharp’s Spur.” Willich was wounded in the shoulder at the Battle of Resaca, GA in May 1864, and later served as commander of the post of Cincinnati, OH. After the Civil War, he went to Germany to fight in the Franco-Prussian War, but was ultimately thwarted in seeing combat. Returning to the U.S. he lived in St. Marys, OH until his death on January 22, 1878. He was rather fondly known for being an eccentric, including having a pet raccoon.