About 5000 Polish immigrants served in the Union army and about 1000 in the Confederate Armed Forces. Count Constantin Blandowski was a prime example I discussed in my last post. Here is some more on Civil War Poles.
The most prominent Pole in the Civil War was Wlodzimeirz Krzyzanowski, known to his army friends as Kriz. A cousin of Frederic Chopin he fled Prussian occupied Poland after the failure of the 1848 revolt against Prussia. He settled in the United States and worked as a surveyor and civil engineer. After the outbreak of the Civil War he organized a volunteer unit from Poles and Germans resident in New York, which became the 58th New York Infantry regiment, known as the “Polish Legion”. It participated in the battles of Cross Keys in the Shenandoah Valley, Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga. He was promoted to Brigadier General by President Lincoln in 1865. After the war he worked in various government administrative functions, including early administrative duties in the Alaskan territory. He died on January 31, 1887 in New York. 50 years later his remains were transferred to ArlingtonNationalCemetery by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Another heroic Pole was Colonel Joseph Karge led the 2nd New Jersey Volunteer Cavalry that once defeated Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest in the cavalry battle at Bolivar, Tennessee, Forrest’s only cavalry defeat!
Poles in the Confederacy.
Panna Maria, Texas was the first Polish settlement in the United States. Its inhabitants took part in the American Civil War, although not all of them voluntarily. The Civil War began for Texans in February 1861 when the citizens decided overwhelmingly in favor of seceding from the Union. The Poles had not been in the United States long enough to participate in that election, but they learned that all male inhabitants of Texas between the ages of 18 and 50 were liable for military service, except those exempted for occupational reasons. The irony was too much! The Silesians came to the U.S. to escape conscription into Prussian Army and instead, they would end up serving in the Confederate Army! They feared the break-up of their families. Women and children left alone in the frontier to fend for themselves were vulnerable to Indians and outlaws. For these and other reasons, many Silesians tried to avoid the draft.
Union Civil War records were well preserved; therefore we know that many of the Confederate soldiers captured in early 1863 were sent to prisoner-of-war camps in Illinois. Foreign-born men – like the Silesians from Texas – who were not die-hard southerners with heartfelt allegiance to the South were offered the opportunity to swear allegiance to the Union and, instead of rotting in prison, to fight the rest of the war on the Union side. Many of them – at least a dozen – took this option. Records indicate that there were also a few Poles who entered the Union Army directly, and not through being captured.
Relations between the Silesians and their neighboring Americans was tense and grew worse as the war dragged on and the Americans found out that, not only were these foreigners evading the draft, but some of them had even changed sides and were fighting in the Union Army against the Confederacy. This news became common knowledge when, in 1863, a local newspaper published the names of the soldiers who had changed sides. The list included a dozen Poles, the most famous of who is Piotr Kielbasa – Panna Maria’s first school teacher. Like many of the Poles in the Civil War, he fought in a cavalry unit. In the Union Army he advanced from corporal to first sergeant and finally to captain of Company E of the 6th U.S. Colored Cavalry, a position he held until the spring of 1866. He eventually served as Treasurer of the City of Chicago. He was so honest that he was called by his contemporaries: “Honest Pete.”
Some Silesians served in the Confederate Army but Confederate war records are sketchy, so we don’t have written records of their service. We do know that one of the Confederate units was the Panna Maria Grays. We also know that Alexander Dziuk, a native of the SilesianVillage of Pluznica immigrated to Panna Maria with his family and recounted his war years in later life. Here’s what he said: “At the age of 18, I was drafted into the Confederate Army and sent to Arkansas. We were badly fed, especially at the beginning and we were armed with old flintlocks. I remained in the Confederate Army until the end of the war. When I got back home, even my own mother did not recognize me.” After returning home from the war, he lived to a ripe old age and became one of the wealthiest and most influential farmers at Panna Maria. Most of the Silesians who went to war, returned home to their families.
In the spring of 1861 Major Kacper (Gaspard) Tochman, a Pole, arrived in New Orleans with a mission to organize a Polish Brigade. Tochman came to the States after his stay in Russia, where he was deported for taking part in the November Uprising. In the States, he was a lecturer and lawyer, and has made acquaintances with many high-ranking government officials. In May 1861, after the outbreak of the Civil War, Tochman received permission from his friend Jefferson Davis to create two Polish regiments. Because there were only 196 Poles in Louisiana in that time (including women and children), the main goal soon shifted to gathering as many foreigners as possible in one brigade.
Tochman’s plan proved to be successful and soon two “Polish regiments” were created, consisting mostly of foreigners. These two regiments – instead of being merged into one brigade – were separated. The 1st Polish Regiment was renamed as 14th Louisiana Volunteers, and the 2nd Polish Regiment was henceforth called the 3rd Battalion, Louisiana Infantry. The count of Poles in each of these detachments is estimated at 20-30 persons – more than in any other detachment of the Confederate Army.
Colonel Walery Sulakowski was appointed as the Commander of the 14th Louisiana Volunteers. He introduced strict discipline and was probably the only officer who was able to control these troops. Born in Poland in a noble family, he perfected his military skills during the Hungarian Springtime of Nations revolution in 1848. After the fall of the uprising, Sulakowski made his way to the States, settled in New Orleans and worked as a civil engineer. Sulakowski helped Tochman with the organization of the Polish Brigade and was rewarded for it by being appointed as Commander of the 1st Polish Regiment.
His soldiers – of different nationalities, speaking different languages – were difficult to control, but Sulakowski commanded them with an iron hand. He was admired by his subordinates for his commanding and organizing skills, as well as his talent for discipline. He was said to be an incarnation of the military law – despotic, cruel and totally merciless.
The 14thLouisiana served from Yorktown to Appomattox but their moment was being part of Stonewall Jackson’s flanking movement at Chancellorsville.