Telling my family's stories
Here’s the story of someone that history forgot – a man born in the Palatinate and died at Gettysburg. He left no children, no wife, and his last months on earth were filled with the experience of being useful cannon fodder for a foreign government. When we think of the classic narratives of American History, we do not think of Phillip Berlandi – which is exactly why I’m going to talk about him. When people bat around terms like “white privilege” and “Partriarchy” and “European Colonialism,” they don’t think of a young man from a poor immigrant family getting torn apart by artillery fire and buried in a mass grave.
In addition, as the direct descendant of his sister, I feel a sort of obligation to research his life. Since he left no children or a wife – soldiers often being young and alone – me and my family are, really, the only sort of descendants he would have.
On July 24, 1843, a man named Bernhard Berlandi and his family left Dörrebach in the Palatinate and boarded a ship headed for New York. With him was his wife Anna Maria Rosche and their son Phillip, who was not quite a year old (b. Sept 11, 1842). Here’s his birth certificate. Note it has him marked as ‘immigrated.’ When you immigrate, the old town treats you as, essentially, dead. In some towns, they even mark your immigration in the death registry. Remember – in 1842, you couldn’t exactly come “back.”
“Seibersbach: 11th September born and 13th baptized, Phillip, legitimate son of Bernhard Berlandy and Anna Maria Rosche, wife, in Seibersbach, witnessed by Phillip Werner.”
Once in New York, they boarded a steamer for Milwaukee, which was a center of German immigration – but was not yet a state in the Union.
When he arrived in Milwaukee, he set up as a saloon keeper at the corner of Market & Ogden Street in the heart of the old historic district. (Since obliterated; it is currently a kind of soccer field.) They had more children, including a daughter named Anna Maria, born May 1849, who is my great-great-great grandmother. From Milwaukee, the Berlandis watched as their old home in the Palatinate was swallowed in a series of revolutionary uprisings, culminating in the Palatinate Uprising in 1849.
When the Civil War broke out, Wisconsin was now a state and sent a fair number of troops. A significant number of these units were composed of Germans, and there was heavy recruiting in Milwaukee, which was the main population center of Wisconsin at the time (and still is). A number of revolutionaries from the bitter conflicts in (what we now call) Germany had fled to Milwaukee, including Bernhard Domschke and Franz Sigel. Sigel was a major celebrity at the time, and, looking to gain influence in the United States, he formed the Wisconsin 26th Volunteer Infantry, which trained at Camp Sigel in Milwaukee. A Wisconsin History blogger provided this nice scan of their advertisement. I recommend the post if you want to learn more about the history of the unit.
The recruitment office is listed as Ostwasserstraße, which is of course East Water Street in Milwaukee. That’s just a few blocks from where Phillip Berlandi was living. When he signed up, he got the $302 bounty for being a “Neue Rekrut.”
The rosters show that Phillip signed up for this regiment on August 21, 1862. This was about a month after his brother William volunteered for the 24th Infantry, and no doubt the two influenced each other. William went on to have a long military record, serving all the way to the end of the war. He was wounded on the famous charge up Missionary Ridge, and spent the rest of his life as a partial invalid.
Phillip was mustered into Company C. He was 19 years old at the time, unmarried, with no children. It is not clear that he spoke English at all, and mention is made in a number historical accounts of the 26th that its commanding officers relied on German to communicate with the troops.
Frankly, it looked like this unit was doomed. America was largely Anglo-Saxon at the time, and there was a significant amount of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. A regiment full of Germans, with a Polish commanding officer, was openly mocked and treated exceptionally unprofessionally by its commanding officers, as the historical accounts are at pains to document. Today, we stereotype Germans as brutal militaristic barbarians, but in the 19th century, they were considered stupid and cowardly by the average American, and the press was happy to play on that motif. Eventually the mistreatment of the unit, including lack of food and lack of pay, was so bad that Franz Sigel himself resigned in protest. Oliver Howard, A good Yankee was quickly given his position. Howard is most famous for founding the first all-black university in the United States, but should perhaps be better-known for what he did to the Nez Perce in 1877. (Funny thing about the Civil War – all its heroes who fought for “Freedom” go on to genocidally slaughter entire nations of people in the West.)
Although Phillip and his company were at the battle of Fredricksburg, they were held in reserve, and treated to the legendary Mud March that followed it. Their first actual battle was a particularly bloody experience at Chancellorsville, at the beginning of May in 1863. The 26th Wisconsin was positioned out on the right flank of the Union army commanded by Hooker, as a shield for the center. When their commanding officer, Carl Schurz, asked Howard to reposition his troops to protect against a flanking maneuver, he was rebuffed. He ignored his commanding officers and did it anyway.
The 26th Wisconsin was one of the units that received the brunt of Stonewall Jackson’s famous flanking attack on the Union Right. Wikipedia’s article actually provides a nice summary (though it underplays the ethnic conflict somewhat).
Significant contributors to the impending Union disaster were the nature of the Union XI Corps and the incompetent performance of its commander, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard. Howard failed to make any provision for defending against a surprise attack, even though Hooker had ordered him to do so. The Union right flank was not anchored on any natural obstacle, and the only defenses against a flank attack consisted of two cannons pointing out into the Wilderness. Also, the XI Corps was an organization with poor morale. The corps had originally been commanded by Brig. Gen. Franz Sigel, a political general appointed because of his abolitionist views. Although inept as a commander, he was very popular with the Germans and the immigrant soldiers had a saying “I fights mit Sigel”. During the spring of 1862, Sigel’s corps was detached from the main Army of the Potomac and placed in the Shenandoah Valley, where it was defeated by Stonewall Jackson’s forces at Cross Keys. After the Peninsula Campaign, it was attached to Maj. Gen. John Pope‘s Army of Virginia where it fared no better, delivering a poor performance at Second Bull Run. The XI Corps did not participate in the Antietam or Fredericksburg campaigns, and after Hooker took command of the army Sigel was dismissed and replaced by Howard. He dismissed a number of popular generals and replaced them with men like Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow, a ferocious disciplinarian who was known for swatting stragglers with the blunt end of his sword. Many of the immigrants had poor English language skills and they were subjected to ethnic friction with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, where all non-Irish immigrants were referred to as “Germans”. In fact, half the XI Corps consisted of native-born Americans, mostly from the Midwest, but it was the immigrants with whom the corps came to be associated. The corps’ readiness was poor as well. Of the 23 regiments, eight had no combat experience, and the remaining 15 had never fought on the winning side of a battle. And although many of the immigrants had served in European armies, they tended to not perform well under the loose discipline of the American volunteer military. Because of these factors, Hooker had placed the XI Corps on his flank and did not have any major plans for it except as a reserve or mopping-up force after the main fighting was over.
Thus, Phillip Berlandi found himself in a “green” unit that was poorly prepared, had rotten morale, and was not prepared for the vicious assault it was about to experience. James S. Pula, in his article in German-American pulls from memoirs of men who fought in Phillip’s unit (Company C).
Amid the turmoil Adam Muenzenberger rammed charge after charge into his musket, firing as fast as he could load. All about him his friends, neighbors, and relatives in Company C were groaning, crumpling, and falling to the ground. First Lieutenant Robert Mueller suffered an early wound, and the second lieutenant was killed. Captain Henry Rauth was wounded and captured, while Sergeant Jacob Michel received a mortal wound. Louis Manz received a painful head wound, and a quick look around found the immediate area covered by the broken, maimed bodies of men named Springling, Burkhard, Deany, Stirn, Bigalke, Weiss, Krueger, Beres, Fritz, Luther, Urich, Hermann, and Koch.
Phillip Berlandi himself was not wounded in this conflict, although the 26th Wisconsin ranked seventh in total casualties, losing 198 of its 471 men. They suffered a fatality rate of 11%, which was one of the highest in the battle.
This was the battle in which Stonewall Jackson himself was killed when his own troops mistook him for the enemy and shot him. Ironically, the other side of my family descends from a man, William Henry Ritenour, that served under Jackson in the Valley Campaign of the year before. He had deserted, running away to Maryland with his pregnant indian wife and children, or he would very likely have been at this same battle and shooting at Phillip.
James S. Pula summarizes the xenophonic and humiliating response to the 26th Wisconsin’s destruction as follows:
Despite their heroism, their suffering, and their achievements, the men of the Sigel Regiment soon began to read newspaper stories characterizing them as a pack of cowards who ran away at the first sight of the enemy. Stung and infuriated by this gross injustice, the men wrote home to deny the vicious lies being spread about them. “I deem it my duty as a husband and father,” wrote Adam Muenzenberger, “to write to you again and more particularly because the newspapers have published so much trash about the 11th Corps which no doubt disturbed you as well as others.” Charles Wickesberg, the twenty-one year old son of an immigrant from Dusseldorf area, went even further in his denunciation: “All the papers write lies,” he said. “There are a few drunken scoundrels who have those things put into the paper. In time the truth will come out.” The blame, Wickesberg said, rested solely on General Howard. “He is a yankee, and that is why he wanted to have us slaughtered, because most of us are Germans. He better not come into the thick of battle a second time, then he won’t escape.”
So much for Chancellorsville. Phillip, one of the “lucky” survivors, got to march through the mud and jeers of his own side, called a coward by his commanding officers for being flanked in a brilliant maneuver that the commanding officers themselves did not anticipate. He was rewarded with a 214 mile march northwards to the Potomac river, all through June. Troops were sick, miserable, and underfed, and “foraged” (i.e. pillaged) the local landscape – the reason that the other side of my family ended up have to flee Virginia forever (there was nothing left for them to come back to).
At the end of June, the 26th was in position outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Union Army was seeking to engage Lee’s army of Virginia in a desperate attempt to protect Washington, D.C. It poured rain, covered them with mud, and then the sun came out to bake the mud on. One of the survivors called it the “worst march of his life.”
On July 1, the 26th Wisconsin was sent to a plain north of the town, in an attempt to stop Lee’s army from seizing a series of hills. In the open plain, they became the targets of two separate units of artillery, from two sides, totalling 48 guns in all. They waited in this cross-fire, trying to engage a confederate unit approaching them. It was slaughter, and most of the units involved took enormous casualties in just a few minutes. The 26th was decimated and what was left of it retreated into the town, where more of the men were captured as they were caught in dead-end streets.
The Battle of Gettysburg went on, but it didn’t for Phillip Berlandi. He died on the field during the bombardment, and is buried in a mass grave near the 26th Wisconsin Infantry Memorial Marker. Only his brothers, sisters and his parents noticed. For the vast American narrative, he was just a cowardly “German” and useful only as a meat shield for the real fighers.
So that is how a boy born in Dörrebach became a U.S. soldier killed at Gettysburg. His sister went on to marry the next door neighbor, who was also a Civil War veteran, Franz Wettengel. He served in a much less violent section of the war (occupying, of all things, a town I used to live in when I lived in Alabama). Phillip’s brother William, mustering out of Company F of the 24th Infantry at the end of the war, went on to become a successful lithographer in Minneapolis-St. Paul. His sister Elizabeth married John Ludwig, a lawyer in Milwaukee. His father ran the saloon at Market & Ogden all the way until his death in 1896.
As far as I know, I’m the first person to realize that their Phillip died at Gettysburg. Phillip Berlandi is completely forgotten, as all men are who die young in combat and leave no family behind.
His comrades didn’t quite forget him, though. In 1888, a bunch of them returned to Gettysburg to dedicate a memorial. They posed for this picture.