American Civil War: Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr

Adolph von Steinwehr during the Civil War
Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Adolph von Steinwehr - Early Life:

Born at Blankenburg, Brunswick (Germany) on September 25, 1822, Adolph von Steinwehr was a member of a long-standing military family.  Following in these footsteps, which included a grandfather who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars, Steinwehr entered the Brunswick Military Academy.  Graduating in 1841, he received a commission as a lieutenant in the Brunswick Army.  Serving for six years, Steinwehr grew dissatisfied and elected to move to the United States in 1847.  Arriving at Mobile, AL, he found employment as an engineer with the US Coastal Survey.  As the the Mexican-American War was underway, Steinwehr sought a position with a combat unit but was declined.  Disappointed, decided to return to Brunswick two years later with his American-born wife, Florence Mary.

Adolph von Steinwehr - The Civil War Begins:

Again finding life in Germany not to his liking, Steinwehr permanently immigrated to the United States in 1854.  Initially settling in Wallingford, CT, he later moved to a farm in New York.  Active in the German-America community, Steinwehr proved well-placed to raise a largely German regiment when the Civil War began in April 1861.  Organizing the 29th New York Volunteer Infantry, he was commissioned as the regiment's colonel in June.  Reporting to Washington, DC that summer, Steinwehr's regiment was assigned to Colonel Dixon S. Miles' division in Brigadier General Irvin McDowell's Army of Northeastern Virginia.  In this assignment, his men took part in the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21.  Held in reserve during much of the fighting, the regiment later helped cover the Union retreat.  

Noted as a competent officer, Steinwehr received a promotion to brigadier general on October 12 and orders to assumed command of a brigade in Brigadier General Louis Blenker's division in the Army of the Potomac.  This assignment proved short-lived as the Blenker's division was soon transferred to western Virginia for service in Major General John C. Frémont's Mountain Department.  In the spring of 1862, Steinwehr's men took part in operations against Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's forces in the Shenandoah Valley.  This saw them defeated at Cross Keys on June 8.  Later in the month, Steinwehr's men were moved east to help form Major General Franz Sigel's I Corps of Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia.  In this new formation, he was elevated to lead the Second Division.     

Adolph von Steinwehr - Divisional Command:

In late August, Steinwehr's division was present at the Second Battle of Manassas though was not heavily engaged.  Following the Union defeat, Sigel's corps was ordered to remain outside of Washington, DC while the bulk of the Army of the Potomac moved north in pursuit of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  As a result, it missed the Battle of South Mountain and Antietam.  During this time, Sigel's force was re-designated XI Corps.  Later that fall, Steinwehr's division moved south to join the army outside Fredericksburg, but played no role in the battle.  The following February, following Major General Joseph Hooker's ascent to lead the army, Sigel left XI Corps and was replaced by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Returning to combat in May, Steinwehr's division and the rest of XI Corps were badly routed by Jackson during the Battle of Chancellorsville.  Despite this, Steinwehr's personal performance was commended by his fellow Union officers.  As Lee moved north invade Pennsylvania in June, XI Corps followed in pursuit.  Arriving at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, Howard directed Steinwehr's division to remain in reserve on Cemetery Hill while he deployed the rest of the corps north of town in support of the late Major General John F. Reynolds' I Corps.  Later in the day, XI Corps collapsed under Confederate assaults leading the entire Union line to fall back on Steinwehr's position.  The next day, Steinwehr's men aided in repelling enemy attacks against East Cemetery Hill.  

Adolph von Steinwehr- In the West:

Late that September, the bulk of XI Corps along with elements of XII Corps, received orders to shift west to Tennessee.  Led by Hooker, this combined force moved to relieve the besieged Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.  On October 28-29, Steinwehr's men fought well in the Union victory at the Battle of Wauhatchie.  The following month, one of his brigades, led by Colonel Adolphus Buschbeck, supported Major General William T. Sherman during the Battle of Chattanooga.  Retaining leadership of his division through the winter, Steinwehr was dismayed when XI Corps and XII Corps were combined in April 1864.  As part of this reorganization, he lost his command as the two formations were consolidated.  Offered command of a brigade, Steinwehr refused to accept a tacit demotion and instead spent the rest of the war in staff and garrison posts.

Adolph von Steinwehr - Later Life:

Leaving the US Army on July 3, 1865, Steinwehr worked as a geographer before accepting a teaching post at Yale University.  A gifted cartographer, he produced a variety of maps and atlases over the next several years as well as authored numerous books.  Moving between Washington and Cincinnati later in his life, Steinwehr died at Buffalo on February 25, 1877.  His remains were interred at Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, NY.         

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, February 16). American Civil War: Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Brigadier General Adolph von Steinwehr." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).