“We Fight Mit Sigel"

November 6, 1869

Thomas Nast

“We Fight Mit Sigel"

Civil War, Remembrance; German Americans; Journalists/Journalism; New York State, Government/Politics; State Elections; Tammany Hall, Tweed Ring;

Grant, Ulysses S.; Greeley, Horace; Sigel, Franz;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

No caption.

After Harper’s Weekly editor George William Curtis declined the Republican nomination for New York secretary of state in October 1869, delegates selected Franz Sigel, a former Union general and leader of the German-American community, who accepted the nod.  Here, the candidate, atop his charging steed, rallies his Republican troops with “Up boys, and at them!” and leads them against “so-called” Democrats, the Tammany Ring, and repeat and fraudulent voters.  Directly behind Sigel is a personification of the German-American voter, followed by a cigar-chomping President Ulysses S. Grant. 

In the foreground is a self-caricature of a diminutive Thomas Nast, behind which (counterclockwise) is Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, George Jones, publisher of the New York Times, and William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post.  Sigel was popular with the Republican press, and a hero to German-Americans like Nast.  The cartoon’s caption combines German and broken English to state proudly the slogan of many German-American Union soldiers during the Civil War:  “We fights mit Sigel!”  (“We fight with Sigel!”)

Franz Sigel was born in 1824 in Sinsheim, Baden (a German duchy).  After graduating from the German Military Academy at Karlsruhe in 1843, he served as a lieutenant in the Baden army.  In 1848-1849, he played a key role in an unsuccessful liberal revolution.  Forced to flee to Switzerland in 1848 when the uprising was initially put down, he returned the next year as secretary of war when a rebel government briefly held power.  After leading the rebel Baden army against the Prussians, he was compelled to retreat again to Switzerland, where he was held in high regard by his fellow exiles. 

In 1851, Sigel moved to England, and the following year to New York City, where he labored at various occupations and taught at a private academy for German immigrant children.  He also joined the New York state militia, and wrote for The New York Times and the German-language New Yorker-Staats-Zeitung.  He moved to St. Louis in 1857, where he taught at the German-American Institute, and became director of the city’s schools. 

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Sigel encouraged German-American men to volunteer, and he enlisted as a colonel with the Third Missouri Infantry.  He helped capture Camp Jackson on May 10, and was raised to the rank of brigadier general on August 7.  Although military historians today criticize his leadership at the Union defeat of Wilson Creek on August 10, he continued to receive favorable notice in Republican and German-American newspapers at the time.  The friendly press also exaggerated his contributions as commander of two divisions at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas (March 6-8, 1862).  On March 21, 1862, Sigel was promoted to the rank of major general.  When he was soon after transferred to Virginia, enthusiastic supporters greeted his train along the way. 

Sigel first received bad press when he spread rumors and testified without evidence before a military inquiry that General Irvin McDowell had sabotaged General John Pope’s military plans at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 29-30, 1862).  In February 1863, Sigel was demoted, and he resigned his new post in protest.  Thereafter, he trained militia troops in a Pennsylvania district until, after heavy lobbying, he was given command of the Department of West Virginia on February 29, 1864.  He was defeated and forced to retreat at New Market, Virginia, on May 15, and relieved of his command four days later.  His delays led to defeat at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in July 1864, and he was relieved of duty for his “lack of aggression.”  He formally resigned from the Union Army on May 4, 1865.

After the war, Sigel edited the Baltimore Wecker, a German-language newspaper, and then moved to New York City in 1867, where he became active in Republican politics.  His nomination for secretary of state in 1869, like the featured cartoon itself, attests to his continued popularity despite his lackluster military record.  He lost the election, but was appointed the next year by President Grant as an internal revenue collector in New York City.  In 1871, Sigel was elected as city register, and later served as chief clerk for New York County (1885-1886) and military pension agent for New York (1886-1889).  Thereafter, he published the German-language New Yorker Deutsches Volksblatt and edited New York Monthly from 1897 until his death in 1902.

Robert C. Kennedy

“We Fight Mit Sigel"
May 29, 2024

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