Major Gustav Schleiter

Major Gustav Schleiter
Homewood Cemetery
Pittsburgh PA

German Immigrant Participation In The Civil War
"We love this land; it is our land and the home of our children.
We may differ politically, but in the love of our country and institutions, we are one"

From Address of Captain Paul F. Rohrbacker Dedication of Monument,
74th (German) Pennsylvania Infantry, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2,1888.

The monument to Major Gustav Schleiter, in Section 5, Lot 277 of The Homewood Cemetery, can also be seen as a monument to German (and other ethnic) participation in the Civil War. The image of America as a haven for the oppressed was already marred for many immigrants by the existence of slavery; the idea of the spread in a broken Union became intolerable.

Incited by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have allowed slavery into new territories, Pittsburg's working men were agitating against slavery in the 1856 election. By 1860, German-American Workers were active in the cause to elect Lincoln. Although Lincoln was not an Abolitionist, he was seen as the "people's candidate" to preserve the Union, prevent the spread of slavery and keep labor free.

President Lincoln made his first call for volunteers immediately after Fort Sumpter was fired upon April 12,1861.Immigrant response was immediate and generous. Recruitment was focused on The Regiment; these were organized by a wide array of groups. Butchers and farmers, teachers, singing societies, and theological students all applied to form Units. Iowa even supplied a Temperance Regiment, while the well-known Fire Zouaves Regiments were formed in New York. Companies and Regiments were also formed from geographical areas - neighborhoods, counties and regions

The most prevalent units were those based on ethnicity, a direct and natural development of state and local politics. Though complicated motives brought immigrants to the Union cause, predominant were loyalty, patriotism and a willingness to work with the political system and institutions of their newly adopted country. War involvement swept over every ethnic group, profession and occupation. Volunteer recruiters advertised in foreign-language papers and used agents to solicit from immigrants in their communities and workplaces.

Germans streamed into the Union Army in enormous numbers. Pennsylvania alone contributed five German Regiments and, along with New York, Ohio and Missouri, provided over 58,600 German troops by September 1861. In a patriotic response to an editorial in the Evening Chronicle for the formation of a Regiment of German citizens in the Pittsburg area, funds were secured with extraordinary speed. In two days Company B German Turners left Pittsburg for Harrisburg. Influential German leaders in the city recruited eight Companies which formed the Thirty-fifth Pennsylvania Infantry, mustered into service on September 14, 1861. The Thirty-fifth was joined in Philadelphia by other German Companies and became the Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania Infantry. It was a model of discipline and drill under the command of the brilliant Prussian staff officer, Alexander Von Schimmelfennig of Philadelphia. Schimmelfennig was a "Fourty-eighter", one of the exiles from the political upheavals in Germany in 1848, many of whom maintained active roles in politics, journalism and industry in America. It was the "Fourty-eighters" who were the most influential leaders for thousands of German Volunteers who fought in The Civil War.

Pittsburg's Gustav Schleiter was a three-year recruit in Company I of the Seventy-fourth Regiment. He rose in command to be Adjutant to the colorful Schimmelfennig, and was at his side in the infamous battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Schleiter was born in Newstandt, Hanover, came to America in 1852, at the age of thirteen. He first settled in Cold Spring, New York, where he worked in a textile factory. He signed on for a five year term on a whaler in 1854., then worked in St. Louis, Missouri. He came to Pittsburg in 1860 and worked in the dry goods business until the outbreak of the Civil War, the following year.

Schleiter and the Seventy-fourth Infantry began their campaign in the pursuit of Stonewall Jackson up the Shenandoah Valley. They engaged the Confederate Army at Cross Keys, Freeman's Ford, Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

Schleiter was promoted to Major in April, 1863, just before the battle at Chancellorsville. In his report of the battle, he revealed the growing undercurrent of prejudice against foreign troops, as he wrote, "You will better understand my indignation when I inform you that, as Adjutant to General Schimmelfennig, I nearly killed my horse in riding to inform General Howard of the fact that the enemy was massing troops on our right flank [at Howard's position], and that I was received with an incredulous smile, and directed to tell General Schimmelfennig to stop reconnoitering, and remain in the position assigned to him. This was two hours before the attack was made." A National debate erupted over the great losses at Chancellorsville, wherein ethnic prejudices were openly argued. German enthusiasm for the war never recovered. Recruitment lagged and many officers resigned their commissions.

During these years of service and through the battle at Gettysburg, Major Schleiter had been intermittently afflicted with jaundice, then typhoid fever, crippling rheumatism and finally, the loss of sight in his left eye. He resigned in 1864 and returned to civilian life where he married, had four children and became successful in the dry goods business. In 1879, G. Schleiter & Co. was among the largest and most prosperous in that line of trade, keeping an "elegant and large assortment of Silks, [and] Dress Goods in great variety". He continued his attachment to his Regiment as President of the Association of the Seventy-fourth, with tireless effort to erect a monument at Gettysburg to its honor. The monument was dedicated in 1888 , eight months after his death on November 6, 1887.

Photos September 5th, 2001 JTMcA ~ Schlieter Family Plot Photo

Gustav Schleiter Monument Top Photo

Gustav Schleiter Monument Bottom Photo

The inscription on Major Schleiter's tombstone at the Homewood Cemetery, erected to him by his friends and comrades, exemplifies his personal commitment to the cause of unity and freedom, and is a lasting reminder of the extraordinary participation of the foreign born in the Union cause.

These words........



Suzie Johnston, Gennealogist and member of the Western Pennsylvania Geanealogical Society
Provided extensive material on the civilian and military life of Major Gustav Schleiter

Thanks To Marilyn Evert ~ Archivist Of The Homewood Cemetery
For Providing The Above Material
Authored and Researched By Her
Taken From Volume 6, No. 1 Spring/Summer 1998 Issue
Of The Homewood Cemetery Newsletter

CW Tombstone Photographs CW Tombstone Inscriptions Virtual Home Page

Copyright 2001 ~ 2008 Tom and Nancy McAdams
Update March 11, 2008