August Willich, 9th Ohio Infantry (“Die Neuner”)

August Willich, 9th Ohio Infantry (“Die Neuner”)
Virginia Union University
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August Willich (November 19, 1810–January 22, 1878), born Johann August Ernst von Willich, was a military officer in the Prussian Army and a leading early proponent of Communism in Germany. In 1847 he discarded his title of nobility. He later immigrated to the United States and became a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Initially an artillery officer in the Prussian military, he resigned from the army in 1846 as a convinced republican. He tendered his resignation from the army in a letter written in such terms that, instead of its being accepted, he was arrested and tried by a court martial. By some means he was acquitted, and afterward was permitted to resign. With Schapper, he was the leader of the left fraction of the Communist League. He took an active part in the Revolutions of 1848–49. In 1849, he was leader of a Free Corps in the Baden-Palatinate uprising. Revolutionary thinker Friedrich Engels served as his aide-de-camp. Among his revolutionary friends were Franz Sigel, Friedrich Hecker, Louis Blenker, and Carl Schurz. After the suppression of the uprising, he emigrated to London via Switzerland. He had learned the trade of a carpenter while in England, and so earned a livelihood. In 1850, when the League of Communists split, he (together with Schapper) was leader of the anti-Karl Marx grouping.

Coming to the United States in 1853, he first found employment at his trade in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Here his attainments in mathematics and other scientific studies were soon discovered, and he found more congenial work in the coast survey. In 1858, he was induced to go to Cincinnati as editor of the German Republican, a German-language free labor newspaper, in which work he continued until the opening of the Civil War in 1861.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, in early 1861 Willich actively recruited German immigrants in the southwestern Ohio region. He joined the 9th Ohio Infantry ("Die Neuner") as the regimental adjutant with the rank of first lieutenant, and was promoted to major in August of that year. He served in western Virginia, seeing action at the Battle of Rich Mountain, as well as at Carnifex Ferry. Willich then returned to the Ohio River valley over the winter and resumed his recruiting activities. Governor Oliver P. Morton commissioned Willich as Colonel of the 32nd Indiana, also called the First German (an all-German regiment).

The 32nd saw action at Shiloh on the second day, during which Col. Willich displayed great leadership. When his troops became unsteady under fire, he stood before them, his back to the enemy, and conducted the regiment through the manual of arms. He had the regimental band play ‘La Marseillaise’, which was the anthem for all republican movements in Europe. Recovering its stability, the 32nd launched a bayonet attack. Willich was promoted to brigade command.

Due to the anti-German sentiment in the nation, and the army in particular, veterans of the 32nd did not re-enlist. Nor did most other all-German regiments. It rankled the German-American soldier that General Joseph Hooker had blamed German troops of the 11th Corps for his defeat at Chancellorsville. The New York Times labeled the 11th Corps "Dutch Cowards." Actually, of the Corps’s 12,000 men, 7,000 were American. Of the remaining 5,000, only one-third were German, these having been the units offering the stiffest resistance to the Confederate attack made by "Stonewall" Jackson.

In 1864, Willich led his brigade through Tennessee and Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign. He suffered a severe wound during the Battle of Resaca that forced him to leave the field. For the rest of the war, he served in various administrative roles, commanding Union posts in Cincinnati, Covington, Kentucky, and Newport, Kentucky. He received a brevet promotion to major general of U.S. Volunteers on October 21, 1865, then resigned from the army to return to civilian life.

After the war, Willich returned to Cincinnati and went into government service. He held a series of responsible positions, including auditor of Hamilton County. His home at 1419 Main Street still stands in Cincinnati.

In 1870, he returned to Germany for awhile, offering his services to the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War. His age, health and communist views caused him to be refused, however. He stayed in Germany long enough to receive a college degree in philosophy, graduating from the University of Berlin at the age of sixty. Returning to the United States, he died in St. Marys, Ohio, and was buried there in Elmwood Cemetery.