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Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel

Some of the most color full and interesting badges are those of the various veterans and fraternal societies issued from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Often these badges have overlapping points of interest like the one illustrated below featuring the German immigrant and Civil War Major General Franz Sigel. The badge is a membership badge of the G.U.G. Germania which was a national level mutual aid society for German-Americans. This particular badge was issued in Wausau, Wisconsin by the local branch or “Verein” number 46 which was established in September of 1902 and named in honor of Franz Sigel who had just died that August. Sigel was a hero in the German-American community. I am not sure exactly why Sigel was such a hero to the Germans but he definitely was very influential in their community. Sigel was born in Baden, Germany, graduated from the Karlsruhe military academy and was a commissioned officer in the army of Baden. In 1847 he retired from the military and went to law school. Shortly afterwards he joined the revolutionary forces as a Colonel; recruited more than 4000 volunteers and led them into annihilation against the royalist troops of Prussia and Wuerttemberg . He then fled to the USA via Switzerland and England where he taught school, went into publishing and politics. As director of the St. Louis Public Schools he was very successful in recruiting Germans to the anti-slavery and Union cause. In May of 1861 he was commissioned a Colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry and met his first defeat of many, in the battle of Carthage. Due to his influence with the German immigrants and his ability to recruit large numbers for the army President Lincoln promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General. His military education and another promotion to Major General didn’t help him much militarily as his record reflects a long line of defeats and precious few victories. Considered militarily inept his career ended in noncombatant assignments. After the war Sigel became an editor and went in to politics first as a Republican and then as a Democrat. He certainly was an influential speaker and writer but I would not have wanted to serve under him in the war time military. The G.U.G. Germania badge has a picture of Sigel in uniform as a one star general suspended from a white ribbon with crossed American Flags suspended from a clasped hands brooch from which the black-white-red back drop ribbon is also suspended. As with nearly all such membership badges the back drop ribbon can be reversed showing the design in black for wear at funerals. Unfortunately as time went on the black side was worn too often. As the original membership died off, the recruiting efforts among the second through fourth generations failed and these organizations became financially unviable.

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