General Peter J. Osterhaus

 One of numerous Europeans to flee the continent in the  aftermath of the 1848 uprisings and end up in the Union army,  Peter J. Osterhaus was one of the best of the volunteer generals to serve in the Western Campaign and the most distinguished of the Union's many German American officers.

Born January 4, 1823 in Koblenz, Westphalia into an upper class family, he attended university where he received a liberal education and developed a strong attachment for democratic government.  After leaving the university he enlisted in the Prussian Army  and served one year  in the elite Jaeger rifles.  His father, a prominent architect arranged for him to establish a mercantile firm in Mannheim after completing his initial military service, but he continued in the military reserves eventually earning an officers  commission. Although he had married  Mathilda Born in 1847, he joined the revolutionary forces opposing Prussian imperialism during the uprising of 1848.  Appointed commander of revolutionary troops at Mannheim, he was not engaged in the fighting that raged in the southern part of Germany.  After the conflict ended in defeat for the democratic forces, he fled into France and ultimately immigrated to the United States with a group of like minded ex-revolutionaries. He settled in Bellville, Illinois, and there on May 1, 1850 opened a general store at 150 Main Street. His general store proving to be a commercial success, he sold it and used the proceeds to purchase property in nearby Lebanon where he was later appointed Postmaster.  Active in politics, he made the acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln.  He supported Fremont who ran for President in 1856 on the first Republican ticket. When Buchannan defeated Fremont, he lost his position as Postmaster on March 11, 1857, and soon thereafter his business failed as part of the financial depression gripping the West.

In 1860, he moved his family which now consisted of a wife and two children to St. Louis and accepted a position as a clerk in a local hardware store.  His military background and political involvement with the pro-union, anti-slavery element in St. Louis led to his selection to train Dr. Adam Hammer's medical students in the military arts following the organization of the Confederacy.  He later enlisted in the 2nd Missouri at the outbreak of hostilities and was elected Captain of Company B on April 24, 1861. Captain Osterhaus on May 10th led his company  during the capture of  the pro southern Missouri State Militia at Camp Jackson, St. Louis.  In June, as part of Colonel Boernstein's 2nd Missouri, he participated in Lyon's movement on Jefferson City and later in action at Boonville where he was appointed acting battalion commander of Companies A and B which consisted of  German American troops from Bellville. He was promoted to the rank of Major in June and led his battalion to Springfield, Missouri as part of General Lyon's Army.  Major Osterhaus first distinguished himself in battle in August at Wilson's Creek  where his coolness under fire impressed both his men and superior officers.  After the death of General Lyon, the Union forces returned to St. Louis to reorganize for the long campaign  ahead.

On the recommendation of General Fremont, he was appointed commanding officer of the newly formed 12th Missouri Regiment, one of several composed of German Americans from St. Louis and surrounding communities.  In September 1861  he moved his regiment to Jefferson City where it joined General Fremont who was preparing his  Army of the West  for a return to rebel held southwest Missouri.  Osterhaus was promptly assigned to Colonel Franz Sigel's 3rd Division. Colonel Sigel, like Osterhaus had participated in the 1848 Revolution. Sigel recognized his leadership ability and quickly elevated him to commander of the 2nd Brigade which was made up of  the German American 3rd, 12th, 17th Missouri and the 44th Illinois regiments. When Sigel returned to St. Louis on sick leave, he was appointed acting division commander.  Before General Fremont could  engage the rebels, he was relieved  by General Curtis who led his forces into Arkansas where they met the rebel army at Pea Ridge.  During the three days of fighting Osterhaus unerringly led his division  in three separate actions that helped turn the battle in favor of the Union forces.  After several months delay , he was promoted to the rank of  brigadier general on June 9, 1862. For the remainder of the year, he took part in General Curtis' operations in Arkansas. While on garrison duty at Helena was attached to Major General  McClernand's XIII Corps and given command of the 9th Division.  This was the only time he would not command  the German American regiments from St. Louis.  During this time the German Brigade comprised of the 3rd, 12th and 17th Missouri was under the command of General Frederick Steele.

Osterhaus first operation while commanding the 9th Division was with the XIII and XV Corps as part of  McClernand's short lived Army of the Mississippi. In January 1863 His division landed on the muddy banks of the Mississippi at Arkansas Post and marched all night through the swamps in order to approach the rebel fortress known as Fort Hindman from the less well defended land ward side.  He skillfully maneuvered his division through the difficult terrain at Arkansas Post, established his artillery for maximum effect on the fortress and led his men into position for a final assault.  The rebels sensing defeat  surrendered Fort Hindman and its five thousand man garrison. Later that month,  he joined Grant's army assembling at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana for the campaign against Vicksburg.  In May leading his division toward Vicksburg,  he was wounded at Big Black River Bridge but returned to duty two days later.  He then served through the balance of the siege of Vicksburg  with the 9th Division and in July took  part in the capture of Jackson, Mississippi while in  pursuit of Confederate General Johnson's army. In the midst of the Vicksburg Campaign, his beloved wife Mathilda died unexpectedly. He was assigned to the 1st Division, Army of  the Tennessee under Sherman in September 1863.  This assignment reunited  him with the German American regiments from St. Louis.

Shortly after joining the 1st Division, President Lincoln ordered Grant to move all available Union forces to the relief of Chattanooga.  While leading Sherman's movement toward Chattanooga, his troops skirmished constantly with cavalry forces under General Nathan Bedford Forrest.  At one encounter near Cane Creek his troops severely  wounded Forrest and broke the rebel resistance impeding  Sherman's advance. During the disposition of troops around Chattanooga, the 1st Division was separated from Sherman's column when a pontoon bridge gave way,  so his division was attached to Hooker's XX Corps which had recently arrived from the East. He led Hooker's column during the assault on Missionary Ridge breaking through at Rossville Gap. His rapid flanking movement caused General Bragg to order his army to retreat into Georgia.  His troops vigorously pursued Bragg as he fled into Georgia and fought a bloody encounter at Ringgold.  The following year his division played a prominent part  in the North Georgia Campaign.  In the midst of the Atlanta Campaign he became ill and while on sick leave was promoted to major general.  Returning to duty with Sherman's Army of the Tennessee at Atlanta, he was promoted to Major General on August 4, 1864.  In spite of reoccurring illness he went on, with some absences, to march to the sea  with Sherman  in command of the XV Corps.  After Savannah's capitulation, he participated in the early stages of the Carolinas Campaign but upon return of  Major General Logan from leave, he was soon sent to the Gulf coast as Canby's chief of staff during the operations against Mobile.  After the conclusion of hostilities, he was ordered by Major General Canby to take charge of the military district of Mississippi, head quartered at Jackson and later at Vicksburg until January 1866 when he mustered out at St. Louis, Missouri.

His assignments included: Major, Osterhaus' Missouri Battalion (April 27, 1861); Colonel, 12th  Missouri (December 19, 1861); commanding 2nd Brigade,  Army of Southwest Missouri, Department of the Missouri  (January-February 1862); commanding 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Army of Southwest Missouri, Department of the Missouri  (February-March 11, 1862); temporarily commanding the division (March 6-8, 1862); commanding 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Army of Southwest Missouri, Department of the  Mississippi (March 11 May 1862); commanding 3rd Division,  Army of Southwest Missouri, Department of the Mississippi  (May-September 19, 1862); Brigadier General, USV (June 9,  1862); commanding 3rd Brigade, Army of Southwest Missouri,  Department of the Missouri (September 19-December 1862);  1st Brigade, 1st Division, District of Eastern Arkansas, Department of the Missouri (December 1862); commanding 9th Division, 13th Corps, Army of the Tennessee (January 4-May 17 and  May 19-July 28, 1863); commanding 1st Division, 15th  Corps, Army of the Tennessee (September 1, 1863-January 4,  1864, February 6-July 15, and August 19 September 23,  1864); Major General, USV (July 23, 1864); commanding the XV Corps (September 23, 1864-January 8, 1865); and chief of staff,  Military Division of West Mississippi (January -May 27,  1865); commander, military department of Mississippi (May-January 15, 1866).

Mustered out on January 15, 1866, he returned to St. Louis where he was reunited with his children who were in the care of his sister-in-law, Amelia Born.  They were married later that year. He was appointed  U.S. Counsel at Lyon, France on June 18, 1866 serving  in that capacity until 1879.  In 1880 he returned to Germany with his wife where he was engaged in business at Mannheim, Germany.  He was again widowed when his wife Amelia became ill and died in 1996. He was appointed U. S. Counsel at Mannheim on March 16, 1898 and served in that capacity until his retirement from government service on November 8, 1900.  During his time in Germany, he returned to the United States frequently to visit  his sons and daughter who remained in the United States.

During his retirement, he was often remembered for his service to his adopted country and was made an honorary citizen of Bellville, Illinois on July 19, 1904.  On February 24, 1905 the United States Senate awarded him the rank of Brigadier General on the retired list  with full pay and benefits due  his rank.  On May 14, 1906 he returned from Europe to reside in St. Louis where he lived for several years.  He returned to Germany and celebrated his 90th birthday on January 6, 1913 at Duisburg.  He was again advanced in rank by an act of Congress elevating him to the permanent rank on the retired list of Major General in 1916. He was still collecting a pension while living in Duisburg a few months before the United States entered World War 1. He died at age 93 on December 31, 1916 and was buried in Duisburg.  He was survived by his sons Hugo W. , Alexander, Ludwig R. , his daughter  and their 30  grandchildren and great grandchildren.  He was the last surviving major general to have served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Several of his descendants followed in his military tradition and had distinguished military records while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  His grandson  Hugo W. was an Admiral in the United States Navy.


Copyright (c) 2001  Philip R. Hinderberger