Godfrey Weitzel

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Godfrey Weitzel
Godfrey Weitzel - Brady-Handy.jpg
Born (1835-11-01)November 1, 1835
Winzeln, Pirmasens, Bavaria
(now Winzeln, Germany)
Died March 19, 1884(1884-03-19) (aged 48)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Buried at Spring Grove Cemetery

United States of America


Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army

Years of service 1855–1884
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major general
Commands held XVIII Corps
XXV Corps
Battles/wars American Civil War

Godfrey (Gottfried) Weitzel (November 1, 1835 – March 19, 1884) was a major general in the Union army during the American Civil War, as well as the acting Mayor of New Orleans during the Union occupation of the city.

Early life and education[edit]

Weitzel was born in Winzeln, near Pirmasens in the Palatinate, then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria within Germany.[1] His parents, Ludwig and Susanna (Krummel) Weitzel, immigrated to the United States and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was educated in the city schools. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy (then under the superintendency of Robert E. Lee). Weitzel demonstrated a strong proficiency for mathematics and engineering, and graduated 2nd out of 34 cadets in the Class of 1855. He was initially assigned to help improve the defenses of New Orleans. In 1859, he returned to West Point as Assistant Professor of Civil and Military Engineering. Weitzel married Louisa C. Moor of Cincinnati on November 3, 1859, but she died three weeks later, when she burned to death.


Weitzel was promoted to first lieutenant of engineers in 1860. In 1861, he was reassigned to Washington, D.C. in the Corps of Engineers. His company served as the bodyguard during the inauguration of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

American Civil War[edit]

With the outbreak of the American Civil War, he was assigned to various commands to construct defenses, including in Cincinnati and Washington, as well as for George McClellan in the Army of the Potomac in late 1861. He was attached to the staff of Major General Benjamin F. Butler as chief engineer of the Department of the Gulf. When Union troops captured New Orleans, Weitzel became assistant military commander and acting mayor. He was promoted to brigadier general in August 1862 and two months later routed a large force of the enemy at Labadieville, Louisiana, which earned him a brevet promotion to major in the Regular Army. He commanded the advance in Major General Nathaniel P. Banks's operations in western Louisiana in April and May 1863 and a division under Banks at the siege of Port Hudson. He was later brevetted lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army, "for gallant and meritorious services at the siege of Port Hudson."

Weitzel commanded a division in the XIX Corps in the Lafourche campaign. From May through September 1864, he was chief engineer of the Army of the James, being engaged at Swift's Creek, the actions near Drury's Bluff, and in constructing the defenses of Bermuda Hundred, James River, and Deep Bottom. In August, he was brevetted major general of volunteers "for meritorious and distinguished services during the civil war."

He assumed command of the XVIII Corps from September 1864 through the end of the year, and was brevetted colonel in the regular army for the capture of Fort Harrison. On November 7, 1864, he became a full major general of volunteers and was assigned command of the XXV Corps, consisting of U.S. Colored Troops under white officers. He participated in the ill-fated attacks during the First Battle of Fort Fisher. He and his corps were reassigned to Virginia when his commander, General Butler, was relieved of duty.

On January 6, 1865, while on furlough in Cincinnati, Weitzel married Louise Bogen, daughter of Peter Bogen, a prominent pork-packer and grower of Catawba grapes for winemaking. During the final months of the war, Ulysses S. Grant named Weitzel to command all Union troops north of the Appomattox River during the final operations against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Speaking to his men on February 20, 1865, Wietzel told them:

Let history record that on the banks of the James 30,000 freemen not only gained their own liberty, but shattered the prejudice of the world, and gave to the land of their birth peace, union and glory.[2]

Weitzel took possession of the Confederacy's capital, Richmond, on April 3, 1865, establishing his headquarters in the home of Jefferson Davis. His aide, Lieutenant Johnston de Peyster, is credited with raising the first U.S. flag over the city after its capture by the Union.

In 1866, after the war's end, Weitzel reflected on the service of African American soldiers in the Union Army, stating:

Its organization was an experiment which has proven a perfect success. The conduct of its soldiers has been such to draw praise from persons most prejudiced against color, and there is no record which should give the colored race more pride than that left by the 25th Army Corps.[3]

Later life and death[edit]

Weitzel was assigned to Texas in command of the District of Rio Grande until 1866, when he was mustered out of the volunteer service on March 1. He reverted to his regular Army rank, but was promoted to major of engineers later that year and to lieutenant colonel in 1882. In August 1866 he began the design of an expanded canal around the Falls of the Ohio on the Indiana side.

In 1875 he established the temporary light on a pole in the lake at Alpena, Michigan. In 1877 he built a crib for the second Alpena Light. He also designed it as a timber building in the form of a brown wooden pyramidal tower, complete with a Sixth Order Fresnel lens.[4] In July 1888 it burned with much of the town.[5]

In 1881 he completed the building of a 515-foot (157 m) lock at the Soo Canal, at that time the largest canal lock in the world, and the next year the Stannard Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. He also helped design and build the Spectacle Reef Light with Colonel Orlando M. Poe. Transferred to Philadelphia, he was in charge of engineering projects in the region, and Chairman of the Commission Advisatory to the Board of Harbor Commissioners.

He died of typhoid fever in Philadelphia and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.


Weitzel was the father of three children by his second wife, only one of whom survived infancy. Their first child was a stillborn son named Godfrey Weitzel, delivered on September 26, 1865. Their second child, Blanche Celeste Weitzel, was born on February 16, 1868, but contracted measles and died on April 5. Their third child was Irene Weitzel, born on April 11, 1876, who lived until 1936 and left descendants. His widow died on August 18, 1927.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]"Weitzel was born on November 1, 1835, in Germany. His family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when he was quite young. He was educated in public schools and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1851."
  2. ^ "Part 1". ORR Series 1 51. p. 1202. 
  3. ^ Young, Patrick (March 19, 2015). "Richmond Burning: The German Immigrant and Black Troops Who Saved the City". Long Island Wins. Retrieved June 29, 2015. In the year following the war, Weitzel gave his assessment of the use of blacks in his corps; 'Its organization was an experiment which has proven a perfect success. The conduct of its soldiers has been such to draw praise from persons most prejudiced against color, and there is no record which should give the colored race more pride than that left by the 25th Army Corps.' 
  4. ^ Terry Pepper, Seeing the Light, Alpena Breakwater Light.
  5. ^ National Park Service , Maritime Heritage Program, Inventory of Historic Light Stations - Michigan Lighthouses, Alpena Light.


Further reading[edit]

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