Heros von Borcke

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Johann Heinrich August Heros von Borcke
Heros von Borcke
Nickname(s) Giant in Grey
Born (1835-07-23)23 July 1835
Festung Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, Prussia
Died 10 May 1895(1895-05-10) (aged 59)
Berlin, German Empire
Allegiance  Kingdom of Prussia (1853–1862, 1866–1867)
Confederate States (1862–1865)
Service/branch Prussian Army
Confederate States Army
Years of service 1853–1867
Rank Rittmeister (Captain) (Prussia)[1]
Confederate States of America Lieutenant Colonel.png Lieutenant colonel (CSA)
Battles/wars American Civil War
Austro-Prussian War
Awards Order of the Red Eagle

Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke (23 July 1835 – 10 May 1895) was a Prussian cavalry officer who served in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. Following the Confederacy's collapse in 1865, von Borcke rejoined the Prussian Army for the Austro-Prussian War, but retired in 1867 due to lingering wounds he had suffered during his service to the Confederacy.


Borcke was born in Festung Ehrenbreitstein, where his father Otto Theodor Heros von Borcke (1805–1878) served as a second lieutenant in the Prussian Infantry Regiment 19. His father left service in 1836 to administer his family's estates of Wangerin in Pomerania and later Giesenbrügge (New March) (now Giżyn, Myślibórz County, Poland). Borcke was educated at the local school of Giesenbrügge, the gymnasium in Cölln (today a district of Berlin) and the Franckesche Stiftungen in Halle and joined the Prussian Army at the Gardes du Corps Cuirassier Regiment in Berlin.[2]

American Civil War[edit]

Landmark commemorating the battle of Middleburg

A tall man at 6' 4" and weighing in at more than 240 pounds, he was a lieutenant in the 2nd Brandenburg Regiment of Dragoons when news arrived of the beginning of the American Civil War. Seeking adventure and looking to escape his creditors, he eventually secured his release from his duties in the Prussian Army and sailed for the Bermuda, finally slipping into Charleston (South Carolina) Harbor on a blockade runner in May 1862. He brought with him a massive Solingen straight sword, which would become famous during his ensuing career.[3] By the end of the month, he had made his way to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. He was given the rank of captain in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States on June 1 of that year and assigned to Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart by the order of Secretary of War George W. Randolph.[4] Von Borcke became a close confidant and aide to Stuart and, conspicuous on the battlefield for his large height and girth and the extremely large sword he wielded, became known as the "giant in gray."

Stuart soon was impressed by the new arrival, and the two became fast friends. Following the cavalry's famed "ride around McClellan's army", Stuart wrote, "Capt. Heros von Borcke, a Prussian cavalry officer, who lately ran the blockade, assigned me by the honorable Secretary of War, joined in the charge of the First Squadron in gallant style, and subsequently, by his energy, skill, and activity, won the praise and admiration of all".[5]

In August of the year, von Borcke was promoted to the rank of major, an appointment confirmed by the First Confederate Congress on September 19. He rode with Stuart as his Chief of Staff and adjutant general during the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Maryland Campaign, further adding to his reputation for bravery in the face of the enemy. Stuart detailed him to accompany the body of fallen horse artillerist John Pelham to Richmond for burial following Pelham's death at the Battle of Kelly's Ford.

During the early phases of the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, von Borcke suffered a significant wound from a bullet in his neck during the Battle of Middleburg and was incapacitated for the remainder of the year.[6] He recovered enough to resume staff duties in the spring of 1864, and was present at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in which his superior Stuart was killed. In December of that year, he was promoted again, this time to lieutenant colonel and voted the official thanks of the Confederate Congress.[7] He was also sent by President Jefferson Davis on a diplomatic mission to England.[3]


With the collapse of the Confederacy in the spring of 1865 and the ensuing surrender of its main armies, von Borcke returned to his native Prussia. He resumed his military career and fought in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War in the personal staff of Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia,[1] receiving the coveted Order of the Red Eagle for his gallantry. He married Magdalene Honig and raised three sons.[3] Still suffering lingering effects from his Middleburg wound, he retired from the Prussian Army in 1867 and bought an estate at Sichts, West Prussia (today Żychce, Poland).[1] After his father's death he returned to Giesenbrügge, where he proudly flew the Confederate flag from its battlements.

In 1866, von Borcke's memoirs of his adventures in the Confederate army were published in England as a two-volume set and then appeared in the U.S. the following year.[8] In 1883, his wife died, and two years later, he married her sister Tony, they named their daughter Karoline Virginia in honor of Borcke's adopted state.[1] In between, in 1884, he sailed back to again visit the United States and was reunited with many former comrades and friends, including Wade Hampton, William H. F. Lee, and Matthew C. Butler.

He died in Berlin in 1895 due to a sepsis caused by the remaining projectile which had wounded him in the Battle of Middleburg on 19 June 1863.[1] His headstone over his grave in Giesenbrügge was destroyed by the Soviet army during World War II. The Sons of Confederate Veterans purchased a new headstone for the Confederate veteran, which was reinstalled in 2008.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Biography (in German) Borcke left service in 1858 but was soon reactivated at the outbreak of the War in Italy. He then served in the 2. Guard Cavalry Regiment and the Dragoon Regiment No. 2, the "Black Dragoons"
  2. ^ Biography (in German)
  3. ^ a b c 15th Regimental Report
  4. ^ Levert, Suzanne, and The Civil War Society, The Civil War Society's Encyclopedia of the Civil War, New York: Gramercy/Random House Inc, 1997.
  5. ^ U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols., Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901, Series I, Volume XI, Part 1.
  6. ^ Battlefield historical marker erected by Virginia in 1997
  7. ^ Confederate States Congress, Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, 7 volumes, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904-1905, Vol. 4, p. 388.
  8. ^ von Borcke, Heros, Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1866.
  9. ^ Wittenberg, Eric W., Rantings of a Civil War Historian Retrieved 2008-09-17

External links[edit]