- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

In April 1861, a young Baltimorean, William H. Wiegel, a staunch Union man, was much disturbed about unrest in the city. On April 19, Southern sympathizers attacked troops of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry who were changing trains on their way to the defense of Washington. The nearest Federal troops were in Annapolis, 25 miles south of Baltimore, and Wiegel journeyed there to seek an interview with Gen. Benjamin Butler, their commander.
Wiegel shared his concerns with the general, and when Butler occupied Baltimore in May, Wiegel accompanied him as a volunteer member of his staff. When Butler was transferred to Fortress Monroe, Va., he secured a position for Wiegel as lieutenant and aide de camp. Wiegel participated in and was slightly wounded during the battle of Big Bethel, Va., June 10, 1861, the first land battle of the war.
Butler then undertook an operation with the Navy against Confederate fortifications on Cape Hatteras, N.C. Wiegel waded ashore in heavy surf with a reconnaissance party as guns of the naval flotilla were shelling Fort Clark, and Wiegel and another officer hoist the American flag over that fort to signal the Navy to cease fire.
The next day, when a large force attacked Fort Hatteras, he was the second man to land and the first to enter the fort. He received the sword of the fort's commander.
Butler twice commended the young aide in his report, praising his "gallantry and service" and describing the flag-raising over Fort Clark as "a service of great danger from the fire of our own Friends."
In April 1862, a joint Army-Navy campaign was undertaken to capture New Orleans with Adm. David Farragut commanding the naval contingent and Butler the Army. Wiegel was present at the surrender of Fort Jackson and Fort Saint Philip, the southern defenses of the city on the Mississippi River. He previously had lived in New Orleans, and he led the column that took possession of the Customs House on May 1, 1862.
While stationed in New Orleans, Wiegel, now a first lieutenant and acting assistant adjutant general on Butler's staff, signed and issued the infamous Special Order No. 70 for the execution of William B. Mumford, a resident of New Orleans. Mumford had torn down the U.S. flag from atop the U.S. Mint and was convicted and sentenced to death by a military commission.
Wiegel returned to Baltimore in 1863 and was assigned as assistant adjutant general on the staff of Brig. Gen. Erastus B. Tyler, commanding a brigade in the defense of Baltimore. A post in the northwestern sector of the city's defenses was named Camp Wiegel. He was by then a captain.
In July 1864, the Confederates launched their third and final invasion of the North in what is sometimes called Early's Washington Raid. An entire corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, under Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, crossed the Potomac River above Harpers Ferry and advanced, unopposed, on Frederick, Md., threatening Washington.
Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace, commanding in Baltimore, gathered what troops he could and rushed to Frederick, where the National Pike divided, one road going to Washington, the other to Baltimore. There he set up defenses at Monocacy Junction, outside the city. Outnumbered and facing veteran troops, Wallace was defeated but delayed the Confederate advance for a day, which was long enough for reinforcements to reach the capital, until then virtually undefended.
The action at Monocacy has been called the battle that saved Washington because Early's subsequent attack on the nation's capital failed.
Tyler's brigade was in the center of the Federal line at Monocacy, and Wallace, in his autobiography, describes Wiegel's role in the battle in detail. In a gun emplacement at a blockhouse on the Union side of the Monocacy River, guarding the vital railroad bridge, was a 14-pound howitzer that was without a gun crew. Wiegel commandeered enough men to man the gun.
Wallace wrote: "Captain Wiegel and his squad of gunners stood by the twenty-four pounder, and he was not wasting his ammunition. The piece, and the half finished work encircling it were a center of attention with the eager enemy. Lines of fire from a dozen or more points terminated there." Wallace continued, "I saw Wiegel's first shell burst above the [Confederate] gunners on the pike. Before the little bunched up white cloud left by the missile had disappeared, before the howitzer could be reloaded, the pike was cleared."
During this exchange, Wiegel was wounded for the second time in the war, and eventually the gun went out of commission when one of the untrained gunners loaded it improperly. The captain's unsuccessful efforts to unfoul it required patience and, according to Wallace, "in view of the practice of the enemy upon his little earthwork, enough of nerve to make a dozen Marlboroughs [after the famed British general]."
Wiegel was promoted to major, appointed assistant provost marshal of Baltimore. He continued in the service after war's end in various administrative capacities in Baltimore and New Bern, N.C., where he commanded the eastern district of the state. He was discharged from the Army in February 1868 as a brevet colonel. He returned to Baltimore and was a frequent speaker on patriotic occasions and was commander of Harry Howard Camp No. 11 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Wiegel died in 1900 and is buried in Baltimore Cemetery.

Charles A. Earp is a writer in Catonsville, Md., and wishes to thank William L. Miller of Timonium, Md., a descendant, for granting use of the Wiegel papers.




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