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In the eastern campaigns—in fact, in the whole Union Army—no native of Hungary achieved more than Julius H. Stahel, who, in less than two years, rose from lieut.-colonel to major-general and from the command of a regiment to that of an army corps, and received from Congress the medal of honor.
He was born in Sieged, in the heart of the Hungarian Lowland, on November 5, 1825. In America he was often believed to have been a Count Sebastiani. and McClellin thought h;s name had been Count Serbiani. How this legend originated is unknown, as his Hungarian name had been Szamvald. As quite a young man he kept a bookshop in Pest, and it was he to whom Petofi wrote his poem, Egy Konyvdrus Emlekkonyvebe TFor the Souvenir-Book of a Bookseller]. He naturally espoused the patriotic cause, joined the Honved Army, served under Gen. Guyon as lieutenant, and was wounded at the battle of Branyiszko. He was also awarded the Cross of Bravery by the Hungarian Government. After the revolution, he found refuge first in England, then in the United States, where he arrived in 1856 and engaged in journalism, working on the staffs of Lexo's Belletristische Zeitung and the New York Illustrated News.
In response to Lincoln's first call for volunteers, he, with Louis Blenker, at once began to organize the 8th New York Infantry, of which he was elected lieut.-colonel. His American baptism of fire he received in the first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, where his regiment was part of the reserve at Centreville. At first the Union force?
had the best of it, but in the afternoon a reverse set in, which ended in their utter rout. Stahel was commanded to cover the retreat, and formed his regiment in line of battle on both sides of the road. In this position he was twice attack
ed by the enemy's cavalry, which he repulsed each time, and held his position until the following morning, when he received orders to fall back on Washington. He reached the Potomac in the evening, bringing with him all the field pieces the flying troops had left on the road, also two stands of Union colors.
It is evident that but for the firm stand and resistance of Stahel's command the enemy could have followed up the retreating Union Army to Washington, for the official report of the Confederate commander, Gen. Johnston, says: "The apparent firmness of the United States troops at Centreville checked our pursuit"22. When the report of the conduct of Stahel's regiment reached headquarters, both President Lincoln and Lieut.-General Scott sent for Blenker and Stahel, and expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the protection of the rear of the army at a time when all apprehended a furious assault from a pursuing enemy.
In recognition, Stahel was commissioned colonel and was entrusted with the organization of a regiment of heavy artillery. He was appointed brigadier-general in November, 1861, and was placed in command of a brigade in the Army of the Potomac under Gen. McClellan. Next April his brigade was transferred to the Army of West Virginia to the command of Gen. Rosecrans, and in May to that of Gen. Fremont at Petersburg, a change which both he and Gen. McClellan sincerely regretted. On June 1 Stahel's advance came upon Gen. Jackson's rear guard near Strassburg, where he engaged the enemy, driving and following him up, until ordered by Fremont to halt. A week later the battle of Cross Keys was fought with great obstinacy and violence until dusk, when both armies rested on their arms, Stahel's command having borne the brunt of the fight.
In the second battle of Bull Run, August 29 and 30, 1862, in which he commanded Schenck's division, it fell to his lot again to cover the retreat of the Union Army. Towards the end of November he encountered the enemy at Ashley Gap and at Snickers Gap, and after a sharp fight drove him across the Shenandoah River, pursuing him so rapidly that he surprised a cavalry regiment in
22 Rebellion Record. Series I. II, 478.
camp and captured many prisoners, horses and the regimental colors.
In January, 1863, he was given the command of the 11th Army Corps, but soon yielded it to Carl Schurz. In March he was promoted to majorgeneral and, by the express wish of the President, was assigned to the command of a cavalry division in front of Washington. Toward the end of the year he was transferred to the Department of the Susquehanna, where, for the protection of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, he concentrated and organized the cavalry, which was distributed all over the state.
The following spring he was again transferred to the Department of West Virginia in command of the 1st Cavalry Division, and led the advance column down the Shenandoah Valley. He drove the enemy across the river near Mount Jackson, and took part in the battle of New Market. On June 5, near Staunton, he was ordered by Gen. Hunter to charge the Confederate cavalry and check its advance. On the first charge Gen. Stahel broke the enemy and pursued him as far as Piedmont, where he found the main force of the Confederates in a strong entrenched position, and held them there until the arrival of Gen. Hunter with his army. Hunter soon commenced the attack, and ordered Stahel, whose troops were somewhat exhausted, to form the reserve. The battle raged furiously for some time, when Stahel received orders to dismount three of his cavalry regiments and send them to the support of the infantry. He lead this dismounted force himself into action, was badly wounded, and taken to the rear to have his wound dressed. While he was in the surgeons' hands, Gen. Hunter expressed great regret and disappointment, for he wanted Stahel to charge the enemy's flank, while he would attack the front in full force. Gen. Stahel, seeing the need of a quick, concerted and strong action, told Hunter that he would lead the charge. So he had his wound dressed to stop the bleeding and, being helped to mount his horse as he had no use of his left arm, he charged with his entire mounted force the enemy's flank, dislodged him from his entrenched position and created a general stampede. For his heroism at Piedmont he was awarded by Congress a medal of honor, the highest distinction an American soldier can receive. Being invalided for several months, he was ordered to Baltimore, where he did duty as president of a General Court Martial, until he resigned from the army in February, 1865.
In his military career he had risen rapidly, and gained the confidence and respect of his superiors, which they never had cause to regret. He was now to show his fitness for an entirely different and, to him, new line of work in the public service. There had been many irregularities in the consulate at Yokohama, Japan, and Secretary of State Seward selected him, in 1866, for the task of reorganizing that consulate, bringing it to a satisfactory status, and entering into arrangements with the Japanese authorities for the opening of new ports. Stahel was eminently successful in both directions; he reorganized the consulate on a basis of efficiency, and in 1869 the ports of Osaka and Hiogo were thrown open to American commerce.
He then returned to the States and became interested in some mining concerns in the West. In 1877 he was sent again to Japan as U. S. Consul at Osaka and Hiogo, which post he held until appointed consul-general at Shanghai, China, in 1884. He was twice temporarily detached and entrusted with special duties of a delicate nature in the Far East. He also sent the State Department lengthy reports and recommendations as to the reorganization of the service in the Far East, with particular reference to the judicial system;