Prussian Reb


 A traveler in East Prussia in 1890 would have been astonished to see a Confederate battle flag flying from the battlements of the castle at Geisenbrugge.  The lord of the manor, Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke, known to his familiars in America as Heros, was a veteran of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Born in 1835, von Borcke grew to be a giant of a man for his time period, standing as tall as Lincoln at six feet, four inches and weighing 240 pounds.  A scion of the Junker class of land holders, in 1861 he was a  lieutenant in the Second Brandenburg Dragoons.  Inspired by accounts of the Southern fight for independence, and no doubt a bit bored with peace time soldiering, he obtained a release from his duties, and made his way to Charleston, South Carolina in May of 1862.  The fact that he knew almost no English did not deter him.  He brought with him a huge Solingen straight sword which he would use with deadly effect in some of the cavalry engagements of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Making his way to Richmond, von Borcke obtained a commission as a Captain in the Provisional Confederate Army, and was assigned as an aide to General Jeb Stuart.  Von Borcke quickly became a favorite of Stuart and a legend among Stuart’s cavaliers, for his bravery and robust good humor.

In the official report of his ride around McClellan’s Army during the Peninsula Campaign, Stuart mentioned von Borcke:  “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”.

Promoted to major in August 1862, Stuart made von Borcke his chief of staff and adjutant general.  He served until severely wounded with a bullet in the neck and lungs at the battle of Middleburg in 1863.  Incapacitated for the remainder of the year, he resumed his staff duties in the spring of 1864, and was with Stuart when Stuart was killed at Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864.  In December of 1864 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was voted the thanks of the Confederate Congress.  He ended the war in England on a diplomatic mission for the Confederacy.

He returned to Prussia and fought in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.  Retiring due to ill health after the war, he busied himself supervising his family’s estates and writing his memoirs of his Civil War service.  The memoirs may be read on-line here.

In 1884 he visited the South and had a joyous reunion with many of his friends from the Army of Northern Virginia.  He passed away on May 10, 1895.  The Red Army destroyed the tomb stone over his grave in World War II.  In 2008 a new tombstone, paid for by the US government, was placed over the grave of the Prussian veteran of the Lost Cause.

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 5:02 am  Comments Off on Prussian Reb  
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