Historic America

Civil War Ballads: I’m Going to Fight Mit Sigel

This tongue-in-cheek song was written by John F. Poole (1833-1893) to the tune of “The girl I left behind me.” The 97th Regimental String Band recorded a version, “I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel,” for their 1999 album Songs of the Civil War, Vol. 7: Brass Mounted Army. The song is an unflattering portrayal of German-American soldiers in the Union army, written in a mock-German accent from the perspective of a German volunteer. The title is a reference to Union Major General Franz Sigel.

I’ve come shust now to tells you how
I goes mit regimentals;
To schlauch dem voes of Liberty
Like dem old Continentals;
Vot fights mit England long ago
To save de Yankee Eagle,
Un now I gets mine sojer clothes,
I’m going to fight mit Sigel.

Ven I comes from de Deutsche Countree,
I vorks some dimes at baking,
Den I keeps a lager bier saloon,
Un den I goes shoe-making;
But now I was a sojer been
To save de Yankee Eagle;
To schlauch dem tam Secession volks,
I’m going to fight mit Sigel.

I gets ein tam big rifle guns,
Un puts him to mine shoulder,
Den march so bold. like big jack horse,
Un may been someding bolder;
I goes off mit de volunteers,
To save de Yankee Eagle,
To give dem rebel vellers fits,
I’m going to fight mit Sigel.

Union Major General Franz Sigel

Dem Deutshen mens, mit Sigel’s band,
At fighting have no rival,
Un ven Cheff Davis’ mens we meet,
Ve schlauch’ em like de tuyvil;
Dere’s only von ting vot I fear,
Ven pattling for de Eagle,
I vont get not no lager bier,
Ven I goes to fight mit Sigel.

For rations, dey gives salty pork,
I dinks dat was a great sell,
I petter likes de sour krout,
De switzer kaise un pretzel.
If Fighting Joe (or Liddle Mac) will give us dem,
Ve’ll save de Yankee Eagle:
Un I’ll put mine vrou in breechaloons.
To go un fight mit Sigel.

More than 200,000 German-born immigrants served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, making them the largest ethnic group to fight for the Union. Why then, aren’t there more songs celebrating their service? (In contrast, dozens of songs celebrate Irish contributions to the war). It probably has something to do with their combat reputation.

In the decade following the failed European revolutions of 1848, approximately 1.4 million Germans, 5,000-6,000 former revolutionaries among them, came to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania and what was then the American Northwest (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin). They were staunchly pro-Union and especially strong supporters of Abraham Lincoln. When war broke out, they rushed to enlist in volunteer regiments.

Unfortunately, the combat record of these units was less than stellar. Franz Sigel, a political General, was chosen to lead the XI Corps in the Army of the Potomac, which predominantly consisted of German-American volunteers, many of whom couldn’t speak English. He was replaced by Major-General Oliver O. Howard in February 1863. The XI Corps bore the brunt of “Stonewall” Jackson’s flank attack at the Battle of Chancellorsville and were accused of running away in panic. Again, at the Battle of Gettysburg, the XI Corps was smashed by overwhelming Confederate forces on the first day.

As for Sigel, he was transferred to the Department of West Virginia where he was defeated by Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge at the Battle of New Market (May 15, 1864). Though largely undeserved, these well-known incidents contributed a general sense that Germans made lousy soldiers.


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