Heros von Borcke

Heros von Borcke

Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke (1835 – May 10, 1895) was a cavalry officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. A visitor to the United States from Prussia, von Borcke became a close confidant and aide to Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Conspicuous on the battlefield for his large height and girth and the extremely large sword he wielded, von Borcke became known as the "giant in gray."

Von Borcke was born in Prussia to an aristocratic family and was educated in some of the country's leading military schools. A tall man at 6' 4" and weighting in at more than 340 pounds, he was a lieutenant in the 2nd Brandenburg Regiment of Dragoons when news arrived of the beginning of the American Civil War. 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. [http://www.15thregtscvols.org/Newsletters/2006%20Newsletters/I-September%202006.pdf 15th Regimental Report] ] 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 J.E.B. Stuart by the order of Secretary of War George W. Randolph. [Levert, Suzanne, and The Civil War Society, "The Civil War Society's Encyclopedia of the Civil War", New York: Gramercy/Random House Inc, 1997.]

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". [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.]

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. [ [http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=1471 Battlefield historical marker erected by Virginia] in 1997] He recovered enough to resume staff duties in the spring of 1864, and was present at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in which his chieftain 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. [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.] He was also sent by President Jefferson Davis on a diplomatic mission to England.

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, receiving the coveted Order of the Red Eagle for his gallantry. He married Magdalene Honig and raised three sons and a daughter, whom he named Karoline Virginia in honor of his adopted state. Still suffering lingering effects from his Middleburg wound, he retired from the Prussian Army in 1867 and settled in Newmarkt, East Prussia. He inherited a stone castle at Geisenbrugge (now Gryzin, Poland), where he proudly flew the Confederate flag from its battlements.

In 1877, von Borcke published his memoirs of his adventures in the Confederate army. [von Borcke, Heros, "Zwei Jahre im Sattel und am Feinde. Erinnerungen aus dem Unabhangigkeitskriege der Konfoderirten." Berlin, E. S. Mittler und Sohn. Published in the USA as "Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence".] In 1883, his wife died, and two years later, he married her sister Tony. 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. His headstone over his grave in Geisenbrugge was destroyed by the Soviet army during World War II. The U.S. Government purchased a new headstone for the Confederate veteran and arranged to have it installed in 2008. [Wittenberg, Eric W., [http://civilwarcavalry.com/?p=892 Rantings of a Civil War Historian] Retrieved 2008-09-17]


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