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Godfrey Weitzel (November 1, 1835 – March 19, 1884) was a major general in the Union army during the American Civil War, as well as the acting Mayor of New Orleans during the Federal occupancy of the city.

Early life and career

Weitzel was born in Winzeln, near Pirmasensmarker, Rhineland-Palatinatemarker, in Germanymarker. His parents, Ludwig and Susanna (Krummel) Weitzel, immigrated to the United Statesmarker and settled in Cincinnati, Ohiomarker, where he was educated in the city schools. He was appointed to the United States Military Academymarker (then under the superintendency of Robert E. Lee). Weitzel demonstrated a strong proficiency for mathematics and engineering, and graduated 2nd out of 34 cadets in the Class of 1855. He was initially assigned to help improve the defenses of New Orleansmarker. In 1859, he returned to West Point as Assistant Professor of Civil and Military Engineering. Weitzel married Louisa C. Moor of Cincinnati on November 3, 1859, but she was tragically burned to death only three weeks later. He was promoted to first lieutenant of engineers in 1860. In 1861, he was reassigned to Washington, D.C.marker in the Corps of Engineers. His company served as the bodyguard during the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.

Civil War

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was assigned to various commands to construct defenses, including in Cincinnati and Washington, as well as for George McClellan in the Army of the Potomac in late 1861. He was attached to the staff of Major General Benjamin F. Butler as chief engineer of the Department of the Gulf. When Federal troops captured New Orleans, Weitzel became assistant military commander and acting mayor. He was promoted to brigadier general in August 1862 and two months later routed a large force of the enemy at Labadieville, Louisianamarker, which earned him a brevet promotion to major in the Regular Army. He commanded the advance in Major General Nathaniel P. Banks's operations in western Louisiana in April and May 1863 and a division under Banks at the siege of Port Hudsonmarker. He was later brevetted lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army, "for gallant and meritorious services at the siege of Port Hudson."

Weitzel commanded a division in the XIX Corps in the Lafourche campaign. From May through September 1864, he was chief engineer of the Army of the James, being engaged at Swift's Creek, the actions near Drury's Bluff, and in constructing the defenses of Bermuda Hundred, James River, and Deep Bottom. In August, he was brevetted major general of volunteers "for meritorious and distinguished services during the civil war."

He assumed command of the XVIII Corps from September 1864 through the end of the year, and was brevetted colonel in the regular army for the capture of Fort Harrison. On November 7, 1864, he became a full major general of volunteers and was assigned command of the XXV Corps, consisting of U.S. Colored Troops under white officers. He participated in the ill-fated attacks during the First Battle of Fort Fisher. He and his corps were reassigned to Virginiamarker when his commander, General Butler, was relieved of duty.

On January 6, 1865, while on furlough in Cincinnati, Weitzel married Louise Bogen, daughter of Peter Bogen, a prominent pork-packer and grower of Catawba grapes for winemaking. During the final months of the war, Ulysses S. Grant named Weitzel to command all Federal troops north of the Appomattox River during the final operations against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Weitzel took possession of the Confederacy's capital, Richmondmarker, on April 3, 1865, establishing his headquarters in the home of Jefferson Davis. His aide, Lieutenant Johnston de Peyster, is credited with raising the first Union flag over the city after its fall.

Postbellum career

Weitzel was assigned to Texas in command of the District of Rio Grande until 1866, when he was mustered out of the volunteer service on March 1. He reverted to his regular Army rank, but was promoted to major of engineers later that year and to lieutenant colonel in 1882. In August 1866 he began the design of an expanded canal around the Falls of the Ohio on the Indiana side.

In 1875 he established the temporary light on a pole in the lake at Alpena, Michiganmarker. In 1877 he built a crib for the second Alpena Lightmarker. He also designed it as a timber building in the form of a brown wooden pyramidal tower, complete with a Sixth Order Fresnel lens. In July of 1888 it burned with much of the town.

In 1881 he completed the building of a lock at the Soo Canalmarker, at that time the largest canal lock in the world, and the next year the Stannard Rock Lighthousemarker on Lake Superiormarker. He also helped design and build the Spectacle Reef Lightmarker with Colonel Orlando M. Poe. Transferred to Philadelphiamarker, he was in charge of engineering projects in the region, and Chairman of the Commission Advisatory to the Board of Harbor Commissioners.

He died of typhoid fever in Philadelphia and was buried in Spring Grove Cemeterymarker in Cincinnati.

Weitzel was the father of three children by his second wife, only one of whom survived infancy. Their first child was a stillborn son named Godfrey Weitzel, delivered on September 26, 1865. Their second child, Blanche Celeste Weitzel, was born on February 16, 1868, but contracted measles and died on April 5. Their third child was Irene Weitzel, born on April 11, 1876, who lived until 1936 and left descendants. His widow died on August 18, 1927.

See also


Further reading

  • Taylor, Paul (October 2009) Orlando M. Poe: Civil War General and Great Lakes Engineer (Kent State University Press) ISBN 1606350404; ISBN 978-1606350409.
  • Weitzel, Godfrey Major, Report Upon the Construction of Stannard's Rock Light Station, Lake Superior, Michigan, Appendix to the 1882 Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board. Washington: GPO, 1882, pp. 85-102; 14 plates.

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