General Godfrey Weitzel
Godfrey Weitzel was a Union army officer in the American Civil War.
Weitzel was born on November 1, 1835, in Germany. His family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when he was quite young. He was educated in public schools and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1851. Weitzel graduated in 1855, ranking second in a class of thirty-three students. His first assignment as an engineer in the United States Army was to help repair the fortifications protecting New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1859, Weitzel became an instructor in civil and military engineering at West Point.
As the American Civil War began, Weitzel reported to Washington, DC, where his company served as bodyguards for President Abraham Lincoln during his inauguration. His unit was then dispatched to Fort Pickens in Florida, where Weitzel risked his life several times to reconnoiter the Confederates' defenses. He briefly returned to West Point before being sent to the District of the Ohio to recruit engineers and to help prepare defenses for Cincinnati. He finished 1861 with the Army of the Potomac in command of a company of engineers.
In 1862, Weitzel was assigned to General Benjamin Butler's army. Butler's force was ordered to capture New Orleans. Since Weitzel had helped plan and repair the city's defenses, he proved to be a great asset for Butler. Weitzel's knowledge helped Admiral David Farragut to sail his fleet of gunboats past forts guarding the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. Weitzel also helped Butler force the surrender of many of these forts by skillfully placing Union soldiers between New Orleans and the fortifications. The Confederate soldiers were isolated and left with nothing to defend. As a result of Weitzel's knowledge of the region and its people, Butler appointed him Assistant Military Commander and Acting Mayor of New Orleans once the city fell to Union forces. Weitzel also took the lead in recruiting Louisiana Unionists for service in the Union army. Weitzel was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general of volunteers in September 1862.
During 1863, Weitzel commanded various units in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. He briefly returned to Ohio to recruit volunteers. In 1864, he requested to serve under General Butler, who was now operating in Virginia. His request was granted, and Weitzel participated in various battles around Petersburg and Richmond. He also served as the chief engineer for Union forces in the area. He had responsibility for maintaining defensive works and keeping transportation lines open. He also assumed command of the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Corps of African-American troops. General Ulysses S. Grant eventually placed Weitzel in charge of all Union forces in Virginia located north of the James River. Weitzel's command was among the first Northern units to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond after it fell in April 1865. Weitzel made his headquarters in the "White House" of the Confederacy.
Following the Civil War, Weitzel remained in the Northern army. He was sent to Texas, where he patrolled the U.S.-Mexican border. He was reassigned to the engineers in 1866 and helped complete surveys for a canal around the falls on the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky. Weitzel continued to work on other projects for the Corps of Engineers until his death from typhoid fever on March 19, 1884.
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