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Frederick Knefler, a teen veteran and refugee from the failed Revolution of 1848-49 against Hungary’s Hapsburg Dynasty, arrived at the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia on this date in 1864 with the Union troops he led under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Knefler was among hundreds of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, recently arrived, who fought in the Union army alongside immigrants from Ireland and Germany, among other countries, as well as native-born northerners. By the time of Sherman’s devastating 300-mile march to the sea, Knefler was a colonel in charge of the soldiers of the 79th Indiana Brigade, which he had helped to organize with his lifelong friend, Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur. The 79th Indiana played a major role in several battles during Sherman’s March, which would end with the conquest of Savannah’s port on December 21st. In March of 1865, Knefler would be elevated to the rank of brigadier general, making him the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Union army. Born in 1833 in Arad, Romania, Knefler died in 1901.
“The fire of the rebels became very severe, and their infantry in front, who were retreating before us, halting occasionally and firing upon us, I perceived that the safety of my command required it to get the protection of the mountain side to be enabled to take shelter among the trees and rocks. I urged a rapid advance, and with the hearty co-operation of the officers of both regiments the whole line was carried forward in the best order possible, on almost inaccessible ground. Here, protected by the steepness of the mountain, the men were enabled to make good their foothold, and reply to the rebel musketry, which was very galling, and almost surrounding us. We advanced steadily step by step.” —Frederick Knefler, describing the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Tennessee