156 years ago today: The polyglot Garibaldi at Bull Run
On 21 July 1861, some 30,000~ Americans met on the field of battle south of Washington D.C. and let the cork out of the bottle on the epic bloodletting of the Civil War. Until then, although there had been a number of sharp incidents, peace was still an option. After the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as Battle of First Manassas, there was no turning back.
One of the more colorful units on the fields of Prince Williams County that day was the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, best known as the “Garibaldi Guard.”
The unit was formed just nine weeks earlier by the flamboyant Hungarian Col. Frederick George D’Utassy who, at the ripe old age of 37 claimed prior wartime service as a field and staff officer in several European armies prior to his immigration to the states, and worked as a language professor (speaking 12 of them fluently). The regiment was a foreign legion of sorts comprising 11 companies of men of different national heritage from New York’s streets: three German, three Hungarian, one Swiss, one Italian, one French, one Spanish, and one Portuguese.
As such, they looked unlike any other U.S. infantry force at the time.
The Guard attached into the 1st Brigade (Col. Louis Blenker) of the 5th Division (Col. Dixon S. Miles) and was in reserve at Manassas– but by most accounts they gave good service in helping cover the Union retreat.
They fought for the rest of the Civil War (often among themselves) and were disbanded 1 July 1865. The regiment suffered a total of 274 fatalities during the conflict, most from disease or by prisoners who died in Confederate POW camps.
As for D’Utassy, he was court-martialed in 1863 for “fraud and conduct prejudicial to military discipline” after selling the position of Major in his regiment, forging muster rolls, and forging accounts. He was discharged 29 May 1863 and, after a brief stint in Sing-Sing, became an insurance salesman.