Leopold Karpeles (1838 - 1909)

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Color Sgt. Leopold Karpeles, Medal of Honor's Geni Profile

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Death: Died in Washington, District of Columbia, DC, USA
Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
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About Leopold Karpeles

Leopold Karpeles, born in Prague, Bohemia in 1838, emigrated with his older brother Emil to Galveston, Texas at the age of 11. He became an expert rider, and eventually one of the youngest members of the Texas Rangers. Leopold was outspoken about his anti-slavery views, which differed dramatically from his brother. And so he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he subsequently enlisted in the Union Army as a flag-bearer ... which was "as important to a regiment as a head is to a man" (John Anderson).

http://www.amuseum.org/jahf/virtour/page35.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_Karpeles

Leopold Karpeles (1838–1909) was a flagbearer in the Union Army who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the American Civil War.

Born in Prague, to a Jewish family, Leopold moved to Texas when he was young. When war broke out and Texas seceded, he moved away. Karpeles received the Medal of Honor for rallying retreating troops, inducing them to check the enemy's advance while under heavy fire on May 6, 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness. [edit]Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company E, 57th Massachusetts Infantry. Place and date: At Wilderness, Va., May 6, 1864. Entered service at: Springfield, Mass. Birth: Hungary. Date of issue: April 30, 1870. Citation: While color bearer, rallied the retreating troops and induced them to check the enemy's advance.

Leopold Karpeles, born in Prague, Bohemia in 1838, emigrated with his older brother Emil to Galveston, Texas at the age of 11. He became an expert rider, and eventually one of the youngest members of the Texas Rangers. Leopold was outspoken about his anti-slavery views, which differed dramatically from his brother. And so he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he subsequently enlisted in the Union Army as a flag-bearer ... which was "as important to a regiment as a head is to a man" (John Anderson).

Color Sergeant Leopold Karpeles was instrumental in turning the tide of the May 1864 Wilderness Campaign, that saw his 57th Massachusetts Regiment suffer among the highest casualties. Some historians consider this Civil War battle as the turning point, when the North began its slow march toward victory. Karpeles' bravery is described in the hero's own words: "I marched in an inspired manner with my flag waving proudly ... providing courage for my comrades. I'm also a prime target for the enemy. My dedication to my country's flag rests on my ardent belief in this noblest of causes, equality for all."

While hospitalized with nearly total paralysis in Washington DC in the Spring of 1864, Karpeles was ministered to by a young volunteer -- Sara Mundheim, daughter of the local rabbi -- whom he later married. Once his health improved, Karpeles was appointed to the Commerce and Post Office Departments. He was a major figure in the Grand Army of the Republic, which supported veteran causes, and was one of the six founders of the Medal of Honor Legion.

Leopold Karpeles died in February, 1909 and was buried in the cemetery of the Hebrew Congregation in Washington. His tombstone is unique, with a replica of the Congressional Medal of Honor emblazoned on its granite surface.

The Karpeles medal's reverse features an excerpt of a letter, in Lincoln's own handwriting, written on May 13, 1862 acknowledging the prayers of the Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia for the Union cause. Alongside is a tallit (four cornered fringed Jewish prayer shawl), whose blue-striped pattern was the model for the flag of Israel.

Leopold Karpeles

(1838-1909)

American Jewry has won 16 Congressional Medals of Honor. Of those, Jews earned six in the Civil War, more than in any other theater of combat. Of these six winners, at least half were born overseas and fought for their adopted nation. Leopold Karpeles, born in Prague, Bohemia in 1838, typified the six Medal of Honor recipients.

According to historian Robert Shosteck, Leopold Karpeles left Prague at age 11 to join his older brother in Emil in Galveston, Texas. Leopold worked for Emil until 1861 when, according to his daughter, he left Texas for Massachusetts. "Father, who had seen and abhorred slavery," his daughter wrote a century later, "came North when the Civil War started, to Springfield, Mass; joined the 46th Mass. Volunteers." After serving the ten-month term of his enlistment in North Carolina's battle zone, Karpeles was honorably discharged in July 1863 after showing great courage. "In the battles of Kingston, Whitehall and Goldsborough," Karpeles' superior wrote,"he bore the State colors. The promptness with which he came upon the line of battle, and the firmness with, which he stood his ground, though, his flag was several times pierced by the bullets of the enemy, were so conspicuous as to be the subject of remark and recommendation."

Not content to have served his term with honor, Karpeles reenlisted in March 1864, this time with the 57th Massachusetts Infantry. He was given the rank of sergeant. The 57th Massachusetts was part of the 9th Army Corps, which it joined at the Wilderness in Virginia in April 1864. The Wilderness lies north of Richmond and General Ulysses S. Grant -hoped to use the area to launch an assault on Richmond, the Confederate capital. instead, Robert E. Lee's troops took the offensive on May 5, 1864, by attacking the Union front lines. As historian Shosteck puts it, the 57th Massachusetts Regiment "received its first baptism of fire in the bloody, and indecisive three-day battle which ensued." The veteran sergeant Karpeles later told his own story in the 1870 affidavit 'n which he applied for his Medal of Honor:

Your Applicant ... states that while, his Regiment was engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness on the 6th day of May, 1864, at 5 o'clock P.M., Col., Bartlett commanding said regiment having been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. Chandler of said Regiment assumed command. When after 5 o'clock on the 6th day of May, 1864 the right of the 9th Corps commenced breaking and falling back in considerable disorder, the rebels having commenced a flanking movement ... your applicant being Regimental Color Bearer ... inquired of the Lieutenant Colonel what was the matter. When he the Lieutenant Colonel, answered that he did not know what was the cause of the disorderly retreat of a portion of the Wing aforesaid. When your applicant urged him to stand firm and rally as many of the retreating troops as possible, he said, "All right, I will stand by you." We then, by every possible exertion, by waving the colors and otherwise,. were enabled to rally a large number of retreating troops around our Regimental Colors. ...When they were formed into a line and ordered to advance on the advancing Rebels, they, by a rapid discharge of fire arms, managed to check the enemy and enabled the disordered Wing to form, thereby, as your Applicant believes, saved that portion of the Wing aforesaid from almost total destruction, in which engagement our Colors were very severely shattered.

According to eyewitnesses, Karpeles stood on a tree stump to make the Union colors more visible. Remarkably, despite the bullet holes in the regimental colors, there were no bullet holes in Karpeles. After three days of indecisive slaughter, the two sides disengaged.

On May 20th General Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac to move south toward Richmond. When the Ninth Army Corps crossed the North Anna River above Richmond it was met by withering Confederate fire. Karpeles's commanding officer ordered his men to attack the entrenched Confederate position. As color bearer Karpeles led the way once more. This time, his luck ran out. Karpeles received a bullet wound in the knee According to Shosteck, "Though badly wounded Karpeles arose and again moved forward with the colors. His colonel tried to take the colors from him an send him back. Karpeles clung to the flag and continued advancing, until weakened from loss of blood when he was obliged to pass it on to other hands an fall to the rear."

Karpeles was sent to Washington, DC, to recuperate. In the hospital, he met Sara Mundheim, daughter of the rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation. Sara persuaded her parents to take Karpeles into their home to speed his recovery. Later that year, Leopold and Sara married and subsequently had two children. When Sara died during the birth their third child, Sara's sister came to care for the children and, later, married Karpeles. Together, they had three children. In 1875, Karpeles was rewarded for his military service with a job in the post office, which he held until his death in 1909. Karpeles is buried in the cemetery of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/731/karpeles-leopold.php

http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/jewishwashington/exhibit-images/leopold-karpeles

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7177789&ref=wvr

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Color Sgt. Leopold Karpeles, Medal of Honor's Timeline

1838
1838
1878
1878
Age 40
1880
1880
Age 42
District Of Columbia
1883
1883
Age 45
1896
1896
Age 58
1909
February 1909
Age 71
Washington, District of Columbia, DC, USA
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Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States