Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Louisianans headed to Poland to honor cavalry officer

Louisianans headed to Poland to honor cavalry officer

Heros Von Borcke was a larger-than-life figure.

By John Andrew Prime • jprime@gannett.com • August 25, 2008

In a tribute to diversity, two Louisianans are headed to Poland to honor a Prussian aristocrat who fought for the Confederacy almost 150 years ago.

Chuck Rand, of Monroe, and Michael Bergeron, of Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, are en route to Eastern Europe to help dedicate a new U.S.-supplied military gravestone for Col. Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke, a soldier who served with the South in the 1860s and became a heroic figure among its cavalry corps. A 6-foot 4-inch prankster who fought with enthusiasm, and who almost could have been taken from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, his wounding in 1863 just before the Battle of Gettysburg is thought by some historians to have changed the course of the conflict.

"It is interesting that events that occurred in North America over 140 years ago not only still reverberate here but also have echoes in Europe," said Rand, who is the national chief of staff for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Heros von Borcke is due his tombstone through a change in U.S. law that has recognized Confederate veterans as U.S. soldiers since the early 1900s.While the government provides tombstones for former Confederates, they are different in design from traditional gravestones for other U.S. soldiers in that they have a pointed, rather than a rounded top.The gravestone dedication and graveside memorial service, which will be open to the public and the media, will begin at 10:30 a.m. in Gyzin, also called Giessenbrugge.

Due to wars and boundary changes in Europe, the historic residence of the Von Borcke family was once in Prussia, a part of old Germany, but now is in modern Poland.Von Borcke's original tombstone was destroyed by the Soviets after they occupied the region following World War II.

Rand and Bergeron will represent the Sons of Confederate Veterans at the event.

The national heritage group has another Louisiana connection through its national commander in chief, Shreveport Charles McMichael. Rand and Bergeron will present the Von Borcke Family with a certificate from McMichael noting their ancestor's service.Von Borcke was an imposing presence in the Confederacy, as he was a top aide and confidante to James Ewell Brown Stuart, the famous cavalry leader.A signal character in the June 9, 1863, battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry encounter of the war, he was known to give advice and guidance to Stuart.But Von Borcke was badly wounded in the neck at the Battle of Middlesburg 10 days later. Stuart and his cavalry were absent from the July 2-4 Gettysburg battle at crucial times, and some historians believe that had Von Borcke been at Stuart's side, he might have given Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia better service when most needed.

"Upon returning to Germany, Col. Von Borcke wrote a book titled 'Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence,'" Rand said.

Von Borcke, who died in 1895 at the age of 60, flew the Confederate flag from the battlements at his ancestral castle and even named his daughter Virginia in tribute to his service.The U.S. War Between the States is a topic of interest in Europe and other parts of the world, with re-enactors active in Germany, Poland, Australia and South America.

In addition to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a company of German Confederate reenactors, Hampton's Legion from Berlin, will fire a salute in honor of Von Bocke, with attendees from units in Germany, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and other countries looking on.