Extracted from The Civil War Token Journal, Volume 31 Number 3.
During the Civil War many men on the Union side received officer's commissions though political influence or as a reward for services rendered. Some political officers served with distinction. Many were incompetent and were removed from command. One of the most famous was Franz Sigel who is remembered by CWT collectors as the dashing figure who appears on Patriotic dies 180 and 181.
Franz Sigel was born in Badmen, Germany in 1824. A graduate of the Karlsruhe Military Academy, Sigel served in the German Army until 1847. The following year Sigel became the minister of war in a rebel force that tried to overthrow the Prussian government. When that revolution failed, Sigel fled Germany. Ultimately he settled in St. Louis, Missouri where he taught school and became an influential leader in the German immigrant community.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Sigel rallied European immigrants to the Union cause in the name of liberty and the abolition of slavery. Sigel convinced many German and other European immigrants to jointhe Union Army. For his recruitment efforts and because of his military training, Sigel was appointed a brigadier and later a major general.
Sigel's finest military hour occurred on March 8, 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge. On the second day of the battle, Sigel led an artillery barrage that slaughtered many rebel troops and forced the Confederates to retreat. This victory secured the state of Missouri for the Union.
Following Pea Ridge, Sigel was transferred to the eastern theater where he served in the Shenandoah Valley. There he and other Union generals had the misfortune of going up against Confederate General Thomas 'Stonewall" Jackson who bedeviled the blue coats with his lightning movements and superior strategy. Later Sigel commanded the First Corps under General John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run, which was another Union debacle.
Sigel's military career effectively ended in May 1864 at the Battle of New Market. There Sigel's force of 6,500 men was defeated by a smaller Confederate contingent that included a group of cadets from the Virginia Military Academy. The Confederate force was led by General John Breckinridge who had been vice president of the United States under James Buchanan. Following the battle Sigel was removed from field command, and he resigned his commission a year later. Although Sigel's overall military record was little better than mediocre, the importance of his role in recruiting European Immigrants to the Union cause was significant.
The glory of Franz Sigel's day of military greatness was immortalized on Patriotic CWT varieties 180 and 181. Both dies were cut by New York die sinker, Emil Sigel, who may have been a relative of the general.
Die 180 can be divided into two sub varieties. The early impressions clearly show the legend, 'Hero of Pea Ridge' above Sigel's head. Later almost all the legend was effaced from the die, perhaps at the request of those who ordered the tokens because of Sigel's defeats in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. These later strikes were usually paired with a badly worn die state of variety 341. Unfortunately the later die state is far more common than the earlier pieces with the fully readable lettering.
Therefore if you are looking for a Sigel token with a full legend, you will have to purchase one of the early impressions at a premium price. The poorly struck 180/341 die combination, which is very common, can be found for about $10 in EF condition. The well struck version, which is most often found with Patriotic die 430 (R-4 rarity rating, estimated 201 to 500 known), sells for $35 to $45 in AU to MS-60+ condition.
Die 181, which features seven stars above Sigel's head in place of the 'Pea Ridge' legend, is very scarce. All the metal varieties range from R-7 (11 to 20 known) for the copper token to R-9 (2 to 4 known) for the brass and copper-nickel pieces. This variety is not often available, but when it is, you can expect to pay from $160 to over $200 for a piece in the EF to MS-60+ range.
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