Like Philip Kuhn, most
of the soldiers in the 26th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment were German, Polish
or Dutch immigrants, and were anxious to prove their worth not just as
soldiers, but as Americans. Philip J. Kuhn was born in Gotendorf, Germany
in 1833, an area surrounded by small family farms. In the 1850s, Philip
decided to seek his fortune in America so he left his family and settled
in LaParte County, Indiana. Deciding not to be a farmer, Philip opened
and managed a saloon and inn for travelers and wagon drivers who delivered
freight. The handsome immigrant was very successful in his business and
formally became a United States citizen on October 28, 1860. Philip did
not initially join up when the war began in 1861, but he left his business
the following year and journeyed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Kuhn met a number
of friends there who had also emigrated from Germany, and together they
enlisted in the 26th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. As one of the state's
newest regiments, they were determined to prove themselves worthy soldiers.
Philip was so proficient at soldier life that he was soon promoted to sergeant.
After a month of organizing, the 26th Wisconsin was ordered to go to Washington
where it was assigned to the 11th Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
Philip's regiment was sent to a camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia where
they performed more drill and stood guard duty along the Rappahannock River
with the rebels just a stone's toss away on the south bank. The 26th Wisconsin
saw its first battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia where it was almost
annihilated during the Confederate attack on May 2. They and the 75th Pennsylvania
Infantry Regiment had been posted on a small knoll by the division general
and were completely exposed to the overwhelming attack by thousands of
Confederates under “Stonewall” Jackson. Fighting their way out of the trap,
the Wisconsin men finally broke and fled in disorder, but rallied near
the Chancellor House that night. It was a terrible, bloody introduction
to war and Philip was lucky enough to have escaped the bloodshed unscathed.
The disgrace of their flight at Chancellorsville hung heavy over Philip
and his men. They knew they had fought well, but other soldiers in the
army did not think they had fought hard enough. Once again they were anxious
to prove themselves in battle and when orders finally came to march, the
men were eager to go and find Lee's army. It seemed like they would have
their chance again in June when the regiment broke camp and set out into
It was not a comfortable march for the 26th Wisconsin as the weather was warm and the roads dusty. “ The weather is so hot that we think we scarcely can stand it and yet we have to march with our entire equipment, loaded like a pack mule,” wrote Private Adam Muenzenberger. “You'd think this is a ruse - and it is for the southern general, Lee, is marching in the same direction through the Blue Ridge and we have to march rapidly to block his way, which we have been lucky enough to do.” After a day of rest near Frederick, Maryland, the Wisconsin men trudged northward again under a warm sun, the dust covering them from head to foot. Philip marched along beside his company when they heard the boom of cannon from far ahead. Their pace quickened and exhausted soldiers fell out by the side of the road. Philip was determined to keep up and pushed ahead until they reached the limits of a small town. “We were wet as cats, hungry as wolves; our thirst was satisfied by the good citizens when we ran in full gallop through their town,” recalled Private Carl Wickesberg. “The small town where the battle was fought is called Gettysburg...”
Sergeant Philip J. Kuhn was wounded in the fighting on July 1, but was able to evade capture by Confederate pursuers and made his way to a Union field hospital where he was treated. Philip recovered from his wounds and rejoined his comrades of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry, who had been sent west with the remainder of the 11th Corps to join the Union army commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman's army opened a campaign in 1864, marching on Atlanta. There were several terrible battles along the way and the 26th Wisconsin saw heavy fighting outside of the city. The regiment participated in the much-celebrated “march to the sea,” where Sherman's army then turned northward and went through the Carolinas. Philip was with his regiment at the last battle of that army near Bentonville, North Carolina on March 21 and 22, 1865. After the surrender of the Confederate Army at Durham Station, North Carolina, and the 26th marched to Washington and participated in the Grand Review. Philip returned to civilian life and moved to Chicago, Illinois where he married and had five children Sergeant Philip J. Kuhn, 26th Wisconsin Infantry, U.S.A.
Photograph courtesy of John J. Kuhn.
Information by Thomas Kuhn