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Colonel Max Einstein
contributed by Shalom E. Lamm

In a series of aggressive and unflattering letters to Secretary of State William H. Seward, Philip Geisse, the former United States Consul to Germany, wrote about his replacement, Max Einstein:

He has already entered upon the duties of his office, which I fear he is entirely incompetent of representing. I [am] reluctant to state, that in speaking to me of our various Government departments, Mr. Einstein has expressed himself in terms highly derogatory to the heads of the same, and although he professes to be on the most intimate footing with you and your son... he at the same time makes allusions very unflattering to you both, and quite unbecoming of him as an American citizen and Consul.[1]

[1]Phillip Geisse, Germany, to William H. Seward, Washington D.C., February 14, 1862, National Archives and Records Service, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division.

To the extent that Philip Geisse was concerned about the honor of the United States being trampled upon by one he considered incapable of properly carrying out the duties of United States Consul to Germany at Nuremberg, he had little to be troubled about. The appointment of Colonel Max Einstein, nominee of the recently retired Secretary of State Simon Cameron, was ultimately rejected.[2]

[2] The National Archives, Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate. Nomination dated December 23, 1861. Rejection by the U.S. Senate, dated March 19, 1862.

The route from Max Einstein's birthplace in Bachau, Wurtemberg, Germany, at the age of twenty-two to Nuremberg as the nominated Consul eighteen years later, is the story of the intensity and possibilities of the immigrant experience in nineteenth-century America.[3]

[3] Simon Wolf, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen (Philadelphia, The Levytype Company, 1895), p.349.

Max Einstein was not a great man when measured against the men of the time. He lived during the War Between the States, a time when there seems to have been an endless stream of individuals truly larger than life. He did, however, make his mark. Given his raw talents and auspicious beginning in America, it is almost surprising (and may represent a serious flaw of character) that he did not achieve a place in history more notable than a mere footnote to the immense drama of the period.

Born in Germany in 1822, Einstein arrived in America in 1844 without his parents and without emigration permission of local authorities.[4] The years of his emigration were a tumultuous time in Europe, and immigration to America rapidly increased. Severe economic privation; the French at war with Morocco; the attempt on the life of Frederick William IV of Prussia; rising tensions between Austria, Russia, and Poland; and the Anglo-Sikh Wars all combined to create tension and instability in Europe and Asia.[5]

[4] The Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, March 1994, researching the family and status of Max Einstein and his father Jacob. Church Records, Sons of Israel, list Max as traveling for the period 1844-1847.

[5] Bernard Grun, The Timetables of History (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1975), p. 411-412.

Max Einstein, new citizen, settled in the growing urban city of Philadelphia. He was following in the footsteps of the German Jews who had arrived previous to him. Numbering a total population of a mere fifty thousand in the entire country in 1850, Jews formed a distinct minority and tended to establish sub-communities much as other minorities. Denied land ownership in their native countries for centuries and, hence, having few if any farming skills, immigrant Jews tended to be peddlers or skilled workers and settled in urban rather than rural areas.[6] Einstein had been a weaving apprentice in his native town. He quickly achieved significant status by opening his own ribbon and silk store on Third Street, which seems to have brought him substantial monetary success.

[6] Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War (New York, Atheneum, 1976), p.1-2.

[7] The Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, op. cit. Max is listed as a weaving apprentice with Hirst Essinger.

During this period as a young entrepreneur, Einstein established noteworthy political alliances. It is likely that his German heritage served him well in this regard. During the ten years of 1850-1860 almost two million immigrants came to America. Many were from Germany and the surrounding areas. These immigrants shared concerns that would naturally be courted by a politician because immigrants often voted as a block. Einstein counted among his close acquaintances James Pollack, the Governor of Pennsylvania, and Simon Cameron, who would become the Secretary of War in the Lincoln Administration. Simon Cameron's vacillating career would have profound effects on Einstein's fortunes.

Coming from a culture that put great value on order, discipline, and military tradition, Einstein achieved status as a member and leader of the local Pennsylvania militias. Nine years after his arrival in the United States, Einstein was elected first lieutenant of the Washington Brigade. By 1853, he formed the Philadelphia (Flying) Artillery Company and was chosen as captain. In 1856, he became the aide-de-camp to Pennsylvania Governor James Pollack with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Governor Pollack promoted Einstein to brigadier-general with the post of paymaster-general of Pennsylvania. With growing tensions simmering in the country, he was elected brigadier-general of the Second Brigade of Pennsylvania Militia in 1860. Finally, in 1861, as the secession crisis was reaching a crescendo, he organized the 27th Regiment consisting of 1.054 men and officers.[8] Max Einstein's popularity, or importance in the eyes of his peers, is apparent since he was elected the regiment's Colonel. During this period, volunteer units accepted to federal service elected their own lieutenants and captains. In turn, these company-grade officers would elect the majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. Only the promotion to general required presidential appointment.[9] Much of the funding for recruiting, training, and outfitting of the regiment was from Einstein's own funds.[10] At least half, and possibly almost all, of the members of the regiment were German immigrants.[11][12] The affection of Einstein's own men toward him was concretely demonstrated on June 12, when members of the Concordia Society, a Jewish social club, presented him with a pair of expensive pistols which were inscribed "Presented to Col. M.E.. Einstein, by his friends."[13] The event was covered in the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day.[14]

[8] According to Simon Wolf, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen, the 27th Pennsylvania Infantry contained 105 Jewish soldiers, more than any other regiment.

[9] Charles P. Roland, An American Iliad; The Story of the Civil War (Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 1991), p. 42.

[10] Max Einstein, Germany, to W.H. Seward, Washington D.C., November 19, 1862, National Archives and Record Service, Diplomatic Branch, Civil Archives Division.

[11] Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. (Harrisburg, B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869), p. 53. Bates claims that half of the recruits were German. Brown, see note 13 below claims it was "solidly German."

[12] Kent Masterson Brown, Cushing of Gettysburg; The Story of a Union Artillery Commander (Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky), p.60.

[13] The private collection of the author, the only known surviving gun of the pair. It is a 3rd Model Hartford English Dragoon.

[14] The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 1861., p. 4.

A letter from Abraham Lincoln to Secretary Cameron dated May 26, 1861, attests to Mr. Lincoln's acceptance of the regiment to be mustered into service "as soon as possible." It was officially mustered in on May 30-31, 1861.[15]

[15] Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia in the Civil War 1861-1865 (Philadelphia, published by the City, 1913), p.386.

At the first call for help from Federal officials in Washington, Einstein promptly responded. Notwithstanding his years of preparation and with little of his own fault, his first military engagement, which may properly be called a civil disturbance or riot, ended in humiliation.

Actual Civil War, an unthinkable conflict just a few years earlier, passed the brink of no return with a fateful meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 9, 1861. Jefferson Davis, the President of the newly formed Confederate States of America, ordered the Confederate army to reduce Federal Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. At 4:30 A.M. on the 12th of April, Confederate forces under the command of Louisianan General P.G.T. Beauregard began a thirty-three hour bombardment of the fort. Spectacular for its fireworks and for the spirit it infused on both sides to the conflict than for the marksmanship of the artillerists, the bombardment ratcheted up the stakes to full armed conflict.[16]

[16] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York, Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 273-275.

In response, President Lincoln issued a proclamation on the fifteenth, calling for 75,000 militiamen to be pressed into national service. The North's populace was one in voice in denouncing the bombardment and heeded the President's call for the troops.

In this heady atmosphere, Einstein and his troops proceeded with haste, unarmed and without uniforms, to Washington, D.C., to aid in her defense. They left for their destination from their encampment outside of Philadelphia dubbed by the troops as "Camp Einstein."[17] At the same time, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, well-trained and fully equipped, proceeded with twelve hundred men parading through Manhattan to wild cheers on their way to New Jersey and then to Philadelphia. On the 18th, the train carrying the Massachusetts troops from Philadelphia to Baltimore and then to Washington was joined by Small's Brigade, the Pennsylvania militia of which Einstein's unit was a member. The contrast between the 6th Massachusetts and the thousand men of the un-uniformed Pennsylvania militia was stark.[18]

[17] The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 16, 1861.

[18] The Annals of the War; Written by Leading Participants Both North and South (Philadelphia, the Times Publishing Company, 1879) p. 781.

Communications being in a relatively primitive state and the coordination of large troop movements being altogether a novelty, a series of missteps led to the first post-Sumter Civil War casualties. Einstein was there.

A decision, presumably made by Simon Cameron, left the local Baltimore authorities unaware of the timing or even of the fact of the arrival of Union troops through the city. Notwithstanding that Governor Thomas H. Hicks, Mayor George William Brown, and Police Marshal George Kane were either staunch Union men themselves or at the least men of demonstrated integrity who would see to the safe passage of the soldiers, no advance notice was provided from the Federal government.[19]

[19] George William Brown, Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April, 1861 (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University, 1887) p. 44.

The train station locations required incoming trains to conclude the trip from Philadelphia at the President's Street Station and for passengers to then transfer to the Camden Street Station about one mile away to continue on to Washington, D.C. When news reached the local population that Federal troops would be marching through town, angry crowds gathered to taunt and possibly harm the arriving soldiers. The 6th Massachusetts disembarked and began to march briskly to the Camden Street Station. The Pennsylvania troops, however, their car unhooked from the rest of the train, were set upon by an angry mob. Only quick thinking by the Police Marshal along with his personal acts of bravery confronting his own citizens to protect the troops surely saved many of them from injury or death. Protection came too late for George Leisering, though, a twenty-six-year old German immigrant who was stabbed repeatedly and died four days later of his wounds. Leisering was the first Pennsylvanian to die for his country in the conflict of his adopted land.[20]

[20] Bates, op. cit. p. 29.

The regiment heading to the Camden Street Station suffered and inflicted more deadly consequences. Four soldiers were killed and seventeen wounded. They in turn killed twelve rioters and wounded many.[21]

[21] The Annals of the War, op. cit. p. 785.

Local officials rushed the unarmed Small's Washington Brigade back to trains and forced them to cancel plans to proceed to Washington, D.C., and to recommence back to Philadelphia instead. It was a humiliating experience for the troops. General Small was severely criticized for taking his troops through Baltimore unarmed. He was forced to disband the Washington Brigade as a result of the criticism and disparagement. Out of the remnants of the dissolved Small's Brigade came toe 27th Regiment Pennsylvania Light Infantry, in which Max Einstein was elected colonel.[22]

[22] Bates, op. cit. p. 29.

Discredit was officially heaped on the hapless Pennsylvania troops almost a year after the incident when the Maryland General Assembly voted to distribute $7,000 as reparations to the families of the soldiers of the 6th Regiment killed in the hostilities. The participation of the Washington Brigade, however, was not acknowledged and remains all but forgotten.[23]

[23] Ibid.

As summer approached, tensions and the rhetoric increased in intensity. Amid the din, almost no voices of compromise could be heard. The Union and Confederate armies clashed in minor engagements in Missouri and Western Virginia. While these skirmishes were occurring, President Lincoln was besieged with demands from senators, congressmen, and the press for a major strike and quick crushing victory over the rebel army and capture of the capital at Richmond.

The push for action would culminate in the clash of opposing armies at Manassas Junction in Virginia. Once again, as part of Blenker's Brigade, which would play a key role, Max Einstein was there.

Beauregard, of Fort Sumter fame, commanded the Confederate forces against General Irvin McDowell, commander of the Union troops McDowell was not shy in protesting that his army was not ready to initiate offensive actions, but the push for prosecution of the war was too great to resist. Against General McDowell's protest that his troops were "too green," the President responded that the enemy was "just as green" and ordered the initiation of hostilities.[24] Confederate forces took up defensive positions in anticipation of the forthcoming engagement.

[24] Roland, op. cit. p. 51.

McDowell's plan was well thought out given his understanding of enemy troop strength and dispositions.

Innovation in warfare, a theme that would occur with regularity during the conflict, altered the results of what likely would have been a decisive Union victory. Throughout the day of battle the untrained and poorly disciplined troops on both sides fought with much personal bravery. The twelve-thousand potential reinforcements of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, nearly fifty miles away, were to be kept in check by a large Union force of General Patterson.

Johnston, however, employed a completely new tactic and slipped away with his troops, including the enigmatic and brilliant artillery professor Thomas J. Jackson, by employing rail transportation to move his troops thirty-eight miles in a mere eight hours via the Manassas Gap railroad.[25] The introduction of these troops late in the battle when the Union victory seemed assured decisively turned the day to a complete Confederate victory. Troops on both sides were near exhaustion when the fresh troops arrived. Their introduction was not only timely, but their use, particularly a stunning artillery maneuver by Brigadier General Jackson at Henry House Hill, where he earned his sobriquet "Stonewall," turned the Union victory into a full scale thrashing of the Federal army.[26]

[25] Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, Revised Edition (New York, David McKay Company, Inc., 1988) p. 99.

[26] James I. Robertson, Jr. Stonewall Jackson; The Man, The Soldier, The Legend (New York, MacMillan Publishing, USA, 1997) p. 259-267.

Protecting the rear of the fleeing Union troops in the disintegrating army of General McDowell was the only portion of the army as yet not engaged, part of Blenker's Brigade. The 27th Pennsylvania volunteers, Colonel Max Einstein in command, covered the retreat.[27]

[27] War of the Rebellion Official Records, Series I Vol. II (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1880) p. 426-428.

Something happened towards the end of the battle at about 11:00 p.m. and during the next few weeks to end the military career of Max Einstein. Controversy and contradictory evidence abound in trying to decipher who did what to whom and why.

Popular lore, the impressions that were published long after the war but while the principal players still lived, painted Einstein's behavior on the field of battle as daring and heroic.[28] Contemporary newspaper accounts similarly recount acts of singular bravery at a time when other troops had their backs to the enemy. Both the contemporaneous post-war accounts and the contemporary newspaper accounts should be viewed with suspicion. The singular fact that triggers the incredulity is the vexing problem that as of October 2, 1861, seventy-one days after his apparently highly satisfactory behavior on the field of battle, after years of military preparation, after spending his considerable personal fortune and talents organizing and equipping his regiment, with hostilities escalating to a fever pitch in preparations for the years ahead of deadly battle, Colonel Max Einstein was unceremoniously cashiered from the army. On October 2, Max Einstein was once again a civilian.[29]

[28] Henry Samuel Morais, The Jews of Philadelphia; Their History From the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time (Philadelphia, The Levytype Company, 1894), p. 481-482.

[29] Twenty-Seventh Pennsylvania Muster Roll, June 11, 1864. Under "Remarks" the following comment "mustered out of the U.S. Service October 2, '61 (original colonel)."

Newspaper reports from the field of battle during the Civil War were notoriously inaccurate. During the week following the Battle of Bull Run of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Einstein figured prominently in the headlines. "Col. Einstein Reconnoitres the Battle Field and brings off a Battery of Six Pieces."[30] In an article appearing the same week in the Inquirer "Colonel Einstein... returned to the field of battle at eleven o'clock on Sunday night and brought off six pieces of artillery, which he delivered to the commanding officer on the Potomac yesterday evening. Colonel Einstein reports that the field was then clear, and not an enemy in sight."[31] If true, the reports speak of the bravery of the man and his leadership. The paper's other headlines, though in the issues of the same week, were less than accurate. "Generals JOHNSTON and JACKSON and Col. HUNTER of the Rebel Army reported killed."[32] If these were true, it is not irresponsible speculation to conclude that the war might have ended earlier than it did. The loss of Stonewall Jackson at this juncture would have withheld from the Confederacy one of its most brilliant leaders.

[30] The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 1861, p. 1.

[31] Ibid., p. 4.

[32] Ibid., p. 1.

Accounts written years later, while Einstein still lived in Philadelphia, describe his actions in laudatory terms, but were inconsistent with each other and with the newspaper accounts. One report has Einstein not only bringing off six pieces of artillery, but also "captured from the rebels a battery and eighteen horses, and otherwise distinguished himself."[33] Further, "He now resides with his family in this city. Numerous diplomas, certifying to his rank and bravery are to be seen on the walls of his house."[34]

[33] Morais, op. cit. p. 481-482.

[34] Ibid.

More troublesome is the official report submitted by Colonel Louis Blenker. If the 27th distinguished itself so dramatically, why is one of the only two mentions of Colonel Einstein in the entire Official Records derogatory? Blenker writes, "I have to add, in conclusion, that the 27th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers,... which was on guard duty in Centreville village at headquarters and under order to escort Colonel Miles' train, retired from Centreville at about 11 o'clock without any orders from me, and proceeded to Washington."[35]

[35] OR, op. cit. p. 428.

The only mention of Einstein's trouble with the army appears as a small article following a sub heading "The Case of Colonel Einstein" in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the article, the Inquirer reports:

It is understood that he is charged with incompetency and conduct unbecoming an officer. He was seven weeks under arrest. When he went to the Paymaster to demand his pay, he was told that he had been mustered out of the service. Einstein says he never received any official notice of the fact, and now demands a court-martial, for the purpose of finding out the reason why he was thus summarily dropped.[36]

[36] The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 14, 1861, p. 1.

No records of any court martial proceedings exist.[37] Einstein was honorably discharged on October 2, 1861. [38]

[37] Letter from the National Archives, Military Service Branch, Military Archives Division. "We were unable to locate any documentation indicating that Max Einstein was court-martialed."

[38] State of Pennsylvania, General Affidavit Pension Application, March 26, 1891.

Whatever his troubles with the army that resulted in his dismissal, Einstein had built an important array of political connections during his militia days as a businessman and as Paymaster-General of Pennsylvania. His relationship with Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Secretary of War, was evidently a warm one, with Cameron often visiting the Einstein home.[39] Simon Cameron constructed a Pennsylvania political machine that outlasted his own life by many years. Although an effective politician, widespread charges of corruption dogged his term as a Lincoln cabinet member. He could not be tolerated long in the administration. The charges of corruption were compromising the impeccable reputation of Lincoln and his administration. In particular, the Secretary of War was roundly criticized for making numerous appointments and granting lucrative contracts solely on the basis of personal friendship. The evidence suggested he had many friends in Pennsylvania.[40].

[39] Morais, op. cit. p. 482.

[40] Erwin Stanley Bradley, Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Secretary of War; A Political Biography (Philadelphia, University of Philadelphia Press, 1965) p. 179.

On December 23, 1861, Abraham Lincoln nominated "Max Einstein, of Pennsylvania, to be Consul of the United States at Nuremberg, in the place of Philip Geisse, recalled."[41]

[41] Records of U.S. Senate, Center for Legislative Archives, Record Group 46.

Einstein traveled with his wife Helena, and their children to Germany where he met Philip Geisse, whom he was to replace. The transfer of office took place on November 24, 1861.[42] The relationship between the two was poor. By February, Geisse was complaining loudly to the U.S. Government that Einstein was not fit for the post. His protests were not only sent to Secretary of State William Henry Seward, but also sent, in sealed diplomatic pouches, to President Lincoln himself.

[42] Philip Geisse, Germany, to William H. Seward, Washington D.C., February 14, 1862, National Archives and Record Service, Diplomatic Branch.

To Secretary of State Seward he charged "Although he professes to be an American citizen, he has no sooner trod the German soil, than all his German prepossessions have revived, and he prides himself more in being Colonel (Oberst) of a German regiment, than in the honor of being U.S. Consul."[43] Perhaps Einstein felt more at home than Geisse, prompting a jealous slap at Einstein. Einstein had recently been in combat, indeed, with German immigrants. It seems reasonable that given the intensity of that experience, he would talk of that period with bravado and pride. Geisse went on to display his own mean prejudices, "His being an Israelite is much to his prejudice here, and that of our Government in appointing him Consul, and the Chamber of Commerce here has already expressed its disapprobation and wonder at his appointment."[44] Geisse observes "The Israelites here, have quite a triumph at his appointment and in speaking of him say, "our Consul" meaning one of their persuasion."[45]

[43] Philip Geisse, Germany, to William H. Seward, Washington D.C., February 24, 1862, National Archives and Record Service, Diplomatic Branch.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

To President Lincoln, Geisse wrote that Einstein's behavior was scandalous in his disrespect for many generals and politicians, indeed, for the entire American system of finance which he describes as a "regular system of corruption and defraudation." To the extent this was true, his sponsor was a patron of this condition. He described Einstein's indiscretions and impolitic behavior in representing the United States. He then relayed to the President what may be the answer to the mysterious incident that ended Einstein's military career,

In alluding to his appointment he states that our Government only gave it to him to get him out of the way fearing his influence among the Germans in Pennsylvania and New York, and boasts of having after the unlucky affair of Bulls Run had a controversy with General McDowell, in which he says he challenged the General and called him a coward, and told him that he deserved and would have gotten in Germany a bullet,--no, not a bullet, that a bullet was too good for him--a rope!...
..."That for this he was put under arrest, and that then our Government, to get him out of the way, gave him an outfit of $1500 and the Consulate of Nuremberg."[46]

[46] Philip Geisse, Germany, to Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., February 14, 1862, National Archives and Record Service, Diplomatic Branch.

In Einstein's own words to his predecessor are the deeds which ended his military career.

If Max Einstein degraded the American system of financing the war as corrupt, he had little need to worry himself. President Lincoln himself was deeply concerned about the same issue. To resolve it, he finally discharged Einstein's political sponsor Simon Cameron and banished him to Russia as U.S. Consul there.[47]

[47] Bradley, op. cit., p. 7.

With his friend no longer in a position to dispense patronage, being replaced by the caustic but scrupulously honest Edwin Stanton, Einstein's political career was in jeopardy. On March 19, 1862, the Senate rejected the nomination of Max Einstein.[48]

[48] Records of the U.S. Senate, Center for Legislative Archives, Record Group 46.

Einstein was embittered by his rejection and was in financial distress. He wrote so to Secretary Seward and to his friend of late in St. Petersburg, Russia, Simon Cameron. To Seward he wrote, "I received notice that the Senate has not confirmed me, I think this is the most cruel treatment any man can receive in the whole world."[49] Einstein described how his business was ruined by the way, how property he owned in the South was worthless, how he funded his regiment himself, and "I have done my duty on the Battlefield of Bull Run, after which I had a quarrel with Gen. McDowell for his behavior on that occasion."[50]

[49] Max Einstein, Germany, to William Henry Seward, Washington D.C., November 19, 1862, National Archives and Record Service, Diplomatic Branch.

[50] Ibid.

To his friend Simon Cameron he wrote similarly and asked for financial assistance but added a postscript, "My familie sends their best to you and familie. I have a new born son 4 weeks old which we named after you Simon Cameron Einstein."[51]

[51] Max Einstein, Germany, to Simon Cameron, St. Petersburg, Russia, October 25, 1862, Historical Society of Dauphin County.

On April 1, 1906, at eight-thirty in the morning, a senile eighty-three year old Max Einstein, immigrant, businessman, patriot, soldier, insubordinate, diplomat, tax collector, husband and father of six, died.[52] He was buried three days later at the Mt. Sinai Cemetery in the city of his immigration, Philadelphia.

[52] Pennsylvania, Bureau of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Death Certificate.