At the close of the Civil War, the carpetbaggers, who were frequently former Union soldiers seeking their fortune, filled most of the political patronage jobs in Florida. In Apalachicola the most prominent carpetbagger was Eugene von Kielmansegge, who served as postmaster of Apalachicola for two years immediately after the war and held other offices in the area.
Eugene von Kielmansegge was born in 1830 in Aurich, which at that time was part of the Kingdom of Hanover and now is located in the German state of Lower Saxony. He came from a military family. His uncle, Friedrich von Kielmansegge, had served with Wellington at Waterloo and his father, Ferdinand von Kielmansegge, was a major general and the minister of war in the Kingdom of Hanover.
Eugene joined the Austrian army as a cavalry officer, serving about 14 years and rising to the rank of captain in the 6th Hussar Regiment. In 1855 he was married to Karoline, Countess Arz-Vassegge at Sponau, Moravia, which is now the town of Spalov in the Czech Republic.
In July 1861, just after the start of the Civil War, Eugene von Kielmansegge came to New York to seek his fortune in the Union Army. He received an appointment in August as captain of Co. E, 4th Missouri Cavalry Regiment in the United States Army, a unit composed mostly of German immigrants from the St. Louis area. Since most of the soldiers spoke German better than they spoke English, Capt. Kielmansegge was well-suited to this command. He must have been proficient in his job because six months later he was promoted to the rank of major.
In May 1862 he requested, and was granted, a leave of absence of 20 days to take care of personal business. His request for the leave stated that he needed to see about settling his family in the United States. By the end of July, he had still not reported back to his regiment. An investigation revealed he had gone east seeking another appointment with a higher rank. On the recommendation of his commander, he was dismissed from the service for being absent without leave.
This did not put an end to his military career. His politicking was successful, and the governor of Maryland appointed him as colonel in Nov. 1862 to command the 1st Maryland Cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. When the Army realized he was the same officer who had formerly been dismissed from the 4th Missouri Cavalry, he was again dismissed from the service.
Once again, this did not end his military service. Gen. Alexander Asboth had been appointed commander of the Union garrison at Fort Barrancas which protected the Pensacola Navy Yard at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. The garrison totaled less than 1,000 men, so Gen. Asboth proceeded to recruit a cavalry regiment from among the local refugees who congregated at the navy yard to avoid Confederate military service.
To provide officers for this new regiment Asboth appointed a collection of Union soldiers and deserters from the Confederate Army. Most of the Union officers he appointed were German and Hungarian immigrants. Asboth was a Hungarian immigrant who had previously served in Missouri, where he undoubtedly was familiar with Eugene von Kielmansegge.
Asboth appointed Kielmansegge to command the new unit, the 1st Florida Cavalry, U.S.A. He was originally appointed as a major when the first four companies of the regiment were mustered into service, with the understanding that as more companies were recruited he would be promoted to lieutenant colonel and then colonel. Kielmansegge was promoted lieutenant colonel in August 1864, but the regiment never recruited its full complement of soldiers so Kielmansegge was never promoted to colonel. (See sidebar)
Unlike his Missouri command, the Florida regiment was composed of native Southerners who only spoke English. In his few years in the United States his English was still spotty at best and the language barrier presented problems. Kielmansegge also appears to have not been in the best of health and was frequently absent from duty sick.
His old problem with the War Department also came back to haunt him once again. Officials in Washington realized this man had already been dismissed from the army twice before, and he had to leave Florida to travel to Washington, D.C. to attempt to clear up the mess. During his absence, his second in command, Major Ruttkay, a Hungarian immigrant, commanded the Florida regiment. Evidently, Ruttkay had a better command of the English language and was better liked by the men under his command. Lt. Col. Kielmansegge was able to satisfy the powers in Washington that he should remain in the army. He returned to Pensacola and resumed command of his regiment. On April 17, 1865, he was honorably discharged from the 1st Florida Cavalry Regiment for physical disability.
He did not leave the area though. In September of the same year, he was appointed postmaster of Apalachicola. He moved his family to town and purchased a house at the corner of 12th Street and Avenue B. He served as postmaster for over two years.
In Nov. 1867, Oliver Crawford, a pre-war resident of Apalachicola, was appointed to succeed Kielmansegge as postmaster. That did not end Kielmansegge’s career as a carpetbagger. Just one week later he was appointed temporary Inspector of Customs and assigned to oversee the unloading of the bark Volante. The next year found Kielmansegge was the president of the Board of Registration for Liberty County. He signed the election returns in May of that year.
There is a report that an official in the Freedman’s Bureau, in conjunction with a retired army officer, operated a large plantation on the Apalachicola River after the war, possibly using funds from the bureau. When an audit was imminent the bureau official transferred his interest to the officer, who rapidly sold everything on the plantation and left without paying the rent. There is no indication who these men were, but Eugene von Kielmansegge was a retired officer in the area at that time, and he had shown he was not above breaking the rules for his personal advancement.
Kielmansegge died Sept. 3, 1868, at St. Andrews, where he had traveled on business for the Customs Service. He was buried at a local cemetery. He left his wife and son living in Apalachicola. They appear to have stayed on in the town until 1870, when they were enumerated in the census. In Oct. 1870 Karoline Kielmansegge sold the two city lots she owned in Apalachicola.
Karoline returned to the village of Klien Olbersdorf in Moravia. In addition to the son, the Kielmansegges also had two daughters. One daughter married but the other was an invalid and lived with her mother. The son immigrated to Australia, where he married and had a family.
Karoline survived on a pension of 500 German marks per year from her husband’s family. In the late 1800s the American consul helped her apply for a U. S. pension based on her husband’s military service. In 1892 she was awarded a pension of $8 per month retroactive to Nov. 17, 1890. Karoline von Kielmansegge died on March 3, 1917.