Post Eagle Newspaper


May 23, 2024

45°F, few clouds
New Jersey

Time Now


A New Jersey Hero

“He lived three lives. There are the momentous years of his youth, from 1844 to 1850, when he was 21 to 26. Many times in those years he risked his life for Polish freedom. The imprisonments, his hair-breadth escapes, the disguises, the secret meetings, the frequent brushes with death, read like high romance or stirring tragedy. Finally, a marked man for whom struggle was no longer sensible or possible, he left the scenes of his youth and the people dear to him to find refuge in his adopted country.”

These are the words of Dr. William Thorp, former chairman of the English Department at Princeton University, spoken over four decades ago when the university honored one of its most illustrious educators – General Joseph Karge. 

He is one of our Civil War heroes I present to you, my dear readers, for the establishment of that pride in the historical heritage I so often talk about.

Joseph Karge was born at Olendry Terespolskie, a village in the former German Poland on July 4, 1823. He studied at the University of Breslau, Paris, and Berlin. He also served in the Prussian army.

He took a very active and enthusiastic part in preparations for the Polish Revolution of 1848, was severely wounded in an engaging battle and imprisoned – but he made his escape good, living in France for a short while and in 1851 coming to New York. There, after a very difficult beginning, he established a classical school, an area in which he was tutored, and directed it with success until the Civil War.

Immediately after the war’s outbreak, he volunteered his services and was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the First New Jersey Cavalry. Early in 1862, he became attached to the Army of Virginia and repeatedly distinguished himself.

At Strassburg, Virginia, a shrapnel tore his horse to pieces, but Karge himself came out unscratched.

At Brandy Station, his bravery saved his regiment from annihilation; twice, with only a handful of men, he attacked the Confederates and was seriously wounded in the leg. Not waiting for a complete recovery, he returned to the field and captured another town with many prisoners and a large booty.

After forming a second cavalry until in New Jersey, he was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee. (It seems that he was forced to resign his original commission due to an unhealable wound.) Karge, however, because of his renewed bravery in Tennessee, was almost immediately put in charge of a brigade and then an entire cavalry division.

Here he took part in seven large expeditions against the Confederates and almost always emerged victorious. In recognition of his services, Karge was nominated Brigadier General by President Abraham Lincoln on March 13, 1865, which nomination the Senate confirmed after the war.

It was during this time, the years 1870 to 1892 that General Karge lived the quiet life of a professor at Princeton. Although many war veterans found the transition to civilian life difficult, for Karge it was fairly easy. For he had studied history and classical and slavic languages prior to his revolutionary years.

Until the 1870s, American colleges had neglected the modern languages, largely because the traditional rigid requirements in Greek and Latin were in force. Two years after he became Professor of Continental Languages, Karge had succeeded in making French a required subject for freshmen and sophomores, while German was an elective for upperclassmen. He continued to build his department until the time of his death. Provision was even made for instruction in the Italian and Spanish languages.

Toward the end of Karge’s tenure, it was even possible to put another professor in charge of a separate division of Romance languages. The General himself continued to teach the courses in German.

In General Karge’s last months, he was troubled with sudden attacks of pain, which were probably symptoms of a heart condition. His friends were sure he knew death was near and he was preparing for it.

On the morning he died, December 27, 1892, he was reading L. Bourdeau’s “The Problem of Death.” The end arrived in a beautifully symbolic way. He had entered the upper lounge of the Jersey City ferry boat and was looking out over New York Harbor when the fatal attack came. By the time the boat docked on the far shore he was dead.

The words of Doctor Thorp sum it all up: “What we should be sure to remember is that Joseph Karge in all three of his lives served a great cause – in his first, the cause of Polish freedom; in his second, the cause of the preservation of the Union of these United States; in his third, the cause of higher education in his adopted country.”