Heros von Borcke Ceremony
On September 3, 2008, Ms. Nancy Hitt participated in a ceremony to commemorate the service and sacrifice of Colonel Heros von Borcke at his burial site in Gizyn, Poland. Below is Nancy's speech at the ceremony:
A Pole in Poland
Good Afternoon Everyone
I am honored to be present at this historic event.
We are gathered today at the family manor of a well-loved Confederate volunteer. His premature death may have been directly caused by the serious wound he received in battle during our War for Southern Independence.
First, let me explain who I am and how this Southern Cross of Honor and Veterans Administration granite marker arrived here in what was once the territory of Prussia.
I consider myself to be Southerner and German blood flows through my veins. My name is Nancy Hitt from Louisville, Kentucky. Most Kentuckians consider ourselves to be Southerners even though Kentucky was referred to as a border state during the War.
In 1965, I received a B.A. degree from Murray State College in Murray, Kentucky with a minor in history. Still my knowledge of the War was extremely limited.
About 20 years ago, I read my first serious book about the War from our side of the aisle. Mary Chestnut's Diary of Dixie mentioned Heros von Borcke in addition to many other influential Southerners who lived, loved and died during the War years.
Mary Chestnut spent much of the War in Richmond, Virginia and she had an intimate knowledge of Confederate politicians and soldiers. As you all are aware, Heros spend about a year in Richmond recuperating from a serious throat wound and the Southern folks of Virginia grew to love their Confederate Prussian volunteer.
I have never stopped studying these same brave people and exciting events during the years of 1861-1865. Our Cause was crushed and our Republic destroyed only to be replaced by the current US "democracy." As General Lee was clearly able to foresee, our government has in deed proven to be both tyrannical at home and abroad.
My father's ancestry is derived from early 1700 German immigrants who served as indentured servants to Governor Spotswood of Virginia. They were at first settled into in a wooden stockade near the current town of Culpeper, Virginia.
In June of this year I was fortunate to be able to take part in a tour of the German villages where my ancestors lived before traveling to the new world. We visited Kaan Marienborn in the Siegen district where Peter Hitt/Heide farmed land for the Count of Nassau Siegen. He and his family sailed across the ocean in 1714.
The tour guide took me to the small village of Falkenstein in the Kraichgau where my ancestor, Nicholas Yager, had resided until the year of 1717 before his move to Virginia.
Even though I became an "unreconstructed Rebel," I did not actually know if I had any Confederate ancestors. Well, I finally did the necessary research and found several Confederate soldiers who descended from my early 1714 and 1717 German immigrants.
My distant Hitt and Yager cousins are not close enough in ancestry to allow me to be a full member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I am an associate member of the Mollie Morehead chapter in Calhoun, Kentucky.
In 1999, I was told about the free markers which the Veterans Administration provides for veterans, including Confederates, who have illegible markers or who remain in unmarked graves. That same year, I placed my first VA marker at Cave Hill Cemetery in order to replace the illegible grave stone for CSA General Alpheus Baker.
I read several books that Heros von Borcke wrote and learned of the affection that existed between Heros and General Jeb Stuart. Heros was present at the death of General Stuart and considered Stuart to be his best friend.
I guess that I am just naturally "nosey" and I decided to try to locate the gravesite of Heros von Borcke and see what could be done to honor this brave Confederate soldier.
In 2003, I was in contact with Eric Kaminski a member of the CSA-Europe. He lived in Warsaw, Poland and took a serious interest in the effort to locate and mark the grave.
Unfortunately, due to the many changes of town names from German to Polish, Eric did visit a town by the name of Gizyn which proved to be the wrong village. There appears to be two villages with the exact same name.
In 2005, a fellow researcher, Stewart Cruickshank, mailed me the article by Czech author Stephen Slivka from the Blue and Gray magazine entitled Heros von Borcke's Home and Grave in Poland.
This fine article clarified that the former Giesenbruegge was in fact now called Gizyn. It also included a photo of Heros' broken gravestone and the damaged family chapel.
I began my quest again in 2007 by sending an e-mail to all my Confederate friends in Europe asking for their assistance in locating the correct town of Gizyn with my intentions to install a VA marker there if possible.
Several folks responded to my request. Raphael Waldburg was a great help because he was able to place me in contact with the von Borcke family. This started the ball rolling.
With assistance from Hans von Borcke, Ulrich von Borcke, Eckhard von Borcke, Pastor Moeller and of course Raphael we were able to get the VA marker and Cross of Honor sent to the home of Pastor Moeller in Germany.
More recently, I ordered the military records for Heros von Borcke from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The file contained several letters from General Jeb Stuart
asking for a Brig. General promotion for Heros von Borcke based upon his military merit and his battle wound.
On December 21, 1864, just before President Davis sent Heros on a mission to Europe, the Senate confirmed the recommendation that he be promoted to Lt. Colonel.
The war ended with the South's defeat and subjugation. Conquered by the sword, the South was subjected to years of humiliation during the Reconstruction period.
Unfortunately, reconstruction never really ended and today
Southerners everywhere are still battling to hold on to their Confederate flags, their monuments, and their heroes.
I am so proud to be able to witness this belated recognition of one of our valiant Confederates after so many years. This brave volunteer to our Cause of liberty still holds a dear place in the hearts of all Southerners who understand their own true history.
Today, September 3, 2008, Colonel Heros von Borcke is as much of a star in the crown of the South as he was over 145 years ago.
This event will prove to the entire world that Southerners will never forget their gallant Confederates soldiers.
Here in this small village in Poland, Southerners proclaim that our Cause was right and just. God Save our Southland and our many European supporters! Thank you very much.
On the morning of Wednesday, September 3, 2008, a bus loaded with folks from Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the States arrived in the small village of Gizyn, Poland. They were greeted with many unusual sights. There were girls adorned with flowers in their hair, uniformed Polish fire department members and German reenactors in Confederate uniforms gathered around their tents.
A pot of stew was being cooked over an unusual green metal stove by a Polish couple. A dirt road had been cleared by village people past the tents and it led to a large brick chapel. Much of this effort had been arranged by German Pastor Friedhelm Moeller in coordination with Polish Major Jerzek Zigmund.
This day was historic for several reasons. It was a joyful day full of songs and dancing in a poor drab little village. It was a day in which barriers of long-standing were broken down, if only for a few short hours. This is a land which has seen hundreds of years of blood shed. This village is now in the hands of resettled Polish people, but it had been recognized for hundreds of years as Prussia, an important part of Germany.
It is hoped that this exciting day helped to salve somewhat the bitterness caused by the loss of German homesteads to its current occupants who were forcefully removed from their homes east of Prussia and deposited upon German land. This area still remains replete with distressed homes, fallow farmland and poor inhabitants, but for one day in 2008, hospitality and understanding prevailed in Gizyn.
How could I foresee the consequences of the research which I began in 2003 to locate the gravesite of CSA Col. Heros von Borcke? Little did I even understand the terrible situation that had befallen the von Borcke families who had resided in Prussia for generations. The von Borckes were descendants of a proud and noble ancestry. As World War II came to an end, they were driven like cattle out of their homes.
They have never been able to safely return to live upon their hereditary homeland. In fact, many of their manors have been totally destroyed. Their lives were damaged in various ways, often they had lost family members during the War. They had to confront a cruel bigotry that had been nursed against all German nationals.
These strong-willed Germans have not allowed Russian prison camps, loss of parents and loss of homes to conquer them. Many members of the von Borcke families left their Fatherland and faced these hardships with courage. These descendants managed through hard work to overcome the many hurdles that had been placed in front of them.
A memorial was held in the morning at the chapel which had once held the grave stones and remains of CSA Col. Heros von Borcke and his parents. Heros had volunteered to fight to help us obtain our Southern Independence. He became a staff officer under the leadership of General Jeb Stuart. They became very close friends. Heros was present at the deathbed of General Stuart on May 11, 1864, although suffering himself from a serious throat wound received at the Battle of Middleburg on June 19, 1863.
On December 21, 1864, Heros von Borcke was promoted to Lt. Colonel and sent by Confederate President Jefferson Davis upon a mission to Europe. The War for Southern Independence ended while he was in London. Heros authored several books. He wrote about our War, the Brandy Station cavalry battle and his own autobiography.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Madgalene Honig and they had three sons. His wife died in 1883. He visited Richmond, Virginia, in 1884, twenty years after he had left the States. He was received with much affection and a banquet was given in his honor. Heros presented his famous Damascus sword to the state of Virginia where it was later placed in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.
Heros returned to Germany and married his wife's younger sister, Tony Honig. They had a daughter they named Virginia and the Confederate flag flew from the manor at Giesenbruegge, renamed Gizyn. Heros died in Berlin on May 10, 1895, from blood poisoning probably due to the after-affects of his injury received at Middleburg.
Heros von Borcke has been mentioned in various military articles and Mary Chestnut wrote about him in her Diary of Dixie. Students of history knew about him, but he became a lost legend and it was not known where he was buried.
Even the descendants of the von Borcke family were not sure where Heros was buried. These questions existed because of the destruction caused during several wars and the subsequent occupation of Prussia by Polish refugees. The name of the town had been changed and nothing obvious could be seen from the roadside of the village. Language was also a barrier to research.
Actually, the chapel of the von Borcke family was hidden in the forest which had grown up between the road through Gizyn and the chapel. Much damage had occurred to the original three large gravestones and the chapel even had trees growing out of its antique roof. The graves had been looted and the forest had taken over naturally.
German Pastor Friedhelm Moeller, Polish Major Jerzek Zigmund, and Czech author Stefan Slivka were able to locate and document the site of the Heros von Borcke chapel which served as a mausoleum. This find and the subsequent 2005 article in the Gray and Blue magazine by Stefan Slivka were the leads I needed to begin the paperwork necessary to place a V.A. marker and Southern Cross of Honor at this embattled location.
The memorial ceremony served as part of the yearly reunion of von Borcke families who are members of the von Borcke Family Association. In 2007, they began to organize this 2008 tour of their former estates and included the memorial service in their program.
The highlight of the ceremony was the presence of the two great-grandsons of these famous Confederate soldiers. Eckhard von Borcke and Jeb Stuart IV both met for the first time in Berlin just days before the ceremony. They each presented a speech in front of the von Borcke chapel. Colorful children sang Polish songs, a firefighter played the accordion and villagers held up our battle flag.
My talk described how I was able to locate and order the stone which was received in Germany by Pastor Moeller. Eckhard von Borcke and Jeb Stuart IV uncovered the stone and cross of honor. There was a Texas color guard behind the speakers and Hamptons Legion of South Carolina fired three volleys. This was all performed by Germans with three American volunteers.
Pastor Moeller concluded our ceremony with a prepared talk to the audience. Every speech was translated into Polish for the benefit of the Polish audience. A tasty stew and Polish beer was served on the grounds for visitors and reenactors.
The day ended with the local folks singing and dancing for us in their town hall. We sat at tables listening and watching the entertainment while drinking coffee and eating Polish home make deserts. The weather was lovely and the event was perfect!
If we really hope to save out Southern heritage, I firmly believe we must keep in contact with our European friends. We must keep strong the bond with those Confederates who live outside the States. These folks in foreign lands love our Southland because of the honor and courage shown by Confederates in battle. They believe in our Cause of Liberty just as much as we do.
In order to understand the thinking of the European Confederates, one only has to read their astute letters to our critics. It was through my contact by e-mail to Raphael Waldburg of Madrid who is actually German that I was able to get in contact with the von Borcke family. This was an important turning point in my search.
Many Europeans know much more about our military history than we know about our own history. Even though many of these Europeans do not claim Confederate ancestors, they are "manning the barricades" today and are ready to give the bayonet to our enemies.
We must stand beside our European friends now more than ever for we must rally all of our troops to do battle with those who seek to destroy our way of life and our wonderful Southern heritage. Let us not forget that we received our glorious heritage because of the blood of more than 300,000 dead Southern men, women and children.
Once upon a time in 2008, Polish people waved Confederate battle flags
and from a tall wooden pole in Poland our beloved flag waved in the breeze.
Nancy Hitt - 2008