Schoepf, Gen. Albin Francis
portrait by: Edward Lis
(from the Pinkowski Institute collection)
Article by Dr. Charles Allan Baretski *
General Schoepf was bom at Podgorze, near Krakow in 1822. Educated at an Austrian military academy. Schoepf was graduated in 1841 as a lieutenant of artillery. Service on the field eventually won him a captaincy. Upon the outbreak of the Magyar Revolution, Schoepf was to transfer his allegiance to a newly-formed Polish legion serving Kossuth's movement for Hungarian independence. Enlisting as a private in the legion, Schoepf rose in the ranks to captain and, later, to major.
Once more, military life attracted him. After serving under the Polish General, Joseph Bem, at Aleppo, Schoepf became an instructor of artillery in the Ottoman service and was granted a commission as major. Dissatisfied with his prospects, he fled in 1851 to America, where he found employment as a hotel porter in Washington, D.C. There he was befriended by Joseph Holt, patent commissioner, who recommended the Pole for a drafting position in the patent orfice. With Holt's star rapidly rising in national administrative circles, the fortunes of his protege, Schoepf, were also bound to prosper. Given the secretaryship of war by President Buchanan, Holt made arrangements for Schoepfs transfer to the War Department which dispatched Schoepf to Virginia where he was authorized to prepare a military survey.
On September 30, 1861, Schoepf won appointment as brigadier-genera1  and was assigned to Kentucky. Schoepf securely fortified the position of his troops in the mountain terrain of Rock Castle County. Confederate Brigadier-General Felix K. Zollicoffer launched an attack against the Union forces near Mill Springs on January 19, 1862 and "suffered a defeat which broke the right of the Confederate defensive line in Kentucky." . Schoepf was given command of the Third Army Corps at Perryville - an unusually high honor for a foreign-born officer. Several wounds received in battie led Schoepf to resign from this command post. In 1863, Schoepf took command of Fort Delaware where he served for the duration of the war. The fort acquired a reputation as "the Andersonville of the North." No doubt the confined Southerners chafed at the loss of their liberty and the severity of the security restrictions.
It is also likely that much of the bitterness on part of the confined prisoners of war was directed not at General Schoepf but rather at Captain George Ahl, the post adjutant, a tyrannical autocrat whose behavior often rankled, with good reason, the debilitated and dispirited prisoners. . On the other hand, the fairmindedness and openmindedness of General Schoepf earned him the respect not only of his subordinates but also, more importantly, that extraordinary mark of respect, freely given him by the imprisoned Rebel soldiers.. Moreover, it was common knowledge that Schoepf was a man of sobriety and compassion and, in the bargain, supervised the management of the fort with forbearance and erficiency..
It is also reliably reported that a Colonel Burton S. Harrison, private secretary to Jefferson Davis, once survived a sentence of solitary confinement at Ft. Delaware later named his son "Burton Harrison Schoepf" in gratitude to Schoepf for the latter's act of kindness in making it possible for Harrison's fiancee, Miss Constance Cary of Baltimore to visit her beloved at the moated fortress. In fact, the reunited couple later urged their sons to look upon and model themselves upon General Schoepf - a man they deemed "to be a perfect gentleman." . Certainly, such evidence is not in keeping with an accusation tending to portray General Schoepf in an unfavorable light. On balance, one might conclude that General Schoepf was a loyal officer of the Union. He was faithful to his oath: through the chain of military command, he was obligated to put into execution orders transmitted to him by the military hierarchy. Such orders naturally were invariably unpopular with the prisoners. That the majority of the prisoners should outwardly - and inwardly - respect Schoepf as commanding officer of their place of confinement is, indeed, a tribute to the character and personality of General Schoepf.
On January 15, 1866, General Schoepf was discharged from the Army. Upon his retum to civil life, Schoepf obtained the title of principal examiner in the Patent Office and served there in honorable employment until death overtook him on May 10, 1886 . He rests with other honored dead in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
* Dr. Baretski is the author of a dissertation on Polish-Hungarian relations with the USA.
1. He is, recorded as "Alban Schoepf, of Maryland" in the listing of "Brigadier-Generals U.S. Volunteers - Full Rank", as Entry Number 911. See Frederick Phisterer, Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States, Supplementary Volume Campaigns of the Civil War (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1963), Vol. VIII, p. 271.
2. The Early Life, Campaigns and Public Services of Robert E. Lee; with a Record of the Campaigns and Heroic Deeds of his Companions in Arms . . . By a Distinguished Southern Journalist (New York; E. B. Treat, 1871), p. 703. For a laudatory account of Brig-Gen. Zollicoffer, see ibid., pp. 705-710.
3. W. Emerson Wilson, Fort Delaware in the Civil War, (official publication of the Fort Delaware Society, N.D.) p. 1.
5. Ibid. p. 6.
6. Ibid. p. 16.
7. Gustavus A. Weber, The Patent Office: Its History, Activilies and Organization (Baltimore: John Hopkins 1924), p. 37.
From: (Booklet) Captain Stanislaus Mlotkowski Memorial Room, Captain Stanislaus Mlotkowski Memorial Brigade Society, Fort Delaware, 1976.