The story of Princess Agnes Salm-Salm mixes myth and fact. Agnes Elizabeth Winona Leclerc Joy was born in Franklin, Vermont, on December 25, 1844, the daughter of General William Leclerc Joy. Agnes is described as a beautiful red-haired Indian woman, who worked in a circus as an equestrienne and an actress in Cuba, rode with her husband and nursed troops during the Civil War, and helped found the Red Cross in Europe.
In 1861 Agnes came to visit her sister who was living in Washington, D.C., where her beauty and riding style drew attention and she became part of Washington society. In a visit to Fort Blenker, (renamed Fort Reynolds) which was located near Fairlington, she met monocoled Prussian Prince Felix Salm-Salm. Captain Louis Blenker’s 8th N.Y. Volunteer Infantry Regiment, made up of Germans, Hungarians, Poles and other Europeans, and known for their colorful uniforms, lavish entertainment and neat campsites, had been previously stationed at Camp Hunter’s Chapel located near Arlington United Methodist Church on South Glebe Road. Although Agnes spoke no German and the Prince spoke no English, they were immediately attracted to each other and married in July 1862.
Prince Salm-Salm participated with the 8th N.Y. Infantry in General Ambrose Burnside’s Mud March, in the Fredericksburg campaign, in January, 1863. Princess Agnes Salm-Salm greeted President Lincoln with a kiss when he came to visit the troops. Prince Felix and Col. Otto von Corvin tried to interest President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in recruiting 20,000 German troops to come fight for the Union, but this idea was rejected because of logistics, expense and predictable public reactions to employing mercenary soldiers, as the British employed the Hessian soldiers during the American Revolution. When the Prince’s appointment as an officer to the 8th N.Y. expired in April 1863, Princess Agnes used her influence to have her husband appointed to 28th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment in July 1864, where he served in Tennessee and Georgia.
In January 1866, Prince Felix and Princess Agnes went to Mexico, where Prince Felix served under Prince Maximillian’s French forces. The night before Maximillian’s execution Princess Agnes kneeled before Mexican President Benito Juárez and pleaded in vain to spare Maximillian’s life, a scene painted by Mexican painter Manuel Ocaranza.
In 1868 Prince Felix and Princess Agnes went to Europe. Prince Felix served in the Prussian Army was killed on August 18, 1870, in the Battle of Gravotte. Princess Agnes remained in Europe and died Germany on December 21, 1912. The image above of Princess Agnes is from the Library of Congress.
Coffey, David. Soldier Princess: the Life and Legend of Agnes Salm-Salm in North America, 1861-1867. 2002.
Salm-Salm, Agnes Elizabeth W. Ten Years of My Life, 1876.
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