Battle of Middleburg/Mt. Deﬁance
Johann August Heinrich Heros von Borcke stepped ashore in Charleston, South Carolina on May 24, 1862, having run the Union Navy's blockade on a rebel blockade runner. He presented an imposing figure—muscular, standing 6'3" and weighing nearly 250 pounds. He came with an enormous Damascus broadsword with a 37-inch blade and two English pistols. A lieutenant in the 2nd Brandenburg Dragoons, this Prussian officer had taken leave to investigate the exciting tactics and strategy of J.E.B. Stuart's world-renowned cavalry, evidence the world was watching America's civil war with interest. Introduced to Stuart by Confederate States' Secretary of War George Randolph, he was taken on as a volunteer aid and soon became General Stuart's Chief of Staff and a favorite.
He was also wildly brave. Two days earlier, on June 17, 1863, von Borcke led General Beverly Robertson's North Carolinians in a charge against Colonel Alfred Duffie's 1st Rhode Island Cavalry on the south end of Middleburg, wielding that gigantic, terrifying broadsword. Now on June 19 during the fight at Mt. Defiance, he was again with the North Carolinians, standing near here along the Old Zulla Road after the charges of the 1st Maine and the 4th and 16th Pennsylvania cavalry had left the Carolinians in disarray. Helping to steady the Tar Heels as they fell back
from the woods, he was joined by J.E.B. Stuart and other members of staff. The major, who emulated Stuart's uniform including a plumed hat, made an obvious target for the Union troopers emerging from the trees. Just after a bullet skimmed across his leg, another bullet struck Von Borcke in the throat.
Captain William Blackford and Lieutenant Frank Robertson of Stuart's staff rushed to Von Borcke's side as he slid from his saddle. "I was at my wits' end," Blackford later explained, "to know how we were to throw our friend's body, weighing two-hundred-and-fifty pounds, across the rearing, plunging charger... I then recollected a thing von Borcke had one told me... and I made a courier twist the horse's ear severely and keep it twisted while he led the horse off the field with Von Borcke on him, the horse becoming perfectly quiet immediately."
As Stuart's cavalry retired a half-mile west to the next ridge at Bittersweet Farm, von Borcke was taken through the lines west to Upperville to the home of Stuart's surgeon, Dr. Talcott Eliason, where he was stabilized. Later taken to Richmond, Von Borcke would recover—the bullet not removed—but he was never able to retake the field. Of his friend, Stuart would say, "His is a noble nature—I am proud to have been associated with him..."
Von Borcke returned home
after the war. He left the Prussian Army in 1867 due to his wound, retiring to his inherited castle at Giesenbrugge in East Prussia (now Poland). It is said he delighted in flying the Confederate flag from the battlements until his death in 1895.
Heros Von Borcke Library of Congress