Sergeant Leopold Karpeles was one of six Jewish soldiers who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery and heroism in the Civil War.
He joined the 57th Massachusetts Infantry as a sergeant. On April 17, 1864, the regiment left New England to go south to meet the enemy. They went through Washington, where President Abraham Lincoln watched them pass in review. By the end of April they arrived at the Wilderness, Virginia, where General Grant hoped to take the first step in taking Richmond.
Sergeant Karpeles and his regiment were soon under fire as they fought a bloody three-day battle. It was in the early evening of the last day with the woods full of smoke and fire when the Confederate forces charged the regiment's lines. The colors entrusted to Karpeles were the only ones visible on the field.
He stood upright holding the colors for all to see and General Wadsworth, seeing them, rode up and down the lines calling on every man in Blue to rally around the flag to check the Confederate attack. The men responded and rallied around the flag lining up and firing back at the enemy. They stopped the charge and Sergeant Leopold Karpeles received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.
Karpeles was in many more battles after this engagement. He saw the action at White Hall, Kingston, Goldsborough, Gum Swamp, Gettysburg, etc. He was wounded several times and once so severely that he was permanently lamed. He was in Mount Pleasant General Hospital in Washington, D.C., with his badly wounded leg when his romance developed. Rabbi Simon Mundheim of the Washington Hebrew Congregation was a chaplain for the Union Army. His wife, Hannah, and his two daughters, Henrietta and Sarah, went with him on visitations to the hospitalized soldiers where they would read to them or write their letters.
It was on one of these visits that Sarah and Leopold met and fell in love. The doctors wanted to amputate his leg but they felt that if he received care at a home, the leg might be saved. The Mundheim family took Leopold home with them and he was able to save his leg.
Five years after he was married to Sarah, she and her third baby died in childbirth. His sister-in-law, Henrietta, came to take care of the remaining children. He married her and they were blessed with six children. The oldest boy was Herman Leopold Karpeles, who served as the first president of the Brotherhood of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun when it was in Newark, New Jersey.
Dr. Simon Karpeles, another son, and his wife, Dr. Kate Karpeles, served with honor in World War I and they are buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Little did Leopold Karpeles think that when he came here as a teen- ager from Austria, in 1849, that he would be a hero and leave a legacy and family to enrich our country.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 12 May 2011