1 page | SMC 863
William Mayer, sometimes called Meyer, was a Civil War Colonel, sometimes called General, born in Vienna, Austria, in 1835, sometimes given as 1834. Reputedly a Lieutenant in the Austrian Navy, he emigrated to the United States in November of 1857, sailing on the SS Atlantic from Liverpool, and resided in New York City. There he became a naturalized citizen in June, 1864. A half year later, as this letter attests, Mayer was recommended to the President by the Governor of New York, for the position of Brigadier General; and Lincoln, as his endorsement attests, passed the matter along to the War Department and the Army to decide. But this would not be Mayer’s first commission, for by this time he was already in uniform, a leading Jewish officer in the Union cause…
Whether, during the Civil War, Mayer initially enlisted; or was commissioned; he became, by virtue of having received the authority on September 2, 1862 to recruit a regiment in the then first seven Senatorial Districts of the State, the Colonel of the 171th NY Infantry, and so stayed with that regiment until November 19, 1862, when it became part of the 175th NY Infantry. As Colonel (or Lieutenant Colonel or, as some sources prefer, General), he served with distinction during the New York Draft Riots, as is documented by the following authorities – though it is noted that Mayer’s official war record (New York: Report of the Adjutant-General), showing him as having been mustered out in 1862, does not reflect that July 1863 service; but that he was there, leading troops, is indisputable.
As Colonel (or Lieutenant Colonel or, as some sources prefer, General), he served with distinction during the New York Draft Riots, as is documented by the following authorities – though it is noted that Mayer’s official war record (New York: Report of the Adjutant-General), showing him as having been mustered out in 1862, does not reflect that July 1863 service; but that he was there, leading troops, is indisputable.
General William Mayer. During the Draft Riots at New York City he did heroic service for which he received an autograph letter from President Lincoln, thanking him for the eminent services rendered by him to our country during those days of darkness. Subsequently de devoted himself to journalism, editing several leading German newspapers.
Simon Wolf, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen (Philadelphia: The Levytype Press, 1895), p.284
During the draft riots at New York City General William Mayer did heroic service, for which he received an autograph letter from President Lincoln, thanking him for the eminent services to our country during those days of darkness, doubt and gloom.
Jeffrey S. Gurock, American Jewish History (New York: Routledge [sponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society],1998), p. 74
General William Mayer rendered valuable service during the Draft Riots in New York City, for which he received an autograph letter of thanks from President Lincoln...
Peter Wiermik, History of the Jews in America (New York, Jewish Press Publishing Company, 1912), p. 235
An eyewitness account of Mayer’s valor is to be found in the indictment drawn against three rioters - Patrick Henrady, Daniel McGovern, and Thomas Cumiskie – in August 1863:
Mayer's company was fired from the housetops and returned volley. At that moment City Judge and Peace Democrat John H. McCunn appeared and "informing the Colonel that he [McCunn] was acting under the authority of Gov. Seymour, requested him not to fire upon the mob and he would talk to them." Mayer repeated to McCunn his orders to "put down the rioters by force of arms" and "proceeded to do so, cutting down a negro who was hanging upon a tree with his own sword.
Mayer was proud that his regiment - called the Perkins Rifles - was one of only two primarily Jewish regiments in the Union Army but on November 19, 1862, the men of the 171st NY were transferred to the 175th NY Infantry, and the Perkins Rifles, discontinued. Korn expounds at length on the subject:
The following month, Colonel William Mayer was busy raising a regiment in the Sixth Senatorial District of New York, to be called the "Perkins Rifles." Col. Mayer hoped that enough Jews would enlist to make it predominantly a Jewish regiment. The Jewish Record attempted to stimulate enlistment by its readers: “It only depends now on the Israelites in this city whether this regiment shall be an organization which they may essentially call "their own" or whether Colonel Mayer shall be compelled to seek support of men and means from others but his co-religionists…Arise, then, ye men of wealth and power, stir from your comfortable couches, and if you cannot enlist yourself, call a war meeting of Israelites and create a Jewish bounty fund, to promote enlistments in a regiment which you ought to call "your own.’ This editorial was the only support which Mayer received from the Jewish community - individuals enlisted, but there was no Jewish war meeting. New Yorkers apparently did not approve of Jewish enclaves within the army.
Bertram Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War (Philadelphia: Jewish Publican Society of America, 1951), p. 117
After the War Mayer became one of the first German-language newspaper publishers in New York, owning wholly, or in partnership with a German-Jew, Charles B. Wolffram, the Allgemeine Zeitung, the New Yorker Zeitung (with a popular Sunday edition known as the New Yorker Revue) and most importantly, New Yorker Staats Zeitung und Herald. In the 1880s he was part of a New York publishing syndicate that backed German-Jew Ottmar Mergenthaler’s invention of the Linotype machine. In fact, Mayer’s investment in the Mergenthaler Linotype Company made him a very wealthy man; he became a significant stockholder, and president of the German subsidiary.
Mayer was, additionally, devoted to Republican politics. In 1872, he was Chairman of the German Republican General Committee of Kings County, and in that connection, served closely with such prominent Jewish New Yorkers as Joseph H. Strauss and Solomon Spitzer. In 1894, Mayer moved from New York to Germany, to better oversee his affairs; but he returned to New York bi-annually, for extended visits. He remained active in New York publishing, as well: his company –the German Herold Publishing Company - had, as chief officer, a prominent Jew, Julius Holz.
Mayer was almost 5 feet 5 inches tall, with a high forehead, long nose, and blue eyes; his auburn hair became gray with time, and he is recorded as having sometimes worn a moustache.
He had two children, a son Jacques, and a daughter Clara (Bramson Kappel); and four grandchildren, Horace, Edward and Gerald Mayer, and Edgar Bramson. His son’s children were, apparently, all gentile; the faith of his daughter’s son is not known. He also had a sister, and a brother-in-law, Dr. Benjamin Morje.
Mayer died in Berlin, Germany, on April 17, 1906. He named as executor of his will his publishing partner, and co-religionist, Charles B. Wolffram.
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State of New York
President of the United States
Col W Mayer has many and strong recommendations for an appointment to the Office of Brigadier General.
I shall be gratified if the position is given to him.
Submitted to the Sec. of War & Gen. in Chief.
Nov. 14, 1863.