The first volunteer killed defending Robert E. Lee’s position in battle was really a German assassin. After fleeing to the United States to escape prosecution for murder, the assassin enlisted in a German company of the Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Mexican-American War and died defending Lee’s battery at the Siege of Veracruz in 1847. Lee wrote a letter home, praising this unnamed fallen volunteer defender. Military records identify him, but none of the Americans knew about his past life of crime. Before fighting with the Americans, Lee’s defender had assassinated Johann Heinrich Rieber, mayor of Bönnigheim, Germany, in 1835. Rieber’s assassination became 19th-century Germany’s coldest case ever solved by a non–law enforcement professional and the only 19th-century German murder ever solved in the United States. Thirty-seven years later, another suspect in the assassination who had also fled to America found evidence in Washington, D.C., that would clear his own name, and he forwarded it to Germany. The German prosecutor Ernst von Hochstetter corroborated the story and closed the case file in 1872, naming Lee’s defender as Rieber’s murderer.
Ann Marie Ackermann is a former attorney with focuses on criminal and medical law. Eighteen years ago she moved to Bönnigheim, Germany, the town in which the assassination occurred, and is a member of its historical society. She has a number of academic publications in law, ornithology, and history.
Description courtesy of Kent State University Press.