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Felix Agnus papers

 Collection 0012-MDHC

Felix Agnus (1839-1925) was a French sculptor and Austrian War veteran who achieved success as an officer in the 5th and 165th New York Infantry Regiments during the American Civil War. Agnus served in several campaigns and engagements, including the Peninsula Campaign, the Port Hudson Campaign, and Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. In recognition of his gallantry, Agnus received numerous promotions, rising from the rank of rivate to Brevet Brigadier General. He settled in Baltimore after the war, eventually becoming business manager of the Baltimore American and later founding the Baltimore Star. Agnus's papers consist of military and personal correspondence from the American Civil War, with the bulk of the materials from 1861-1865. The military correspondence is primarily bureaucratic paperwork, including enlistment and promotion papers, ordnance department returns, and letters.


  • 1861-1869 and undated
  • Majority of material found within 1861-1865

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


1.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The papers of Felix Agnus consist of military and personal correspondence from the American Civil War, covering the years between 1861 and 1869, with the bulk of materials from 1861 to 1865. The collection illustrates the military career of a prominent Maryland newspaper publisher and Republican politician.

The military correspondence is primarily bureaucratic paperwork, including enlistment and promotion papers, ordnance department returns, and letters. Many of the military papers relate to a dispute between Agnus and the Ordnance Department, in which Agnus stood accused of losing over fifty Enfield rifled muskets and related accoutrements. The personal correspondence includes a letter from an unknown officer to his wife and correspondence pertaining to Agnus's participation in the Grand Army of the Republic.


Felix Agnus was born on May 5, 1839, in Lyons, France, the child of Etienne and Anne (Bernerra) Agnus. Before 1861, Agnus led a remarkable life, working as an artist, merchant sailor, and soldier. He attended the College of Jolie Clair, near Montrouge, but left college for the sea. During of four years of service, Agnus sailed around the world, visiting St. Helena, West Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, Madagascar, Chile, and Peru before returning to France via Cape Horn. Upon his return to France, Agnus spent three years studying sculpture but he abandoned his studies for the Austrian War, during which he served in the 3rd Regiment of Zouaves. On May 20, 1859, he participated in the Battle of Montebello and was later detailed to Garibaldi's Corps in the Italian Lakes region. After the war, Agnus emigrated to the United States, where he temporarily settled in Newport, Rhode Island. Agnus subsequently moved to New York City, where he worked as a sculptor and chaser with Tiffany and Company.

In the aftermath of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, and Agnus, already an experienced soldier, enlisted in the federal army. On April 15, 1861, he volunteered as a private in the 5th New York Infantry, Duryee's Zouves. The 5th New York wore the colorful uniforms of the French colonial forces, or "zouaves," with bright red baggy pants, white turbans, and short jackets. The regiment's uniforms, precise maneuvers, and incredible courage made Duryee's Zouaves one of the most celebrated units in the Union Army. Speaking of the 5th New York, General George Sykes said "I doubt whether it had an equal and certainly no superior among all the regiments of the Army of the Potomac."

Agnus built an impressive military career, as evidenced by his meteoric rise through the ranks. He was mustered into service as a sergeant of Company "H" on May 9, 1861. On June 10, 1861, Agnus fought in the Battle of Big Bethel, which was the first land battle of the war. During the engagement, Agnus distinguished himself by saving Captain Judson Kilpatrick, who later became a prominent cavalry officer. In recognition of his courage, Agnus received a series of promotions. He was promoted to first sergeant of Company "H" on July 20, 1861; to second lieutenant on September 6, 1861; and to first lieutenant of Company "D" on July 8, 1862. On June 27, 1862, Agnus participated in the Battle of Gaines's Mill, where he received a severe wound to the shoulder. After the Peninsula Campaign, the 5th New York was transferred to Baltimore, Maryland, and stationed on Federal Hill. While the regiment maintained order in the city, Agnus convalesced at the home of Charles C. Fulton, publisher of the Baltimore American. It was here, presumably, that Agnus courted Fulton's daughter, Annie, whom he married on December 13, 1864.

After recovering from his wounds, Agnus, along with several convalescing officers, recruited for the 165th New York Regiment of Volunteers, the 2nd Duryee Zouaves. Agnus, who commanded the regiment's color company, served with the regiment for the remainder of the conflict. During 1862 and 1863, the 165th New York was garrisoned at New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On May 27, 1863, Agnus was wounded during an assault on Port Hudson. He remained with his regiment after the injury and was among the Federal officers who volunteered for the proposed effort to capture Port Hudson by storm. Agnus's gallantry during the campaign earned him a promotion to major on September 2, 1863. The following year, Agnus, now a lieutenant-colonel, commanded the 165th New York during General Philip Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. More promotions followed the Valley Campaign. Agnus was promoted Brevet Colonel, and, on March 13, 1865, he was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General. During the spring and summer of 1865, the 165th New York was stationed in the Deep South, where it participated in the occupation of Savannah and dismantled Confederate batteries and fortifications in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Agnus resigned his commission on July 26, 1865.

Following the Confederate surrender, Agnus pursued careers in newspaper publishing and politics. On July 4, 1869, he was promoted to business manager of the Baltimore American. When Charles Fulton died in 1883, Agnus was promoted to publisher and sole manager of the newspaper. Agnus expanded the business on August 17, 1908, when he founded the Baltimore Star. Agnus operated these businesses until November 1920, when he sold both newspapers to Frank A. Munsey. In addition to managing the Baltimore American and Baltimore Star, Agnus was active in Republican politics. Although never a candidate for public office, he held numerous civic posts. He served twice as a member of the Board of Visitors of West Point; he was chairman of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Commission and was a member of the commission that built the Baltimore Courthouse. Agnus also participated in the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization for Union soldiers. Agnus recounted his military career in a collection of short stories published in 1894 entitled A Woman of War. He also published a reference book entitled Book of Maryland: Men and Institutions in 1920. He died on October 31, 1925, at the age of eighty-six.

Felix Agnus continued to make news after his death. He was buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville, Maryland, underneath a bronze statue of an angel, which he had purchased a few years earlier. This statue turned out to be a copy of an earlier work by Augustus St. Gaudens that was commissioned by Henry Adams for a memorial for his wife. Over the years, an interesting folklore developed surrounding the Agnus statue, which was nicknamed "Black Aggie." People claimed that it had supernatural powers and it was frequently vandalized. In 1967, Agnus's descendents removed the statue from the gravesite and donated it to the Smithsonian. After many years in storage, the statue may now be seen at the Federal Courts building in Washington, in the rear courtyard of the Dolly Madison house.


The collection is organized into three series

Series 1
Civil War Correspondence
Series 2
Personal Correspondence
Series 3
Baltimore American Business Records

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the Felix Agnus papers in 1989 from Charles Apfelbaum, a rare books and manuscripts dealer.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies of the letters in this collection are available at in the University of Maryland's Digital Collections.

Related Material

Microfilm of the Baltimore American is available in the Maryland Room. Copies of Agnus's The Book of Maryland: Men and Institutions (F180.A3) and A Woman of War, and Other Stories (PZ3.A274W) are also available in the Maryland Room.

Several photographs of Felix Agnus are in the Baltimore News American photograph collection (Box 11, Folder 12). Included in this collection are: a photograph of "Black Aggie," the sculpture on Agnus's grave; a carte de visite of Agnus in his brigadier general's uniform; a photograph of a bronze scultpure of a 5th New York soldier sculpted by Agnus; and several photographs of Agnus in old age. The photograph collection is among the holdings of Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries.

Although the papers contain little information about the battles and campaigns of the 5th and 165th New York, there are several published accounts of the engagements in which these regiments participated:

Cunningham, Edward. The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862-1863. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963.

Davenport, Alfred. Camp and Field Life of the Fifth NewYork Volunteer Infantry (Duryee Zouaves). New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1879.

Gallagher, Gary, ed. Struggle for the Shenandoah: Essays on the 1864 Valley Campaign. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991.

Hennessy, John. "At the Vortex of Hell: A Regiment of New Yorkers Destroyed within Ten Minutes." Civil War Times Illustrated 1986 24(9): 10-17.

Hewitt, Lawrence L. "Incompetence, Disorganization, and Lack of Determination: The Federal Assault on Port Hudson, May 27, 1863." Gulf Coast Historical Review 1987 3(1): 63-83.

-----. Port Hudson: Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

Historical Committee, 165th New York. "History of the Second Battalion, Duryee Zouaves." New York, 1904.

-----. "Album of the Second Battalion, Duryee Zouaves." New York, 1906. Kimball, William J. "The Little Battle of Big Bethel." Civil War Times Illustrated 1967 6(3): 28-32.

Longacre, Edward G. "The Port Hudson Campaign." Civil War Times Illustrated 1972 10(10): 20-31, 34.

Pohanka, Brian. "Charge Bayonets: The 5th New York at the Battle of Gaines' Mill." Civil War Times Illustrated May-June, 1994.

-----. "Duryee's Zouaves: The 5th New York Volunteer Infantry." Civil War Regiments 1991 1(2): 7-28.

-----. "Like Demons with Bayonets: The 5th New York Zouaves at Gaines' Mill." Military Images 1989 (10) 6: 12-22.

Spicer, Ron and Roger D. Stureke. "The 165th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1863." Military Collector and Historian 1968 20 (2): 49-51.

Stackpole, Edward J. Sheridan in the Shenandoah: Jubal Early's Nemesis. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Press, 1961.

Abstracts of these pieces have been placed in the control file. Researchers should also consult the Official Records of the War of Rebellion.

The Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Maryland, owns three citations presented to Felix Agnus by the United States Fraternal Organizations, the Advertising Club of Baltimore, and the Baltimore American (ca. 1920).

Processing Information

The Felix Agnus papers were received in no discernable order. During their processing, the collection was divided into separate files for personal and military papers. Folded documents were flattened, and torn documents were secured with plastic clips. The papers were arranged chronologically, placed in acid-free folders, and stored in an acid-free box.

Guide to the Felix Agnus papers
Processed by Max Grivno.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742