Known for his huge drooping mustache and iron gray hair, Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth was a key figure during the early years of the Civil War and played a major role in the Union invasion of Arkansas in 1862.
Commander of a division under General Samuel Curtis, Asboth had served as an aide-de-camp to Kossuth during the Hungarian Revolt of 1848. When he and his fellow patriots were overwhelmed by the combined armies of Austria and Russia, he fled Hungary. Brought to the United States (along with Kossuth) aboard the U.S.S. Mississippi, Asboth settled in New York where he worked as a surveyor, engineer and industrialist. He developed an improved method of asphalt paving and conducted the original surveys for New York's famed Central Park.
The adlatus or chief of staff for Fremont in Missouri early in the war, he helped develop the army that ultimately preserved the "Show Me" state for the Union.
A talented cavalry officer, Asboth led Curtis' advance into Benton and Washington Counties during the days leading up to the Battle of Pea Ridge. He captured Fayetteville and briefly occupied the "Headquarters House."
During the Battle of Pea Ridge, he pushed a couple of pieces of artillery and small force of infantry up the Telegraph Road to assist Union troops who were being pushed back by the unexpected rear assault launched on their position by Confederate General Earl Van Dorn. According to eyewitness accounts, Asboth performed heroically on the first day of the battle and was seriously wounded in the arm. Without his brave actions on the first day of the fight, the Union army might well have collapsed.
During the night, believing (correctly) that the Union troops were outnumbered, Asboth recommended a withdrawal from the battle. Curtis, however, decided to stay and fight. The decision proved prophetic as Van Dorn had pushed his army too hard trying to get it into action and the exhausted Confederates were already running short on ammunition and other vital supplies. When Curtis counter-attacked the next morning, he swept the field and sent Van Dorn into a headlong retreat. Asboth commanded his division during the Union counterattack.
After Pea Ridge, General Asboth served in a variety of roles in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. He was one of the officers who recommended the promotion of Phil Sheridan to the rank of brigadier general.
Late in the war, he commanded the Union District of West Florida and was severely wounded at the Battle of Marianna, Florida, on September 27, 1864. Operated on after the battle by a team of surgeons including by Union and captured Confederate surgeons, he retook the field during the final months of the war. Promoted to Major General at the end of the war, he was named a U.S. Minister and served in South America where he died from an infection. His wounds from the Battle of Marianna never healed and were listed as the official cause of his death.
During the 1980s, the general's body was returned to the United States and re-buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery. A eulogy written by President George H.W. Bush was read during the ceremony.
Asboth is considered a hero today both in his native Hungary, where he fought in the ill-fated revolution to bring freedom to his homeland, and among Hungarian-Americans.