Princess Salm-Salm, an American Princess
Princess Agnes Salm-Salm was described as being red-haired,
strong willed, small, and dainty. Her Indian grandmother in
Ohio named her "Winona" which means "Flame",
and she appeared as a shining flame to the injured soldiers
on the battlefields of both the new and the old world as she
fought will all her means against human stupidity and slowness
In 1861, she left her home in Vermont on a social trip to visit
her sister in Washington, Hannah Delilah Joy who was married
to Captain Edmond Johnston.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. His wife,
Mary Todd Lincoln, rganized many receptions for the officers,
one of whom was Captain Johnston. Because of the common ancestor
between President Lincoln and the Joy sisters, they were able
to attract the attention of the president.
Prince Felix zu Salm-Salm, left Europe because of his scandalous
love affairs, duels, and enormous gambling debts, and came to
America in1861 to take part in the Civil War. He met General
Blenker at Hotel Willard. The general wanted to make Felix a
colonel and his chief of staff and, after a short meeting with
Felix, Lincoln gave his approval.
In 1862, the German division of the Union was ordered to go
from Rappanahock to Hunters Chapel to defend the crossing of
the Potomac. The chief was General Blenker and his chief of
staff was Prince Felix von Salm. General Blenker was famous
for the parties he organised at Hotel Willard in Washington
as well as picnics in Hunters Chapel.
Agnes was known for her daring morning rides through Washington,
and for passing by the White House on her half-wild mustang,
"Minnehaha". Felix noticed Agnes on one of these rides
and took care to see she was invited to one of the parties at
Hunters Chapel - and of course they met and fell in love. He
proposed to her on the condition that they would marry as Catholics
(she was Puritan). She quarrelled with her sister and brother-in-law
over this issue, and then left their house and was married in
a secret wedding ceremony without the approval of her family.The
marriage took place on August 30th 1862 in St. Patricks Church
in Washington DC. The best man was Mr. von Corvin-Wiersbitzki,
(who was earlier interested in Agnes himself). She was called
a "bareback circus rider" and "a circus performer"
by unfriendly social connections after her somewhat scandalous
marriage, but "beautiful, clever, and dashing" by
According to "Ten Years of My Life," Delilah later
gave Agnes a son, Felix, to adopt, but the child did not fare
well with the nurse, and had to return to his mother. She also
mentioned that her mother had relatives in Andilucia Spain,
but does not refer to any other family members.
Felix was appointed commander of the 8th New York regiment
and sent to Antietam Creek in northwest Virginia where, on September
17th 1862, a fierce battle was fought. On November the 9th,1862
Agnes left Washington to join Felix on the battlefield as she
didn't like being without him. To reach Felix, she had to cross
the old battlefield of Bull Run which was still in a horrible
state. After she arrived at her husband's camp, she started
to care for the sick and wounded soldiers although she had no
previous knowledge of medical care.
For four years she rode with the troop as the only woman through
the war-devastated state of Virginia, and over carrion and vulture
besieged battlegrounds. At the age of 18, she rode like the
wind and possessed more courage than ten men. Since there were
no nurses, only a few doctors, and almost no field hospitals,
Agnes Salm stole like a magpie for the wounded. As the wife
of a colonel, she attacked and plundered the supply wagons and
luggage meant for the officers. She even took her husband's
sheets and tore them into bandages. It was written that: "Whether
the prince raged or not, he remained a gentleman, even when
he had to sleep on an uncovered bag of straw!" Eventually
she was brought before General Sherman who saw what she was
doing, but instead of court-martialing her, he formed an alliance
with her against the misery on the battlegrounds. However, her
arbitrary behavior worried the War Ministry to such an extent
that President Lincoln had to intervene. In his memorable calming
speech before the committee, he closed with the words: "That
which many people only use as a muscle, she uses as a heart."
He personally stuck the captain's star on her. And surely she
would have led that regiment as well as her husband, provided
she had been allowed to do so.
In January, 1863 the troops were ordered to go to Aquia Creek,
Virginia, and of course Agnes followed her husband. Here she
made a bet that she would give Abraham Lincoln three kisses
within the next few days on his visit to the camp, and she succeeded
in doing so. Noah Brooks wrote about this saying: "it was
this remarkable woman, who astonished the president on entering
General Sikle's headquarters, by flying to him. "She kissed
three him times - once right, once left and once on the mouth
- amid considerable gaiety."
On February 29th, Ulysses S. Grant was appointed Chief General
of the Union Army. Agnes met him in the White House and her
description of him was very negative. Around May 4th or 5th,
Felix received the order to move to Nashville, Tennessee. Agnes
accompanied him to the railway station in Washington. She had
to stay there, but hoped to get permission to follow him. In
the meantime, she supported the work in the local hospital.
At the end of that summer, Agnes wrote to Felix saying she had
succeeded in getting a pass to go to Tennessee. He wrote back
telling her to stay in Washington. However, on October 1st,
she left Washington and arrived on the 8th in Nashville. It
took her another 24 hours to reach Bridgeport and Felix. She
visited the field hospital and took action to improve the health
care there. After November 15th, Felix was ordered to leave
his camp to join General Steedmans to defend the Bridgeport/Stevenson
line, but Agnes had to stay behind.
Felix had achieved the level of brigadier general, but after
the Civil War was over, he didn't feel at home in the army in
peacetime. He hated the undisciplined behavior of the people
and his own troops. In the autumn of 1864, he was appointed
commander of Fort Pulsaki. Agnes planned to stay in Savannah,
Georgia. It came as a surprise when, at the end of November
1864, Felix received the order to bring his regiment to New
York where it would be dissolved.
Agnes wanted him to stay in Washington and wait for further
instructions from the president, but he didn't listen. In 1867
he discovered there was an opportunity to join Maximilian, the
Austrian archduke who was invited by Mexican nobility in 1863
to become Emperor of Mexico. In 1864 Maximilian was escorted
to Mexico by French soldiers to establish an empire for Napoleon
III, but the Mexicans were hostile to him and loyal to President
Juárez. Although the French managed to drive Juárez's
army from the capital, the empire disintegrated when French
troops withdrew and Maximilian ran out of money. Maximilian's
wife, Carlotta, went to Europe to seek help from Napoleon III,
but her pleas were in vain. Maximilian was captured and sentenced
to death and northern Mexico was in hands of President Juárez
On his way to Mexico City, Felix met the emperor for the first
time. Despite lack of funds, Maximilian decided not to go back
to Europe but to fight with Mexican troops. With those troops
(and without his European officers), he left Mexico City. Felix
joined the army and on February 14th, 1867 went off to join
the emperor where he had the chance to show his fighting abilities.
But before long the town was captured by the Juárists,
Maximilian and his staff - of which the Prince zu Salm-Salm
was a member - were captured by Benito Juárez.
Agnes learned about the situation through Mr. Clark, a journalist
from the New York Tribune, and made contact with Juárez'
s troops near Mexico City.She managed to get a pass and travelled
to Mexico in the hope of being able to spare the life of her
husband and Maximilian von Habsburg who was sentencedto death
for high treason. When she arrived in Vera Cruz, vultures were
sitting on the rooftops. However she didn't turn back, even
though the whole county was revolting. Before she got to her
destination, she was imprisoned but in the end she was able
to meet President Benito Juárez.Thanks to this meeting
(and some more afterwards) with Juárez, Felix was spared.
Only flight could have saved Maximilian, but it still would
have required bribery money to do so. In a Mexican diligence
(a primitive coach) Agnes Salm hurried through the country which
was filled with robbers, to approach the Austrian, Prussian,
English, Italian and Belgium ambassadors to appeal for funds.
Dead bodies were lying on the roads. Bloodless corpses, hanging
head down in the trees, touched her shoulders has she rode along.
Although she had a white handkerchief on her riding whip to
show she was a member of parliament, Indian soldiers shot a
dangerous well-aimed volley at her. She wrote: "I was more
annoyed than frightened because it is far too stupid to shoot
at a woman alone, as if I could have assaulted their battery.
My first impulse was to ride into those cowards and to beat
them with my riding whip on their long ears. Only what to do
against stupidity?... In short, I turned, and my little Mexican
horse flew off like an arrow as I bowed my head against his
neck. Those cowards sent another volley after me, but luckily
didn't hit me or my horse. At the end of the quest, all of the
diplomatic promises resulted in only one ounce of gold, but
not one lousy dollar, and it was this stinginess that murdered
On the day before the execution, Agnes decided to beg Juárez
for the lives of the prisoners. She went down on her knees on
the ground before him and pleaded for a delay for the emperor.
Her appeal is the subject of an historical painting by Manuel
Ocaranza (1873). Juárez looked away over her and said
in a low and sad voice: "I'm sorry Madame to see you on
your knees before me; but even if all the queens and kings of
Europe were in your place, I still wouldn't be able to save
his life. I'm not the one who takes it, it's the people that
rule his life and mine." Juárez rose and promised
to save the life of her husband. This was all he could do for
her. She thanked him and left.
The journey back was very difficult. Because the road was destroyed
she had to walk for hours. She wrote: "In addition to this
I was wearing a pair of very thin boots that were soon cut by
the sharp rocks. My feet were bleeding." An American who
visited the prisoners reported: "The heavy door was opened,
a soldier said: 'La Senora', and in the a blink of an eye, Prince
zu Salm-Salm held in his arms his wife who had just arrived
from her visit to Juárez." Her face was burned and
dirty, her shoes were cut up, and as she put her hands on the
shoulders of her husband, her body trembled from fatigue. That
evening the emperor said to her: "You are the only person
who really did something for me." The next day, on July
19th,1867, the emperor was executed. Felix was put on a ship
to Europe. Agnes was put on a ship bound for Cuba and then to
New York. The republican colonel who was ordered to do this,
acknowledged he would rather be confronted with a battalion
of the emperor than with the princess. She was enthusiastically
received in New York, and was later reunited with Felix in Europe.
In 1868 they arrived in Berlin. Because of their attempts to
free Maximilian, the prince was again accepted at court along
with his wife. In Europe she was the star of all the social
circles in the capital as well as in Karlsruhe where she lived.
She was surrounded by a thousand whispered stories in the residential
palaces of the grand dukes, in the foyers of the court theatre
houses, and in the "Fürstenberg" Palace. In her
lifetime, she was the heroine of many adventures and poetic
fantasies, and although her adventures occurred many years ago,
they are still exciting today.
Prince Felix zu Salm-Salm was attached as an officer to the
Prussian Regiment "Queen Augusta". Two years later,
in the unbearably hot month of August 1870, Agnes Salm was again
on the battlefields during the Franco-Prussian War. In this
war too there were not enough doctors and bandages although
the staff had what the wounded needed. So again, against all
Prussian prohibitions and directions, she delivered what was
The King of Prussia surprised her as she was carrying a bucketful
of wine in each hand. She wrote: "Although I wasn't ashamed
of the work I was doing, I was somehow embarrassed to be caught
under these conditions, so I put the buckets behind me and tried
to hide them behind my skirt. The king took my hand and directed
some kind words to me that I will never forget. In the meantime
he laughed as he looked around me to discover the reason for
my embarrassment and found my buckets. When I told his majesty
that I had stolen them from his kitchen for his brave dying
soldiers, the expression on his face became kind, and he said
that I had done well, and should plunder his kitchen as much
as I liked."
On the 18th of August 1870, the prince fell at Saint Privat,
so at the age of thirty, Agnes became a widow. Although the
years between 1862 and 1870 - in which she experienced three
wars - were the most painful in her life, she wrote: "The
Almighty, who softens the wind for the shorn lamb, has given
us through time and sense, the ability to blunt the sharpness
of human pain." She eventually received the Prussian Medal
of Honor (but was denied the German Iron Cross because it was
limited to men) for army relief work.
According to one source, in 1881 she helped organize the American
Red Cross in spite of vigorous U.S. government opposition.
Although she was a heroine of her time, she lived and died
in poverty, still active to the last moment for justice in the
world. She died alone in her Karlsruhe home on December 21st,1912
and nobody was with her except an old maid servant and her memories.
Today, located less than thirty meters from the house where
she died, is the office of the high court.
Agnes Elisabeth Winona Leclerc Joy - known as Princess Salm-Salm,
or Princess Agnes , was born in Franklin, Vermont on December
25th, 1844 and died on the 21st of December 1912, in Karlsruhe
at the age of 68.
She was the daughter of the American General William Leclerc
Joy (1793 - abt. 1886) and Julia Willard ( - 1882). Her grandfather
on her father's side was Mica Joy.(1753-1826) who married Mercy
Terrill (1764-1843). Her grandmother was said to be an Indian
from Ohio. As well she was the cousin of President Lincoln through
her great grandmother Olive Kilby Lincoln who married Captain
Melzar Joy. According to the genealogy of the Joy family, Agnes
is a descendant of King Henry III and thus was also a very distant
cousin of her husband Felix.
She married Prince Felix Constantin Alexander Johann Nepomuk
Marie zu Salm-Salm, who was a soldier of fortune and who was
descended from one of the oldest noble families in Europe. (b.
December 25, 1828, Anholt ). The couple were wed in St. Patrick's
in Washington D.C. on August 30,1862. When Felix returned to
Europe, he entered the Prussian Army as a major, and was killed
in action on August 18,1870 at St. Privat at the battle of Gravelotte.
He was 39 years old when he died. Felix was the son of Fürst
Wilhelm Florentin Ludwig Karl zu Salm-Salm and Flaminia di Rossi.
Agnes' second marriage to the royal British diplomat Charles
Heneage at the court of the Grand Duke of Baden, was dissolved.
Fortunately Princess Agnes kept dairies and she was the author
of "Ten Years of My Life", (Ruchard Bentley &
Sons, London (1876), which details her exploits with her husband.
References: "An Adventurous Lady of Her Time" Newspaper
article. November 30, 1960 by Toni Peter Courtesy of Frau Saur,
Stadtmuseum, Karlsruhe, translation by Hans Weeber "Princess
Agnes zu Salm-Salm" obituary from 1912 Stadtchronik, courtesy
of Frau Saur, Karlsruhe "Ten Years of My Life" by
Agnes Salm-Salm Plus various sites on the web