Karpeles, Leopold (1838–1909)

By: Mark Odintz

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: June 18, 2020

Leopold Karpeles, Jewish Medal of Honor recipient and merchant, was born in Prague, Bohemia, in 1838. In 1849 he emigrated to Texas, settling with his older brother Emil in Galveston. He worked as a merchant, making trips to Mexico and the western territories of the United States. In 1861 his opposition to slavery and secession led him to leave Texas for Massachusetts. He enlisted in Company A of the Forty-Sixth Massachusetts Infantry on August 15, 1862, and served in the regiment in the North Carolina campaign. He rose to the rank of color corporal before mustering out on July 29, 1863. By the spring of 1864 he was back in Massachusetts working as a clerk. He enlisted in the Fifty-Seventh Massachusetts Infantry and was appointed color sergeant. On May 6, 1864, at the Battle of the Wilderness, the Fifty-Seventh lost 262 of its 548 men. At several crucial stages of the battle Karpeles exposed himself to enemy fire by climbing up on stumps and rallying the regiment around its colors. In 1870 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. He fought at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 10, 12, and 18, 1864. At the Battle of the North Anna, on May 24, Karpeles was badly wounded. He refused to relinquish the flag and be evacuated until he fainted from loss of blood. Karpeles spent most of the next year in military hospitals, and he was discharged in May of 1865. He married Sara Mundheim, a nurse in a Washington military hospital. She later died, and Karpeles married her sister. He settled in Washington after the war and worked as a clerk in the Treasury Department. Karpeles died in 1909.

Warren Wilkinson, Mother, May You Never See the Sights I Have Seen: The Fifty-Seventh Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, 1864–1865 (New York: Morrow, 1990). Ruthe Winegarten and Cathy Schechter, Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews (Austin: Eakin Press, 1990).

  • Peoples
  • Czechs
  • Business
  • Military
  • Soldiers
  • Jews

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark Odintz, “Karpeles, Leopold,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/karpeles-leopold.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

October 1, 1995
June 18, 2020