Salm-Salm, Agnes, Princess (1840–1912)

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Salm-Salm, Agnes, Princess (1840–1912)

American war relief worker. Name variations: Agnes Leclercq; Agnes, princess Salm Salm. Born Agnes Elisabeth Winona Leclercq Joy on December 25, 1840, in Vermont (some sources cite Quebec or Baltimore); died in Karlsruhe, Germany, on December 21, 1912; daughter of William L. Joy and Julia (Willard) Joy; married Felix Constantin Alexander Johann Nepomuk, Prince Salm-Salm (a German mercenary), in Washington, D.C., on August 30, 1862 (died in battle on August 18, 1870); married Charles Heneage, in 1876.

Served as a federal hospital worker during American Civil War; accompanied husband to Mexico (1866); pled for life of Emperor Maximilian (1867); received Grand Cordon of the Order of San Carlos (1867); was a relief worker during Franco-Prussian War (1870); received Prussian Medal of Honor; recommended for the Iron Cross; published Zehn Jahre aus meinem Leben (Ten Years of My Life, 1875).

Agnes, Princess Salm-Salm, followed her husband, Prince Felix Salm-Salm, a German soldier of fortune, from one battleground to another, bringing relief to wounded and imprisoned soldiers in the United States, Mexico, and Prussia. Little is known of her early life. She was born on December 25, 1840, in Vermont, though some sources indicate her place of birth as Quebec or Baltimore, and may have been an actress or circus performer. She met her husband in 1862, in Washington, D.C., where she had established herself under the name Agnes Leclercq. The prince was at the time a colonel and chief of staff under the command of General Louis Blenker, and three months after their marriage in August of that year, he was put in command of the 8th New York Infantry, possibly due to the efforts of his wife. Inseparable from her husband, Princess Salm-Salm accompanied him wherever he was stationed.

During the American Civil War, Agnes became well known in the camps and federal hospitals where she cared for and comforted the sick and injured. By the end of the war, Felix had achieved the rank of brigadier general by brevet, on April 13, 1865, and later became the military governor of Atlanta. This success was due, in large part, to the popularity and influence of Agnes who was much loved for her cheerfulness and sympathy.

In February 1866, Felix offered his services to Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and Agnes soon became a trusted member of the court of Maximilian and his empress Carlota . An archduke of Austria, Maximilian had accepted the throne in the mistaken belief that the people had voted him their king. In truth, his ascension was part of a secret conspiracy between Mexican conservatives (who wanted to overthrow the liberal government of President Benito Juárez) and the ambitious French emperor Napoleon III (who wanted to expand his empire). Maximilian had angered all sides by taking seriously his position as a benevolent monarch, maintaining many of Juárez's reforms, attempting to abolish peonage, refusing to return confiscated land holdings to the Roman Catholic Church, and using his own money to replenish the empty treasury of the Mexican government.

At the end of the American Civil War, the French Army, which had been promised to Maximilian for his support, were forced to withdraw under the terms of the Monroe Doctrine. In March 1867, with the French gone, Juárez and his army entered Mexico City. Prince Salm-Salm was with Maximilian when he was betrayed and captured at Querétaro on May 15, 1867. Agnes rode back and forth between the prison and Liberal headquarters at San Luis Potosi to negotiate terms, find means of delaying the judicial proceedings, and plead with Juárez to release the emperor and her husband. Her efforts became the subject of a well-known painting by Manuel Ocaranza, and Maximilian showed his gratitude by decorating her with the Grand Cordon of the Order of San Carlos. Although many European heads of state petitioned for Maximilian's release, he was executed at Querétaro in June. Felix, however, was set free, thanks to the indefatigable Agnes.

After the death of the emperor, the Salm-Salms returned to Europe where, in recognition of all she had done on behalf of Maximilian, Agnes was rewarded by Archduchess Sophie of Bavaria , Maximilian's mother, with a miniature portrait of him set in an emerald bracelet. She was also granted a pension by the emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph I. Felix was appointed major of the Queen Augusta regiment of the Prussian guards and, with special permission granted by General von Steinmetz in July 1870, Agnes accompanied him as part of his staff with the army of invasion during the Franco-Prussian War. Prince Salm-Salm was killed leading his battalion in the battle of Gravelotte on August 18, 1879. Both before and after his death, the princess continued to organize hospitals and distribute supplies to the sick and wounded. Generals commanding the soldiers to whom she had ministered recognized her efforts with letters of gratitude. She also received the Prussian Medal of Honor, made of metal from a captured cannon, and a bracelet from Empress Augusta of Saxe-Weimar . She was recommended for the Iron Cross, but was denied it as this honor was reserved for men.

The remainder of Princess Salm-Salm's life was relatively uneventful. She published an autobiography, Zehn Jahre aus meinem Leben (Ten Years of My Life), in 1875, and remarried in 1876, to a member of the British embassy stationed in Berlin. In 1899, she returned to the United States to restore to the survivors flags of the 8th and 68th New York regiments, which her husband had commanded. She was made an honorary member of both the Blenker Veteran Association and the New York chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She returned to the United States again in 1900, this time to solicit funds to equip an ambulance corps for the relief of those wounded in the South African Boer War. She died in Karlsruhe, Germany, on December 21, 1912.


Johnson, Rossiter, ed. The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Boston, MA: Biographical Society, 1904.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts