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KARPELES, LEOPOLD (1838–1909). 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 secessionqqv 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).

Mark Odintz


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

Mark Odintz, "KARPELES, LEOPOLD," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed April 26, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 13, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.