Service in the Bavarian Army

Joseph Bergmeister

This military man in this photograph is my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927). It is the only known photo of him, but we knew little about the uniform he wore or his military service, only that he was from Bavaria. Fortunately, I worked with someone who knew everything about the German military. Just from the photograph he was able to determine exactly which uniform it was, and I was later able to confirm his guess after more research.

What you can not tell from the photo is that the uniform is light blue in color! It is from the Bavarian Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. This roughly translates to the Royal Bavarian Infantry Life Guard Regiment. The regiment began in 1814 to protect the royal family, and it was headquartered in Munich at the royal palace.

According to my co-worker, “Such troops would have been elitist by definition, and patriotic to the core. Entrance requirements and training would have more rigorous than for normal line regiments. Peacetime service would have also been markedly different from the line troops. The Leib unit would have been called upon to serve every public protocol attended by the sovereign, much like a Presidential Honor Guard today. Everything would have been ‘spit and polish’ with a high degree of military etiquette.”

I am not sure how my great-grandfather came to be in such a unit, but I know he served for only two years: 1893-95 when he was 20-22 years old. Other than this photo, a wonderful large composite photo of his entire company, and his regimental beer stein, he left no other remnants of his service. What exactly did he do? Where did he serve? Did he like it? I’m sure he’d be proud to know that he had many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who served in all four branches of the U.S. military, including an Army Brigadier General and a Marine security guard.

If he did serve at the royal palace in Munich, he may have witnessed some interesting events. I found this article in the New York Times archive, dated November 16, 1893:

Royal Wedding

Was my great-grandfather was there? I don’t know, but I don’t think that the older sister got to marry her true love either…it looks like she married Count Otto von Seefried about two weeks later. I doubt he was a lieutenant in the Bavarian Army!


11 thoughts on “Service in the Bavarian Army

  1. Donna:

    What a wonderful photograph and analysis! How fortunate you were to have a co-worker with so much knowledge.

    Thanks for the history lesson by way of your family; I enjoyed your very well written post.


    P.S. BTW Is there any information on the photographer and the period of time he was in business? The photograph may have been taken to commenorate Joseph’s enlistment or to memorialize his departure from the service.

  2. I really enjoyed this post – a terrific photo and loads of interesting information, thank you so much!

  3. Thanks!

    fM, I did try to do a little research on the photographer – trying to learn by your fine example. Much of it is in German, however. I did learn today that his son became a rather famous film director! I think the photo was taken as he went in…if I can get it off of my cousin, there is a wonderful group photo with all of their individual portraits. It is quite large, and very nice. I hope to post more on that one day.

    I also have another photo by the same photographer of a man I believe to be Joseph’s first cousin…still doing a little more research on that. The uniform looks similar, except the other guy has a sword!

  4. I also have a photo of 2 men in uniform photographed
    by F.H. Ostermayr – Munchen. One has the golden band
    on his collar the other looks like he has a tassel or
    sheath on his left side. I don’t know who they are but
    are some one on either side of my Bavarian grandparents.
    I will post it so you can see the photo. Jewelgirl

  5. The photograph is a small size cabinet card.
    Maybe aprox 4 X 3 on hard cardboard.
    It has a number on back No. (written in
    pencil – 89764). It could be of a simular
    time period as your photo, I have no clue
    as to who it is but definitely was in my
    family if it was in my grandmothers attic.

  6. Hello,

    My grandfather was Francis Paul Bergmeister. He had one son, Francis X. Bergmeister and Francis X. Bergmeister had two sons, Kurt Bergmeister and myself. My father passed away last year. Kurt resides in Destin, Florida and I live in Stafford, VA. I also retired in 2004 from the Marine Corps as a colonel.

    My grandfather served in the Coast Guard and retired as a commander. My father served in the Army Air Corps in WWII, was a Phildelphia policeman, detective, ATF agent, and IRS Special Agent. My brother briefly served in the Marine Corps and is a real estate agent. We are also both Certified Financial Planners. I am a defense consultant at this time.

    My son Nicholas F.X. , a high school junior, found your website and was very excited. His sister is a junior at VA TECH.

    I had an uncle Bill but I can’t recall too many details about him other than he was a salesman and retired in Florida.
    My grandfather also had a sister, Rose.


  7. According to the NY Times article, I guess romantic love won out over traditional marriage arrangements. It is so hard for us Americans to keep up with the history of Royal families of Europe. The news article was a wondeful way for you to demonstrate your great grandfather’s military duties under the Royal Family of Bavaria. Nice story. Bob

  8. The Infanterie Leib (Life) Regiment was raised on 16 July 1814 from the best looking and largest Grenadiers from the existing fourteen Bavarian Infantry Regiments. The Regiment was always garrisoned in Munich. The original name of the regiment was Grenadier-Garde-Regiment. In 1825 it was redesignated Linien-Infanterie-Leib-Regiment and received its final designation as Infanterie-Leib-Regiment in 1835. This was the premier infantry regiment in the Bavarian Army and its soldiers were “recruited” from throughout Bavaria. Selection was based on appearance and intelligence. Various members of the Bavarian royal family served in the regiment and one, Prince Arnulf. commanded the regiment 1881-84. The regimental Kaserne was named for Prince Arnulf following his early death in 1907. Among the soldiers and locals the Kaserne was known as “Turken Kaserne” due to a street of that name which was adjacent to the Kaserne. During the 1980-90s the Kaserne was demolished. With one exception the regiment was commanded by a member of the Bavarian nobility and many of the commanders were Barons (Freiheer) or Counts (Graf). While the regiment did perform ceremonial duties in Munich, as did the other two Munich infantry regiments, it was trained, equipped and deployed the same as any other infantry regiment. The red regimental epaulet had a gold colored royal crown on it authorized in 1873. The two white strips of cloth (Litzen) on the collar were a distinction worn only by this regiment in the Bavarian Army. The uniform color was a lighter blue traditionally worn by the foot units of Bavarian Army. Joseph Bergmeister`s name was not found in any of the infantry regiments of the standing army or Reserve infantry regiments that served in the World War. He probably served in the war, possibly in a non-combat capacity.

  9. My grandmother’s family was from Munich and I too have a photograph from F.X. Ostermayr; however, the subject of my photo appears to be a First Holy Communion portrait. I have other photos from other studios in Munich including Oscar Pöckl, F. Grieshaber, B. Urban and H. Dreykorn. Has anyone researched whether archives of the photographers exist?

  10. Hi, Tom, It would be great if there were some photographer’s archives, but I don’t know of any. I’ve tried to find some in the U.S., too. There may be some luck with Ostermayr since his son gained some fame in the film industry. I’ll have to ask some German researchers if there is such a thing.

  11. Pingback: Bavarian army | Yumbath

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