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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"
Chapter 11 - Eau Claire County in the Civil War
by W. W. Bartlett
(-as transcribed from pages 56 - 67)
Mr. Bartlett has long taken great interest in gathering reminiscences of the Civil War, and especially of those from Eau Claire county who participated in it. In fact he is recognized as Eau Claire's authority of Civil War history. In 1911 the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the war, the Eau Claire Telegram started a Civil War column and asked for reminiscences from the veterans. Knowing of Mr. Bartlett's researches along this line he was also asked to contribute, and responded with an article made up of verbatim extracts from the Civil War time files of local newspapers, narrating events in Eau Claire just preceding and immediately after the firing upon of Fort Sumter. Pertaining as it did to individuals known to many of the Telegram readers it awakened much interest and more was called for. The result was a series of articles extending over several months. Supplementing the extracts from local newspaper files, of official records and many hitherto unpublished private Civil War letters, Mr. Bartlett prevailed upon a number of surviving officers and members of companies recruited in Eau Claire county to furnish reminiscences of their companies. These contributions constitute an almost complete account of Eau Claire's contingent in the war and were highly appreciated by the public.
The form in which the record appeared in the Telegram has been preserved in this chapter, not only because the series attracted great attention, but also because letters from men who participated in the great conflict convey a more intimate knowledge and more vivid impression than any other form of record could possibly give. They also add an intensity of interest to the recital.
The publication of the letters makes this chapter somewhat lengthy, but a valuable chapter has been the sole aim of the publishers. For that reason Mr. Bartlett was persuaded to edit, rearrange and make a connected story of the series.
We are also indebted to Mr. Bartlett for the fine collection of war pictures which illustrate this chapter. They are the result of years of patient search and gathering.
Free Press, December 24, 1860
"We give today pretty full accounts of the succession movement. It will be seen that South Carolina has passed an ordinance of secession unanimously, and the others of the cotton states are likely to follow suit. How the matter will terminate is beyond the reach of mortal ken. If we had a Jackson at the helm of the ship of state we should not be kept long in suspense, but as long as the president's chair is occupied by the present corrupt old traitor we know not what a day will bring forth. Dispatches from the South justify us in the belief that Buchanan has betrayed his solemn trust by ordering the surrender of the forts and the government's arms at Charleston upon the demand of the southern traitors. If that be so we shall not be surprised if an attempt is made to impeach the Old Public Functionary for high crimes and misdemeanors."
Although realizing to some extent the feeling in the South, it seemed to Editor Porter hardly possible that it would go to the extent of beginning actual hostilities against the government. The unexpected happened. On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter was fired on. The Free Press came out with an extra announcing the fact. Probably no copy of this extra is in existence, but the nest regular issue, April 19, was reprinted. Following the display head are given the dispatches, with particulars of the bombardment and evacuation of the fort. On the same page Mr. Porter expresses his feelings in an editorial as reproduced below:
"THE WAR BEGUN.
"The terrible fact of a civil war now stares us full in t he face and lovers of the Union must meet the sudden though not unexpected responsibilities which devolve upon them. Every Union loving heart will swell with emotion as it contemplates the unalterable baseness and dishonor of those who have inaugurated civil war; and we greatly mistake the temper of all good citizens, South as well as North, if they do not firmly resolve to aid when duty calls, in executing a terrible retribution upon the rebels. Let the watchword be, "The government, it must and shall be preserved'; and if perchance there is a wretch in our midst whose sympathies are not with the government, let the execrations of all good citizens be upon him; let the finger of scorn follow him till shame burns his cheeks to a cinder."
In the press of the following week, April 26, appears the call for the first war meeting, reproduced below:
"There will be a meeting of the patriotic citizens of Eau Claire and vicinity in Reed's Hall on Monday the 29th for the purpose of devising means to get up a company to go and fight the battles of our country. Speaking and singing may be expected."
In the Free Press of May 3, 1861, appears the report of that gathering as follows:
Free Press, May 3, 1861
"On Monday evening the citizens of this place, irrespective of party, met at Reed's Hall for the purpose of attesting their attachment to the good old Stars and Stripes of the Union. It was in every respect by far the largest and most enthusiastic meeting ever held in this place. A common cause brought them together and a common sentiment animated every heart. At an early hour the hall was densely packed with people, including fifteen or twenty ladies, who came early enough to obtain admittance. A great many were unable to get in the hall. N. B. Boyden, Esq., was called to chair and J. G. Callahan was elected secretary. Mr. Boyden briefly and appropriately addressed the meeting and his remarks were well received. Messrs. Barnes, Meggett, Davis, Bartlett, Barrett, Woodworth, Taylor, Porter, Whipple, Wilson, Stillman and McNair were respectively called to the stand, all of whom made speeches abounding in patriotism and expressing warm attachment to the government and union. Men and means promptly tendered -- the former to fight for the country, the latter to equip the soldiers and provide for their families. The Eau Claire Brass Band and Sprague's Military Band added much to the interest of the occasion.
"After the meeting the following names were enrolled to form the company: John Taylor, G. W. Marcum, A. S. Bostwick, John Woodworth, A. C. Ellis, Thomas B. Coon, Charles Sargent, G. E. Bonell, D. R. King, Henry Schaffer, John Dennis, F. R. Buck, J. D. McCauley, Machler Striff, Robert Lackey, W. J. Cosporus, G. W. Wilson, Melvin M. Adams, G. M. Brewer, L. Cornwell, Jesse Adams, Myron Shaw, Theodore DeDesert, G. A. Brown, H. McDougal, John E. Stillman, A. Watson, H. H. Parker, W. P. Bartlett, J. Wells, J. Sloat, C. S. McLeod, Augustus Block, James Jones, George Eckart, J. Swan, Philip Hammer, Chriss Scholkopf, John Sloverman, B. F. Cowan, Jacob Siegil, John Harrson, C. W. Burbank, Osten Rutland, Henry J. Linhergue, William E. Kilgore, B. F. Buck, Oscar Sargent, William Monteith, M. V. Smith, J. C. Davis, J. S. Goodrich, Couradon Wyman, J. F. Hale, D. H. Hollister, Otis F. Warren, D. P. Gordon, A. Parker, J. A. Barberish, G. H. Hamilton, Henry Hunter, John Legore, J. S. Anderson.
"From present indications we have no doubt that two companies might be raised in this place and Chippewa Falls. Of course the country about will be well represented. Quite a delegation from Bridge Creek came down to enlist, and yesterday a wagonload drawn by four gray horses, decked with small Union flags, and a beautiful large one streaming from a staff supported in the wagon, came into town from Mondovi. They were vociferously cheered by our citizens. They are a determined and patriotic set of men and would fight like tigers when duty calls them to the battlefield."
Other names were added later and in the Free Press of May 10 we find the following:
"THE EAU CLAIRE BADGERS.
"This company is about full and is aching for active service. It is composed of active, intelligent men, who have good health, strong muscular development and determined wills. We wish to correct the absurd rumor which is now going the rounds of the papers that a company has been formed here, all of whose members stand six feet high. The Eau Claire boys in time of peace are probably not larger than the average run of men, but if they come to a hard fight we have no doubt the rebels will think that each man weighs at least a ton. On Saturday last the Badgers met at Reed's hall and elected officers. They are as follows: Captain, John Taylor; first lieutenant, A. S. Bostwick; second lieutenant, Henry Hunter; third lieutenant, Oscar Sargent; orderly sergeant, A. C. Ellis. Captain Taylor left for Madison on Monday last for the purpose of tendering the services of the company to the governor. He will probably return home as soon as Sunday."
(For some reason there was considerable delay in closing up the final arrangements for the mustering in of this company, and many of the recruits became restless.)
Free Press, 31 May 1861
"The Eau Claire Badgers have forwarded their application to the adjutant-general for their acceptance into service. A reply will probably be had in a few days. The boys are ready and willing to go to war, but if there is no show of being accepted they will probably disband.
"Mr. Victor Wolf, who has had several years' experience in the military service of the United States, has been drilling them for some time past, and it is said they have made commendable progress in the arts of war."
(Unwilling to wait longer for an opportunity to see active service the company began to drop out. Just at this opportune time a recruiting officer from another county appeared on the scene as told in the Free Press as follows):
"The captain of the 'Prescott Guards,' of Prescott, came up to the Chippewa Valley yesterday for the purpose of filling up his company to the required number, it having been assigned to a lace in the Sixth Regiment, and notified to be in readiness for mustering by the 10th inst. Some twenty of the boys of the Eau Claire Badgers enlisted under him last night and left this morning for Prescott, well pleased with the prospects of getting into active service. Our boys, we doubt not, will 'make their mark' when the fighting comes."
(If these boys were looking for a chance to fight they certainly made no mistake in the choice of their company, for it will be remembered the Sixth Regiment with the Second and Seventh became a part of the famous Iron Brigade and saw some of the heaviest service of the war. Among those who left the Eau Claire Badgers to join the Prescott company was A. C. Ellis, who attained the rank of first lieutenant, returned to Eau Claire and lived here for a number of years after the war.
Another Eau Claire man who enlisted in the Sixth Regiment, although not in the same company with Ellis and his associates, was Franz Siebenthall. He was in Company D, was wounded at South Mountain, and on the 1st of July, 1863, was killed on the field of Gettysburg. Mr. Siebenthall in the summer of 1855 bought from the United States government about seventy-five acres of land on the west side, for which he paid $1.25 per acre or $94.50 for the tract. The following spring he sold the land to Ira Mead for $756, a very fair profit, but this amount would hardly purchase the land today, as it lay just south of Grand avenue and extended from about Fifth avenue east to the Chippewa river, comprising the principal part of what is now the Fifth ward. In addition to those who joined the Sixth Regiment were a number of the Badger company who, a few days before, had taken blankets and other equipment belonging to the company, helped themselves to some boats and went down the river, where they joined an artillery company then being formed at LaCrosse. These individuals may have been able to justify their conduct to themselves, but Editor Porter expressed very strongly his disapproval of same.)
Free Press, June 7, 1861
"After the company which had been formed here had concluded that they could not get into service, something like a half dozen committed a most dishonorable trick by running off in the night with all the available property, such as blankets, etc., they could lay their hands upon. Un view of such a transaction we are glad the company was not accepted, as we want no men to go to the wars from Eau Claire who are not gentlemen. Of course those who remain would not countenance such petty theft, and who are exempt from the above reflection. A good soldier must be a man of honor."
Under date of June 21 1861,
the Free Press announce that Captain Taylor had received notice from
Randall that the company would be accepted, and in the same issue there
also appeared the following:
"A NEW COMPANY.
"We learn that an effort is being made by Judge Perkins and Victor Wolf, Esq., to raise a company of volunteers for the war, independent of anything that has heretofore been done. Rolls for that purpose have already been sent to the different towns. When the company is made up the volunteers are to meet and choose their officers.
"We hope and trust that a company may be raised, as Eau Claire might and ought to be represented in the Grand Army of the Union. If the matter is conducted with discretion it seems to us that there ought to be no difficulty in obtaining a full complement of men in a very little time." This prediction came true, and the "new company," which retained the name "Eau Claire Badgers," became Company C, Eighth Wisconsin, the Eagle Company of the Eagle Regiment.In the Free Press of September 12, 1861, appeared a list of the officers and privates of the new company as given below:
"THE EAU CLAIRE BADGERS.
"The following are the names of the officers and privates of this noble company:
the following do not appear to have been mustered into service, as
names are not found in the official roster of the company:
hand, the roster contains the names of the following who evidently
the company later:
Editor Daily Telegram: Just fifty years ago this coming summer Mr. A. R. Barnes, a former printer in the old Free Press office, resigned his position to enlist in the first company of volunteers from this village. Editor Porter gave him the following complimentary and humorous send-off:
Mr. Porter owed me more than $600 when the company was ready to start, and he asked me if I wanted the money. I told him, "No, just give me a note, and if I never come back pay to my uncle and ask him to send it to my parents in Albia, Iowa." My uncle took care of the note and gave it back to me when I returned from the war. Mr. Porter paid off the note, principal and interest, and he did more, he took me from Eau Claire to Sparta in a buggy, went with me to Chicago, paid my railway fare and hotel bills while in the city, and bade me goodbye at the depot as I started for the home of my parents in this place. It was very fortunate for me that I had saved the $600 and every cent was used in paying doctor's and other bills before I was able to go to work.
INCIDENTS OF THE OLD DAYS.
I recall many incidents in my experience in Eau Claire. Mr. Porter was a typical gentleman and a splendid business man, but he was not a free and easy writer, and the bent of his mind ran in business channels. He had no knowledge of the printing business.
CAPT. JOHN E. PERKINS.
One day I carried some proofs into the sanctum for Mr. Porter to read, and a gentleman was present, and I thought him the homeliest man I had ever seen. It was John E. Perkins, who later became the first captain of Company C, and a braver or better man I never knew. In the first most important battle the regiment was engaged in at Farmington, Mississippi on May 8, 1862, he was mortally wounded and he died two days later. He gave his life for the perpetuity of the Union, and no greater sacrifice was made in a Wisconsin regiment.
Thomas B. Coon, who came from Kelbourn City to work with me in the office, and who became a member of Company C, joining the company two weeks after I was mustered in, was a genial fellow and a competent workman.
Coon and I slept in the office and took our meals at the Slingluff House, and we got our first view of the sacrifices that were required in saving the Union. We had eaten our dinner and came out onto the platform in front of the house, when a team of horses attached to a farm wagon and loaded with men drove up. They were from Chippewa Falls and were the first soldiers to enlist from that place. The men were taken to the dining room for dinner, and the horses were sent to the barn to be fed. The men had not more than been seated when a carriage drove up that contained the man who had recruited the squad, his girl and his brother and sister. They went to their dinner. When all had had dinner the teams drove up. The driver of the farm wagon got his load on board and was ready to start down the river, but was halted while the captain bade his sweetheart, brother and sister good-bye. He was to go with the crowd, and his brother, sister and sweetheart were to return home. Say, but that parting was awful, but the soldier was brave and never shed a tear. He won an eagle on his shoulder, but if history is straight he fell in love with another girl and married her.
LEAVING FOR THE WAR
The memory of the march from the Slingluff House through the main streets and down to the river, where we boarded the little boat, "Stella Whipple," and the memory of the kind Eau Claire ladies who gave us their blessing and little red testaments with the motto pasted on the fly leaf, "The better the man, the better the soldier -- George Washington," will never be forgotten, nor will the boys who endured the forty-six days' march around Vicksburg, and sixteen days with only a cracker a day, forget the hardships of the trip. It is surprising that one is left to tell the story. The two events were impressed upon my mind never to be erased.Note -- The Slingluff House, above referred to, was the Eau Claire House, of which Mr. Slingluff, a pioneer, was then proprietor.
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