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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

Part 10

(-as transcribed from pages 152 - 161)

I have asked J. F. Ellis, who helped Captain Hall to recruit this company and who served as a private in same, to tell your readers its story.


Eau Claire, Wis., August 14, 1911 -- W. W. Bartlett:  As I promised, I give you the following history of Company K. Fifth Wisconsin Infantry, which was mostly made up here.  My diary, which I kept, was burned in the great Water street fire years ago, so my account is largely a matter of memory, which accounts for a general lack of dates.  There were three Companies K in the Fifth Wisconsin; First Company K, Evans, captain, from Menomonie; Second Company K, Mott, captain, also from Menomonie; and Third Company K, Hall, captain, designated from Eau Claire.  The last one is the company I write about.

The recruiting of this company was for another regiment which was filled up and left for the front before we reached Madison, and so belonged to no certain regiment when we reached there.  Company K, as made up here, was recruited by Captain Hall and myself in 1864.  I turned my papers over to him in order that he might get a captain's commission and I went into the ranks, where I remained until mustered out.  After reaching Camp Randall we consolidated with a squad from near Oshkosh.  Those composing the Eau Claire squad are the following:

S. A. Hall, Captain

Privates include:

ANDERSON, Andrew        .
HAZEN, Dwight L.
HOWELL, Demetrius P.
BAILEY, Charles W.
JONES, Robert
BENNETT, Samuel W.
LISTY, Joseph
BILLS, Erastus S.
BURPEE, Charles E.
ROACH, Nicholas
SHANE, Isaac A.
CROUCH, James W.
CURTIS, Hiram S.
SMITH, Adrian J.
DAVIS, Elias
STONE, Uriah M.
DIGHTON, Francis W.
SWAIN, Marshall
DREW, Philander S.
TAYLOR, Nahum S.
WARE, Meroni
ELWELL, Roderick
WELCH, Samuel
FOOTE, Charles O.
WELLS, George W.
GILLET, Nelson
HACKETT, Patsey A.
WIGGINS, Joseph W.
HACKETT, Russell
WYMAN, Corydon
HALL, Benjamin G.
YOUNG, James

Colonel La Grange, of the First Wisconsin Cavalry, was at Madison when we reached there and offered Captain Hall and myself  each a first lieutenancy if we would join his regiment with our recruits, but we finally decided to join the Fifth Infantry and consolidated with a squad from Oshkosh in order to make a full company.  By this plan Company K was organized throughout its service, excepting when absent by sickness.  Our recruits were mostly from Eau Claire, Dunn and Chippewa counties.  We came together on the West Side and had a reception in the old Seminary Hall, where the high school building now stands.  The ladies got up a banquet for us at which there were speeches and music, mostly war songs, and a flag presentation.  The flag was made by the ladies and was presented by one of the most beautiful, bright and popular young ladies of the town, Miss Izzie Farwell, daughter of L. W. Farwell, a west side merchant.  I was delegated to receive the flag, which I carried until we reached Madison, when we shipped it back to Eau Claire.

The next day, or soon thereafter, we all gathered on the East Side Hill (University Square), where lumber wagons waited for us with boards across the boxes for seats in most cases, and where friends, sweethearts and wives gathered to bid us good-bye.  We traveled in those rigs to Sparta, where we took railway passage for Madison.  We had our own improvised band.  I. H. Shane, with his fife, and a couple of drummers.  Every stop we made was enlivened, if there was anybody to look on, by getting in line with the flag floating and the band playing martial airs.  Mr. Shane was very good with the fife and served for awhile in the regimental band, but did not like the service and came back to the company and was with it until mustered out of the service.  Shane was one of the best soldiers in the service, tall, muscular, but not fat, active, kindly, faithful and strictly honest.  On account of his height he was always near the right of the line and so at the front.  His feet were large and strong, a quality that helps in a long or forced march.  At one time, when drawing clothing, he had to have a pair of shoes.  There wasn't a pair in the whole supply that came to that post for the army large enough for him.  He marched and did every duty called for, barefoot, good naturedly and just as faithfully as any man in the army.  Years afterward, while in the employ of the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company as teamster, hauling supplies to the woods, he was killed in being accidently thrown from the load.

The company reached Madison and went into quarters at Camp Randall the latter part of August or early in September, 1864, and was there some time.  Camp life in Camp Randall was very demoralizing, much more so than in the field.  Although guards were stationed at all times at the entrance, yet everybody was allowed to enter and also to go out, except those dressed in uniforms of the common soldier.  Some of those wearing officers' uniforms were among the most drunken and worst gamblers there.  As soon as our company was organized we began company drill, spending from one to four hours daily.  After drawing our uniforms and guns and accoutrements we then drilled dressed in uniforms.

The Fifth Wisconsin Infantry, all told, in officers and men, from its first organization until it was mustered out, numbered over 3,000 men.  When we joined it, it was reorganized, the old numbers were consolidated into Companies A, B and C, and we went out as one of the seven new companies, carried a new flag and a new state banner.  The colonel of the regiment was with us.  The balance of the regiment was then in the Shenandoah Valley.  The seven new companies left Madison by rail to Chicago, thence to Pittsburgh, to Baltimore and on to Washington, all the way by rail.  We were in barracks at Washington some time, and one Sunday morning about twenty-five of our company formed and under the leadership of one of our number, marched up to the White House and saw President Lincoln.  Shortly after this visit to the President the regiment was sent across the long bridge into Alexandria, Va., in barracks next the railroad station and held ready for any emergency call, all dressed and arms at hand. 

One afternoon late Company K and two other companies of the Fifth were ordered to draw five days' rations and report at the railroad station in five minutes.  We rolled up our blankets, buckled on our belts, slung our knapsacks, canteens and took our guns and haversacks in hand and lined up before the commissary sergeant, took each his rations of hard take, pork, coffee, sugar and doubled-quicked for the station.  An engine with steam up coupled to a train of box cars was there.  We climbed in in a hurry and away we went.  We were run out to a siding on the old Bull Run battle-ground, fifteen miles in fifteen minutes.  When we stopped at the siding army wagons hauled by mules and driven by niggers were going toward the station on the dead run, drivers yelling and lashing their teams with all their might.  Some of the darky drivers were so scared that they had turned pale.  We tumbled out of the cars before they had fairly stopped and formed in line between the siding and timber, about 80 rods away, where the teams had been gathering wood for the use of the government at Washington.  Mosby and his men were raiding the teams.  Two horsemen rode out of the woods and looked us over and rode back out of sight.  We dug trenches and were in line of battle for several days, and did some scouting, but there was nothing doing.  Returned to Washington.


    The seven new companies of the regiment were sent from Washington via Harper's Ferry to Winchester, where we joined the balance of the regiment and went into camp on the battlefield.  It was a desolate sight.  Every living thing was destroyed.  Not even a weed could be seen.  The ground was gouged and pounded.  A fitting place for new recruits to camp.  Shallow trenches had been dug, the dead laid in and covered with earth rounded up a little.  Here and there a shallow place had been scooped out and a body twisted and stiffened in its contortions, so that it could not be laid in the trenches with its fellows, was placed in the shallow grave and covered.  Rains had come and washed off some of the covering and here an arm and there a foot was pointing mutely toward the heavens.  The stench was sickening.  One of our boys saw a shoe almost new lying on the field.  It looked to him to be about his fit.  He thought he had made a good find.  He rushed to it and picked it up.  He found that it had a human foot in it, which had began to decay.  There was no other place for our camp and there we camped for a few days.  We formed in groups of fours, buttoned our pieces of tents together, making our tent large enough for four men to sleep in and huddle under during a storm and a shelter for our extra clothing and provisions.  Each group of four owned a coffee pot and spider and usually cooked its coffee in common, while each man cooked his own meat.  We had fresh beef and salt pork regularly and our rations were abundant and generally good.  From Winchester we moved up the valley to Red Cedar Creek, where we became a part of the army under Sheridan, near the battle-ground where the battle of Cedar Creek was fought.  Here we became a part of the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, Wright commanding, and remained in that corps until the close of the war.  The Fifth Wisconsin was not in that battle, although it had been a member of the Sixth Corps from the time of its organization.  While at Cedar Creek I became indisposed and was sent to the field hospital, which was located in a beautiful placed in large tents.   My care was very good there, and I was soon able to walk. The presidential election was coming on and I happened to be the only one in the company who had any experience in conducting an election, so the captain wanted me to come back to the company and take charge.  The surgeon-in-chief advised against it, but did not forbid it.  I took my belongings and went back to the company the day before the election and sat at the polls in the open air at the head of the company camp and polled votes all day.  That night when I turned in, after making up the returns, I was about played out again.

The morning after the election, before I had a chance to return to the hospital, the army was ordered to fall back, the hospital well in front.  I was hardly able to march without any load, so with my gun, accoutrements and outfit, I struggled.  The army made a half day's march and it was night when I got in.  I got some help in carrying my load by a wagon carrying supplies.  The army, as the retreat began, was so severely harassed by guerillas and rebel cavalry that it went into camp here and sent out strong picket lines.  We stayed here until after Thanksgiving Day.  The day and night before Thanksgiving snow began to fall and on that day the ground was covered and the weather was severe.  The people in New England had sent down a shipload of turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens for a Thanksgiving dinner for the Army of the Potomac.  A lot of "fixings" that go with them was sent too.  The part that came to the army in the valley reached it the night before.  The advantage of holding commissions was well shown in the distribution.  Every group of four enlisted men got one chicken.  Every officer a pair of chickens, a turkey or a goose or duck and fixings.

Sharp and deadly work was being done on the picket line.  Strong picket posts behind rail and timber barricades composed of the best shots were shooting every enemy in range and many of them in turn were hit and brought in.  Although I was not detailed on picket duty, I went out to see them work.  Our camp was in the timber.  There was no cooking or serving meals by companies or in groups.  Each enlisted man usually received five days' rations, consisting of hardtack, a piece of side salt pork, coffee, C sugar, salt and paper.  Also generally fresh beef.  The cattle were driven with the army and when in camp enough were slaughtered for one to two days' rations and distributed.  We were transferred by rail back to Washington to our old quarters in the shadow of the capitol, and soon marched across the long brigade again to Alexandria, thence by transport down the Chesapeake Bay and up the James river to City Point.  At this place, which was then General Grant's headquarters, a train of flat cars was ready for us, on which we took passage for the left.  This road was known as "Grant's Railroad," and extended from City Point, behind the lines as far to the left as the army reached, and was used to transport supplies and men back and forth.  The road was level and graded but little.  At places where the hostile lines were close to each other, a high bank was raised along the track on the side towards the enemy for protection.  As we were whisked past these places the engineer pulled the lever wide open and we went by at a clip that made it very difficult for us to retain our footing.  Each car was loaded to its capacity with standing men, holding on to each other. The noise of the rushing train provoked a storm of shot and shell, but all passed over us or fell behind us.  The sharp rattle of musketry and the heavy roar and smoke and flash of artillery all along our right as we speeded along the track showed that the fighting was on all the time.  We landed at General Meade's headquarters, some distance to the left of Petersburg, and moved out to the breastworks occupied by the Fifth, or Warren's Corps, and relieved it.  Our pickets were detailed and sent out to the front, relieving their pickets and Warren's Corps fell back to the rear of Meade's headquarters and became a part of the reserve.  The Second Corps, that we relieved, had built their winter quarters, which we occupied.

When we relieved the Fifth Corps in the long line investing Petersburg, the Union forces were opposed by the line of the enemy extending as far to the left as ours reached.  Each line was protected by breastworks in which at every commanding or high point a fort stood, mounting from one to more pieces of artillery, and the field in front of the breastworks were generally cleared of timber.  The breastworks were protected by abattis, rows of tree tops striped of bark and sharpened tops lying with butts set in ground, tops pointing out.  The ditches in front of the works were deep and at this time of year, early winter, were mostly filled with yellow, muddy water.  The picket posts were rail barricades, the more exposed with earth thrown up against them in front.  They were about sixteen feet front with a wing at each end and from twenty-five to one hundred yards apart; each post manned with from five to twenty men.  The picket lines were fighting all the time when we relieved Warren's Corps.  Every man exposed on either side was shot at by some one or several men on the other side.  Casualties were numerous.  When we went in there we followed the old custom of the Sixth Corps not to try to kill an opponent unless necessary for the protection of our own lives.  We had no personal feeling to gratify by wantonly killing.  So after repeatedly firing at our picket posts, at a cap poked up in sight on a ramrod, a blouse with a hat above poked into view and getting nothing but chaffing in return, shooting at each other mostly ceased.  Instead something like this took place:  "Hello, Yank."  "Hello, Johnnie."  "Got any coffee to spare, Yank?"  "Got any tobac, Johnnie?"  "Leave me some coffee at the foot of that tree and I'll leave some tobac."  And so the trading habit was put in force.  The men from each going to the stump or tree sometimes got together and talked over their lots.  Soon deserters began to come, sometimes one and later in squads.  After a while they came so thick that the enemy attacked us several times, drove in our picket line, and drove us back to the breastworks, where the alarm of the attack had called up the entire army with reserves.  We had several of these attacks during the winter, but none of them proved to be very serious.  They were made to induce us to shoot deserters who made a run for our lines.  They resulted in our capture of some of the attacking men, and as we could not shoot the one or half dozen men running to our lines, the desertions became more numerous.  The practice of shooting at every one in sight by the troops, both to our left and right, continued as before we relieved Warren's men.  The desertions to our corps were greater than those to the entire balance of the line.  Desertion by them was a serious matter.  Trusted men were stationed all along their line, good shots, with instruction to shoot every man leaving their line coming toward ours without a flag of truce and escort.  Many tried it and were shot dead and the report of the effort and death circulated among the men of the rebel army.

During the winter an execution for desertion in front of the enemy while in battle took place in front of our regiment, outside the breastworks.  Two men had been condemned to be shot.  Their graves were dug in the field in our front.  The men were brought through the lines in ambulance open wagon, sitting on their coffins; each man's legs were tied together at the ankles and knees and hands tied together behind their back.  Each man's coffin was placed across his grave and he was seated on the foot.  His eyes were bandaged; ten men of the provost guard, with loaded muskets, faced the condemned men.  The officer in charge took his station by one of the men and instructed the guard that when the word fire was given, they must fire at the man aimed at, aiming at his breast.  He gave the command: "Guard ready, aim, one, two, three, fire." Before he gave the command "fire," he jerked the man next to him off the box and the shots were at the other fellow.  He fell backward off his coffin with his bound legs still on the coffin, lying on his back, face to the sky, dead, his breast stove in.  This was the only execution by court martial in the Sixth Corps while I was a member of it.  Major General Humphrey, who executed so many men in the Nineteenth Corps, was reputed to be a brave commander, very rigid and austere.  I had a personal taste of his austerity and promptly put his bravery to test, and it was wanting.  I was stationed with a squad of men at the picket post on our extreme left.  The next one to the left was the Nineteenth Corps post on the extreme right.  In the picket posts along our front we had not been required to turn out the guard, form in line and present arms to the general officer of the day of the army, though the rules of war required it, and it was all a soldier's liberty was worth not to do it.

This major general commanding the Nineteenth Corps was general officer of the day when I was in charge of this post, and really before I was aware of it (the timber here was rather thick) he rode up at a sharp gallop from my left, just in the rear of my post with the big red sash across his breast and over his right shoulder and a long retinue of aids and orderlies following him, indicating his rank for the day.  My post was not in sight of the post either to the right or left, nor of any of the posts of the enemy.  Rebel pickets were shooting our way often.  This commanding officer halted and called to the one in charge of the post.  I stepped out.  He told me in no uncertain language in a loud voice, showing anger, what was coming to me for not showing due respect for the general officer of the day by not turning out my guard.  I went up close to him and told him that in his big red sash and bright equipment he was a good mark for a rebel sharpshooter over in front and that I did not turn out the guard as it would direct attention to him and he might get hurt.  Just then a Johnnie's gun went off and the bullet struck the tree top overhead.  He went to the rear like a rocket, leaving his retinue far behind, not even stopping to thank me for being so considerate of his safety.  Several times during the winter the regiment was ordered to break camp.  We fell in, usually in the evening, marched down to the left a few miles, around and back again, or marched to the right towards Petersburg, and after a march of an hour or two, came back to our old camping ground and again pitched our tents in the same places we occupied before.  The colonel told me that the army was full of spies and these moves were to mislead the enemy.  The point we occupied in the line, with the line generally to the left of Petersburg, had been advanced and we were over a mile in front of its former location.  A fort, Davidson, just back of Meade's headquarters and adjoining Warren's headquarters, occupied a commanding position and was cared for.   A guard and a lieutenant from our regiment, part of Company K and others, were detailed for this job and stayed there until about the latter part of March.  While we were doing guard duty at this fort the battle of Hatcher's Run was fought, way down on the left.  Company K and the regiment took part, but only as reserves to the Fifth Corps.  Company K lost one man, who dropped dead from heart failure.  Warren's entire corps passed close by the fort in moving down to the left.  We could plainly hear the guns.  General Warren was there relieved of his command by Sheridan, who came back to his quarters looking a broken man.  I was out in front of his quarters when he returned without his aids and orderlies, with only one orderly.  He gave me the first tidings of the battle.  From the accounts the boys gave me alter, it appeared that Company K and the regiment were under a heavy artillery fire, but the shell and shot, though falling all about, did not hurt Company K.  Shortly after the return of the regiment from Hatcher's Run, the guard in Fort Davidson was relieved and we went back to the old camp and took part in drills, maneuvers and dress parades, battalion, regimental, brigade and division.  All winter, ever since we went into the trenches, the battle had been carried on between the picket lines, and the lines where they were too close together to put out pickets.  The roar of musketry and artillery day and night was heard nearly all along the lines.  The troops engaged on both sides were always alert to take advantage of any carelessness or weakness shown on either side.  Assaults on the Sixth Corps were more frequent than elsewhere, because our troops were not keeping up a constant fusillade.  These assaults were by a relatively small force, usually less than five hundred men.  They came with a rush and noise that would call out the whole corps.  After the shock and shake-up they would retreat with as great a rush as they came.  The casualties were very small, two or three wounded and once or twice a man killed.  They never got off so cheap.  Several of these assaults were made upon the line in our front.  In one of them we captured a lieutenant and a bunch of enlisted men.  The lieutenant was very despondent at being taken alive.  I think he was slightly wounded, and that he would rather have been killed.

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