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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 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.
J. F. ELLIS' 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
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.
A GRUESOME CAMPGROUND
new companies of the regiment were sent from Washington via Harper's
to Winchester, where we joined the balance of the regiment and went
camp on the battlefield. It was a desolate sight.
thing was destroyed. Not even a weed could be seen.
was gouged and pounded. A fitting place for new recruits to
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
out and a body twisted and stiffened in its contortions, so that it
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
and here an arm and there a foot was pointing mutely toward the
The stench was sickening. One of our boys saw a shoe almost
on the field. It looked to him to be about his fit.
he had made a good find. He rushed to it and picked it
He found that it had a human foot in it, which had began to
There was no other place for our camp and there we camped for a few
We formed in groups of fours, buttoned our pieces of tents together,
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.
group of four owned a coffee pot and spider and usually cooked its
in common, while each man cooked his own meat. We had fresh
and salt pork regularly and our rations were abundant and generally
From Winchester we moved up the valley to Red Cedar Creek, where we
a part of the army under Sheridan, near the battle-ground where the
of Cedar Creek was fought. Here we became a part of the Sixth
of the Army of the Potomac, Wright commanding, and remained in that
until the close of the war. The Fifth Wisconsin was not in
although it had been a member of the Sixth Corps from the time of its
While at Cedar Creek I became indisposed and was sent to the field
which was located in a beautiful placed in large
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
advised against it, but did not forbid it. I took my
went back to the company the day before the election and sat at the
in the open air at the head of the company camp and polled votes all
That night when I turned in, after making up the returns, I was about
after the election, before I had a chance to return to the hospital,
army was ordered to fall back, the hospital well in front. I
hardly able to march without any load, so with my gun, accoutrements
outfit, I struggled. The army made a half day's march and it
night when I got in. I got some help in carrying my load by a
carrying supplies. The army, as the retreat began, was so
harassed by guerillas and rebel cavalry that it went into camp here and
sent out strong picket lines. We stayed here until after
Day. The day and night before Thanksgiving snow began to fall
on that day the ground was covered and the weather was
people in New England had sent down a shipload of turkeys, geese, ducks
and chickens for a Thanksgiving dinner for the Army of the
A lot of "fixings" that go with them was sent too. The part
came to the army in the valley reached it the night before.
of holding commissions was well shown in the distribution.
group of four enlisted men got one chicken. Every officer a
of chickens, a turkey or a goose or duck and fixings.
deadly work was being done on the picket line. Strong picket
behind rail and timber barricades composed of the best shots were
every enemy in range and many of them in turn were hit and brought
Although I was not detailed on picket duty, I went out to see them
Our camp was in the timber. There was no cooking or serving
by companies or in groups. Each enlisted man usually received
days' rations, consisting of hardtack, a piece of side salt pork,
C sugar, salt and paper. Also generally fresh beef.
were driven with the army and when in camp enough were slaughtered for
one to two days' rations and distributed. We were transferred
rail back to Washington to our old quarters in the shadow of the
and soon marched across the long brigade again to Alexandria, thence by
transport down the Chesapeake Bay and up the James river to City
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
This road was known as "Grant's Railroad," and extended from City
behind the lines as far to the left as the army reached, and was used
transport supplies and men back and forth. The road was level
graded but little. At places where the hostile lines were
each other, a high bank was raised along the track on the side towards
the enemy for protection. As we were whisked past these
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
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
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.
landed at General Meade's headquarters, some distance to the left of
and moved out to the breastworks occupied by the Fifth, or Warren's
and relieved it. Our pickets were detailed and sent out to
relieving their pickets and Warren's Corps fell back to the rear of
headquarters and became a part of the reserve. The Second
that we relieved, had built their winter quarters, which we occupied.
relieved the Fifth Corps in the long line investing Petersburg, the
forces were opposed by the line of the enemy extending as far to the
as ours reached. Each line was protected by breastworks in
at every commanding or high point a fort stood, mounting from one to
pieces of artillery, and the field in front of the breastworks were
cleared of timber. The breastworks were protected by abattis,
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
deep and at this time of year, early winter, were mostly filled with
muddy water. The picket posts were rail barricades, the more
with earth thrown up against them in front. They were about
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.
lines were fighting all the time when we relieved Warren's
Every man exposed on either side was shot at by some one or several men
on the other side. Casualties were numerous. When
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
We had no personal feeling to gratify by wantonly killing. So
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
chaffing in return, shooting at each other mostly ceased.
something like this took place: "Hello, Yank."
"Got any coffee to spare, Yank?" "Got any tobac,
"Leave me some coffee at the foot of that tree and I'll leave some
And so the trading habit was put in force. The men from each
to the stump or tree sometimes got together and talked over their
Soon deserters began to come, sometimes one and later in
After a while they came so thick that the enemy attacked us several
drove in our picket line, and drove us back to the breastworks, where
alarm of the attack had called up the entire army with
We had several of these attacks during the winter, but none of them
to be very serious. They were made to induce us to shoot
who made a run for our lines. They resulted in our capture of
of the attacking men, and as we could not shoot the one or half dozen
running to our lines, the desertions became more numerous.
of shooting at every one in sight by the troops, both to our left and
continued as before we relieved Warren's men. The desertions
corps were greater than those to the entire balance of the
Desertion by them was a serious matter. Trusted men were
all along their line, good shots, with instruction to shoot every man
their line coming toward ours without a flag of truce and
Many tried it and were shot dead and the report of the effort and death
circulated among the men of the rebel army.
the winter an execution for desertion in front of the enemy while in
took place in front of our regiment, outside the breastworks.
men had been condemned to be shot. Their graves were dug in
in our front. The men were brought through the lines in
open wagon, sitting on their coffins; each man's legs were tied
at the ankles and knees and hands tied together behind their
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,
loaded muskets, faced the condemned men. The officer in
his station by one of the men and instructed the guard that when the
fire was given, they must fire at the man aimed at, aiming at his
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
the shots were at the other fellow. He fell backward off his
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
martial in the Sixth Corps while I was a member of it. Major
Humphrey, who executed so many men in the Nineteenth Corps, was reputed
to be a brave commander, very rigid and austere. I had a
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
our extreme left. The next one to the left was the Nineteenth
post on the extreme right. In the picket posts along our
had not been required to turn out the guard, form in line and present
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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