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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 4

(-as transcribed from pages 82 - 94)


I reached Eau Claire in 1857, and besides being engaged in the sawmill and lumber business, was for a time engineer on some of the Chippewa river steamboats.  I was running the Stella Whipple when it took Company C, Captain Perkins' company to LaCrosse, and well remember the ovation given to the company on its arrival there.  About this time a letter was received from my father asking is any of his sons had buckled on their armor in defense of their country.  If not he would have to set an example for us.  I was anxious to take a hand in the struggle, and different ones had suggested that I raise a company. Among those making this suggestion was John Kelly, later Captain Kelly, who had charge of a crew of rivermen for Chapman & Thorp.  I started to Madison to make arrangements for raising the company, but on my return found Kelly had been persuaded to join forces with John Wheeler, who was then raising a company, and whose project had the support of the leading newspaper of the place, while my own efforts in that direction were criticized and discouraged.  My company was, as Wheeler's, to be an infantry company.   

I soon got about forty men on my list.  Then for a time recruiting was nearly at a standstill in both companies.  At this point a suggestion came to me, which, although it did not fully solve the problem, went far toward doing so.  This was to change from an infantry to a cavalry company.  I had found quite a number who stood ready to enlist in cavalry, but who would not enlist in an infantry company.  The change was brought about as follows:  Having decided that it would be advisable to change to a cavalry company, I immediately wrote a letter to Colonel Washburn, who, I heard, had just been commissioned to raise a second cavalry regiment.  Just as I was about to put the letter in the mail I met a Lieutenant Luxton, who had come to the village to pick up recruits and I confided my whole plan to him.  He said I had struck the right person; that it would not be necessary to send the letter to Washburn, as Washburn had authorized him to get recruits.  Also said I could go on and make up my company and I could go out as captain of same.  I then told Luxton that I thought he ought to withdraw from the territory and leave it to me.  He consented; said he would go up to Chippewa Falls and pick up a few men who had already promised to go, and then would leave.  I started down to Durand and around in that vicinity, was gone some days, and on my return was surprised to find Luxton still there picking up recruits.  I asked him what he meant by this, but he assured me that it would be all right; that he thought that he could get some of these men better than myself, but that the recruits would be divided and I would get my men just the same.  I soon realized that this man Luxton was a very unreliable man to do business with, so I interviewed Colonel Washburn personally and made a trip to Milwaukee for that purpose.  Colonel Washburn was pleased and said the matter could be arranged.  He explained his plan and gave me a letter to a Mr. Wood, of Patch Grove, near Milwaukee, which read about as follows:

    "Dear Sir: -- This will introduce to you Mr. A. M. Sherman, of Eau Claire, who is raising a company of cavalry with the intention of not being brigaded with another company.  Yourself and Captain Dale, of Racine, have received commissions from me to raise two companies to be brigaded, he to take the senior captaincy and you the junior captaincy. I find that Captain Dale is guilty of double dealing in having accepted this commission from me and being now engaged in recruiting for the Barstow regiment.  I therefore now throw Captain Dale over entirely and would ask you to turn your recruits in with A. M. Sherman, and when the company is made up he will be the captain of the same and yourself first lieutenant.  The balance of the officers will be elected alternately from your own and Captain Sherman's recruits."
I went to Patch Grove, found Wood sick in bed, considerably discouraged and well pleased to fall in with the new plan.  Up to this time I had been working at a great disadvantage in getting recruits, for those who were backing the Wheeler company asserted that there was no show for me making up the requisite number for the company, and even if I made it up there was no assurance that a cavalry company could be gotten into service.  Now the acquisition of the recruits from Patch Grove nearly made up the required number, and I had Colonel Washburn's word that the company would be accepted.  I came back to the village, announce the success of my mission, and started in enthusiastically to recruit the number more needed to make up a full company.  But recruits came slowly both for myself and Wheeler.  When matters were at nearly a standstill Lieutenant Luxton again appeared on the scene.  Meeting me, he said "Hello Sherman, how are you making it?"  "Pretty slow," I said. "A few more recruits are needed yet and they are hard to find."  "Why don't you go over to Black River Falls?  A company has gone to pieces there and I could have gotten twenty men there yesterday if I had wanted them."  Forgetting my previous experience with Luxton, I quickly engaged a livery team and drove to Black River Falls; found there was not a word of truth in Luxton's statement, and no men to be had.  One of the first persons I met there was Captain Wheeler, who had come on the same fool's errand as myself.  We went back together, better friends than ever, and found that during our absence Luxton had been trying his best to get Wheeler's and my men to leave and go with him.  Notwithstanding the discouragement and Luxton's treachery, I persevered, and finally got the requisite number of recruits enrolled.  Just then I received perhaps the most bitter disappointment of my life.  A letter was received from Washburn stating that the recruits at Patch Grove had held a meeting and decided that they would not consolidate with mine, but would go ahead and fill up their own ranks, and Wood had sent word to Washburn  that they would soon appear in camp with a full company.  This left me without the requisite number of men, and no assurance of acceptance if the company was filled. I did not dare tell the boys of the condition of affairs.  Here were some sixty odd of the best men of the Chippewa valley or of the country, who were fully expecting to be sworn into service without delay, and I alone knew that there were no grounds for that belief.  It was a forlorn hope, but I went on with my preparations to start for camp near Milwaukee, trusting that in some way, I knew not how, a solution of the difficulty would be found.  Having no governmental  authority, there was no financial backing for the venture, except myself.  The boys did not know it, but I personally paid the entire expenses of the company to Sparta and at that place.  At Sparta we took the train for Milwaukee.  The boys were going to war, so they thought, and were running over with animal spirit.  At one or two of the stations a supply of a different kind of spirits was taken on board, and this added to their hilarity.  The conductor came around and asked for certificates of transportation.  I told him I had none.  He was surprised and said that I must pay their fare or they would be put off the train.  I told him I could not pay their fare if I would, and as for putting them off the train, I suggested that it might not be a very safe thing to try with those lumberjacks; and the sounds which came from the other car added emphasis to my words.  Then he said that at the next junction he would have to uncouple the car and leave it on the switch. I replied that this would not work either, for we had started for Milwaukee and were going there, and on the least show of uncoupling the car we would take possession of the train.  I was a railroad man myself and could run the engine, and I knew I could make up the balance of a train crew from my company.  That put an end to objections on his part, and we continued on our journey finally reaching Milwaukee.  But what was I to do now that I was there?  I had a magnificent body of men much above the average height and firmly built.  I had taken pains to number and rank them in order of height, and this added much to their military appearance.  Getting them in line after leaving the cars, they made a showing to be proud of.  Just then a man in the undress uniform of an officer of the regular army drove up and stopped to look at them.  He then inquired of a bystander where they were from.  "From Eau Claire," was the answer.  "Who is their captain?"  I was pointed out.  "Well," said he, "I have seen every regiment of the regular army and every regiment that has gone out from this state, but this is the finest looking body of men that I ever saw in line."  Getting into his carriage beside him, I quietly asked him to drive a little distance away, and then I told him the awful fix I was in.  "Don't worry," said he.  "I can assure you that Washburn will be very glad to get those men.  March them around to headquarters."  With a lighter heart than I had carried for weeks, I marched the boys around and stood them in line on the walk across the street from Washburn's headquarters.  I was then led into the hotel, where I met Colonel Washburn.  He came out and looked at the boys across the street.  There was no further question in regard to their acceptance.  He wanted those boys -- and more like them if they could be obtained.
Washburn's first suggestion was that my company be consolidated with another company, with a division of officers.  I told him that my boys had been promised that they should elect their own officers, and this was acceded to.  We found Captain Wood there.  Instead of a full company as promised, he had not much more than half the required number.  We were given quarters and at last were actually sworn into the service of the government.

I got my men into quarters, drew rations, blankets and fuel and then took the train back to Eau Claire to get a few more recruits who were not ready to go when the company left.  Returning to Milwaukee a few days later I found the strife between Washburn and ex-Governor Barstow red-hot.  The occasion for this rivalry was that an order had been received from the war department stating that but one cavalry regiment would be received, and this would be the first one ready to take the field.  There were at this time three cavalry regiments in process of formation: That of Prof. Edward Daniels, of Ripon, with rendezvous on the lake shore above Milwaukee; C. C. Washburn's regiment, with rendezvous at Milwaukee, and ex-Governor Barstow's regiment, with rendezvous at Janesville.  I found that during my absence at Eau Claire I had lost four of my men, who had been induced to go into the Barstow regiment, among them being my Rank 1 man, who stood six feet four.  It appears that an agent of Barstow had been treating the boys pretty liberally to liquor, and when in a somewhat mellow condition had spirited them off to Janesville. I immediately took the train and went after those boys.  Arriving at Janesville, I hunted up Barstow and told him my errand.  The ex-governor was very cordial.  Said he liked my style.  Pointing to a half-barrel of whisky and a glass on top of same, he said:  "Help yourself.  Let's take a drink," which we did.  Then, coming back to my request for the return of my men, he said that was out of the question, and emphasized it with some strong profanity, in which the ex-governor was an expert.  Said that those men should never go back, as anything he got from Colonel Washburn he intended to keep. After a few minutes spent in conversation at the office, Barstow ordered a horse for himself and another one for me and said, "Let's go down to the barracks and see the troops.  I want to show you my regiment." After another drink we started.  As we rode along I again insisted on the return of those men; told him I could not muster in without them. Barstow continued firm, declaring those men could not go, but that he would "loan" me as many more to assist me in mustering.  As may be inferred, this "loaning" of recruits was not a strictly regular procedure, but was sometimes resorted to by those who lacked a few of the required number of recruits, and was winked at by those higher in authority.

We rode out to the barracks.  I found the regiment enclosed in a stockade built of sixteen-foot planks set vertically.  After we had been there a short time Barstow became engaged in conversation with some of his regimental officers and I remarked that I would look around for a while, to which the ex-governor replied, "All right, captain; go ahead."  I soon ran onto my boys.  They were glad to see me and anxious to get back.  One of the boys was on patrol.  I planned with him that he should pry one plank loose at the bottom, and then, as opportunity offered, the boys were to slip through and take the railroad track for Milwaukee, my rank man having both feet badly frozen, as he had on only a pair of tight boots.  Nothing of unusual interest occurred during our stay in Milwaukee, only regimental and sword drill, etc.  It may be proper to state here that eventually all three of the cavalry companies were accepted.

We left Milwaukee in early spring and went to Benton Barracks, St. Louis, where we drew our horses.  I assisted in the purchase of 10,000 horses.  Trainloads were brought from all directions.  The test was to race each horse straightaway forty rods and back.  The rider would then dismount, a man would grab the horse by the bridle with whip in hand and circle the horse at full speed in as short turns as possible.  This to test the wind.  If the wind was found all right the horses were further examined for other defects.  If accepted the buyer announced "Inside" and if not accepted "outside."  That ended the matter.  It was useless for the seller to say a word.  Twelve regiments were mounted, eleven in solid colors, mostly bays.   Two battalions of the second Wisconsin were mounted and the balance on mixed colors.  I conceived the idea that each company should have a distinct color.  There were enough of each to mount a company of blacks, grays, red roans and "clay banks."  These last were a breed imported from Europe and raised mostly in Missouri. They had black manes, tails and legs and a black stripe down the spine. The body color was about that of yellow clay, from which they took their name.

About this time the rebel General Stuart's Black Horse Cavalry had been making some of its dashing raids and blacks were much in favor and considered the ideal cavalry horse.  All the companies wanted the blacks so the choice of colors was settled by ballet.  Captain Richmond got the blacks, Capt. Von Heyde the red roans, Capt. Whytock the grays and I got the claybanks.  I was so disappointed that I offered Captain Richmond all the money I had if he would exchange, but he laughed at me.  I considered the claybanks the poorest of all, and tried to trade for the grays or red roans, but with no better success.  The red roans were a pony built horse with round quarters, strong loins and sloping shoulders, and as many of my men were the heaviest in the regiment I thought the roans would be more suitable, but I had to content myself with the claybanks.  It was now early summer.  My brother Stanton visited me on a furlough, he belonging to the First Iowa Cavalry, a regiment where each man furnished his own horse.  I was glad to see him for he had already had some experience in the cavalry.  I was relating to him my disappointment in the matter of horses when he replied, "you have the best cavalry horse in the world."  "How so?" said I.  He replied "The claybank is the most tractable, docile and yet fearless, and will learn the bugle call before his rider does.  We have some of them in our regiment and they excel all others.  You let me take your company into the amphitheater for a few days and I will drill them for you, and then I'll show you," which he did more or less for two weeks.

At the first call for regimental drill for the sword, mounted, there was a great surprise in store for the regiment.  We were formed in line, swords with metal scabbard and steel chains hanging at the left side, bridle rein in the left hand, right arm hanging down by the right side. Now, we were all lined up, as perfect as we can get our horses, waiting for the first command, which is "Draw-sabers."  At the command "Draw" each man throws his right arm across his body, grasps his sword, and draws it up six inches in the scabbard, and as he gets the word "saber" it leaps from the scabbard, passes the body to the right with its point skyward, straight with the arms and at an angle of about thirty degrees.  Now notice what happens.  A thousand arms swinging together on to the hilts of a thousand sabers and rains them all six inches in their metal scabbards with a rattling of steel chains and then the flash of a thousand blades in the sunlight, and where are you at?  Every company stampeded except the claybanks.  The scene was picturesque, and somewhat tragic, for a few riders were thrown from their mounts.  Horses were rearing and plunging in great confusion.  This ended the drill for that day, and claybanks stock was at a premium.  A feeling of envy was shown by some of the officers of the other companies, and on the part of company L there was a greater pride in their horses and from that time on they received the best of care.  My brother Stanton was induced by Col. Washburn and myself to act as scout for our regiment, being attached to my company, he having been promised a transfer from the Iowa cavalry to which he belonged.

After the expiration of a few weeks spent at Benton Barracks we received marching orders for Springfield, Mo.  Nothing of special interest occurred on the way, except that I might relate a little incident which occurred at the small village of Rolla.  There was a company of "Home Guards" in charge of this place.  Now from my experience and observation I have no very high opinion of these Home Guards.  Doubtless some of them were entirely true and loyal but on the other hand many of them seemed to have joined these organizations to prevent themselves from being drawn into field service, on either side, and their attitude was that of Good Lord or Good Devil to which ever of the two opposing forces might seem to be in the ascendancy at any particular time.  Several of my boys in taking in the town had committed some minor offense and had been lodged by these Home Guards in  guard house or calaboose.  Word was brought to me of this by some of the other boys.  That day I was mounted on a horse which was the private property of one of my company, Philip Hanek.  Old residents will remember the man well.  He and another man kept a hotel on the corner opposite the Galloway House.  The horse was a "leopard" stallion, or part Arabian blood, a splendid animal, perfectly fearless and would carry its rider anywhere.  I went to the commander of the Guards, told him my company was to leave in the early morning, that I would see to the conduct of my men, and asked their release.  The man was very pompous and insolent and no satisfaction could be obtained from him.  Different action on my part was necessary.  Turning to the boys who had accompanied me I ordered them to break open the guard house.  This was done in short order and my boys released.  The Home Guard commander stood there fuming and vowing vengeance and after one particular offensive remark addressed to me I wheeled by horse and made straight at him.  He started on the run and soon being hard pressed run up the steps of the leading hotel and disappeared through the large entrance, but my horse could climb steps as well as he and I followed.  By ducking my head I was able to ride through the entrance and right into the hotel lobby.  As may be imagined it caused some excitement and there was screaming from the lady guests, but my man got away from me, slipping out the back door where I could not follow.  I then turned my horse, reached down and picked up a rocking chair and with that in my hand rode out of the entrance and down the steps.  The guard officers gave me no further trouble and with my full compliment of men the next morning we started on.  We reached Springfield where a regimental conference was held between our officers and the command there, which resulted in our regiment being sent south to the town of Ozark, under command of Major Sterling.  The balance of the regimental officers remained in Springfield.  A large train of wagons was supplied and we were to gather corn and grind it in a gristmill at Ozark, also procure forage for the horses.  These supplies were to be sent to the relief of General Curtis, who was hemmed in and surrounded by the enemy down on White River, near Batesville.  There had been a previous effort made to relieve this general, but it proved disastrous, the train being captured and the supplies burned.

Early the first morning after reaching Ozark some boys of Co. L went down the Forsythe road, foraging for chickens, when they discovered some rebel cavalry coming up the road.  Concealing themselves in the brush they counted the cavalrymen as they rode past.  There were 225.  The report was brought to me and I immediately carried it to Major Sterling in command and asked the privilege of going after them with Co. L.  The major did not approve this on the ground of the absence of all the other regimental officers at Springfield and our expedition to Ozark being for the securing of supplies and not for the purpose of entering into any engagement with the enemy.  I urged by request strongly and finally was told I could follow them up for a short distance, "But don't be gone over an hour."  Learning of the permission given by Major Sterling, Captain De Forrest requested me to let him make up half of the pursuing force with men from his company, to which I assented.  Ozark was garrisoned by about forty infantry.  I secured one of these as guide on account of his knowledge of the country, mounted him and then we started down the road toward Forsythe in pursuit of the enemy.  It proved that the rebel cavalry had ridden up to the brow of the hill overlooking Ozark, expecting to capture the place, but discovering our regiment encamped there had quietly countermarched back toward their encampment at Cowskin Prairie, on the south side of White River.  Had we not arrived at Ozark the day before it would have been an easy matter for them to capture the garrison, and so sure were they of doing this that they had brought along a six mule team to take back their expected plunder.  We had gone only a mile or so when we approached a cloud of dust which filled the roadway nearly to the tops of the trees.  I immediately ordered my men to a gallup expecting to soon overtake the rebels.  After riding perhaps for three quarters of a mile further we came to a fork in the road and the dust was down both roads.  I called a halt and conferred with my guide.  The right hand road was the direct route to Pea Ridge and the left hand road to Forsythe, but on account of the dust in both roads we could not tell which way they had gone.  The guide was of the opinion that the rebel cavalry were from Cowskin Prairie and would probably take the left hand road.  I cautiously advanced expecting every minute to run into the rear guard, but we traveled on and on, but always dust in the road ahead of us, until we had passed the summit of the Ozark mountains and were on the southern descent, to White River.  My brother Stant was all the time alone in advance.  We had gone probably twenty miles when he returned with a prisoner mounted on a mule with a young negro wench behind him.  Stant said, "Put this man in the ranks," "Why no, he is not a soldier," I replied.  "He is a spy sent back in this guise to find out if they are being followed;" and he wheeled his horse and galloped ahead out of sight.  I interrogated the man, but he assured me that he was a preacher going to preach a funeral sermon, so I let him go and started the command ahead, but had gone only a short distance when I heard rapid firing ahead.

Stant had run into the rear guard and opened fire on them.  I immediately ordered a charge which the boys made with a will.  Within a mile we ran into dozens of the rebels, most of whom threw up their hands and cried "don't shoot, I surrender," many dismounting, holding up their bridle rein and throwing down their arms.  We passed all such leaving it to Captain De Forrest's men, who were behind us, to take care of those who had surrendered, while we kept on after those who would not halt or surrender.  While riding along at a furious pace Len Lancaster's horse slipped on a ledge of slate that extended across the road when horse and rider fell to the ground, Lancaster being caught under the horse and severely injured.  I detailed two men to take him to the rear, and on we started again.  Presently we ran across their six-mule team and wagon, but on we went, the fastest horses in front.  Every man taking the initiative, some following far into the woods those of the rebels who left the road.

I had seen nothing of Stant yet, and feared he was killed.  After running past perhaps a hundred men who had thrown down their weapons and offered to surrender we emerged out of the timber on the level bottom of White River.  Here there was no dust to speak of, and there were several farm houses in sight.  I will take time here to describe our own shooting irons, which were somewhat out of the usual order.  Each man was furnished with a Savage revolver, having a nine inch barrel, a heavy weapon, provided with a lever which dropped down in front of the trigger, with a loop in the lower end for the middle finger.  When this lever was pulled back it would cock the revolver and turn the cylinder, but if not let go forward again pulling the trigger would not discharge the weapon.  Lieut. Tom Nary was riding by my side.  He was a splendid specimen of physical manhood and with no lack of courage.  As we were dashing along we overtook the rebel officer.  I was on one side and Nary on the other.  Nary was on the left, pointing his revolver at the officer, commanding him to halt or he would shoot, but the officer kept right on.  Probably through failure to release the lever before mentioned Nary's revolver would not go off.  In the meantime I had dropped back to keep out of the range.  Finally there was a sharp report and the rebel officer fell dead, shot through the heart.  Just at the close of our chase what was our surprise to run across a young woman in riding habit standing beside the road patting her pony on the neck, the pony gushing blood from its nostrils with every breath.  We stopped and looked in amazement.  Just then the pony reeled over and fell dead.  I rode up to her with the question "what have we here?'  There was a look of scorn and no reply. "Where is your gallant?"  I added.  She turned and looked southwest across the field and pointed out a lone horseman half a mile away, evidently mounted on a thoroughbred, for his tail was straight out and his gatherings rapid.  "There he goes," said she, "and you can't catch him."  "Well," said I, "I think I will have to take you prisoner."  "I reckon you won't."  As she said this she went into her pocket and brought out a document.  It proved to be a permit for her to go in and out of the lines at pleasure, and signed by Colonel Boyd, who was a federal officer living in Missouri, and this was his daughter, who had been down to Cowskin Prairie and married a rebel officer, the one in command of the expedition against Ozark.  Her husband was one of the very few in the rebel command who had not laid down arms, surrendered or been killed.  This expedition was their wedding tour, and the contemplated capture of the garrison and supplies at Ozark was expected to add spice to the trip.

Our horses by this time were tired and their riders were dust covered, hot and thirsty.  As the boys began to gather in from the woods and elsewhere we stopped at a farm house where there was a well with an old-fashioned sweep.  The thirst of men and horses was quenched, the horses being allowed to take only a few swallows at a time until cooled off.  The boys continued to come in, brother Stant the last to show up.  He had been led a long chase deep in the woods.  A count was taken and every man found safe and whole.  We then started back to Ozark.  The six-mule team belonging to the rebels was made use of in hauling the guns and equipment of all descriptions which they had surrendered and dropped in their flight.  There were 110 pieces, all told, including a considerable number of carbines, with bayonets which slid down into a casement, and had been furnished by the government for the protection of camel trains which carried mail across the plains.  There were also squirrel rifles, shot guns, derringers and dueling pistols, also some bowie knives.

The body of the rebel officer mentioned was put into the wagon with the equipment and after dark left at a farm house where we had noticed a number of women while on the chase.  The full benefit of our raid was not realized on account of the failure of the squad from the other company who were in the rear of Co. L, to take charge of those who had thrown down their arms and offered to surrender.  Further jealousy in the regiment was caused by this encounter, and later I learned there was even talk of a court-martial for me for having been gone more than the hour allotted to me by my superior officer.  Had the chase not been so successful and without loss to my company there is no telling what might have happened.

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