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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 94 - 102)
We then went to Washburn and Stant reported that the rebel camp was intact, and thought they had no designs to engage us. The night before he had played cards with some of the boys in the rebel camp until 2 o'clock in the morning, then went and laid down by his horse for a feigned sleep. But instead of sleeping he planned to exchange his poor horse for a better one that was picketed near his and leave camp before daylight, which he successfully did without discovery, traveling northeast. Crossing White River he espied the heads of two horsemen at the crest of a sharp hill. They were coming toward him. He immediately spurred into the bush at the roadside and dismounting, hitched his horse and crawled back to the roadside, where, with revolver in hand, he awaited their coming. They were walking leisurely and talking, and when they were nearly opposite him, he leaped into the road, and covering them with his revolver, commanded them to "ground arms." They instantly obeyed, and then he gave the order, "about wheel," which they also obeyed. He then picked up their arms, adjusted them to himself, stepped for his horse, mounted, and marching the two in front of him nearly all day, overtook us after we had bivouacked for the night. I felt so proud of him, that if I had had the power to give my place of Captain of Co. L I should have done so.
The prisoners were a private and lieutenant, belonging to the same regiment, and were returning from the private's wedding, where the lieutenant acted as best man. They became the charge of Co. L through to Helena, and when they were shipped north with a boatload of prisoners, this lieutenant went to Washburn and begged the privilege of presenting his fine horse to his young captor. When Washburn told him the horse belonged to the United States, and it could not be done, I led him away and his eyes filled with tears. He told me he had brothers he did not revere as he did this young captor. He said further that the cool, self-assured tone and action of Stant, convinced him that there was a company of ambushed guns behind him. A few days later an incident occurred which I will now relate.
Having lost a valuable trooper, wounded and taken prisoner by what I considered a silly requirement, I was not in humor to receive complacently what followed the next day. We went into camp, roll call revealed the absence of Milton Tollefelmire of Menomonie, a Swede, and absolutely fearless. I learned from his comrades he had dropped out of the ranks, our company being in the rear, and had foraged a bundle of oats for his horse from a shock by the road side and was there feeding his horse a short way back and out of sight. The circumstances were reported to Washburn by his orderly, and I was sent for and reprimanded by the colonel and told to dismount that man and that he should walk the next day and keep up with the command. I transmitted the order to Tollefelmire, and in the afternoon we had to cross a stream belly deep to our horses and Tollefelmire sat down on its bank and refused to wade the stream and said to his comrades he would die fighting the enemy before he would wad the stream. The circumstance was reported to me and I was as indignant over the silliness of the order as Tollefelmire could be. I rode hastily to the front, related the facts to Washburn with some heat, giving my view of the fallacy of marching 300 miles with a relief train through the enemy's country followed by Guerillas ambushing us every day and living off the country and me with sword sheathed and carrying the olive branch in our right hand and perhaps our train of supplies as well; and an order against foraging (to the enemy). He said in reply, "Mount him and bring him over." When over I told him to take his place in the ranks. He did and rode the balance of the day. After going into camp I was told by the Colonel's orderly to report to headquarters. Washburn said to me, "Didn't I order you to dismount your man for the day?" I replied, "You certainly did." The only instance during my army experience where red tape and a strict compliance with the letter of the order brought justice and relief to an exhausted soldier. "I obeyed your order, he was dismounted and walked until he came to the river where he sat down and refused to come over. I reported the circumstance to you and you ordered him mounted and brought over." "An how come it that he has been riding this afternoon?" "Because you failed to order him dismounted again."
In a day or two I was ordered to take the advance with Co. L and to advance several miles ahead of the train to scout the cross roads. We came to a small clearing, log house and an old couple. I was interrogating the old man whether he had seen any of the enemy that morning. He had not. I inquired how far to the next town, giving the name. He repeated it several times and replied: "I reckon he must have moved away 'fore I came." I had called in my flankers as I approached this clearing and we started ahead, intending to throw out the flankers as soon as we got through the clearing. As we got near the timber a half dozen shots came from the timber, one striking Lieutenant Ring of Co. I who was by my side, in the left elbow and the bushwhackers fled, one horse wounded. Nothing of special interest occurred during the remainder of our march. The enemy continued their bushwhacking tactics but we arrived safely at our destination at Batesville. Of course we were graciously received by General Curtis and his troops who were much in need of the supplies we had brought. A day or two later we continued our march to Helena, Ark., which was our objective point. At Bayou Cache the enemy disputed our passage. The advance that day was led by the 11th Wisconsin Infantry. The Second Cavalry asked permission to assist the 11th and the request was granted. We were somewhat in the rear half of the column, and were marching over a corduroy road through a cypress swamp with the road in front of us densely packed with the infantry, artillery, wagon trains, etc., of our force. These were at a halt and as usual in such cases had spread out so that to pass through them was a difficult matter. Some of us attempted to get past by leaving the corduroy road and taking our chances in the mud and mire of the swamp. I killed my horse in the attempt, but we finally got to the front only to find that after a sharp engagement the 11th Infantry had driven the enemy before them, in such haste that they had not been able to destroy the bridge as intended.
We arrived at Helena at last, every man of the 2nd Cavalry in the saddle, in perfect condition, well hardened by the trip. We went into camp a short distance outside the city in a shady grove with a clear stream of water flowing through it. We thought we had an ideal camp. For the first four weeks we did very little scouting or other active service. A laughable incident occurred one day at drill. Colonel Stevens, of our regiment, was an Englishman with the proverbial English habit of handling his h's. He had been a member of the Queen's Guard, was six feet tall, weighing two hundred forty pounds, a good sword man, and could fence with either hand. We were at regimental drill when the Colonel noted that Companies E and I were only fragments of companies, the details for pickets that day having been drawn from these companies. The Colonel conceived the idea of consolidating the two companies for the drill so gave the following order. It may be remarked that he had a peculiar way of ending his orders with a rising inflection to his voice, which peculiarity was well known to the troops. Turning to Lieutenant-Colonel Eastman he said: "Colonel H-Eastman, you will h-observe for the h-operations of the day that Companies h-E and h-L will h-operated together. Co. h-L may go to h-E or Co. h-E may go to h-L."
During the remainder of the campaign our company was known in the regiment as "Company Hell." The regiment had not remained long in Helena before the health of the troops began to fail and in a few weeks scarcely a man was able to appear at drill. I was quartered at the house of a widow in the town and remarked to her about the sickness of our men. Said she: "You will all be dead if you stay in that camp long. We would not think of drinking that water as it seeps through from a cypress swamp." I reported her statement to our Colonel and the result was that the camp was moved to higher ground in a slashing made by the Confederates for the purpose of allowing better use of their artillery. Our water was brought from the Mississippi. Whether or not the woman's explanation of the poisonous nature of the water was correct, true it was that the health of the boys began immediately to improve and soon all were again fit for duty.
An expedition ordered to Clarendon was hailed with delight by Co. L. A pioneer corps was sent some days in advance to bridge a bayou. The command (cavalry) followed. We met the corps returning to Helena reporting there was not material enough available to bridge it. The command went on to the bayou for dinner, where we could find water for our horses. Lieutenant Colonel Eastman dined with me and while at dinner we were discussing the disappointment of the expedition's failure. Especially the lumberjacks of Co. Hell were cursing mad, declaring they could swim it. I had been looking at a long row of slave quarters of flattened logs, about one foot in diameter. The cabins were in size about 14 by 18 and all alike, located upon an elevation of 15 or 20 feet above and parallel to the water and but a rod or so away. I told the colonel that was the best material in the world and plenty of it to bridge this stream and Co. Hell could do it in four hours, pointing to the row of cabins and the frame of an old grist mill, dismantled of its covering and machinery. He immediately left me and went to the commanding officer and reported that there was a man in his regiment who says that this stream can be bridged in four hours. "Is he an engineer?" inquired the officer. "No." "Bring him up here, I have a curiosity to see the man who can bridge this stream after the pioneer failure." I went with the colonel and briefly explained the process of using the negro cabins by alternately using a long and then a short log side by side and about eight logs wide as a section and then intersecting section 2 with logs all the same length and so on for the entire length of the boom, except the last section, which should alternate lengths, with binder poles across the section joints and band splits and lock downs of wild grape vine, of which there were miles in length along the banks, and water beech for poles. The commander said he would spend the afternoon here and witness my creation and give me all the men I wanted. Inside of fifteen minutes twenty horsemen were seeking every auger, big and little, and every hatchet and ax within a radius of three miles and a continuous stream of timber was dashing down the banks bordering the stream. In ten minutes more there were a dozen augers being turned with all the energy the borers possessed and relays standing ready to grab those handles as soon as there were the least signs of lagging. Now, there were plenty of axes, hatchets and augers and the material consisting of holes, poles, bands, pins and grapevines was simply marvelous under the direction of members of Co. L as bosses.
At the end of four hours the 400 feet of eight timbers wide of boom with her down stream end fastened to the shore with a heavy grapevine and one fifty feet long plugged fast to the upper end to serve as cable to fasten to the opposite shore, she lay serene and self-assured at attention, awaiting orders. After a hasty inspection by Sergeant Lancaster, in the absence of pins in the lock-down holes, the order was given to shove her out and she was gracefully swung by the current to the opposite shore and cabled fast with the grapevine about 12 degrees diagonal from a right angle with the shore. And Co. Hell had the honor of first tramping slave quarters under their horses' feet. The command passed over dry shod and the lumber-jacks wore a smile all through a pelting snow until we reached Clarendon late at night. The little town was dark and silent, having been vacated several days before our arrival. This converted the smile of Co. L boys into a grim-visaged scowl, accentuated by some strong words by way of emphasis. I quartered my men in a billiard room with a large old fashioned fireplace wide enough to receive the legs of the tables as back logs and foresticks, and so we spent the night, speculating as to what would be the orders and move tomorrow.
On account of sickness in Captain Sherman's family his Civil War narrative closed very abruptly, with his company of the 2nd Cavalry located at Helena, Ark. This was in the fall of 1862. The 2nd Cavalry formed a part of a large force under command of General Hurlbut which went out from Helena to destroy the line of communications in the rear of General Pemberton who had marched out of Vicksburg with a part of his army. During the Hurlbut expedition Captain Sherman was detailed at the head of two companies of cavalry to destroy railroad bridges and tracks which was successfully accomplished. After returning to Helena and remaining there a short time the troops moved to Memphis, where on request of the citizens the 2nd cavalry was assigned to garrison the city. Feeling assured that they would remain for a considerable time in Memphis Captain Sherman, after consulting with some of his superior officers, sent to New York state for the young lady who had promised to be his wife. Accompanied by her father she came to Memphis, the wedding taking place in the home of a southerner, whose family insisted on taking charge of all the arrangements, which were on an elaborate scale with the army officers present in full uniform.
Scarcely had the wedding taken place before an order was received from the war department that the 2nd cavalry should proceed to Vicksburg to take part in the operations against that place.
For a considerable time a feud had existed between Colonel Stephens of the 2nd Cavalry and Lieutenant-Colonel Eastman. This had culminated in a personal encounter. Captain Sherman was one of the officers who had separated the combatants, and having taken sides with the Lieutenant-Colonel, he was not in the good graces of Colonel Stephens. Wishing, if possible, that his bride should accompany him to Vicksburg, Captain Sherman put in a petition to his superior officers to that effect. The Major and Lieutenant-Colonel gave their approval but when presented to Colonel Stephens that officer promptly handed it back with his disapproval attached to same. Feeling that under the circumstances his request was a reasonable one Captain Sherman decided to take the matter up to General Hurlbut. When the General saw the Colonel's disapproval he was very angry at Captain Sherman for presenting the petition to him, but when the matter was fully explained he wrote "approved" across the face of the petition, and signed his name. Armed with his precious document Captain Sherman made arrangements on the steamboat for his bride, and on the day set for departure rode up the gang plank onto the boat with her by his side. Colonel Stephens, wholly in ignorance of the action of General Hurlbut saw them come on the boat and angrily approached Captain Sherman, and said that his bride would be put off at the next wood landing. The captain quietly took the petition from his pocket and held it up so that the Colonel could see General Hurlbut's signature. The table had been turned.
After the fall of Vicksburg the 2nd Cavalry was stationed at Red Bone Church, 16 miles east of Vicksburg for nearly a year.
In the fall of '64 Captain Sherman resigned his commission and was succeeded as captain by First Lieut. Jas. L. Leroy, who had enlisted in the company from Chippewa Falls. Captain Leroy continued at the head of the company until it was mustered out of service in the fall of 1865.
Among the names of the privates who went out in Col. L of the 2nd Cavalry will be found that of Leonard L. Lancaster, and Captain Sherman frequently mentions him in his narrative.
This man Lancaster was an experienced woods and river man and fearless to a degree. His soldierly qualities brought him well merited promotion, and by the spring of 1865 he had attained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. It was in the summer of 1865 that Lieutenant Lancaster had one of the most thrilling experiences that fell to the lot of any soldier during the Civil War. A friend of Lancaster family has published the story in pamphlet form, of which only a brief outline can here be given.
Lieutenant-Colonel Dale was at this time at the head of the regiment, and by all accounts was wholly unfit for the position he held. While stationed at Alexandria, La., in July 1865 conditions under Dale had become so intolerable that some six or seven hundred privates and some fifteen commissioned officers signed a petition asking Dale to resign.
It became necessary for some one to present the petition and Lancaster volunteered for the task. It is hardly necessary to state that from a military point of view the signing and presenting of such a petition was a serious offense. Lancaster was arrested and put in jail for violating the articles of war. The other officers were deprived of their insignia of rank, all but four of whom made retraction and the others never came to trial. It was upon Lancaster alone that the punishment fell. Refusing to retract he was court-martialed and sentenced to be shot, and his death warrant signed by General Custer. He was confined in a dungeon for some days and while there was offered an opportunity to escape but the offer was declined. On the evening of the 26th of July he was taken out with another man, a deserter, bound and seated on their coffins, to be shot. Just as the word "fire" was to be pronounced a reprieve was received, releasing him from the death sentence, but with a dishonorable discharge and sentenced to a military prison in the Dry Tortugas for a term of three years. Friends interceded for Lancaster and in February 1866, he was released and after much hardship reached his home at Eau Claire. Through the influence of Congressman Michael Griffin and others an honorable discharge was secured, and now after fifty years have elapsed since Lieutenant Lancaster's terrible experience he is still with us although in feeble health. That he may be spared many years to come is the earnest desire of his old comrades and friends.
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