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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 102 - 114)
traced the formation and breaking up of the first, or Taylor Company,
the recruiting and departure of the Perkins Company, the Wheeler
and Captain Sherman's Cavalry Company. Recruiting was kept up
both to fill up the thinning ranks of the companies that had gone out
Eau Claire, also for outside companies, whose recruiting officers found
the Chippewa Valley a fruitful field for their labors. Before
war was over several more full companies were sent out from Eau Claire,
but before considering these we will follow those already sent to the
some of which were quickly in the thick of the fight.
As stated in the Sherman article, this cavalry company went into camp at Milwaukee. The infantry companies of Perkins and Wheeler went to Madison where they were quartered at Camp Randall. It is unfortunate, but never the less true, that the Wisconsin Historical Society itself has satisfactory histories of only a small proportion of the regiments which went out from this state. The eighth Wisconsin or Eagle Regiment is much more fortunate than the average of Wisconsin regiments in the matter of the preservation of its civil war history. Several books, of varying degrees of value covering all or part of its regimental history, have been published. In addition to these, which we will consider later, the company from Eau Claire had its own correspondent for a considerable time and we have his letters. In the A. R. Barnes' article he mentions a fellow printer, by the name of T. B. Coon, who also enlisted in the first company. Editor Porter chronicles his departure in the following manner.
Press, September 19, 1861. Thos. B. Coon, who has
with the mechanical department of this paper for nearly a year, left
place on Thursday last, to join the 'Eau Claire Eagles' at
Mr. Coon is a young man of unqualified merit in every respect, sober,
and intelligent; these are the qualifications that have won him troops
of friends in this place, whose best wishes go with him. He
keen observer of men and things and a writer of no mean
The readers of the Free Press will be glad to know that his pen will be
employed in giving them one letter per week from the 'Eighth Wisconsin'
during his stay in the army. His intelligence and candor as
and writer will add an interesting feature to the paper."
by Mr. Porter to his readers this T. B. Coon sent weekly letters from
which were printed in the Free Press, over the signature "Quad," and
which extracts will be given later. From the beginning of the
until near its close, Captain Green of Co. F. of the 8th regiment,
some very interesting letters to his wife, describing passing events
fully, which were later published in book form, some extracts of which
we take pleasure in quoting here. When we remember that the Eagle
almost without exception, during the entire war acted as a unit and
its total fighting strength was seldom over five or six hundred men, we
can see that Captain Green's description of the services of Co. F would
apply almost equally as well to our own Eau Claire company.
T. B. Coon's first letter to the Free Press read as follows:
"Camp Randall, September 22, 1861. We have been considerably disappointed in not being assigned to the company at the right of the regiment. Being the heaviest company on the ground and taking the position for a week and a half after our arrival, we supposed we were to have it 'for good,' but the person in authority decided otherwise and our place in the regiment is the second from the right. Signed 'Quad.' "His next letter says:
"Camp Randall, September 20. I was led into quite a serious error in my last in giving the position of our company in the regiment. Instead of being the second from the right, we are the center or Color company, of the regiment, a distinction which almost compensates us for the loss of the regimental right. Signed, 'Quad.' "Captain Green arrived at Camp Randall a few days before the Perkins Company arrived from Eau Claire. From the first he was a great admirer of "Old Abe," the war eagle, and frequently mentions him in letters to his wife. In view of the later fame of this eagle, some of Captain Green's comments, made at the time, seem almost prophetic. From one of his first letters after reaching Camp Randall, we quote the following:
"OLD ABE" AT CAMP
September 10, 1861. We have a new recruit -- a live
Co. C, Captain Perkins brought him from Eau Claire, where they bought
of some Chippewa Indians. He is a fine specimen of our
and the boys have named him 'Old Abe.' A perch is made with a
and the bundle of darts underneath, and a perch on top on which 'Old
is carried on a pole by a member of Co. C, next to the
he stands it to go through the war, he will be a noted bird."
letter from Captain Green, dated "Camp Randall, September 30,
We have just heard good news. Our regiment is ordered to
We will start in a few days. Greatest joy prevails in
The Governor goes with us to Chicago. He says the Eighth is
regiment he ever saw. I never could understand before this
soldier became so attached, but now, even for the short time I have
here, I would not be willing to go into another regiment. We
a fine, gentle, manly set of officers, both regimental and company."
Green writes from St. Louis. "Benton's Barracks, near St.
October 14, 1861. We left Madison on the morning of the
What a time we had getting on board the cars. Everybody's
were on hand to see us off, and there were last embraces, kisses, tears
and partings sad enough to witness. Gaily beat the drum as
marched to the depot. Handkerchiefs fluttered and voices
emotion, tearfully said 'Good-bye' to hundreds of our boys as the train
moved off. It was a time to try to peer into the future -- to
to see what it had in store for us. How long would it be
would return? Will we come back with our ranks as full as
now, or will there be some missing at final roll call? But I
I had too many other things to think of to indulge in such
The way it looks now the fighting will be over before we get to the
We had a nice run to Chicago, and a fine lunch spread by the good
of that city. Changed cars for St. Louis, where we arrived
"I must tell you of an exploit of Old Abe, our eagle. After we had disembarked and when the regiment was forming in line ready to march to Benton's Barracks, out in the suburbs of the city, the eagle somehow got loose from his perch, and literally soared aloft. We marched on up to the city, giving up Old Abe as lost; but every square or so as we progressed, we noticed him flying over the housetops, and keeping his course along with ours. Sometimes he would take a wide circuit, and for the time disappear, but sooner or later he would return and hover over us, and took his place in the center of the regiment in Co. C, by the colors. We gave him three hearty cheers, and he raised himself on his perch and flapped his wings. We all think Old Abe will make a good soldier."
Green described the Eagle regiment's first appearance on the
"Fredericktown, Mo., October 22, 1861. We have had our first
You will have heard before this reaches you of the battle of
yesterday. The rebels were cleaned out. We were in
Barracks only one day when we had orders to move out to the Iron
Railroad where Jeff Thompson had been destroying bridges. We
to the depot and were put on board cattle cars. You ought to
heard the boys swear at the accommodations -- as if 'Uncle Sam' ought
furnish parlor cars. Well, we went to Pilot Knob, and in the
started on the march for Fredericktown. Our force consisted
Illinois regiments, one Missouri and the 8th Wisconsin, and several
of cavalry. Jeff Thompson was reported intrenched at
with a force anywhere from three thousand to eight thousand.
all night. The roads were hilly and rocky, but
full moon made it light and the frosty air was good as a
knapsacks and overcoats in addition to forty rounds of ammunition,
and accoutrements and two days' rations in haversacks was no light load
to carry, and when we reached here at nine o'clock yesterday, we were
nearly used up. The citizens said that Jeff Thompson had left
day before, going to Arkansas. So we stacked arms in the
the street and broke ranks to get dinner and rest. About two
firing was heard in the outskirts of town, and the drums beat to 'fall
in'. We fell into rank and marched double quick toward the
Our cavalry were out scouting and came upon the enemy's whole force
in the corn field just out of town. The enemy opened fire on
and killed three and wounded a good many. Two Illinois
just coming from Cape Girardeau to form a junction with us arrived at
grounds at this moment and opened fire on the rebs with cannon and
and had just charged them as the head of our regiment reached the line
of battle. An aide galloped up to our colonel and ordered the
Wisconsin to hold itself in reserve at the courthouse. Some
boys had already fired without orders, and were all excited and anxious
to go into the fight. But we had to countermarch.
voice was husky with anger as he gave the order. So we stood
of battle in the rear while the fighting was going on in front, almost
in plain sight. The wounded were carried to the hospital
our lines. Some forty or fifty were brought in, of both
I cannot describe the feeling that comes over one when he sees the
men carried from the battlefield on stretchers. It is a
sensation. The musicians are expected to perform their
we noticed several soldiers who had left the ranks to assist the
to the rear. The enemy broke and ran when they were charged,
made another stand, from which they were soon driven. They
a meadow, up a hill and broke for the woods, leaving three cannons,
horses and any number of old shotguns, muskets and squirrel
At dark our troops camped all 'round town. I went over the
early this morning; the dead rebels were laying thick in
They were small, skinny men, looking half starved, of all ages, dressed
in the butternut colored clothes worn by the natives. The
had been taken care of by our surgeons. Our forces here are
the command of Colonel Carlin of the regular army, those from Cape
under Colonel Plumber of an Illinois regiment, while the expedition
has proven so successful was planned by a brigadier general, U. S.
who has charge of this department with his headquarters at Cape
T. B. Coon
also described the engagement at Fredericktown. Although seen
a somewhat different viewpoint, it does not differ materially from the
account given by Captain Green.
We have followed the Perkin's Company of the 8th or Eagle regiment from Camp Randall to their first appearance on the battlefield at Fredericktown. We will now follow the fortunes of the Wheeler Company of the 16th regiment. Winter had set in before the Wheeler Company reached Camp Randall. The 16th regiment did not remain long at Madison but were rushed South in early Spring and within a few weeks as raw troops they took a prominent part in the great battle of Pittsburg Landing.
The battle of Pittsburg Landing or Shiloh, was fought on the 6th, 7th, and 8th of April, 1862. The first name is taken from a landing on the Tennessee river near which the battle took place, and the name "Shiloh" from a log meeting house some two or three miles from the landing, and which formed the key of the position of the Union army. General Grant in an article on this battle says: "Shiloh was the severest battle fought in the west during the war, and but few in the east equaled it for hard, determined fighting. I saw an open field in our possession on the second day over which the confederates made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground." He also says: "The confederate assaults were made with such disregard to human life that our line of tents soon fell in their hands. The national troops were compelled several times to take positions in the rear, nearer to Pittsburg Landing. In one of these backward moves, on the 6th, the division commanded by General Prentiss did not fall back with the others. This left his flank exposed and enabled the enemy to capture him with about 2,200 of his officers and men." Space will not allow any general review of this great battle. But I feel fortunate in being able to present an account of it, as given at the time by a member of Captain Wheeler's Company and the 16th regiment.
Pittsburg Landing, April 16, 1862. Editor Free Press. I wish you to find room in the Free Press for a few lines from the "Chippewa Valley Guards" and the gallant regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers. We arrived at Pittsburg Landing March 20, 1862, encamped on the river until the 23rd, when orders came to strike tents and move forward, which we did, and encamped on a beautiful slope about two miles from the river, southwest. On the 1st of April we received orders to strike tents and move forward on the frontier in General Prentiss' division -- Colonel Peabody's Brigade. Saturday afternoon we were reviewed by General Prentiss and staff and he told the boys they composed as good a regiment of men as he ever saw. The general looked pleased, and his compliments filled the minds of the boys with such heroism as none but heroes can feel. But all this time we little thought that across this small field, in the thicket, stood the renowned Beauregard, Hardee and Bragg, watching our movements and looking up all the weak points in our line but nevertheless such was the case. Sunday morning our pickets encountered the enemy about one mile from our camp. The alarm was given -- the long roll sounded and our boys fell into line in double quick. General Prentiss rode along our lines telling us to use all speed for God's sake, for the enemy were advancing in force. Accordingly we hastened forth to the sons of chivalry. We crossed the field before mentioned, entered the woods for a few rods, and there beheld the foe advancing in columns, eight deep, and lines extending five miles; and behind this column came the second, third and fourth columns in battle array and behind this mass of human beings, came ten thousand more detailed to gather up the wounded and as fast as a man fell, to seize his gun and rush forward to battle. Our brigade struck bold and defiant as if inviting the enemy to come on. On they came, with overwhelming forces, determined to drive all before them and when within forty rods of our lines the 16th opened fire, which swept them down in great numbers. The second fire from the 16th killed their chief, S. A. Johnson, who rode a beautiful white charger in front of his men, accompanying them to what he supposed -- victory. We were not within supporting distance of any other regiment but appeared to be fighting the whole southern army on our own account. When our colonel perceived that they were flanking us right and left, then came the order to fall back and take a new position. This was the time we suffered our first loss, William Archer, James Walker, John Francisco and Louis R. Belknap fell dead, pierced by rebel bullets; it was there M. E. O'Connell, James Crawford, and John Jones fell badly wounded. in our retreat we brought off our wounded and drew up in line of battle in front of our tent. On they came, and in crossing the field before mentioned, we poured volley after volley into their midst that slaughtered them terribly. It was here that Oliver H. Browning and John Hanegan fell dead. At the same time, our Lieutenant-Colonel was badly wounded, shot through the thigh, and was carried off the field. Andrew Chambers and Thomas Gilfin were wounded here -- shot through the legs; also Jason P. Long, who was shot through the knee. Poor fellow, I fear he will lose his leg. We then had orders to fall back again through our camp. On this third retreat it began to resemble an Indian fight. It was every man for himself -- behind trees and logs -- contesting the ground inch by inch against twenty times their numbers. Our regiment fought on the retrograde movement about one mile when we made another stand, which told fearfully on the enemies side with no loss to ourselves. When our colonel, who stood firm as a rock of adamant saw we were likely to be flanked, and in fact, we were in the enemy's cross fire -- gave the orders to face back again. About this time there came reinforcements who had not yet been engaged -- who took the enemy in hand and gave us a chance to fall back and rest for a time. In a short time we rallied again and went into the fight, refreshed by the short respite we had had. It was on this fourth and last stand that the battle raged the fiercest. All along our lines for two hours we were held in reserve engaged only a part of the time. This was a trying time, the bullets flying thick as hail -- bombs bursting in all directions -- grape and canister in profusion. Here we lost some of our best officers. Colonel Allen was shot through the arm and was obliged to leave the field. The command then fell on Major Thomas Reynolds -- who, by-the-way, is as brave a man as ever drew a sword -- who was ordered to fall back to the river bank to recruit, to give a chance to Buell's men who had began to arrive. Our line had been gradually driven toward the river up to the time of Buell's reinforcement, and would have been whipped and taken prisoners, had it not been for Buell. He was the Blucher of the day that saved us from defeat.
We encamped on the river bank for the night, supperless, in a drenching rain, without tents or blankets. Monday morning, after a hasty meal on hard bread, we took up our march for the enemy again. We felt disposed to settle a final account with them for driving us from our tents with nothing but what was on our backs. We tramped all day through the woods, held as reserve, first in one place and then in another, in sight of the battle, but could not get a chance to "go in." Buell was determined to do all, or as much of the fighting as possible with his own troops and only called on General Grant when much needed. About 3 o'clock the rebels began to fall back before the mudsills of the North and at 4 o'clock were at full retreat towards Corinth. Then presented itself to view a most sublime sight that ever fell to the lot of man to see, it was about 8,000 of our cavalry that filed up through a large field and charged across into the woods upon the retreating foe. The shout that went up from our Union throats -- say 50,000 of them -- it must have been harsh music to the traitors' ears. We then were ordered back to the river to lay on our arms for the night, which we did in the midst of a drenching rain. Tuesday morning the fight being over and all quiet except an irregular fire from Buell's artillery, which sent Union compliments in the shape of twenty-four pound shot and shell toward Corinth, which our ungallant friends did not condescend to reply to. At 10 o'clock a.m. we received orders to march out and encamp on our old grounds. Then came the most trying part of the whole drama. The dead lay scattered around us -- the groans of the wounded that had lain on the field through a most terrible rain, with no companions but the slain to cheer them through the lonely hours. We arrived on our old grounds at 10 o'clock p.m. and immediately commenced to work with mercy, removing our wounded, many of whom had lain in the woods unable to arise or assist themselves in the least from Sunday morning until Tuesday noon without food or water. In some cases the rebels had brought our wounded into our tents, which they had left standing, and treated them as well as they could under the circumstances. The Alabama troops were especially very kind to our wounded. Beauregard honored some of the wounded of Company G with his presence and wished them in hell before they came to Tennessee. We have gathered the dead and buried them as well as circumstances will permit, friend and foe alike. We are now comfortably settled again and are receiving calls from friends and acquaintances. Governor Harvey was here yesterday and made a short and appropriate speech. He complimented the Sixteenth on the part they took in the affair. He told us the proudest feeling he ever had was when he was in Savannah. He there found some of the wounded of the Sixteenth, conversed with them and found every man full of patriotism and ready for the fight as soon as they are able to take the field. He says Wisconsin shall hear when he returns how her sons fought the proud foe and was instrumental in winning the most important victory of the whole campaign. I suppose it would be proper for me to mention a few of the brave heroes of the Chippewa Valley Guards. We will head the list with Captain Wheeler, who was as cool as a cucumber and found like a tiger, "Old Pap" was a host in himself; he took deliberate aim every time and when he pulled down went a secesh. Brave Kelly kept the Stars and Stripes floating in the thickest of the fight. Willard Bartlett, M. McGillin and scores of others were as cool and determined as men could be, and seemed to fight as if they rather liked the business. Our captain was slightly wounded and feel on his knees, but regained his feet and went at it stronger than ever. Now I have to relate what is worst of all: That is the accursed rebels stole the flag that was presented by the fair ladies of Eau Claire to our company. We may be favored with a chance to retake it before many days, or at least have a try for it. General Halleck has command in person. There will be no more surprise parties with us. We hear Governor Harvey wants the Sixteenth to go back to Madison and guard prisoners on account of the loss of officers and men, and the good reputation the regiment bore when in Camp Randall. It would suit the feeling of the regiment better to go forward to the little town called Corinth and see what they keep to sell. The casualties of our regiment will sum up three hundred or more. Beauregard in a speech to his men before the attack told them he would water his horse in the Tennessee river that night or he would water him in hell, so the prisoners say that were captured.
Captain Perkins' company of the Eighth Wisconsin or Eagle regiment just
after their first appearance on the battlefield at Fredericktown,
21, 1861. They were kept in that vicinity for several months
railroads and bridges and kindred duties. Late in the fall
Green writes to his wife as follows: "November 22,
an offset to the discouraging news from the army of the Potomac comes
of the decisive victory gained by General Grant at Belmont on the
It gives courage to every soldier in the west; it shows that the
army is commanded by generals who are not afraid to fight. We
enthusiastic over the man Grant, and are glad we are in his district,
now we believe we shall have something to do."
In the Free Press of January 23 we find Correspondent Coon writing as follows:
Camp Curtis, Sulphur Springs, Mo., January 10, 1862. Dear Free Press: Company C is once more back in its old quarters here after two weeks' absence down the railroad doing duty, guarding bridges and learning the mysteries of the art of campaigning with comfort in the middle of a Dixie winter. The camp is full of rumor tonight of an immediate movement from here, but how soon it will take place, or whether it will be to Cairo, or to take part in the tilt against Columbus, or to Rolla to have a chase after the pugnacious Price, or still further west to accompany Jim Lane in his swoop upon the rebels of Arkansas and Texas are matters that time alone will tell. Yours, "Quad."
Early in 1862 Captain Green came in personal contact with General Grant for the first time and reported to him. Because Grant did not show quite as much interest in the minor matters which Captain Green presented, as he thought proper for a time, there was a feeling of disappointment on the captain's part, but this soon passed off, and we soon find Captain Green enthusiastic over General Grant.
Cairo, January 26, 1862 -- General Grant has been in command here up to this time, but now he is gone, or about starting, with a corps up the Cumberland river. I reported to him as officer of the day. He did not impress me favorably; he apparently had no interest in giving me orders, and seemed to care very little about what was going on at the post, but referred me to a staff officer in the next room. I felt disappointed in him, for we had all formed a good opinion of him for his part in the battle of Fredericktown, and for his victory at Belmont. Certain it is that he is the only general thus far who has shown that he knows how to handle men and is not afraid to fight.
Cairo, January 26, 1862 -- Gen. W. T. Sherman was on the same boat. They say he is crazy and there is much about him to confirm that opinion. He is never still a moment. Talks rapidly, asks a dozen questions without waiting for an answer to any one. Walks back and forth on the boat, his sword dangling on the floor and his eyes scanning every object down stream. He has bright, piercing eyes that seem to look right through you. I was on deck watching him and looking around generally when he stopped in one of his walks and began firing questions at me about as follows: "What command do you belong to?" "Who is your colonel?" "How long have you been in the service?" "What fights have you been in?" "Do you know what to do in case this boat is attacked?" and several more questions without a pause. I kept track of them and replied: "Eighth Wisconsin." "Nearly six months." "Fredericktown." "Colonel Murphy." "We shoot back." He smiled very pleasantly and walked away. Another letter from Captain Green, dated New Madrid, Mo., April 10 -- Island No. 10 was captured on the 8th. We were immediately ordered to this place. In a few hours we boarded transports and landed on the Tennessee side to cut off the retreat of the Island No. 10 forces, which we did, and took 3,000 prisoners without firing a shot. Yesterday we returned here with the prisoners. April 11 -- Orders to cook four days' rations and start for Memphis. We have been brigaded. We are in the First brigade, Fifth division, General Pope's army. The brigade consists of the Eighth Wisconsin, Fifth Minnesota, Eleventh Missouri, Forty-seventh Illinois and Spoor's Second Iowa Battery, Colonel Plummer commanding. On board United States transport "Moses McClellan," flotilla of fifty boats, down the Mississippi, April 14. We are steaming down the Mississippi at the rate of twelve miles per hour. While I write we are far below Point Pleasant (the scene of rifle-pit experience), with Arkansas on one side and Tennessee on the other. Our flotilla numbers fifty steamboats, all loaded with troops, cannon, horses and stores. The gun and mortar boats are ahead of us. I suppose our destination is Memphis. The fleet is a grand sight, worth living an age to see. The river is a mile and a half wide, is full of boats as far up and down as we can see.
April 17 -- Yesterday we received northern papers with an account of the battle of Shiloh. Important orders of some kind have come, judging from the movements of our fleet. Our boat is steaming down stream while others are going up stream. I suppose we are measuring red tape. It would not be strange if we were ordered up river.
April 19 -- Verily the ways of the "milingtary" are past finding out. We are going up stream this morning. I never looked at a more magnificent sight then presented itself last night just before we rounded to and stopped. We were going round a bend in the river when one by one headlights of steamers became visible below us, increasing in number and rapidity as we cleared the point, until it seemed as if by magic a thousand red and white lights and a thousand bright furnace fires glittered and blazed on the water, making the darkness around us blacker than ever. All at once as if to complete the scene, the bands and drum corps of the whole fleet struck up tattoo, filling the air with a perfect medley of music. Gradually the notes of the bugle could be distinguished, then of other instruments and soon the medley of an entire band would come over the water. Our men, noisy and rough as they are, quieted down, scarcely whispering, subdued and fairly entranced by the beautiful sight and the music from the darkness, for the boats themselves were invisible. The lights looked as if suspended on nothing in the air, but the spell was soon broken, for the fleet rounded to the shore and tied up for the night. The loud call of human voices, especially of steamboat captains and mates, has a coarseness that dispels fancy and makes reality as real and rough as it is.
New Madrid, Mo., April 19 -- Just as I commence to write our boat is putting out into the stream, bound up river. The orders now are, as popularly understood on board, though not definitely known, that we are to go up the Tennessee river to reinforce Grant's army. I hope it may be true. The reason of the failure of this down-river expedition is on account of the high water. The river is higher than it has been since 1844. Land forces cannot operate with any effect below. They say another battle is imminent at Corinth and that we shall be there.
Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., April 22 -- Here we are at last on the battlefield of the great struggle of the 7th. Our camps are in a string six or seven miles up the Tennessee river. Governor Harvey was starting home with a cannon which the Fourteenth Wisconsin regiment captured from a New Orleans battery at Shiloh when he fell overboard and was drowned. I never felt so bad in my life over any news as I did at this. Governor Harvey was one of nature's noblemen. His death was as much a sacrifice on the alter of his country as if he had fallen on the field of battle.
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