Capt Rufus R Dawes, CO K, 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Civil War
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Image

Capt Rufus R Dawes, CO K, 6th Wisconsin Volunteers

Mr. Dawes is quite a remarkable man. Forever cemented in the histories of the Iron Brigade, the affections of Mauston, WI natives, the leadership of the 6th Wisconsin, and the spirit of the “Lemonweir Minutemen,” Dawes wasn’t even a Badger by birth.

Like everyone else in early 1861, Dawes got swept up in the excitement of Lincoln’s call for Volunteers. Dawes, who happened to be in Mauston, Wisconsin with his father on extended business at the time of the firing on Fort Sumter, chose to raise a company of volunteers right there, rather than return to his home town of Marietta, Ohio to do so.

In a letter to his sister dated May 4, 1861, Dawes writes: “I have been so wholly engrossed with my work for the last week or I should have responded sooner to your question: ‘Are you going?’ If a kind Providence and President Lincoln will permit I am. I am Captain of as good, and true a band of patriots as ever rallied under the star-spangled banner.”

He’d get to lead them under that banner, too. At 2nd Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and while covering the retreat of the Army after Chancellorsville. All the while, he lead from the front while enjoying an uncanny ability to come through battles unscathed, bringing to mind suggestions of the fortunes of Wyatt Earp and Captain Richard Winters, who had both had plenty of opportunities to die in fire fights but had escaped all of them unharmed.

“My Dear Mother,” he wrote home after Antietam, “I have come safely through two more terrible engagements with the enemy, that at South Mountain and the great battle of yesterday. Our splendid regiment is almost destroyed. We have had nearly four hundred men killed and wounded in the battles. Seven of our officers were shot and three killed in yesterday’s battle and nearly one hundred and fifty men killed and wounded.”

By Gettysburg, Dawes was a Lt. Colonel, leading the 6th Wisconsin in the absence of Colonel Edward Bragg, who was convalescing in Washington after being kicked in the foot by a horse. Here, he’d lead the regiment in the famed railroad cut charge, escaping unharmed while leading the 6th in capturing the entire 2nd Mississippi Regiment.

On July fourth, the day after the third day of Gettysburg, Dawes wrote to his fiance’, “The Sixth hast lost so far one hundred and sixty men. Since the first day we have lost only six. O, Mary, it is sad to look now at our shattered band of devoted men. Only four field officers in the brigade have escaped and I am one of them.”

Examining this last statement, there are typically three officers per company: a Captain, a 1st Lt, and a 2nd Lt. There are ten companies. 30 officers, ranked Captain or lower, plus the Colonel, Lt. Colonel, Major, and the Adjutant of each regiment. Since there were four regiments in the brigade, we’ll multiply the numbers by four and come up with 136.

Out of 136 field officers, the Iron Brigade had only four that were fit for duty on July 4, 1863. It would be most interesting to see what was going on in Lt. Colonel Dawes mind while he was drinking his coffee and writing his report in the rain on that day… which happened to be his 25th birthday, by the way.

Whether or not Dawes believed that he was being spared for higher purpose or not is not chronicled, but he certainly gave Providence credit for his survival. He’d lead the regiment again and again and again, at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor.

To his wife, June 8, 1864, he wrote: “We came down here today, and are located on the left flank of our army, and we are at last out from under the fire of the enemy… it is impossible for one who has not undergone it, to fully understand the depression of spirits caused by such long, continued, and bloody fighting and work. Colonel (Edward) Bragg said yesterday: ‘Of all I have gone through, I cannot now write an intelligent account. I can only tell my wife that I am alive and well. I am too stupid for any use.'”

Dawes’ three year enlistment came up soon after. He would indeed go on to big things… including a stint in congress representing the 15th Ohio District.

In August of 1865 Dawes’ son, Charles G Dawes was born. He’d serve as Vice-President of the United States during the Coolidge administration


Source: 

“Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers,” by Rufus Dawes, 1890

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Bruce Goodman says:

    Fascinating, thanks

  2. Matt Harris says:

    wow – some soldiers are just crazy lucky i guess. I found this fascinating

    one of these days I will find the time to read through your one billion back posts 🙂

  3. Tom Schultz says:

    It’s really quite amazing to me how the Civil War soldier carried on despite the high level of casualties. When visiting Gettysburg, I always tour the part of the battlefield where the Iron Brigade fought on the 1st day, and am ever mindful of the Black Hats’ courage and fortitude.
    I never realized until reading this post the connection between Rufus Dawes and the vice president.

  4. Gede Prama says:

    Thank you for sharing this article quite interesting and, hopefully true happiness rays began to warm our hearts, when we can share it with sincerity. Greetings from Gede Prama 🙂

  5. […] the horrific trial by fire that awaited them. The regimental accounts do not say whether a young captain walked the lines, imparting courage by his presence. Without a doubt, leaders were many. Some may […]

  6. Barb Knowles says:

    Exceptionally cool. Each moment in time can change the future for any of us. Surviving June 8, 1864 set up his future and paved the way for his son and his future. Because he survived that day.

  7. spoonriver2015 says:

    Pretty amazing story–and I didn’t connect him to the VP until the end, which was a nice surprise. I was just in Mauston, Wisconsin, last summer (at the Juneau County Fair), so this kind of caught my attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s