Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category

An Excerpt from My Second Novel
Subject to Editing

 

ONE

WATSON

I was killed yesterday.  It was the fourth time in four days that such a circumstance has been forced upon me.  My death, or rather the death of the body in which I resided yesterday, the body of Reginald J. Smith of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, remains as a clear and horrifying event in my mind.  One does not forget one’s own entrails escaping through a massive, jagged hole in the abdomen, the rope-like tubes of tissue, bloody and slippery with whatever fluids reside within the body, slipping through shaking fingers as they escape the prison of the flesh.  I prayed for death.  I begged for death.  And death came.

Regarding my death the day before last, I have no memory of the event.  Death must have come quickly for me on that particular day.  My brain, or at least the one that is currently functional, allowing my hand to dip this feathered quill in ink and scribble these words on rag paper, has a distinct record of the man I was the day before last.  His name, Thomas Robert Evans, is burned into my memory as if it were my own, which it was in actuality for nearly a day.  Mr. Evans was a native of Danville, Illinois.  He was a chaplain, a gentleman, and a captain attached to the 125th Illinois Regiment, which had been engaged in demonstrations before the Rebel forces at Rocky Faced Ridge in the Confederate State of Georgia on the ninth of May, 1864.  This date is significant to my story, and I’ll explain why that is in a little while, but first I should give you, the reader, some instruction on my background so that you might better understand my plight.

The name given to me at birth was Ezekiel Zachariah Webster.  Everybody I’ve ever known, excepting my mother, has called me “EZ.”  My mother referred to me by my Christian name, Ezekiel, although such information matters little, as my mother was taken by the milk sickness back in the summer of ’47, just after my fifth rotation around the sun.  My father, a farmer by trade, turned to the bottle and the whip for comfort, using the former on himself and the latter on his only child on a mostly daily basis.

I never once attended school.  Our farm, located on fourteen acres of hard land in Knox County, Indiana, had been left to my father by his father, a relentless, fervent Baptist who claimed that we were somehow descended from Winthrop Sargent, the very man who had founded Knox County and had named the place after General Henry Knox, the famed artillerist from the Revolution.  I never saw proof of any such relation.  Not that I could have read any documentation attesting to this matter, anyway.  You see, until I first inhabited a skin other than the one in which I was born, I was completely illiterate.

I won’t go into the difficulties of my home life at this time.  I’ll just state that few things ever came easily.  By the time I was 19 years old I was more than ready for a change of pace and a change of scenery and when the opportunity to sign a muster came along I jumped at the chance.  Generally being one to avoid confrontation, I left home without informing my father of my intentions.This is hardly the behavior one might expect from a boy with an aversion to conflict, trading the plow for the bayonet, but the Rebels with their cannon and muskets alarmed me on a much smaller scale than a drunkard armed with leather.  I left one morning before the rooster announced the dawn, signing up for a three-year enlistment with Company G of the 14th Indiana Infantry Regiment at Terre Haute, on the seventh of June, 1861.

Soldiering came easily compared to plowing a stubborn piece of land and going home every night to a violent, headstrong father.  Drilling and parading around in a smart blue suit, shooting at hay bales, and eating chow that rivaled any meal ever made back home solidified my decision to sign up as a damn good one.  That’s not to say that I was a great soldier.  I was an average shot at best, and I found marching in step to be a difficult chore, not unlike the steps of a schottische, the moves of which I’ve never experienced first-hand, but are somehow freshly engrained in my memory from the life of Thomas Evans.

A shame and a waste, the loss of Captain Evans, who had so very many reasons to survive this war, among them his beautiful wife and nine children.  A man of genuine piety and altruism, he had more to offer this world than most I’ve possessed, his faith and munificence indicative of his place among the saints.  It is truly distressing that he’s already taken his place there.

Possessed.  I sincerely doubt that your eyes moved over that word without hesitation.  Yes, I used the word that is usually reserved for Satan or his demons seizing the flesh of the human form, occupying such for their own motivations.  I don’t claim to be the devil or any of his servants.  Until recently, I would have thought possession of any form by another form to be the contrivance of an overeager imagination.  I’ve proven myself wrong, even if it is an accidental act.  I may have no control over these leaps of existence, but they’re as legitimate and as palpable as your very own heartbeat.  It is only a matter of time before the body I currently occupy dies, and I wake up in the form of another, only to repeat the ambulation again the next time death comes calling.

Sorcery, devilry, black magic, witchcraft!  Whatever label you might wish to put upon the necromancy that is behind my condition shall be considered a plausible theory.  I find myself dwelling upon those historical events occurring in Massachusetts in the 1690s, where the towns of Ipswich, Andover, and Salem experienced a mass hysteria, hanging nearly a score of their kinfolk for their bonds with the black art.  Should I be able to control my state, perhaps choosing when to leave one host for another, or maybe deciding to remain rather than migrate, then I would have little choice but to admit being guilty of associating with the infernal practice.    Should these leaps of flesh and blood continue into infinity, perhaps I shall one day be able to steer their courses.  But it is not I who has the authority, the mastery.  I am but the quarry.

I mentioned yesterday’s date – the ninth of May, 1864 – as being important to my story.  It is such only in the sense that time is no longer a factor in my own existence.  Today is not the tenth of May, 1864, but rather, the first of September, 1862, and I am a private soldier named Jeremiah Watson in General Stevens’ III Corps, which will halt the advance of Stonewall Jackson’s Corp later today in the Battle of Chantilly, at the cost of General Stevens’ life.  No, I do not claim to be able to predict future events.  I have been to Chantilly before, you see.  I have died here before.

I know what you’re thinking.  How absurd it is that my soul could leave one body for another, jumping not only through space but also through time, occupying the body of another.  You’re not wrong.  It is completely absurd.  I wouldn’t have believed you if you had spun me such a tall tale, either.  In fact, you should be able to disprove my story simply by discussing my telling of it in written form.  This very page making the leap from host to host is as impossible as the soul doing such.  I’m afraid I cannot combat this argument, as I have not the ample ammunition.

This book, leather-bound and appearing worn, is actually quite the opposite.  Its contents, primarily rag paper, are discovered each morning to be in the finest condition possible, whatever events or efforts from the day before having no bearing on its maintenance.  I would assume that the book made its debut on the day of my first manifestation in the body of another, but I have no recollection of seeing it, as I was a bit out of sorts that day.  I guess you could say that I wasn’t myself.  I have no memory of my first transition to another being.  I don’t remember dying, or being killed, or even having been in such a position to be killed on the night before my first wandering.  I simply woke up inside another person, frightened and confused, sure that I was not awake or if I was awake, certainly feverish from some ailment my profession and proximity to others caused in me.  As for these pages, well, it took several sightings of the book over several lifetimes, if you will, for me to make the connection.  At first, I thought its appearance to be a coincidence, thinking it awfully peculiar that two soldiers from two different theatres of war might have the same leather-bound journal.  Upon inspection, I found it to be void of entries, again over several lifetimes, and I began to understand that there may be something expected of me.

I rebelled.  Thinking that this book might be the very reason for my leaping from one body to the next, I destroyed it.  Then I destroyed it again and again and again.  Each time, I’d wake in the body of another to find it with me, always in the same pristine condition, the only object which belonged to both me and the next person in succession.

I must take my leave, now.  Right on cue, the bugle is sounding, calling me to duty and my meeting with the angel of death.   I shall see you tomorrow.

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BLACK IRON MERCY  TO BE LAUNCHED IN JUNE

I’m so very happy and proud to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Deeds Publishing of Athens, Georgia, to publish my novel, Black Iron Mercy.  Final edits have been applied to the manuscript and it’s on its way to the creative director for the layout process.

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Whew!  It’s been four and a half years since I started the research for this project.  Nine months of research, two years of writing, a lifetime of editing, and five long months of querying and rejection have culminated in success.  It’s been a long road, but could have been so much longer if not for the help and support of my family and friends.

Thank you to all of YOU, my friends and followers, for your continued support through your words of kindness and encouragement, assessment and criticism.  So many of you have said the right words at just the right moment, providing motivation and inspiration to continue this voyage.  I’m grateful!

TEARS AND SORROW EMBEDDED IN MYTH AND SONG

 

“Thirteen hundred died that day…

It took ten good men just to dig the graves.”

There’s an old song that tells the legendary tale of an American Civil War battle fought a week after the war’s end.  “Dry Run Creek” has been played perhaps ten thousand times by over a thousand artists,

“They buried them shallow, they buried them deep…

They buried them next to Dry Run Creek.”

The song has long been a favorite of bluegrass fans and civil war enthusiasts alike, but is there any truth behind the lyrics?

“Well, they weren’t just blue and they weren’t just gray,

Death took no sides when it came that day.

They laid them down side by each

They placed no stones at their head or feet.

And their mommas cried…

Oh my Lord, how their mommas cried…”

Dry Run Creek runs through the Ozark Mountains, spurring from the gorgeous Norfolk Lake, which is constantly drawing tourists and fishermen to the town of Mountain Home, Arkansas.  The creek boasts beauty, clarity, and, if you’re mobility impaired or under the age of 16, an amazing trout fishing experience.  What it does not boast is a civil war cemetery with 1300 unmarked graves.

Dry run creek

Dry Run Creek, Arkansas

There is also a Dry Run Creek in Iowa and a “Dry Run Creek Cemetery” in Boise, Idaho.  Need we even discuss these?

The song “Dry Run Creek” is often credited to the McPeak Brothers Band, or, more directly, to bluegrass legend Larry McPeak, one of the original VW Boys.  A fine version of the song, covered by “The Seldom Scene,” can be found here:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/search/song?q=The+Seldom+Scene+Dry+Run+Creek

But the McPeak boys were Virginians, not Arkansans… so any motivation for local legend can be ruled out.  Some believe the song’s title is from a combination of the Battles of Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek.

“The war’d been over for about a week

But word hadn’t gotten to Dry Run Creek.

They fought and died right to the end

A battle that should have never been…”

Wherever you might believe the origins of the song came from, the number “1300” should give a clue as to the validity of the story.  Although 1300 is not a high casualty amount for a civil war battle, it would be an extremely high number of killed for a battle fought after the surrender at Appomattox.

By comparison, the battle fought at Palmito Ranch, considered to be the last major engagement of our civil war, is well documented and known by anyone who claims to be a true civil war buff.  It was fought in Cameron County, Texas on May 12th and 13th, 1865, more than a full month after Lee surrendered to Grant in Virginia.

The casualty count at Palmito Ranch?  Four killed, 18 wounded, 104 captured.

Likewise, the Battle of New Orleans is submerged in legend and folklore for being fought more than two weeks after the War of 1812 had ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.

How many died during the Battle of New Orleans?  440 or so, depending on your source.

A battle that saw 1300 die would see at least twice that many wounded, another gross or two captured, and if it had been fought after the end of a war it would be forever seared into the minds of generations to come.

Still, it’s a darn good song.

Thank you to my new friend and fellow blogger, David Zethmayr, for inspiring this topic.  You can find his blog here:

http://earfirst.wordpress.com

SOURCES:

Arkansas.com

Bluegrasstoday.com

Grooveshark.com

Ibluegrass.com

Cedarwoodslodge.com

Encyclopedia Britannica

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Soldiers of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment

According to “Wisconsin losses in the Civil War” compiled by Charles Edward Estabrook, 1915, 275 of the 1203 soldiers of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment died while serving. 105 were killed in action; 62 died of wounds; 62 died from disease. One died in a fall less than a month before Gettysburg. Other sources differ slightly, but most are comparable. Wikipedia says the regiment saw 315 total deaths.

These numbers do not include those who were wounded and survived. They also don’t show those that were wounded multiple times, perhaps as many as three or four, before finally succumbing or being no longer fit for duty and sent home.

In a war that saw one soldier in ten killed in action and one soldier in three die of disease, the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment suffered 3.4 soldiers killed for every one that died of disease. It was through their blood that they forged their iron.

Included among the deaths from disease is John A Thompson, who is listed in the roster as being simply from “Wisconsin.” Thompson was murdered sometime in March of 1864. If anyone has more information on that story, please share!

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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

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Lt. Julius Waldschmidt, CO G, 19th Indiana Infantry Regiment.

Born in Wetzlar, Germany on February 20, 1836, Waldschmidt immigrated to America in the 1850s, settling in Elkhart, Indiana. Mustering in as a sergeant on July 29, 1861, he would be one of the many who made the leap from enlisted man to officer during the war. At his post throughout the campaigns of 1862 and 1863, Waldschmidt would be among the few who remained unharmed after the battle of Gettysburg… a battle that saw the 19th Indiana take 73% casualties.

Wounded at the battle of Wilderness in May of 1864, Lt. Waldschmidt would muster out of the 19th Indiana that fall, accepting a Captain’s commission in the 152nd Indiana Regiment in March of 1865. He’d serve out the war in this capacity, mustering out as a Major on August 30, 1865 in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

After the war, he’d spend many years in Goshen, Indiana, where he served as a deputy United States Marshall. He died on January 31, 1918 in South Bend, Indiana.

SOURCE(S):

* On Many a Bloody Field, Four Years in the Iron Brigade

– 19thindianaironbrigade.com

– South Bend Tribune, February 2nd, 1918

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Lt. Frank A Haskell (1828-1864), Adjutant, 6th Wisconsin Infantry.

Haskell, a Vermonter by birth, was a Dartmouth graduate who was practicing law and drilling a militia unit in Madison, Wisconsin when the Civil War began. Quick to offer his services to his country, Haskell was commissioned as 1st Lt and served as the 6th Wisconsin’s Adjutant for nearly a year. Known for his attention to detail and commitment to excellence, the 6th owed much of its discipline to the efforts of Haskell.

In April of 1862, Haskell’s experience and professional bearing caught the attention of the Brigade’s new commander, General John Gibbon, who made Haskell his new aide-de-camp. Haskell would apply his trade in fine fashion, serving at the General’s side through the Northern Virginia Campaign and the Maryland Campaign, when the Iron Brigade would earn its metallic nickname.

Having followed Gibbon when the General was promoted to command of the 2nd Division of I Corp, Haskell served in that capacity until Gibbon received a wound in the Fredericksburg Campaign, after which Gibbon was replaced. Gibbon would recover. This time, Haskell followed Gibbon when he was named commander of the 2nd Division, II Corp.

Gibbon’s division would see action at Chancellorsville, and then again at Gettysburg, where they would bear the brunt of the attack that would become known as “Pickett’s Charge.” Haskell, after Gibbon went down with another wound, admirably led the men of the division against the assault.

A few weeks after the Battle, Haskell wrote the account of what he had experienced at Gettysburg to his brother Harrison in Portage, Wisconsin. Haskell’s account would be published in 1898 as “The Battle of Gettysburg.” This account was hailed by Bruce Catton as “One of the genuine classics of Civil War literature.”

In November of 1863, Haskell would accompany Gibbon back to the Gettysburg Battlefield for the dedication of the National Cemetery. Both men would bear witness to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

On February 9th, 1864, Frank Haskell was appointed Colonel of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry. On June 3rd, after the commander of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, II Corps, Colonel Henry Boyd McKeen was killed, Haskell took command of the brigade. A few minutes later, he would be killed by a bullet through the temple as he led the brigade in the final assault at Cold Harbor, Virginia. He was 35 years old.

Upon receiving news of Haskell’s death, General Gibbon lamented, “My God! I have lost my best friend, and one of the best soldiers in the Army of the Potomac has fallen!” Gibbon wrote to his wife that he had planned on promoting Haskell to a field command after the battle.

Frank Haskell is buried in Silver Lake Cemetery in Portage, Wisconsin.

SOURCES:

Photo is public domain.

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

“The Iron Brigade,” by Alan Nolan, 1961

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George E Finney, Sergeant, CO H, 19th Indiana Infantry Regiment.

Finney, a resident of Elizabethtown, Indiana, would later serve as a Lieutenant and then Adjutant of the 20th Indiana Regiment. Finney would respond to a request from David Stephenson, who had announced to the citizens of Indiana that he was looking for “A complete list of our brave soldiers who have died from sickness or fallen on the battlefield. It is my aim to do justice to the living, and to embalm in the hearts of Indiana’s sons the memory of the patriotic dead who have fallen in defense of our national government.” Finney’s account of the 19th Indiana’s role in the war from its inception until August 1st, 1863 would appear in Stephenson’s “Indiana’s Roll of Honor,” published in 1864. Many minor errors and omissions in the text, however, indicate that someone not familiar with the regiment may have had a hand in editing Finney’s document.

SOURCES:

19thindianaironbrigade.com

“On Many a Bloody Field,” by Alan D. Gaff, 1996

“Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana, Volume 2,” 1865

Photo courtesy of the Indiana State Library

THE IRON BRIGADE WAITED MORE THAN A YEAR TO PROVE ITS METTLE

 

The Iron Brigade is widely renowned for its discipline, performance, valor, and for having suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War.  Few major battles in the eastern theater of the war can be mentioned without the inclusion of the brigade, which was initially composed of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin regiments and the 19th Indiana Regiment.  The 24th Michigan Regiment was added in December of 1862, after the brigade had suffered heavy losses in the campaigns of that season.

But fame, glory, and even the occurrence of battle were a long time coming for the brigade, as one competent officer can surely attest.

Dawes

Rufus R Dawes, Captain

Rufus Dawes was a 22-year-old graduate of Marietta College when Fort Sumter was fired upon.  A native of Marietta, Ohio, Dawes found himself in Juneau County, Wisconsin at the time of Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers.

“With the proclamation of the President came the announcement that the quota of the State of Wisconsin would only be one small infantry regiment of seven hundred and eighty men.  It seemed quite evident that only by prompt action I might secure what was then termed the ‘glorious privilege’ of aiding in crushing the rebellion.”

Dawes went about the business of forming a company in Mauston, Wisconsin, drawing up a pledge and gathering volunteers on the 25th of April, 1861.

“Forty-eight signers were secured as the result of my first day’s work.”

On April 30th, one hundred men met in Mauston’s Langworthy’s Hall to organize the company.  Dawes was elected “Captain,” which was no surprise, and the company adopted the name “The Lemonweir Minute men,” after a local sleepy river, and spirits were high and the excitement level through the roof.

In early May, Dawes wrote his sister in Ohio:  “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.”

The question of being mustered into the active service now filled the minds of all, and by the second week of May, having received no word from the government as to such, Dawes sent an influential friend to Madison to advocate on behalf of the company.

Shortly, word came that the company was to be mustered into the seventh regiment, but no solid date for such an event to occur was given.

“The first six regiments are now accepted by the General Government,” Dawes wrote in a letter dated June 10th, “and I expect to be ordered into quarters.”

Dawes waited patiently, yet anxiously.  In the meantime, his recruits went about their daily lives, scattered throughout the whole of Juneau County, causing concern in the captain.

To his sister, Dawes wrote, “…I fear they will order us into camp without giving me time to collect my men or recruit for vacancies.”

To ensure he’d have the eighty-three men required to report, Dawes initiated another recruitment drive.

“RALLY!

BOYS, RALLY!  RALLY!

ENLISTMENTS WANTED FOR THE LEMONWEIR MINUTE MEN!

HEADQUARTERS L. M. M., MAUSTON, JUNE 17th, 1861

On June 29th, a very welcome telegram came from W.H. Watson, Military Secretary of the State of Wisconsin:

“Captain R. R. Dawes:  You can board your company at expense of the State at not more than two dollars and a half a week, until further orders.  It is possible that you may be wanted for the sixth regiment.”

More than two months after organizing at Langworthy’s Hall, the company, in compliance with orders, took the cars for Madison and joined the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  They were able to do so because several companies that had registered higher on the list had failed to report.  The Lemonweir Minute Men were mustered in as Company K of the Sixth Wisconsin, to serve for three years or the duration of the war, should it end sooner.

Even now, as the green troops of McDowell’s army moved south to confront the green troops of Beauregard’s, near a creek known as “Bull Run,” the Wisconsin boys were more than a year away from seeing their first real battlefield.

Instead, they settled into camp at Washington City, where they’d be placed under General Irvin McDowell, who had just recently been trounced at Bull Run.  There, they’d be charged with protecting the capital and spend their time becoming soldiers of a real sort, drilling, drilling, drilling.

The men were becoming restless and agitated.  Some feared they’d never see combat.  When McClellan led the Army of the Potomac out of Washington in the spring of 1862, in what would become known as the “Peninsular Campaign,” the Wisconsin boys were left behind, protecting Washington.

“Somebody’s got it in their skull that we western men are ta sit out the whole scrap,” Private Hugh Talty had said.  “If I ever find out who that is, I’ma gonna show the bugger up close that we kin fight better ‘an most, be gob!”

The army had been reorganized, and the Sixth Wisconsin had been reassigned to a brigade with the Second Wisconsin, who had been at Bull Run, as well as the Seventh Wisconsin and 19th Indiana, both of which had yet to see combat.  This grouping would remain for the duration of the war.

While McClellan and his army floundered to the south, the brigade, under General John Gibbon, marched, drilled, trained, and molded themselves into one of the finest brigades in all of the world.  On the parade ground, others took notice.

From General Irvin McDowell:  “Many times I have shown them to officers of distinction, as specimens of American Volunteer Soldiers, and asked them if they had ever anywhere seen even among the picked soldiers of royal and imperial guards, a more splendid body of men, and I have never had an affirmative answer.”

McClellan’s campaign would prove to be a disaster, ending with the Army of the Potomac scampering back toward Washington and the General himself being replaced by General John Pope.

Now, Gibbon’s brigade got their chance.

At Brawner’s Farm, in the 2nd Bull Run Campaign, the brigade would stand toe to toe with the Stonewall Brigade, slugging it out with the veterans for more than an hour.  At the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, they’d hold their ground as the rest of the army collapsed around them.  The brigade would help cover the retreat of Pope’s battered army.

A few weeks later, they’d earn their famous moniker while ascending the battlefield at South Mountain, moving General McClellan enough to exclaim “they must be made of iron.”

They’d see action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, and Five Forks.

Dawes finest moment would come on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, where his Sixth Regiment would charge alone and unsupported on a Rebel line that was hidden in an unfinished railroad cut.  He and his men would capture nearly the entire 2nd Mississippi Regiment, including its officers and colors.  The victory came at a very high price, however.

“The Sixth has lost so far one hundred and sixty men,” Dawes wrote to his wife on July 4th, his 25th birthday.  “Since the first day we have lost only six.  Oh, 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…”

In every engagement, the Iron Brigade would hold their own, proving that their nickname was more than a label. They earned their name through the expenditure of flesh and blood, and in giving the enemy worse than they received.  Outnumbered in nearly every engagement, the brigade seldom, if ever, turned their backs to the enemy.

Dawes, having turned down a promotion to Colonel in late July of 1864, mustered out of the service on August 10 of that year.  He would settle into civilian life with his wife, Mary, in Marietta, Ohio, operating a lumber business.  Dawes would be promoted to a rank of Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865 by President Johnson.  The Senate would confirm the promotion on April 10, 1866.  In August of that year Mary would give birth to a son, Charles, who would later serve as Vice-President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.  Together, Rufus and Mary would raise six children.

Dawes would serve on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater, Marietta College, from 1871 until his death.  He also served for a time as a trustee for the Ohio Institute for the Deaf and Dumb.  He spent one term in congress, elected as a Republican in 1881.  He lost his bid for reelection due to his resistance to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Rufus R. Dawes died at his home in Marietta, Ohio on August 1, 1899.  He was 61.  He is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta.

SOURCES:

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

“In the Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg,” by Lance J. Herdegen, 1990

“The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory,” by Lance J. Herdegen, 2012

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.  It is public domain.

Private James P “Mickey” Sullivan, CO K, 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, 1862

What makes a man who has lost several toes and half a foot in combat re-enlist?

The price of thread, for one thing.

Mickey found himself and his comrades under a heavy fire in the rocky terrain at South Mountain on September 14th, 1862. “When the crash came, either a bullet slit in pieces against the stone or a fragment of the boulder hit me on the sore jaw, causing exquisite pain, and I was undetermined whether to run away or swear.” A few moments later, “there was another crashing volley,” causing, ” a stinging, burning sensation in my right foot followed by the most excruciating pain.”

Mickey would lose much of the foot, being mustered out and sent home to Mauston, Wisconsin. He couldn’t sit still for long. Boredom… boredom….

“There was no company, only discharged invalids that had killed half the rebel army, and men growling about the draft, the army, the scarcity of money. The women were growling because they had to pay fifty cents a yard for calico and twenty-five cents for a spool of thread.”

By the end of February, Mickey was back with Company K at Belle Plain, Virginia, having re-enlisted and traveled by railroad and boat to rejoin the company. This was the 2nd of three times he’d sign up with the 6th.

After being shot in the shoulder in the charge on the railroad cut at Gettysburg, Mickey would convalesce long enough to meet his future wife, fall in love, and then sign up again. He’d return to Wisconsin after mustering out in 1865 with his new wife, Angeline, and an infant son.

Sources:

“The Men Stood Like Iron, by Lance Herdegen, 1997

“An Irishman in the Iron Brigade; The Civil War Memoirs of James P Sullivan, Sergt., Company K, 6th Wisconsin Volunteers,” by William J. K. Beaudot and Lance J Herdegen, 1993

“The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory,” by Lance Herdegen, 2012