Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category

Captain John M. Lindley, 19th Indiana Regiment

Captain John M. Lindley, 19th Indiana Regiment.

Captain Lindley, born April 12, 1831, was a fine example of the top-notch officers put forth by the Iron Brigade. Described by Colonel Samuel Williams as “cool and courageous” in battle, Lindley would competently lead his men on every field on which he was present until mustering out as a Lt. Colonel in October of 1864. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Brawner’s Farm and, having been promoted to Major, was wounded again while leading his men in an organized retreat through the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, when a ball struck his hand and saber, eventually leading to the amputation of a finger. Another ball grazed his cheek, leaving no permanent damage. Lindley would receive a pension after the war.

Lt. Colonel Lindley would die at the young age of 42 on February 12, 1874. He is buried in the Friends Meeting House Cemetery in Chester County, Pennsylvania.


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

Photo courtesy of The Indiana State Library


 Quartermaster Captain James S. Drum, 19th Indiana Regiment

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, James Drum moved to Indianapolis as a boy, where he’d become a merchant and enroll in the National Guards, a Capitol City Militia unit. His first official military assignment was in the Commissary at Camp Morton, but he desired a more active assignment and was given a commission as a 1st Lieutenant in the 19th Indiana. Promoted to Captain in early 1863, Drum was transferred to the Commissary Department and assigned to a post in Nicholasville, Kentucky, where he would die of disease later that year.



On Many a Bloody Field: Four Years in the Iron Brigade, by Alan D Gaff

Photo courtesy of the Indiana State Library


Henry Matrau, CO G, 6th Wisconsin Regiment

“We had an awful hot time at Gettysburg but it does seem that I was the luckiest fellow in existence. There were men falling in every direction around me & the best-hearted fellow in our company was killed right close to me, so near that he nearly fell on me.”

Matrau’s description is in line with most other accounts of the 1st day of Gettysburg. Nearly all literate survivors of the battle would write to someone about their experience, but few would go into gory detail.

Only a veteran can describe the real horror of combat, and every veteran needs only one shot fired at them to understand that civilians will never understand, never empathize, never see how war really is. This effect was multiplied in the days before mass media, when a propaganda song was all that was needed to convince a town that war brought all those involved in it absolute glory.

How does one sit down and compose a letter, and themselves, after spending nearly an entire day killing the enemy and watching those around them die or become maimed?

“My dear Mother,” wrote Major Rufus R Dawes to his mother on September 5, 1862. “I have tried in several ways to send you word of my safety. We have had a terrible ordeal. We were in battle or skirmish almost every day from August 21st to 31st. Our brigade has lost eight hundred men; our regiment, one hundred and twenty-five. The country knows how nobly our men have borne themselves. I have been at my post in every battle…”

Dawes, even in mentioning the losses in terms of numbers, keeps the horror of war masked behind cold figures and the gallantry of the regiment.

Many, including Dawes, would credit a higher power with their survival. Some would skim right over the details of battles, especially after having seen a lot of it, begging excuse for the omission. After the battle of Weldon Railroad, Matrau would write his parents, “… I take this opportunity to tell you that we had another battle, or, rather, a series of battles, scince (sic) I wrote to you and that your unworthy son, by the watchful guidance of Providence, is still left alive and well. I will not go into a regular detailed acct of the battles for I hav’nt (sic) the room or time…”

Although it is possible, probable even, that Matrau hadn’t the room or time, it is even more likely that he hadn’t the words to describe what he’d seen and done that day.


Letters Home, Henry Matrau of the Iron Brigade, Edited by Marcia Reid-Green;

Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, Rufus R Dawes

 “Until the Sanitary Commission came along we were in a horrible condition.  I do not care to describe my own.


Sgt. William H Harries, CO B, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry

Harries, a LaCrosse Wisconsin native, was 19 years old when the Iron Brigade went into the Cornfield at Antietam. Shot in the left breast, Harries removed himself from the action, finding medical attention in the rear of the battle line. He would survive the wound and return to the 2nd Wisconsin, mustering out as a 1st Lieutenant when his enlistment expired in June of 1864. He’d serve the rest of the war as a Captain in the Veterans Reserve Corp.

34 years later, Harries would chronicle his experience at Antietam in “In the Ranks at Antietam,” the text of which appears below.  The text and spelling remain as written.

“General Hooker crossed Antietam Creek on the afternoon of the 16th by the bridge in front of Keedyville and the ford below it. The Iron Brigade crossed at the ford. After crossing we turned sharply to the left, feeling our way until the skirmishers became actively engaged, when we halted after dark and bivouacked on the ridge, Doubleday’s Division resting with its right upon the turnpike. While getting into position we could hear the commands given by the officers of the enemy’s troops. The combatants slept on their arms that night, well knowing that the morning would bring bloody work. I slept very little…I felt certain that there would be desperate fighting in the morning and that many of my comrades would fail to answer at roll call when the morning sun had again sunk behind the western hills. I realized that I might be among the killed…When we woke up in the morning of the 17th, Doubleday’s Division faced south from the Poffenberger farm and beheld a beautiful landscape with gently rolling fields and woods, of which the prominent point appeared to be the little Dunkard church with its brick walls covered with a coating of whitewash, situated on the west side of the Hagerstown turnpike, and backed by the foliage of the west woods.
The cornfield that was soon to be deluged in the blood of blue and gray was on the east side of the turnpike and between Doubleday’s troops and the Dunkard church….
The brigade moved out just as day was dawning in close column by division, the Sixth Wisconsin leading, followed by the Second Wisconsin, Seventh Wisconsin, and Nineteenth Indiana. I was in the first division of the Second Wisconsin. We were hungry, ragged, and dirty. Before starting we pulled up our belts a notch or two. As we had very little to eat the day before and no breakfast at all, this was an easy thing to do. The brigade marched towards the D. R. Miller house and after proceeding about ten rods and before we were deployed, a battery of the enemy opened fire on us. When I saw the battery moving into place, I thought it belonged to our own forces, The first and second shells it threw, exploded above us, but the third, which I think was a percussion shell, struck and exploded in the rear rank of the last division of the Sixth Wisconsin, killing two men and wounding eleven, one of whom had both arms taken off. As I passed to one side to avoid stepping on the killed, the voice of Colonel Bragg of the Sixth Wisconsin rang out, “Steady on the right, Sixth.” We then were deployed in line of battle, marching steadily forward, and when we reached the corn field we halted and began firing at the enemy. We had not been firing very long when a Minie bullet struck me in the left breast. I at once dropped my gun and started for the rear, going back as far as the Poffenberger farm, where I lay down at the side of the house on this farm which was opposite to that from which the enemy’s shots were coming. In a short time the ground about me was covered in wounded. Here the surgeon of our regiment slapped a handful of lint on the wound, cut the shirt and wrapped me with a roll of bandage…
Sometime in the afternoon I was taken from the stone house to a small frame house still farther in the rear, where all the wounded of my company were collected together. I was placed on a blanked with Sergeant Uriel P. Olin, who died some time during the night. He was left by my side until morning when he was taken out and buried…
On the 18th we were taken to a barn in Keedysville, every other place in the village that could be used being already occupied, and from there in a few weeks we were taken to Frederick.
The barn that I was in at Keedysville contained about sixty wounded, all but two or three belonging to the Iron Brigade. Until the Sanitary Commission came along we were in a horrible condition. I do not care to describe my own; suffice to say that I felt like a new creature when I got on a clean shirt.”


Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle: Papers Read Before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1892-1897, Fourth Series.

Company B, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry (LaCrosse Light Guard) Facebook page


Major Jerome A Watrous, formerly of CO E, 6th Wisconsin Infantry

Watrous, a Conklin, NY native, was living in Wisconsin and serving on the editorial staff of the Appleton Crescent at the outbreak of the Civil War. Enlisting in Company E of the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry, he’d rise to the rank of Ordnance Sergeant, gaining fame and notoriety for his actions in the infamous “Mule Train Charge” on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. (See for an excellent article by Lance J Herdegen on this topic)

Serving for a short time as Adjutant General of the Iron Brigade, Watrous would muster out of service on May 15, 1865 with a brevet rank of Captain.

Following the war, Watrous would enjoy a long career as a newspaper man, writing and editing for publications like The Black River Falls Jackson County Banner and The Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph.

A Republican, Watrous would serve for a time in the Wisconsin State Assembly. Later, he’d serve as Wisconsin State Pension Agent from 1887 to 1889, and from 1890 to 1892 he held the position of Milwaukee Collector of Customs.

Called to duty again when war with Spain broke out, Watrous was commissioned as a Major in the regular U.S. Army in 1898, serving as paymaster of the Department of the Columbia. In December, 1901, Watrous was made chief paymaster of the Department of the Southern Philippines, serving in this capacity until September of 1904, when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and retired from active service.

He returned to Milwaukee, spending the majority of his time writing historical articles and organizing/advocating for Grand Army of the Republic events and reunions, especially those pertaining to his beloved Iron Brigade. He died on June 5, 1922 in Whitewater, Wisconsin at the age of 81.


Wisconsin Historical Society

“Memoirs of Milwaukee County, Volume 1,” edited by Jerome
Watrous and published by the Western Historical Society at Madison, 1909

Photo appears as the front piece of “Memoirs of Milwaukee County, Volume 1,” 1909. It is now public domain.


                                        Major General John Fulton Reynolds, Commander of I Corps.

Reynolds, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania native, was nominated to West Point by future President James Buchanan in 1837 where he’d graduate 26th in a class of 50 in 1841. He would serve in the war with Mexico, earning the respect of his peers and those he’d lead in the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista.

Following the Mexican War, Reynolds would accept assignments to duties in Maine, New Orleans, and New York. In 1855, he’d be assigned to Fort Orford, Oregon, where he would participate in the Rogue River Wars and the Utah war with the Mormons in 1857 and 1858.

He was the Commandant of Cadets at West Point from September 1860 to June 1861, while also serving as an instructor of artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics.

Early in the Civil War, following orders that would contradict one another, Reynolds would be assigned to a board that interviewed and examined volunteer officers, determining their value as military leaders. After a short stint in this position, he’d be assigned to command the Pennsylvania reserves.

In early 1862, Reynolds would be named as the military Governor of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Following the battle of Gaines Mill, he’d be captured by the Rebels and held at Libby Prison. He was eventually exchanged for Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman.

During the Chancellorsville campaign, Reynolds would clash with his commander, General Joseph Hooker, over strategy and the position of his corps. Following the battle, a Union disaster, Reynolds would join the chorus of General Officers calling for the replacement of Hooker.

On the morning of July 1st, 1863, Reynolds was commanding the left-wing of the Army of the Potomac, with operational control of I Corps, III Corps, and XI Corps, as well as General Buford’s Cavalry division. As I Corps was approaching the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where General Buford’s dismounted cavalry was engaged with elements of Harry Heth’s forces, Reynolds rode ahead of his men and reconnoitered with Buford, who gave him the details of the situation. After placing the men of Cutler’s Brigade in position near the Chambersburg Pike, Reynolds found the leaders of the Iron Brigade, under General Solomon Meredith, and moved them into a position in the Herbst Woods. “Forward men, for God’s sake, forward… and drive those men out of those woods!” Moments later, a Rebel bullet would enter the back of Reynolds’ skull, killing him instantly. The General was 42 years old.

At the time of his death, General John F Reynolds was considered by many in the Union army to the best field officer in the Army of the Potomac. Well loved by his men, many would insist that he should have been promoted to command the entire army over General George G. Meade, who had received the command a few days before the battle of Gettysburg. Whether or not Reynolds would have had more or less success than Meade is still a constant issue of debate. The bullet that killed him not only robbed the General of the chance to prove himself further, but also cemented in a stellar reputation, stopping any future endeavors that may have damaged that reputation. Among Civil War historians, Reynolds remains among the most respected officers to have worn the blue federal suit of the Army of the Potomac.


“For God’s Sake, Forward! General John F. Reynolds,” by Michael A. Riley, 1995

“Towards Gettysburg: A Biography of General John F. Reynolds,” by Edward J. Nichols, 1988

“Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign,” by Lance J. Herdegen, 2008

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. It is public domain.

I can really see you wearing this…”

I’ve been fascinated by our civil war since I first found out that Americans were killing Americans in combat here in America.  I’m not exactly sure when I discovered this — I’m sure it was later than most southerners, as the war itself is far less ingrained in the minds of the young up here in Wisconsin.  It was my 8th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Derus, who gave me my first hard lesson on the war between the states, and ever since I haven’t gone more than a few days without thinking about the subject, talking about the subject, learning about the subject.

As a Wisconsinite, my position on the war has always been that of a pale pastel, just a bit of pure Americana that happened to be the biggest catalyst in shaping our nation today.  I’ve never felt the anger that many southerners feel, even today, about losing their bid for independence.  I’m sure that a few of them reading this post will feel their ears burn when I mention that Lincoln violated the constitution by suspending habeas corpus by throwing the Maryland secessionists in jail without trial.  Right now, these same folks are thinking of all the other things Lincoln did that made him evil in their eyes.

As a white man, I won’t even try to convince anyone that I can relate to the plight of the African-Americans at the time of the war or in today’s world.  Yes, I know the history.  Yes, I understand what racism is, what slavery is, and I understand what hate is.

When we were 21, the woman who would later become my wife and I went to one of those old-time photo shops while we were at the Wisconsin State Fair.  Neither of us had ever done this before, and we had fun playing dress-up and posing for the camera.  Since I’m a “Union man” by birth, I decided to go with the Confederate uniform instead, as the allure of being a Rebel was too much to pass up.  We bought the photo, had it framed, and it hung on our wall for over twenty years.

Today, I manage a Facebook page that is dedicated to the “Iron Brigade,” one of the most celebrated Union brigades to fight in the civil war.  Staring at the photo of my wife and me in southern garb one night last November, I decided to pull it down, scan it, and use it as my profile picture on Facebook.  I’ve always liked the photo.  I look good in it, and the mullet I’m sporting could actually pass as the long hair worn by many of the officers and soldiers of the Rebel army.


The photo attracted a lot of attention, mostly because it’s over twenty years old and people were giving me grief about my age and my hair and my lack of hair in today’s world.  A lot of friends simply “liked” the photo, including one of my African-American friends, a friend whom I haven’t seen in person since 1994.  We’ve been Facebook friends since April of 2010.

His comment, however, was striking:  “I can really see you wearing this…

It took awhile for this comment to grab hold, but it stayed with me in a dormant state for weeks, rolling around in my thick head, waiting for translation or moderation or arbitration or…


Damn.  Why did I upload that photo?  Why couldn’t I have worn blue instead?  What kind of image does it send to people that a Wisconsin boy is wearing the uniform of those who had fought to preserve slavery?

We all have our prejudices.  Those who claim otherwise are either in a box or they’re lying.  But there are stark differences between being prejudiced and being a racist… and I’m not a racist.  I would NEVER fight for slavery.

I can really see you wearing this…”

My friend “Liked” the photo even as he commented on it.  Knowing him, and knowing that he knows me, I don’t think that he thinks I’m a racist.  It is my deepest hope that he would have said the same thing had the uniform been blue and the flag had been the Stars and Stripes rather than the Confederate Battle Flag.

Now, the kicker:  I haven’t ASKED him about it.  I’m afraid to even approach the subject with him, as I’m afraid of how trite I’ll seem, how ignorant I’ll seem, how downright stupid I’ll seem.

But it doesn’t matter how he sees me, because I am the one wearing the uniform.  It is the perception that is important, not the person holding that perception.  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that my friend’s opinion isn’t important.  I’m saying that it’s too late for me to take off the uniform.

What if I’d dressed up as a Nazi for Halloween, instead?

Perhaps my Jewish friends would say something like, “I can really see you wearing this…”



Captain Edwin Brown, CO E, 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment

Edwin Brown was born on February 21, 1832 in New Berlin, New York. When he was four years old, Edwin’s father, Isaac, a builder and architect by trade, moved the family to Green Bay, Wisconsin. A few years later, they’d move again… this time to the Fond Du Lac area, where Isaac would take a large part in the development of the new community. 

Edwin would earn a degree in law from Appleton’s Lawrence University in 1851. He’d become close with another attorney, Edward Bragg, who would form “Bragg’s Rifles,” which would eventually become Company E of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers. Brown was elected First Lieutenant and was promoted to Captain when Bragg was promoted to Major. 

Brown easily learned the skills needed to be both a soldier and a leader of men. Charismatic and competent, he was well respected by his peers and those who served under him. Brown was also thought to have had the best singing voice of all in the Sixth Regiment, and often times all activity in camp would stop while the Captain sang his favorites, such as “Benny Havens O.”

Brown died a soldier’s death, leading his company in the cornfield at Miller’s Farm on the Antietam battlefield, September 17, 1862. He left behind a wife, Ruth, and three children, Louis, Edward (called “Pier”), and Hattie. He was 30 years old. He is buried at the Rienzi Cemetery in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.


“The Men Stood Like Iron, How the Iron Brigade Won its Name,” by Lance J Herdegen, 1997


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

Photo is from Wikicommons. It is listed as public domain.



“Fight for the Colors,” by Don Troiani

Occasionally, in the midst of a discussion about our Civil War, someone makes a remark that downplays the war’s significance, stating something like, “Well, I don’t think it’s affected me,” or “I no longer think it’s relevant,” or “None of my ancestors fought in it so my family wasn’t affected.” I’ve been told that our Civil War has been “over-romanticized.” Last week, someone commented that the Civil War has been “dulled by the casualties of the world wars fought in the twentieth century.” Many think that my passion for learning, imagining, teaching, and writing about the war between the states has to do with some desire to relive that time period. Actually, I can think of few things that would be more horrifying than experiencing our Civil War first hand.

To these people… and others who believe that historians are making a mountain out of a molehill in terms of the Civil War: If you want to understand the effect that our Civil War had on the population of the United States in the mid-19th century, then you need to understand the numbers. Only then can you grasp how each and every family in the United States, north and south, was impacted by the events from 1861 through 1865.

Recently, I shared a post on The Iron Brigade in Media page dealing with Professor Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia insisting that if one wants to teach about the war, they must understand what a “Company” was. I added to this, stating that, although the numbers are important, a civil war company is a cross-section of the community in which it was formed. Often, a company (usually composed of 100 men) consisted of men that all came from the same town, city, village, or county. They shared the same culture and a common past… and sometimes when a regiment got into a hot spot on a battlefield an entire community lost its husbands, sons, and brothers. But this article is about numbers. Even if we forget that companies are anything other than 100 men fighting together for a common cause, they are infinitely important as logistical statistics. So are regiments, brigades, and corps. Casualties, in the form of Killed, Wounded, and Missing are almost always measured in two ways: Numbers and percentages.

Let’s apply the numbers and percentages from our Civil War population to the population of our country today.

The population of the US in 1861 was roughly 31 million people. Today, our population is approaching 315 million people. That means that today there are almost exactly ten times the amount of people living in the United States as there were when South Carolina seceded from the union. This makes it convenient to compare figures from both time periods in an easy to understand formula, the power of ten. Here’s an example: When President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers after the fall of Fort Sumter, we can assume, based on percentage, that today he would call for 750,000, based on the power of ten.

Now, please allow me this disclaimer about numbers. The numbers listed below, except where noted, will either be rounded or estimated, and based on multiple sources or other factors. This will hardly have an effect on the application of our statistics, however. The shock value of our outcome shall retain its charge. If your source states that there were 5,000 more casualties at a particular site, please know that I understand that such discrepancies exist.

Before we get back to the Civil War, let’s take a moment to look at some modern-day numbers. Roughly 2.4 million Americans have served in some military capacity in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn since 2001. Of the 2.4 million who have served, 6,750 men and women have died while in uniform, a number that is confirmed by US Central Command and concurred with by Military Times and their website, This means that less than 3/10 of one percent of those who served over the last twelve years have been killed in the line of duty. Understand, I am not attempting to downplay the losses of our military since 9/11. I mean no disrespect to ANYONE. My son, an Army Specialist and engineer, came home from a nine month deployment last Christmas Eve.

There are few families in this nation that do not know of a Soldier, Marine, Airman, or Sailor that has been lost in our twelve-year war against terrorism. Everybody, seemingly, can name a member of our military that has given his or her all in this, the longest war in our history… whether that person is family, friend, friend of friend, or an acquaintance of a friend. These wars have affected each of us through human loss, economic hardship, political turmoil, and a daily dosage of news coverage, filling our living rooms with all of it.

Now, let’s talk about the Battle of Gettysburg. Common estimates list the total casualties at around 46,000, with the number of killed somewhere between 5,700 and 7,600. Giving these numbers the power of ten, total casualties based on today’s population would be roughly 460,000, with the total killed ranging from 57,000 to 76,000. The number of killed in action at Gettysburg would eclipse the number of Americans killed in all of the Vietnam War, again, based on today’s population.

The Civil War saw roughly 620,000 Americans die. That’s 2% of the population. Notice that I didn’t say “2% of those who served.” Earlier, I wrote that 3/10 of one percent ( 0.0028%) of those who have served since 2001 have died in uniform. If we apply those 6,750 fallen to the ENTIRE AMERICAN POPULATION then the number is much, much smaller. So small, in fact, that my calculator errors when trying to figure the percentage.

Applying the power of ten to the 620,000 who lost their lives in the Civil War, we see that today’s America would see 6.2 million die based on the same percentages. If we apply the 2% to today’s population, 315,000,000, we get 6.3 million.

Imagine if 2% of our people lost their lives in war today… and not overseas, but in our back yards and orchards, cornfields and parking lots, in our city streets, school yards, along our riverbanks, forests, and mountaintops. Imagine how each of our lives would be affected then, with entire villages sometimes losing every young man who had once inhabited them. American families living during the civil war didn’t just know OF somebody who was killed, they were personally affected through the deaths of family members, be it their husbands, sons, brothers, nephews, cousins, and neighbors. Some families lost as many as four or five immediate members while losing their cousins as well. Throw in the obvious economic hardships, such as the rising cost of thread, fabrics such as calico and cotton, and the price of bread, especially for southerners. Imagine a post-war state budget where half of the money allotted went for prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans. This is exactly what occurred in Mississippi in 1866.

The Civil War is “over-romanticized?” Perhaps it is if you’re watching “Gone with the Wind,” “The Blue and the Gray,” or “North and South” rather than looking at the truth. If you ask me, none of us are paying enough attention to it.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.


The Civil War Trust via

The Civil War, by Ken Burns

        Honor and Empathy in Triumph and Humiliation

There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant… and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” – Gen Robert E Lee, Appomattox Court House, VA – April 9, 1865

On they come, with the old swinging route step and swaying battle flags. In the van, the proud Confederate ensign. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood; men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?” – Maj Gen Joshua L Chamberlain, after receiving the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.



Chamberlain was clearly moved during the surrender ceremony, causing him to order his men to give the marching salute as the Rebels marched past. Confederate Major General John B Gordon was momentarily stunned, then he and his mount pivoted to face General Chamberlain. Removing his hat,  the General and his horse bowed, as one, before Gordon ordered his men to return the salute. This moment marked the beginning of the healing of our nation, and it is my favorite tidbit from all that is our Civil War. Revolutions, failed or not, do not normally end this way. It ranks as one of the most beautiful moments in our history.