A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/Enlistment and training


Enlistment and Training

THE presidential election of 1860 found me just become of age. I exercised my newly-acquired rights of citizenship, in the then little village of Waupun, Wisconsin, by participating in the hurrahing and torchlight processions that in those days characterized a political campaign. I was a carpenter by trade, but immediately after the election went to teach a country school in the backwoods town of Buena Vista, in Portage County. Daily papers in that sparsely settled community were of course an unknown luxury, and it was only through the weeklies that we heard of the gathering storm in the Nation. From them we learned how State after State in the South were holding conventions, that they were passing ordinances of secession, and that the delegates were gathering at Montgomery, Alabama, to organize the Confederate States of America.

In the North, few people seemed as yet to realize that a great war was impending. The Southern newspapers boastfully asserted that secession might be accomplished in peace, for the Northerners were a nation of shopkeepers and mechanics, who would never fight to prevent it. And these statements, reprinted in the Northern papers, were far from soothing, for there is nothing that so quickly arouses the combativeness of men, and especially of young men, as the intimation that they are cowards. Thus were the younger and more hot-headed men on both sides being stirred to warlike feeling by newspaper writers, until such hostile sentiment was aroused that war was inevitable.

Immediately after the secession of South Carolina, I had expressed my intention, in conversation with my friends, that should war follow, I would have a hand in it. This determination grew as events drifted on from bad to worse. I cannot say that I was very strongly animated by a love for the Union in the abstract, or that I considered the abolition of slavery worth fighting for; but I felt that the dismemberment of the Union by armed force, submitted to without a struggle, would be a disgrace to the whole North.

The events of the following winter and spring are a part of the history of the Nation. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861. On April 12, Fort Sumter was fired upon, and surrendered on the 14th. On April 15 Lincoln issued his call for troops, and the war had burst upon the Nation in all its fury.

Waupun for a number of years maintained an independent military company, called the Waupun Light Guard. This organization had in its possession forty stand of arms belonging to the State, and uniforms for about twenty of its members. On the morning of April 19, I had gone down to the main street of the village to buy a paper. While discussing with Captain Clark of the military company, the events of the day, an agent of the State, who had just arrived on the morning train, approached us. He read to the Captain a notice that his company must at once be filled up to the regulation standard and reported for active duty, or surrender its arms, to be used by other companies going into service.

I had not heretofore belonged to this company, but at once told the Captain that I would enlist, and aid him to fill his command to the required standard. A meeting was called for that night, and with the assistance of the patriotic people of the village and surrounding country, the company was filled up by nine o'clock of the next morning. A telegram was immediately sent to Madison, tendering service for the ninety-day call. We had acted promptly and swiftly, yet not quite swiftly enough. Twenty-three other companies had filed notice before us, and the quota of Wisconsin was full.

Enthusiasm among the men ran high, however, and when on May 8 it was learned that no more ninety-day men could be accepted, it was determined by vote to tender service for the entire war, however long that might be. Those whose business was such that they could not leave home for longer than ninety days retired, but their places were quickly taken by others who were anxious to go. We were now accepted, and assigned to the Third Wisconsin Volunteers and ordered to rendevouz at Fond du Lac as soon as camp equipage could be furnished.

The former officers of the company were retained, with the consent of the newly-enlisted men, and additional non-commissioned officers were elected. Among the latter I was chosen First Sergeant, which position I held until promoted to a Second-Lieutenancy.

We boarded at the best hotels in the village, until ordered into camp. We were drilled several hours each day, and prepared for the work in store for us by the study of tactics and army regulations. At length, after what seemed to us in our impatience an interminable delay, we went into camp at Fond du Lac on June 15, and for the first time lived in tents. We now had daily company and battalion drill, together with officers school in tactics and sword exercise. Colonel Thomas H. Ruger, our commander, was a West Point graduate, and under his efficient direction we became, before we had been very long in the service, as thoroughly drilled and disciplined as any regiment of regulars. Indeed we all felt sure, while we were still at Fond du Lac, that we were already veterans.

On June 28 appeared Captain McIntyre of the regular army to inspect us and muster us into the service of the United States. And here occurred a difficulty which illustrates how confidently the people of the North expected that the war would be of only short duration. Many of the best men in the company, who had been entirely willing to enlist "for the war," objected to being mustered in for a three-years' term of service as required by the instructions of the Federal Government. It was only after considerable persuasion that they were all finally induced to do so. Probably not one of them had the slightest idea that he would serve for three years, and then enlist again for another three years, before the great struggle would be ended.

On the day after mustering in, uniforms were issued to us, consisting of light-grey trousers, mixed-grey blouse, and light-coloured hat. At first, they looked bright and fine, but they were of such poor quality, especially the trousers, that within ten days it was necessary to furnish the entire regiment with common blue workingmen's overalls, in order that we might with decency be seen upon the streets. Some money-loving patriot contractor had gathered in his reward from the State of Wisconsin by providing us with shoddy clothes; and in the end it came out of the pay of the Regiment.