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A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/The Third veteranizes

The Third Veteranizes

In December a general order was issued from the War Department, providing for the reënlistment of veteran regiments. It provided for a liberal bounty for all who reënlisted as veterans after two years' service; but it offered what was a greater temptation than anything else, the chance to go home for thirty days as a regiment, with the opportunity to recruit up to the full standard. I explained to my Company all the advantages of this arrangement. Their term of service would not expire until the end of June. By that time the fighting would probably be well over with. By reënlisting now they would secure the bounty, the thirty days furlough, and the honorable record of veteran soldiers, and it would be possible to preserve our organization from the beginning to the end of the war.

Just about this time I was called away from camp to Tullahoma, to sit on the court martial of Colonel E. L. Price of the One Hundred Forty-Fifth New York Regiment, on charges of misbehaviour in battle. When the court adjourned over the Christmas holidays and I returned to my Regiment, I was informed by my First Sergeant that the men of my Company had been talking over the matter of reënlisting, and that more than three-fourths of them were ready to do so if I would stay with them. The contagion spread. By Christmas all but two of the officers, and 240 out of 300 enlisted men present with the Regiment, had, in the language of the day, "veteranized."

On Christmas this surviving remnant of the thousand men of the Third, who had so gayly left the State two-and-a-half years before, started on their return. It was a beautiful day, and for us one of perfect happiness. We were going home with a record that none could surpass and few commands could equal. We were the first regiment from Wisconsin, and I believe the first in the army, to reënlist.

At Madison the arms were stored, and the men scattered to their homes to enjoy their thirty-days furlough. I was just in time to take part in a New Year's dance, and go home in the morning on the coldest day ever known in Wisconsin.

The month of January, 1864, which we spent in Wisconsin, was a season of continuous festivities. The only drawback was the extreme cold, which to us who had just come from the South, seemed more severe than it had ever been before. Everyone seemed to be determined to give the returned soldiers the best time of their lives. Some of the croakers thought it too gay for people who were engaged in a death struggle for the life of the Nation. Those of us, however, who had been at the front, were disposed to be merry while we could, and leave the future to care for itself. Recruiting was going on all the time. Our veterans proved the best recruiting officers in the State. They brought in their brothers and cousins, schoolmates and friends, so that when we were ready to return once more to the south, we had added 300 men to our rolls, picked from the very flower of Wisconsin's citizenry.

On February 2 the veterans of the Regiment assembled at Madison. On the 4th we were again on our way south, and reached Tullahoma the night of the 9th. On the 12th we started out for Fayetteville, the seat of Lincoln County, Tennessee, where we arrived at noon on the following day. On our way we passed through Lynchburg, where there was pointed out to us the house, or rather the ruins of the house, which was said to have been the birthplace of Davy Crockett. At Mulberry, a little farther on, I met a middle-aged citizen who said that he had never known what a United States flag looked like until he had seen one carried by our soldiers in this war.