Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Caring for the wounded and sick took its toll on the surgeons of the 14th Wisconsin. Dr. Walker resigned April 19th and Dr. Cameron soon took a leave of absence and left Dr. David La Counte in charge of the sick with only a hospital steward as an assistant. La Counte had 318 men under his personal care until he resigned his position on July 9th. He was disabled from incessant labor combined with the unwholesome climate. The regiment had been left on the field on provost guard at the special request of the Colonel Wood. The summer heat and the condition of the field was the cause of much disease and the colonel was among those who sickened and died. La Counte remembered in 1888 of the effect of the musketry fire on the trees, the bullet marks ranging from 3 to 30 feet above the ground, the larger number being 10 feet high. He reasoned that the high aim of the soldier was due to the fact that the musket stocks were made too nearly straight.[1]

Edward D. Holton wrote after walking over the battlefield that, “the numerous graves of the slain, the reeking remains of partially buried horses, the wrecks of artillery wagons, the garbage of provisions, the scattered cartridge boxes, canteens, bayonets, balls and bullets - all testify to the locality of the fatal field. But more than all, is the language of the spotted, bruised and broken trees: great oaks are split, and rift, and cut entirely off by cannon shot. Upon many trees I doubt not full twenty musket balls could be counted, and this for a long distance, whichever way you turned.”[2]

The Wisconsin troops had various complaints about the hospitals. A wounded soldier in 16th Wisconsin said that, “the boys in the hospital are starved. The waiters and hangers around drink the liquors and eat the dainties that are furnished to the sick. . . . Hundreds of our brave boys who gallantly stood up in the defense of their country have sunk into untimely graves through the neglect of our villainous surgeons, who instead of attending to the wounded, spent their time riding up and down the river on boats, drinking their wine and enjoying their meals.”[3] Another soldier of the 16th Wisconsin wrote his hometown newspaper that there had a been change of their doctors and said, “Our sick will not mourn their departure; [and] the graves of our bravest and strongest men will not become more numerous.”[4] Another Wisconsin soldier said that the “first surgeon . . . ran off leaving the sick and wounded in the hospital.”[5] David Goodrich James of the 16th Wisconsin wrote to his parents on April 28th, telling them, “I have not taken any of the Doctors medicine since I have enlisted and do not calculate to unless I am obliged to. Others that have been doing so are dropping like sheep.”[6] Another wounded Wisconsin soldier had another complaint, the “nurses . . . are all very well in a humanitarian way,” but “not much in the line of attraction.” The convalescent lamented over the "gaunt females, over thirty years old" that had been inflicted on the boys.[7]

When the 18th Wisconsin regained its camp it found several men in tents there who commented on how the Confederates treated them. Philip Singer of Company C, 18th Wisconsin, said that he was well treated and was furnished with water. Samuel Fish of Company C, 18th Wisconsin, was carried into a tent by a Confederate lieutenant and was given whiskey to alleviate the pain.[8] Ransom J Chase, Company C of the 18th Wisconsin, wrote his hometown newspaper, “A great many stories relative to the cruelty of the rebels to our men, I am happy to state, are untrue. Many of our wounded bear testimony to their kindness and sympathy. The fact is, there are in both armies those who regard little the feelings of the unfortunate.”[9]

Other soldiers wrote home about their impressions of battle. John Mosley of the 16th Wisconsin said, “People may talk about the cowardice of Southern soldiers; [but] they are only deceiving themselves. Soldiers never fought better than those who fought us here.”[10] Mosley also wrote that “some of the men think we will be home by the first of July. I hope so but I think differently. This rebellion is too deeply seated to be soon eradicated. The South must not only be conquered, but held. Down here, where you find one Union man, you will find thousand secessionists.”[11]

A soldier of the 18th Wisconsin remarked that seeing the battle’s carnage “teaches the frailty of all things human, the extent of human suffering and the cost of ‘glorious war’.”[12] An officer of the 16th Wisconsin confessed that he “had no conception of [war] . . . no pen can describe, nor imagination conceive, the intensity of horror that has been presented us.”[13] Another soldier of the 16th Wisconsin remarked that “the men had gloomy thoughts caused by the loss of so many of their comrades, and as the weather was such as to prevent their moving from their tents, the low spirits and inactivity had a bad effect on the health of a good many.”[14] Calvin Morley of the 18th Wisconsin wrote to his wife that “the carts for the dead are constantly running.”[15] Lieutenant Colonel W.D. Niles of the 16th Wisconsin complained, “Here I am surrounded with nothing but death. . . . It is very unhealthy here. . . . Some of the Rebs didn’t get buried very deep, and there is quite a stench rises from the graves. We just made a business of killing the gray-backed rog[ue]s. O they laid think for four miles.”[16]

Jim Newton expected that his 14th Wisconsin would return home by the time another spring came around, “that is if we get ‘Uncle Sams thrashing’ done by that time.”[17] Newton also wrote that a good many of the boys in the 14th Wisconsin came out of the battle with the conclusion that the “Secesh shot awful careless with their guns.”[18]

Elisha Stockwell would never forget the dead man “leaning back against a tree as if asleep, but his intestines were all over his legs.”[19] Another soldier in the 14th Wisconsin told how he saw a terrified rebel fleeing ingloriously on all fours when “a cannon ball struck him, tearing him in pieces, and scattering his limbs in different directions.”[20] Yet another member of the 14th Wisconsin wrote home that he had “the pleasure of shooting at a number or rebels.”[21]

Second Lieutenant Don Shove of Company E, 14th Wisconsin, wrote of Captain Waldo’s death, “He was in advance of our line, with his sword in one hand and his hat in the other, pressing close to the enemy and calling his men to follow.”[22] John Reed said, “There was no flinch about him [Captain Waldo] . . . that bloody day.”[23] Waldo was hit in the chest just above the heart and died immediately. News of Captain Waldo’s death did not reach Manitowoc until April 17th. That day, with flags at half mast in remembrance of the first local soldier killed in combat, the town raised $100 to send Reverend George Engles to recover the body. Ten days later George Waldo’s remains arrived in Manitowoc and were taken to the Masonic Hall to lay in state.[24]

V.E. Young of the 14th Wisconsin wrote to the editor of his hometown paper that “there is a most vindictive hatred existing between the two armies of the West, which cannot be extinguished for generations to come.” He saw a long vengeful war ahead as a result of the rising hatred. “We shall destroy their army organizations, but,” he feared, “we shall not capture them and the war will become a fierce guerrilla warfare that can only be ended by the total annihilation of the one party or the other.”[25]

Captain Calvin R. Johnson, of Company I of the 14th Wisconsin, had a rather low opinion of the South and was not reluctant to share it. “I honestly believe every man of them who owns a slave is a rebel at heart. Many of them are loud mouthed in their union professions while union troops are in force in their neighborhood; but as we get further south I expect (so bitter are they) that assassinations, picket shooting, etc., will be frequent. I am inclined to think that extermination only will ever fetch back a union sentiment in the hearts of our ‘southern brethren’.”[26] On the topic of slavery Johnson said, “[the] people owning . . . slaves live no better off than many a logging shanty up in the pine woods of Wisconsin. From general appearances of things[,] I should judge that the people of the western part of Tennessee are 175 years behind the people of Jackson County in agriculture.”[27]

Soon after the battle Captain Lawton of Company F, 14th Wisconsin, resigned his commission. Newton said that as soon as the battle commenced Lawton was seen making for the river about as fast as his legs would carry him. When asked where he was going Captain Lawton replied that he was going to draw rations so that the boys would have something to eat as soon as they were done fighting. Newton said that the only order he heard Captain Lawton say that morning was to cease fire, which Lieutenant Colonel Isaac E Messmore heard and quickly countermanded. Newton called First Lieutenant George W Bowers an “arrant coward,” who avoided combat by calling sick and stayed behind at Savannah. During the second day a group of stragglers formed a company in Savannah and called on Bowers to lead them down to the battle as he was the only officer they could find “walking around doing nothing.” First Lieutenant Bowers though begged off saying he was too sick to walk and the stragglers never got into the battle.[28] Newton might be confusing Lieutenant Bowers with Adjutant Beriah E Brower whom the Fond du Lac Reporter called the only skulker and coward in the 14th Wisconsin. "Nothing more could be expected of a braggart, and one who boasted he could drink more whiskey than any man in the regiment."[29]

Due to the serious wounding and resignation of Lieutenant Colonel Messmore Major Hancock was promoted to lieutenant colonel to date from April 7th and Captain Lyman M Ward was promoted to major, dating from April 18th.[30] Following the battle the 14th Wisconsin remained at Pittsburg Landing. Colonel Wood was appointed Provost Marshal and the regiment acted as provost guard. For four days the 14th Wisconsin remained without tents, exposed to almost continual rains and without sufficient rations. The fatigues of the battle and these exposures together with the unhealthiness of the position produced much sickness. The health of Colonel Wood was seriously impaired and he returned to Wisconsin. He would die on June 17th from fatigue and disease contracted in the service. At his death another round of promotions made Lieutenant Colonel Hancock a full colonel, Major Ward the new lieutenant colonel and Captain James Pollys the new major.[31]

During the winter of 1863-64 while encamped at Vicksburg a “Board of Honor” awarded medals of honor to the following men of the 14th Wisconsin for gallant services: To Sergeant Asel Childs, of Company C, a medal of silver inscribed “Shiloh, Corinth and Vicksburg;” to Sergeant Herman Runge, of Company D, a medal of gold inscribed “Shiloh, Corinth and Vicksburg;” to Corporal Moses Wynn, of Company H, a medal of silver inscribed “Shiloh, Corinth and Vicksburg;” and to Corporal Adin Gibson, of Company H, a medal of gold inscribed “Shiloh and Vicksburg.”[32]

[1] 1888 Grand Army p 363.
[2] Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, p 491.
[3] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 157.
[4] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 154.
[5] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 157. The surgeon referred to is most likely the 14th Wisconsin’s surgeon, William H Walker, who resigned his position on April 19th, 1862.
[6] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 154.
[7] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 157.
[8] Nanzig, The Badax Tigers, p 42-3.
[9] Nanzig, The Badax Tigers, p43.
[10] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 151.
[11] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 173.
[12] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 119.
[13] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 120.
[14] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 121.
[15] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 122.
[16] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 119.
[17] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 151.
[18] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, pp 149-50.
[19] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 107.
[20] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, pp 105-6.
[21] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 164.
[23] Trask, Kerry A. Fire Within: A Civil War Narrative From Wisconsin. (Kent, OH: Kent State, 1995) p 103.
[24] Trask, Fire Within, pp 103-4.
[25] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 178.
[26] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 67-8.
[27] Frank & Reaves, Seeing the Elephant, p 68.
[28] Ambrose, A Wisconsin Boy in Dixie. p 22-3.
[29] Oshkosh Courier. May 2, 1862. Page 2, column 1.
[30] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 601.
[31] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, p 602. Lyman Ward would eventually become colonel of the 14th Wisconsin.
[32] Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, pp 606-7.

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