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Above and Beyond the Call of Duty by Emily Irwin

Endl Class Picture

Gerald Endl’s 8th grade graduation class from Saint Joseph Catholic School. Endl is in the back row, second from the left.

On July 11, 1944, Gerald L. Endl made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to his country. “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,” Endl was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military honor. Today, 70 years later, we recognize Staff Sergeant Endl and his sacrifice.

Born and raised in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Endl moved to Janesville before joining the Army in 1941.  He was first sent to Camp Livingston in Louisiana for basic training before being deployed to the Pacific Theater with the 32nd Infantry Division in 1942.

Gerald Endl

Gerald Endl

Stationed near Anamo, New Guinea, Endl was at the front of his platoon on July 11, 1944 when they encountered enemy troops. With his platoon leader and eleven other men in his unit wounded, Endl assumed command and attempted to advance to an open clearing. Pinned down by enemy gunfire, Endl realized that seven men in his unit would be trapped if the platoon was pushed back. The following quotation is taken from Endl’s official Medal of Honor citation:

“In the face of extremely heavy fire he went forward alone and for a period of approximately 10 minutes engaged the enemy in a heroic close-range fight, holding them off while his men crawled forward under cover to evacuate the wounded and to withdraw. Courageously refusing to abandon 4 more wounded men who were lying along the trail, 1 by 1 he brought them back to safety. As he was carrying the last man in his arms he was struck by a heavy burst of automatic fire and was killed.”

On March 13, 1945, Staff Sergeant Endl was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was 28 at the time of his death and is buried at Saint Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Fort Atkinson. Fellow soldier Captain S.M. Darnelly of the 32nd Division wrote:

“Gerald was an outstanding leader of men. I have never met a finer soldier. His devotion to duty and to his men earned the greatest admiration of all. We, his comrades, could have no better  example of the highest traditions of American soldiering. Many wounded comrades owe their lives to [his] unselfish courage…”

Saint Joseph

4th and 5th grade students from Saint Joseph Catholic School.

70 years later, Gerald Endl’s story has been brought to a new generation. On April 15, 2014, a group of 4th and 5th grade students from Fort Atkinson’s Saint Joseph Catholic School, the same school Endl attended, visited the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and viewed Endl’s Medal of Honor on exhibit.

Endl’s widow, Anna Marie, preserved many of her husband’s photographs and documents relating to his service and his death. These papers, now in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Archives, tell the story of Staff Sergeant Endl’s courage and sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty.  Learn more about Wisconsin Medal of Honor recipients at http://bit.ly/TYAigr.

Theresa M. Dischler: A WAAC’s Story

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, plans were underway to form a military-affiliated organization for women.  Its goal was to train women for noncombatant military positions, thereby freeing men for combat.  Final approval passed Congress in May 1942 and established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) “for the purpose of further making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of this Nation.”

Theresa M. Dischler, WAAC, WWII

Theresa M. Dischler

Theresa M. Dischler, a native of Plain, Wisconsin, joined the WAAC in September 1942 and was the first woman from Plain to enlist in the organization.  She arrived at Fort Des Moines, Iowa in October for basic training.  Though never expected to see combat, WAACs nonetheless underwent a condensed version of military training.  In her oral history, Dischler said:

“Our basic training consisted mostly in marching and drills and that type of thing.  There were no guns involved but we did have gas mask training.  KP, naturally, and I think everything else that the boys had.”

Dischler advanced quickly in the new organization and achieved the rank of Sergeant in March 1943.  As part of the 24th Company, 3rd Regiment, Dischler (known as “Sergeant Squeaky” to her fellow WAACs) served in Iowa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., working as a photography specialist as well as a Supply Sergeant.  In her free time, Dischler played her accordion and joined a WAAC baseball team.

While Dischler was successful in her position, she opted not to reenlist when the WAAC lost its auxiliary status and was placed fully under the Army’s jurisdiction in July 1943 as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).  Instead, she preferred to follow the same adventuresome spirit that led her to join the WAAC in the first place and try new things, although she continued to work toward the war effort as a civilian, transporting army vehicles across the country.

Dischler can be seen here in a group photograph of her WAAC baseball team taken at Bolling Field in Washington D.C.

Theresa M. Dischler, WAAC baseball, WWII, Bolling Field, Washington, D.C.

Theresa Dischler and her WAAC baseball team at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C.

Dischler, identified as “Squeaky,” is in the back row, second from the left.

Women’s baseball grew in popularity during WWII due to the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).  Founded in 1943 by chewing gum tycoon Philip K. Wrigley, the AAGPBL was created to ensure baseball’s continued popularity while male baseball players were in the military.  It was also used as to encourage WAAC enlistment.  On July 1, 1943, a joint WAAC/AAGPBL rally was held at Wrigley Field to boost WAAC recruitment.  The first game was a WAAC matchup between Camp Grant and Fort Sheridan, followed by an AAGPBL game between the South Bend Blue Sox/Rockford Peaches and the Kenosha Comets/Racine Belles.  A program including “calisthenics, precision drills, a dress parade led by the 28 piece Fort Sheridan band, and recruiting talks…” was held between the two games.  The rally, attended by 7000 fans, included the first night game ever played at Wrigley Field.

Learn more about Wisconsin in World War II by visiting the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center or read more online at  http://bit.ly/1nZshiV

 

 

D-Day + 70: Honoring Wisconsin’s Heroes by Kevin Hampton

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!  You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

-   General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a letter to the Allied forces prior to D-Day

General Eisenhower addresses paratroopers prior to boarding their transports for the Normandy invasion. Library of Congress.

General Eisenhower addresses paratroopers prior to boarding their transports for the Normandy invasion. Library of Congress.

Seventy years ago today, the pivotal campaign of WWII took place along the coast of Normandy, France.

Known almost universally as “D-Day,” Operation Overlord was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Using the oral history collection from our archives, we are able to preserve the stories and accounts of Wisconsin’s heroes that took part in that historic event. The story of Milwaukee native Martin Gutekunst, gives insight into the mindset of those young heroes so many years ago.

Gutekunst, who was only 27 at the time, served as a radioman with the 2nd Beach Battalion on Utah Beach. In preparation for the invasion, he remembered receiving the now famous letter from General Eisenhower the night before the invasion. “They had to cancel the first invasion date and, well, there, of course, just before boarding the ship, we were in the staging area and we got the famous message from Eisenhower. And that seemed to calm everybody. Very good morale. So then we boarded the LST for our journey to France…”

Troops approaching the beaches in landing craft. National Archives.

Troops approaching the beaches in landing craft. National Archives.

By the next morning, hundreds of thousands of allied sailors and soldiers were in position, waiting off the coast of Normandy. Despite the massive preparation for the invasion and the extensive training the units received, coordinating the landing of thousands of men in each wave on the beaches was a complicated task and undoubtedly not everything played out the way it was planned. In the landing craft of the 2nd Beach Battalion, Gutekunst remembered the approach to the beach.

Troops approaching the beaches in landing craft. National Archives.“We circled around and then peeled off at the right time. There was a little conference between the men on the boat and the officers…. And we were discussing about going in, because everything seemed wrong according to the pictures we had looked at the day before. And history has proven that was right. We were at the wrong spot.”

Once they made it to the beaches, the Beach Battalions were tasked with clearing the German obstacles. The troops had landed at low tide so that the obstacles were clearly visible, however that meant the troops had farther to go up the beach exposing themselves to additional enemy fire.  “We had a long walk from where we got off the LCVP until we got to the area where we started to having to blow up the obstacles. You know, they were wicked looking things. I remember so well how many there were and how much we cleared away when we got through.”

Helmet worn by Martin Gutekunst on June 6, 1944 on Utah Beach. Martin Gutekunst Collection, Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

One of the things that Gutekunst remembered the most was the noise of battle. “On D-Day, there was tremendous noise…. It was so noisy that the radio wouldn’t work. Couldn’t use the radio. So the officer told me to help string wire from one obstacle to another for the explosions.”

When asked what he was feeling or thinking while being under fire for the first time, he said, “To be honest with you, I never knew what to expect, so I just took everything as just part of my job. And I never gave it much thought as to what was going on. Besides, I was sort of numb by the whole thing.”

After the beachheads were secure, Gutekunst’s battalion remained on the beaches, clearing obstacles for a month before being sent back to England and the United States for more training. In 1945, Martin shipped off to the Pacific to take part in the landings at Okinawa and to prepare for the proposed invasion of Japan.

As we reflect on the sacrifices of those heroes 70 years ago today, and all WWII veterans, it is important to remember the duty we have to preserve these stories and share them for generations to come. To learn more about Wisconsin’s veterans and their stories, search our collections online at http://bit.ly/1lbdgNq, or visit our Research Center located on the 3rd floor of 30 W. Mifflin Street in Madison.

The Statue on the Square by Guest Author Bob Drane

Hans Heg

Unpublished photo of Colonel H.C. Heg (courtesy of The Robert Drane 19th Century Photography Trust).

Have you ever noticed, amidst the festivities of a Farmer’s Market Saturday on Madison’s Capital Square, the moment when visitors come upon the statue of that soldier on King Street – a young man in uniform, standing tall, eyes fixed on the horizon, somehow intent on moving forward on behalf of the flag fluttering in the distance over his left shoulder?

His presence prompts an interlude of silence and curiosity. Who is he; why is he here; what message does he wish to deliver to those who stop and ponder his eternal presence?

He is a soldier who gave up his life that our nation might live.

He could be many soldiers from many wars, but in this case he is Hans Christian Heg, proud son of Norway, and Colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Regiment on August 19, 1863, the day he fell in battle at Chickamauga, along the “river of death,” down in Georgia.

He was 32 years old on that day, with a wife and three children praying for his safe return, up North in the small town of Waterford, county of Racine, Wisconsin.

As he led his regiment across a small stream at the southern end of the battlefield, he was struck in the gut by a Confederate minie ball that seared his body and shocked his limbic brain. Perhaps his life flashed before him in that instant.

His joyful boyhood in Lier, Norway, three miles to the north of the port city of Drammen. At age eleven, in 1840, the journey across the Atlantic from Oslo to New York, then from Buffalo through the Great Lakes to Milwaukee and on to the Norwegian settlement near Lake Muskego, in Racine County, founded in 1825. There a lovely 350-acre farm.

A new language to be mastered, along with many lessons in community from his father, Ewen, whose famous “Heg Barn” became the gathering place for social and religious events, and whose journal, Nordlyset (Northern Lights), was the first Norwegian newspaper in America, and later an organ of the Free Soil and Republican parties.

At age twenty, a rite of passage. Hans and three pals bitten by the gold bug, navigated the perilous journey to California and spent two years as Forty-Niners. This lark ended when Even Heg died, and Hans returned home to his roots in Muskego.

Next came the love of his life, his beautiful bride, Gunhild Einong, and the joys of three offspring, little Hilda, James and Elmer.

Followed by recognition, for Hans, like his father, proved to be a natural-born leader. He became Major in the 4th Wisconsin State Militia. A public person, board of supervisors in the Town of Norway, delegate to the Republican Convention of 1857 in Madison, Wisconsin State Prison Commissioner at Waupun in 1859.

All was working out nicely for Hans Heg and his family. Fine prospects for a long and satisfying life and a happy ending. But, as Lincoln put it, “then came the war.”

Governor Alexander Randall appointed the popular Heg, Colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Volunteers as of September 30, 1861. His first duty was recruiting, which brought this appeal:

“Scandinavians! Let us understand the situation, our duty and our responsibility. Shall the future ask, where were the Scandinavians when the Fatherland was saved?”

After winter training at Camp Randall, Heg led his 960-man contingent into the field. Indeed they were Norseman – Olsen, Hanson, Peterson, Johnson, Thompson, Erickson, and no fewer than 115 who answered to the name of Ole. They marched off in companies: the St. Olaf Rifles, Scandinavian Mountaineers, Heg’s Rifles, Rock River Rangers, Clausen’s Guards.

What followed is what always follows in war. Drums beating the long roll, the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange mournful mutter of the battlefield. In October 1862, the Scandinavian Regiment skirmished at Perryville, Kentucky, followed on December 31 by a terrible slaughter at Stones River, as Heg’s regiment, along with his entire Union corps, was overrun by the CSA left wing, under Braxton Bragg. A hellish day, bitter cold, running through the woods, firing, killing and dying. After a Union rally and stalemate, Heg wrote:

“There is no denying that we were badly whipped the first day, as usual because of an infernal fool of a General allowing himself to be surprised. We lost a great many men.”

2.14_Images_Heg, Hans (WVM Mss 1147)

A charcoal portrait of Hans Heg from the WVM Collections.

A total of 138 men, with 15 dead in his regiment alone. But Heg received a commendation from General William Carlin, as “the bravest of the brave.”

The following September, the blue army snaked further South, eager to attack Bragg again, below Chattanooga. Heg now commanded the entire Third Brigade, and he wrote a final letter home on September 18, 1863:

“The Rebels are in our front and we may have to fight him…in a big battle. Do not feel uneasy for me. I am well and in good spirits and trusting to my usual good luck. I shall use all the caution and courage I am capable of. Good-bye my darling.”

Toward sundown the next day Heg’s luck ran out. He was leading a Union counter attack near the Viniard House when he felt the lead ball slice through his lower bowel. It was a grievous wound, and he suffered all night before succumbing mid-morning on the 20th.

Chickamauga had been the “big battle” Heg predicted, with 35,000 men lost between the two sides, a number topped only by the 58,000 casualties a month earlier at Gettysburg.

When the war ended 18 months later, the Scandinavian Regiment numbered 320 survivors out of the 960 who marched out with Heg.

And so the story appeared to end in despair. But not quite – for Heg’s Norwegian community assumed the duty of remembering him and the men he led.

On October 17, 1929, “St. Hans Day” in Norway, Heg rose again in the magnificent statue on the Square, crafted by sculptor Paul Fjelde. Dignitaries such as the Governor and Mayor turned out, but the occasion belonged most to attendees from back home, the Colonel’s daughter, Hilda, and four octogenarian comrades from the old 15th.
In remembering him that day, they honored him. A soldier who gave up his life that his nation might live. Some 185 years later, it is only right and just that we too pause at the King Street corner, and do the same.

“The Statue on the Square” appeared in the 2014 Summer issue of The Bugle, a quarterly newsletter that is an exclusive benefit of WVM membership.  To read more stories like this, become a member at http://bit.ly/1hj93YR

Wisconsin’s Fighting Flag by Kristine Zickuhr

State Flag of WIAlthough Wisconsin became a state on May 29th, 1848, it did not have a state flag until decades later.  You might not know that the first version of Wisconsin’s state flag participated in the hardest battles of the Civil War.

The ladies of a community often sewed flags for the first regiments leaving the state.  Their craftsmanship was beautiful, but there was a lot of variation in design and measurements.  The 2nd Wisconsin Regimental flag was crafted by the ladies of Madison in 1861.  The ladies opted to include the Wisconsin Coat of Arms on one side.  Lacking any guidance on design, the emblem was copied directly from Governor Randall’s stationery! This might be Wisconsin’s very first state flag, although it was still years away from being official.

As the Civil War carried on and more regiments signed up to fight, Wisconsin standardized its flags.  An official design was approved in March, 1863.  The 2nd Wisconsin was still carrying its set from 1861 and was one of the first units to request new flags.  Replacements were sent to them in June of 1863, but the old flags were not quite ready for retirement. They led the 2nd Wisconsin into Gettysburg for one final battle.  The ladies of Madison must have gasped when they saw their beautiful silk banner return to the state in shreds.  This early example of Wisconsin’s state flag was not created to fly idly on a government building, but rather to serve right alongside its soldiers in the toughest trials of the Civil War.

Your regiment will doubtless part with regret with the glorious old flags beneath which it has won so high a reputation, and around which its brave officers and men have so often rallied, and poured out their blood like water in the contest with the enemies of the Union and Constitution; but those flags, returned to this state, will be guarded with care, and serve as mementoes of your valor.

William H. Watson, Military Secretary of Wisconsin, to Colonel Lucius Fairchild, 2nd Wisconsin, June 1863

The flags formed the foundation of the collection of the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, established in the Capitol in 1901.  They remain a highlight of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s collection today.  Some flags are so fragile that they have only been unfurled once in the last 150 years for study and documentation.

Today, on the anniversary of Wisconsin’s statehood, take a moment to look up and appreciate the blue state flag we often take for granted.  You can explore the history of Wisconsin’s Civil War flags at http://bit.ly/ShGak0. Go in depth and search for other treasures related to Wisconsin’s early history at http://bit.ly/1oxMCRZ.

The ‘Grand Old Lady of Memorial Days’ by Jennifer Carlson

Did you know that Memorial Day was first established as “Decoration Day” by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in May of 1868? Just three years after the Civil War, with so many soldiers lost, it was a way to pay tribute to those killed during America’s bloodiest war. To honor their loved ones on this day, many men and women visited their graves and adorned them with flowers to ensure their contributions would never be forgotten.

One particular Madisonian, Mrs. Ella Bennett Bresee, the daughter of one of Madison’s oldest families carried on this tradition until the day of her death in 1945. When she was just a child, her father and mother would take her to Forest Hill Cemetery on Madison’s west side to decorate the graves of the Union veterans who were killed during the Civil War.

Ella Breese

Her father, James Bennett, served under William Vilas in Company A of the 23rd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. In a letter dated Monday, March 30, 1863, he expressed his love and concern for his wife and daughter:

“…I hope I shall get home to look after you and my dear little Ella child….it seems so hard for me to be away from her, she is so young and needs my care, but these troublesome times things don’t go as they used to…I hope this war will soon be over don’t you. As it is an awful war ain’t it to see the suffering. I have had a pretty good chance to see the suffering there is in the field and in the hospital.”

James Bennett was discharged on April 5, 1863, due to wounds he received on an expedition up the Arkansas River. After witnessing so much suffering and death, James wanted to pay tribute to his fellow veterans, so he became an active member of the veterans’ community and a charter member of the C.C. Washburn G.A.R. Post (later known as the Lucius Fairchild Post in Madison). He assisted in decorating Union soldiers graves at Forest Hill Cemetery as part of his post duties. After his death, his daughter Ella carried on this family tradition.

Due to her father’s teachings, Ella took a keen interest in patriotic work. During World War I, she volunteered for the Red Cross and started the first canteen service. During World War II, she was responsible for starting the first service center in Madison, which later became the United Service Organization (USO).

This ‘Grand Old Lady of Memorial Day’ helps remind us of the true meaning of today; remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. While you enjoy the holiday, take a moment today to remember these veterans and their sacrifices. After all, their sacrifices ensure your freedoms.

To learn more about Ella and other prominent Madisonians, join us for this year’s Talking Spirits Cemetery Tour!

Military Appreciation Month by Ellen Brooks

“It takes about eight or ten people behind the lines to support one person in the front lines.”

(Thomas Diener, Oral History Interview, 2005)

Thomas Diener never saw combat while serving during World War II with the Army Air Corps, but he was one of the essential troops supporting those at the front.

And behind all those troops are the supporting friends, families and spouses on the home front. Our service men and women rely on the encouragement and loyalty of their loved ones at home. For Thomas Diener, those loved ones were his family in Milwaukee, and most importantly, his sweetheart and later wife, Betty Jean Dealy.

Betty Jean and Tom both grew up in Milwaukee and started “going together” as young teens. Tom enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943, and from July 5, 1943 until his discharge in 1946, he and Betty Jean were apart; their worlds turned upside down by the war. Despite the hardships faced, at home and abroad, they kept up a steady correspondence and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum is proud to have dozens of letters exchanged between the couple during wartime. It is obvious from reading these letters that their love and support for one another played a pivotal role in how they survived the war.

In this clip from his oral history interview, Tom mentions the letters between himself and Betty Jean and talks about the feelings of sacrifice and separation. In a letter (partially pictured and transcribed below), Betty Jean relays her reactions to V-J Day to Tom and her wish to share the celebration with him.  Click the image below to hear Tom Diener’s oral history clip.

 

Diener ProposalPeople ran out ~ kids yelled & blew horns & banged kettles & pots, etc. And I sat there ~ I couldn’t run out or do anything – you’ll probably think I’m crazy, but honey I couldn’t help crying ~ I tried not to ~ but I didn’t succeed. I ran in my bedroom ~ fell on the bed and just sobbed & sobbed ~ I was so happy ~ I just cried like I couldn’t stop ~ and I couldn’t ~ it seemed I cried for everything I had held deep inside for 4 years ~ I cried because the war was over ~ everything I’d lived and prayed and hoped for, for 4 years finally came true ~ and I couldn’t control myself ~ …  

Now the next thing I want to celebrate is your homecoming ~ oh Darling, now maybe our dreams will begin to come true ~ Tommy there is no sense in me telling you how terribly much I wanted to be with you yesterday ~ or how much I thought about you ~ just every second Tommy darling!  

(Betty Jean to Tom, dated August 15, 1945)

Betty Jean and Tom were married in 1948.

Not only did Betty Jean’s letters and love carry Tom through the war, her work in the post-war years when he was unemployed, helped put him through college. Of the war years and the years after, Tom said, “Through all of this, my wife was part of my life, of course. The most important part.”

Full Matching Leather Jackets

wwii leather jacketThe standard issue uniform for American World War II soldiers consisted of a basic wool uniform, a field jacket or wool coat, leggings, and various other pieces. Most of the clothing was a light to medium shade of olive drab. Some soldiers even wore items from home—either because they needed to, or because they desired to be more stylish.

2nd Lt. William J. Schereck and his division fell into the latter category. Schereck served from 1943 to 1944 with the 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. The officers in his unit privately ordered horsehide Hercules leather jackets, selected from the Sears catalog and shipped directly to the field at Monte Cassino, Italy. The officers kept their jackets blackened and shined, proudly wearing them as part of their field uniform.

When 2nd Lt. Schereck donated this leather jacket to the museum, our curator was astounded by the jacket’s background, and even questioned the origin. It was highly unusual for privately purchased pieces to be shipped directly to the field during a campaign.

It seems that 2nd Lt. Schereck was a soldier with cultured taste, as he also donated a book of self-authored poetry along with his jacket.

Here’s our favorite excerpt:

LET US TALK

Let us talk of pretty girls

And not of dying men.

Let us talk of the many things

We want to do again.

Let us talk of the life ahead

Not of what has gone by.

Let us talk of gay bright lights

Where brave men do not die.

Let us not talk of the war

There are things more cheerful yet.

Let us not be reminded of the

Things we want to forget.

See more World War II artifacts for yourself at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. You can also see our “Through the World Wars” online exhibit by clicking here.

The Archivist Chronicles: Civil War History Mystery

Bullet Hole Mystery

Each of the thousands of objects in our collection has a story behind them. Ideally, our staff records that story at the time the item is donated—but sometimes we have to uncover the story ourselves, even after more than 100 years have passed. These “history mysteries” are a challenging but fun aspect of museum work.

Several years ago, our archives staff discovered a handwritten Civil War poem titled “For Country.” It was written by an unnamed mother in Milwaukee praying for the safety of her son, identified only as a 1st Lieutenant in the Heavy Artillery, who was going off to war. The poetry was beautiful, but what caught our attention the most were three odd holes down the center of the paper. Who was the mother? Who was the soldier? And what had caused those holes?

One staff member remembered a set of five business card sized photos—cartes de visite—with similar holes in them. Could they be related? One of the photographs, showing a middle aged woman, was labeled on the back as “My Mother, Mrs. Charles H. Larkin, Milwaukee.” Could that be the mother who wrote the poem? A search of the roster of the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, referenced in the poem, revealed a 1st Lieutenant Courtland P. Larkin from Milwaukee, who was later promoted to Major of the 38th Wisconsin Infantry. This evidence suggested the identities of the mother and the soldier, but we still wanted to know what had caused the holes.

Staff located a regimental history of the 38th Wisconsin Infantry, written in 1866, which included short biographical sketches of the officers. Larkin’s included the following account: “He took part with the battalion in the battle on the Norfolk railroad, June 17th, 1864, and was severely wounded by a musket ball which entered his left side, between the ribs and hip, and lodged internally, where it still remains.” We then realized that if we folded the poem, the three holes aligned into one and if we placed the cartes de visite next to it, their holes also aligned.

Clearly, Courtland Larkin received the poem and photos from his mother when he joined the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery in September 1863. He carried them with him throughout his service and had them in his coat pocket on June 17, 1864, when a Confederate musket ball pierced them before lodging in his hip. Larkin, who survived the serious wound, died in 1920 and is buried in Forest Home cemetery in Milwaukee.

Our expert staff, together with the rich historical resources available at WVM, were able to bring the story of Courtland Larkin back to life through the poem and photos he carried 150 years ago. Thousands of other stories are also preserved through the objects that are donated each year. Visit the museum or search our online catalog to discover them.

 

Spencer Bronson: Witness to Murder

On April 14, 1865, during a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater, actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth slipped into the theater box and shot President Abraham Lincoln at point blank range before fleeing. Lincoln died on April 15th, becoming the first American president to be assassinated. Booth was eventually captured and killed by the Union army.

You are likely familiar with the Lincoln assassination story, which was well documented thanks to eyewitness accounts. One of those written accounts came from a Wisconsin veteran named Spencer Bronson, who served in the 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and personally witnessed the tragic killing.

Bronson was an avid writer (and a newspaper editor later in life) who regularly corresponded with his family in Columbia County, Wisconsin where he grew up. He was the sole survivor of three Bronson brothers who served in the war.

On April 14th, Spencer Bronson attended the infamous performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater. In a letter to his family written on April 16th, Bronson described the scene after the initial pistol shot rang through the theater, interrupting the performance:

“(The murderer) who I am sure is J. Wilkes Booth, who I have seen before…. drew a dagger, and with his white face towards the crowd, he repeated in Latin, ‘So be it ever to tyrants.”

I001

“I was present and saw this scene enacted, such an act that has no parallel since the days of Roman greatness when Caesar was struck down.”

Lincoln, still alive, was taken across the street and tended by doctors, who were unable to save him. He died the next morning at 7:22 a.m. Aware of the day’s historical significance, Bronson ended his letter, “Thus far the murderer has not been caught.”

You can see a photo of Bronson and other Civil War history for yourself at The Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Search our Civil War database here.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs