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Archive for July, 2014

The Polar Bear Expedition by Andrea Hoffman

Gauntlets and Cap

Courduroy-lined fur gauntlets and cap brought back from Russia by Captain Ramsay.

While France and Germany served as the battleground for the vast majority of Wisconsin troops during World War I, some soldiers–including Captain Ralph E. Ramsay of Beloit, Wisconsin–found themselves stationed far away from the Western Front.   During the summer of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson acquiesced under pressure from Great Britain and France to assist them in North Russia. Wilson agreed to send a limited amount of troops to the region to help guard stockpiled war supplies from the Bolsheviks. The 339th Infantry Regiment, under which Captain Ramsay served in Co. F, was rerouted to Archangelsk (Archangel) in northern Russia that August.


Bullet-pierced helmet worn by Ramsay when he was shot during battle in Vistafka, Russia.

Under British command, the approximately 5,000-strong operation took on many names, including the Northern Russian Expedition, the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (ANREF) and the Polar Bear Expedition. The gear they returned with reflects the harsh environment they were subjected to, such as the muskrat fur gauntlets and cap brought home by Ramsay. The realities that met them in Archangelsk, including supplies that had already been absconded with by Bolshevik forces, difficulty in maintaining an offensive posture over great distances and a quickly advancing winter forced the Allies to instead focus on merely maintaining their position.

Polar Bear Insignia

Already by June 3, 1919 a request was submitted to make a white polar bear on a blue field the official insignia for the ANREF.

The Bolshevik army took advantage of their precarious situation, going on the offensive over the winter of 1918. The Americans suffered over 200 casualties during the resulting Allied retreat. Ramsay was one of those wounded in March of 1919. He later recounted to the Wisconsin State Journal in 1940:

“According to the records of the War Department I was wounded on March 9, 1919 at Vistafka, Russia. It is true that none of the holes in my uniform did any personal damage, but the hole through my steel helmet was matched with a corresponding scalp wound which fortunately was of no consequence and I was not disabled.”

Even though the Allied Armistice was signed in November, ANREF soldiers remained more or less stranded in Russia. Despite increasing protests both there and at home, soldiers were forced to stay until June of 1919. Still, regardless of the perceived failure of the mission, those men who survived their winter in Archangelsk proudly declared themselves “Polar Bears”. The polar bear was shortly thereafter adopted as the official insignia for the ANREF, and was worn by Ramsay on his coat for the remainder of his service.  See more of the Ralph E. Ramsay collection at http://bit.ly/1tXsmsn

The Archivist Chronicles: A Union Addition by Andrew Baraniak

Authentic Vicksburg edition

Front and back of an original July 4, 1863 edition of The Daily Citizen held in the WVM collections.  (WVM Mss 1529)

The use of wallpaper as a substitute for newsprint was a common occurrence for some printers in Louisiana and Mississippi during the Civil War. Most paper mills were in the North, and printers in those regions looked to wallpaper as an alternative to dwindling paper supplies as the war dragged on. The most famous of these wallpaper editions to come from the war was The Daily Citizen of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The editor of the paper, J. M. Swords, began printing on wallpaper after his newsprint supplies ran out as a result of the siege that began on May 18, 1863. When Confederate forces surrendered on July 4, Union soldiers occupying the town found the type still set from the last edition ran two days earlier. An unknown soldier with typesetting skills added the following note to the end of the edition.


July 4, 1863

Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has “caught the rabbit:” he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The “Citizen” lives to see it. For the last time it appears on “Wall-paper.” No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricassed kitten — urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more. This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.  

One of several reproductions that are part of the holdings of the WVM. (WVM Mss 1528)

Front and back of one of several reproductions that are part of the holdings of the WVM. (WVM Mss 1528)

After adding the note, the press was started and issues were run. An unknown number were printed before someone noticed the misspelling of CTIIZEN in the title. The press was stopped and the correction was made, but other mistakes were allowed to stand. The WVM Research Center has one copy of the original edition printed by Union soldiers. It was identified as an original from a guideline put out by the Library of Congress, which evaluates misprints, misspellings, and the pattern of the wallpaper to determine authenticity. A handwritten note on the paper indicates it likely came from the Veterans Home at King, and was likely picked up by a Wisconsin soldier who was present during the siege.

The statement that they “…be valuable hereafter as a curiosity” became reality, as numerous veterans after the war sought copies as souvenirs. They became so popular that numerous reproductions were done, with early ones likely handed out at G.A.R. reunions and other gatherings. The WVM Research Center has several copies of these reproductions in its holdings, with most of them likely added to the collection when the museum was the G.A.R. Memorial Hall. Despite being reproductions, these copies do show how popular the Vicksburg wallpaper newspaper edition had become after the war.  Search the WVM Research Center collections at http://bit.ly/1rD3iqX.

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.

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs