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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.

NOTE   

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.

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 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 Iron Brigade & the Black Hat

“There are them damned black hatted fellows again!”

iron-brigade-black-hatThis cry, and others like it, were made by disheartened Confederate troops on the first day of fighting at the battle of Gettysburg. Under the impression that they faced untrained militia, the Rebel troops quickly recognized the distinctive black Model 1858 “Hardee” hat worn by the famed “Iron Brigade of the West” and realized they were in for a fight. Composed entirely of Western troops from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, the Iron Brigade had earned its reputation in battles like Second Bull Run and Antietam, and they lived up to it at Gettysburg, suffering incredible casualties while repelling numerous Confederate attacks.

While many photographs, letters, and diaries from Iron Brigade soldiers survive in archives and museums today, only one of the iconic Black Hats that saw battle at Gettysburg remains, and it can be found in the collections of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Sergeant Philander B. Wright, Color Sergeant, Company C, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wore this hat as he led the charge of the Iron Brigade on the morning of July 1, 1863 outside the town of Gettysburg, PA.

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

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs