«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
On the 24th of April, the Governor had in contemplation the organization of the Third regiment, as appears from the following item in the Wisconsin State Journal, then the official state paper: “We hear that it is probably that Gov. Randall will call the Third regiment into camp immediately.” On the 17th of April the Governor’s order called on all companies of the organized militia, which did not decide to enlist, to deliver up their arms, stating in his order that large numbers of patriotic citizens were offering their services. The fervor to enlist at that time
-2was pithily expressed by Senator E. L. Browne, who said, in a war speech in the Capitol, that “if we sent 20,000 men, we should not lose half as many in battle as would spoil at home for want of a fight.” Governor Randall gave the preference to the independent companies already organized and armed, of which, a the time, there were some forty-two on the rolls of the adjutant general’s office. He sent agents to the commanding officers with orders to assemble their commands within twenty-four hours after receipt of order, and call upon them to determine whether they would volunteer and prepare for immediate service. If they declined they were at once to give up their arms and accoutrements. Such of the companies as refused to volunteer gave up their arms, and such of the members of the organized companies volunteering as did not choose to enlist found others only too eager to take their places.
The several companies accepted and understood to be for the Third regiment were engaged in drilling — usually under charge of some civilian who had a smattering of tactics — at their respective localities for some weeks. All were eager to be “sent to the front,” and not very patiently awaited orders, which were every moment expected, calling them to the seat of war.
On the 15th of May, Governor Randall was notified that the general government would receive three regiments, one for three months and two for three years.
On the 28th of May, the following circular order was issued to the commanders of
companies, from the adjutant general’s office:
This order set the companies named into earnest preparation for departure. Men on furlough were at once called in, the companies were filled to the new maximum and all were in readiness for the order to march.
Two weeks more of waiting followed; and fears that the rebellion would be subdued before this regiment ever saw the field began to be murmured at the different stations. The summer was wearing away, and men idling at company rendezvous, began to feel that they were trifled with.
Capt. Charles S. Hamilton, formerly of the Fifth United States infantry, was at this time in civil life, and a resident of Fond du Lac. A graduate of West Point, he had served with distinction in the Mexican war and seen much service elsewhere.1 Gov. Randall’s attention was called to his excellent record; and Hamilton was sent for, and on may 11th, commissioned as colonel on the Governor’s staff, to assist in organizing the volunteers for the several regiments, in which service he was a valuable counselor to the executive.
As soon as the rendevous of the Third regiment was decided upon, Col. Hamilton, who desired active service, was assigned to the command; as his ability and soldierly bearing had made a strong impression on the Governor. On the 28th of May, he was commissioned colonel of the Third, with rank from may 11th, and at once set on foot preparations for the rendezvous at Fond du Lac.
In casting about for bred soldiers the Governor also heard that a young lawyer at Janesville, Thomas H. Ruger, had graduated with honors at West Point, in 1854, and served as lieutenant of engineers, entrusted with important work under Beauregard, while that officer was in the United States army. He had resigned the service six years before.
This young gentleman2 the Governor had called to his staff as engineer-in-chief on the 18th A biographical sketch of this distinguished officer will be found in a later part of this volume.
A biographical sketch of this distinguished officer will be found in a later part of this volume.
-5of April, in which capacity Colonel Ruger performed useful service; among other duties visiting the camps of rendezvous in other states, inspecting and reporting on their methods, etc. He desired active service, as the prospect for war became more immediate, and had previously tendered his services to the War department. At the request of Colonel Hamilton, he accepted and was assigned to the lieutenant colonelcy of the Third regiment.
Hon. Bertine Pinkney, of Rosendale, Fond du Lac county, was selected as major of the regiment. He had been for some years a resident of that county, had represented it in the state senate, and was well known as one of the prominent citizens of the state in matters political, agricultural and financial. As military experience counted for a great deal at this time, it was noted that he had previously to his settlement in Wisconsin been a resident of New York city, and had been captain in one of the volunteer regiments of that city, and for five years the adjutant of the celebrated 63rd regiment of New York volunteer militia.
With three field officers of so much experience the regiment was deemed fortunate.
The further fact that several of the captains and lieutenants had seen service in the Mexican war led to some criticism in the journals and among the public men of the state, that Gov. Randall was using too much of the material of experienced soldiers in officering this regiment.
The officers of the staff were soon named:
Louis H. D. Crane, of Ripon, adjutant, was a well-known citizen, who, as chief clerk of the assembly of the state legislature, was very popular, a man of fine presence and great affability, naturally adapted to staff duty.
Skidmore E. Lefferts, of Fond du Lac, was a business man selected for his energy and executive ability, as quartermaster.
Dr. Don A. Raymond, of Fond du Lac, was surgeon — an excellent physician and man of much force of character.
Dr. Horace O. Crane was first assistant surgeon. He was at the time a member of the state senate from Winnebago county, a fine physician and able man. Failing health compelled him to resign in May, 1862.
Dr. John B. G. Baxter, of La Crosse, was second assistant surgeon. He soon was promoted as assistant surgeon of volunteers, and rendered responsible service as medical director or chief of hospitals during the war. He returned after the war, was a member of the legislature in 1869, and, driven from active practice by ill health, he has for some years been a medical examiner in the pension bureau at Washington.
The chaplain was Rev. William L. Mather, an old school clergyman of rather too fine fiber to be influential with the rough material out of which soldiers are made.
Of the line officers, it was said that Gibbs, Scott, Vandagrift, Hawley and Bertram had served in the Mexican war, a qualification then deemed to be of great value.
Mention will be made of the changes in the roster as they occurred; and as much space as limits will allow given to a recognition of the merits of the many excellent officers who served in the regiment during its eventful career.
The non-commissioned staff were appointed as follows: Edwin E. Bryant, sergeant major; John Gowan, quartermaster sergeant; Charles J. Rasche, hospital steward.
HE authorities having decided to call the Third regiment into the field, the T city of Fond du Lac was selected as the place of rendezvous. It appears to have been fixed upon as early as the 26th of May, having been announced in the journals on that date. The grounds selected were described in a local paper as situate north of Forest street, about half a mile west of the West Branch. They afforded an open field for camp, with ample space for drill by company or battalion.
A large mess house was built, 100 × 90 feet, in dimensions, sufficient to seat the whole regiment at table at once. The contract for subsisting the regiment was awarded to one J. W. Carpenter, at 26¼ cents per ration, to include three meals per day per man. The rate, $1.87¾ per week, was hardly a warrant for a very luxurious bill of fare.
The companies came in, on the days designated in the order, and before June 20th they were all in camp. An incident that happened to the Green county volunteers is well worthy of mention here. While marching from the cars to the camp, in crossing the bridge over the “Branch,” the men were marching in perfect step and time to show they were not raw in drill. The steady step broke down the side walk of the bridge, and several men were thrown into the water. One of them, William Carter, struck upon a saw log and
-8was considerably injured. Thus was learned the military rule to march over bridges at route step.
Space will not permit a lengthy record of the experiences in camp. We were put to drill at once; and toes and heels were soon sore from the treading of the men before and the kicks of those behind, as we marched by file, by flank and in line. Not having any arms we held out hands at our sides, directing our mental faculties to the task of keeping our little fingers on the seams of our trousers’ legs, and the more difficult requirement of keeping step. As duty was then impressed upon us, the salvation of the Union seemed to depend on our fidelity in just covering the seams and keeping step with our front rank men or file leaders.
The men were a motley host, mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, full of animal spirits, light hearted, disposed to see fun in everything; and what witty thing one did not think of some one else did. There were men of all trades and professions. Clergymen from the ranks preached earnest discourses on gospel themes on Sunday. There were athletes who could “do” all the feats of the circus ring. There were clowns, too, full of a waggery that kept the camp in a roar. Tailors, barbers, expert clerks to keep company records, teamsters, lumbermen skilled with the axe; in short, the regiment could find in its ranks men adapted to any service from running or repairing a locomotive to butchering an ox. There were but a small number of ne’er-do-wells in the camp. Only a few were the slaves of drink. They became frequent tenants of the guard house and soon in one way or another got out of the service. Their pranks and strategems [sic] to get liquor were many and witty, musing to men and annoying to officers. One scape-grace would make shoulder straps out of orange peel, pin them on his coat and stride out of the guard house past the innocent sentry with the consequential air of a major general, only to turn up a little later roaring drunk in camp.
Life in camp was very regular. At five o’clock the reveille sounded, and all must rise at once, and bound from the little A tents in which six men slept in straw and blankets. As soon as straw and chaff could be combed from the hair, the line was formed in each company street for roll-call. A half-hour was then spent in “policing” camp, that is, in cleaning up the streets, airing tents, blankets, etc. At half past six, the companies formed to march to breakfast, each man armed with a knife, fork and tin-cup. Marched to the mess hall, opening files to surround tables, the command “inward face” brought the company in line of battle in front of rations. “Touch hats — seats,” was next ordered and executed. The rattle of knives, forks, cups and tin plates, and the roar of a thousand voices, calling in every key for “bread,” “coffee,” “water,” presented a scene of very active service.
At half past seven a tap of the drum called for squad drill. For an hour
-9squads of men — nearly all the regiment marches, filed, faced, turned, double-quicked, invariably holding on to the seam of the trousers’ legs, and soon became familiar with the simpler movements and motions in the school of the soldier.
At nine the guard mount came, a pompous ceremony, in which the sergeant major and adjutant figured as great dignitaries.
At eleven battalion drill for an hour gave all an insight into how much our company commanders did not know about war. Then dinner and some lolling about in the heat of the day; but two o’clock found the battalion again formed, and executing many movements, the command and execution of which are long since forgotten. We drilled in Hardee’s tactics, then thought to be the perfection of simple, direct evolution. We formed line, advanced and retreated, charged front forward and to rear; we marched in close column, formed square, we charged at double-quick, and retreated slowly, as if yielding the field inch by inch; and we kept the little finger on the seam of the trousers, though the sweat tickled our faces, and the flies tortured our noses.
A grateful country never fully appreciates the services and sufferings of the raw recruit.
“Dress parade” came off at five o’clock, the grand ceremonial of the day, described by one of the wags of the regiment as “a —— hard job o’standing still.” At six o’clock, supper, and then the play spell of the day. Usually a “circus” was organized and the athletes of the regiment vied with each other;
while the wags made the welkin ring with their drolleries.
As the darkness stole on the noise subsided into a hum of conversation in the tents, or the singing of plaintive songs, for the hallowing influence of eve steals over the rough soldier as well as the sentimental poet. At nine o’clock the tattoo was beaten, the evening roll called. Then, a little later, “taps” commanded stillness; and soon the camp was in slumber. Boots for pillows, straw and a blanket, worse than a white horse in coat-shedding time, made us comfortable beds — whatever our opinion may have been of them in those days of our callow experience.