Thursday, April 17, 2008
Ole Goes To War....The 15th Wisconsin Regiment
"I know the Norwegians, No immigrants have served America better than they."
1861-65. The 15th Wisconsin was a Norwegian regiment. Over 90% of the regiment were born in Norway. They were led by one of their own, Colonel Hans Christian Heg,
the first Norwegian elected to a statewide office in Wisconsin, and the highest ranking Wisconsin officer killed in combat during the Civil War. Heg required his officers to be fluent in English, but many of the enlisted men spoke only their native tongue. While orders were in English, everyday conversations were in Norwegian. During its 3 year term of service the 15th also earned a well deserved reputation for bravery and steadfastness in battle, especially at Stone River, Chickamauga, Mission Ridge, Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, and Pickett's Mill, where it suffered 50% casualties.
Among them was an ancestor of mine, private Sivert Anderson Lie of company H (many from Deerfield,Christiana, Cambridge,Primrose). He was captured at the battle of Pickets Mill and sent to Andersonville prison camp in Georgia. Here, translated from Norwegian, he describes the food at the camp...
"The provisions could kill you. The first food I received was cornbread without salt, and it was one and a half inches thick and wide and four inches long; that was a day's ration. Later we received half a pot of flour so we could boil it, fry it, or eat it raw. Once we got rice boiled in water -- a small pot for the day; another time we got beans and dirt -- also a pot for the day, but without salt or meat, and - worth noticing - only one portion for a day's ration. Usually there was cornmeal of the simplest kind, ground cob and all; a farmer's pigs would scarcely eat this..."
He survived, came home to Deerfield and eventually, like so many other Norwegians, sought out the treeless plains of North Dakota. I guess they liked the view.
Of the 906 officers and enlisted men who served in the 15th, the regiment lost: 267 killed in battle or died of wounds or disease; 22 missing; and, 204 who became physically disabled and were discharged from the Army. When the regiment mustered out after 3 years, only 320 officers and enlisted men were still with it.
Here are the names of the various company's that made up the regiment...
Company A St. Olaf's Rifles
Company B Wergeland Guards.
Company C Norway Bear Hunters
Company D Norway Wolf Hunters (aka Waupun Company)
Company E Odin's Rifles
Company F K.K.'s Protector's (aka Valdres Company)
Company G Rock River Rangers
Company H Heg's Rifles (aka Voss Company)
Company I Scandinavian Mountaineers (aka Waupaca Company)
Company K Clausen's Guards
The picture above shows a handful of survivors standing in front of the gates at Camp Randall in Madison during the 1917 regiment reunion. 1917 is also the year Camp Randall's Football Stadium, home of the Wisconsin badgers, was built.
A great site devoted to the regiment can be found here.
"Ole Goes To War", by Jerry Rosholt, is a book about the many thousands of Norwegians from the upper midwest who fought in the Civil War.
Today,Colonel Hans Christian Heg stands proudly - a statue on the southeast corner of Madison's Capitol Square, facing King Street. When arranging a get together in Madison, the older generations in my hometown always used to say, "I'll meet you by the Heg statue."