A Brotherhood of Valor: The Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A., and the Iron Brigade, U.S.Aby Jeffry D. Wert
Tracing two combat units, one Union and one Confederate, through several of the most important battles of the Civil War, Wert offers a visceral depiction of the war from the perspective of ordinary soldiers.
The New York Times Book Review
- Simon & Schuster
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Church bells rang in Winchester, Virginia, on Thursday, April 18, 1861. More than ninety miles farther south, up the Shenandoah Valley, in Staunton, "a great state of excitement" prevailed as townsfolk jammed the streets. What had been speculated about for weeks and anticipated for days in both towns had become a reality. Telegrams had arrived from Richmond, announcing the secession of Virginia from the Union. The bells of Winchester tolled for a revolution.
A second telegram followed from Governor John Letcher, ordering militia companies in the Valley, as the region was familiarly known, to seize the United States arsenal at Harper's Ferry and its valuable cache of weapons and arms-making machinery. Letcher's directive brought an immediate response, and by midnight of the 19th, units from Winchester and Charlestown entered Harper's Ferry, located at the northern end of the Valley at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The arsenal's contingent of troops had torched many buildings before it departed, but the militiamen and local residents saved the machinery and thousands of finished rifles and parts.
In the days that ensued additional companies of Valley men arrived at Harper's Ferry. The units bore names such as the West Augusta Guards, Augusta Rifles, Rockbridge Rifles, Staunton Artillery, Southern Guards, and Mountain Guards. Each company had its own " uniform"--the Mountain Guards wore red flannel shirts and gray trousers; the West Augusta Guards and Augusta Rifles, gray woolen jackets and trousers; and the Southern Guards, blue flannel shirts, gray trousers, and United States Navy caps. One company carried a flag given to it while en route from women in Harrisonburg.
The colorful attire could not hide the rawness of the militiamen. Before these days, the companies had "played military," in the words of one member. But the seizure of the arsenal heralded a reckoning, an act of war against their national government. The novice soldiers, however, embraced the future. The men "are ready for a fight," a militia captain assured friends and relatives at home, adding that "if a fight occurs, we will be the first in it, and the last out of it." Another officer in a letter to a newspaper asserted that "we are in the midst of a great revolution; our people are united as one man, and are determined to maintain their rights at every sacrifice."
During their trip northward, down the Valley, the militiamen had witnessed a flood of enthusiasm and support by neighbors and strangers. "I have never seen such an outpouring of popular feelings in behalf of the South," recounted an officer. "We were as well treated as if we were paying 3/per day," claimed a private. The civilians cheered and hugged the volunteers, shared food with them, and pledged devotion to the cause.
This response to recent events had followed a winter of doubt and apprehension. Like their fellow Americans, Valley residents had watched closely the quickening of time since the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in November 1860. Many citizens in the region had voted for John Bell, the compromise candidate in the election. The secession of Lower South states and the formation of the Confederate States of America "weighed heavily on spirits" of those in the Valley. They opposed unsuccessfully a secessionist convention for Virginia, and when the time came to select delegates, they chose "conservative Union men" in many of the counties.
In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, roots went deep into the rich soil. Pioneer settlers had entered the region between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west decades before the American Revolution. They were Scotch-Irish, who wrenched it from the natives, whose name for the region meant "Daughter of the Stars," and built homes and mills and platted towns. Germans followed and made the fertile earth blossom and nourish. Craftsmen offered various products, and amid the natural beauty, the inhabitants prospered. The region sent forth its own as riflemen under Daniel Morgan to fight the British, and gave again during the War of 1812 and the conflict with Mexico. By the 1850s, a macadamized turnpike linked villages, and railroads breached the Blue Ridge. Within the valley's confines, night often settled in easily.
The Valley seeped into bones, touched souls, and when the national crisis climaxed in April 1861, the Valley residents looked to their own. The bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, harbor on April 12-14 caused Lincoln to call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion. With the proclamation, allegiance to the Union ended in much of the Shenandoah Valley. In Staunton, a newspaper publisher spoke for his readers, writing that the people "were united with a firm and universal determination to resist the scheme set on foot by Lincoln to subjugate the South."
And so the Valley gave once again of its fathers, sons, and husbands. The response of the militia companies to Governor Letcher's summons was but small eddies that during April, May, and June turned into a river of volunteers. On April 20, the governor asked for recruits to "repel invasion and protect the citizens of the state in the present emergency." From the length and breadth of the Valley, men enlisted for twelve months. Farmers in Grayson County along the North Carolina border, mountain men from Highland and Allegheny counties, students from Washington College and cadets from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, merchants and clerks from Staunton, and Irish railroad workers from Shenandoah County enrolled. They walked, crowded into wagons, or boarded trains, with some detoured to Richmond before being ordered to their common destination at Harper's Ferry. Watching the passage from her home in Winchester, a woman likened it to a "gathering of the clans."
At Harper's Ferry, the companies with such names as the Montgomery Highlanders, Tenth Legion Minute Men, Emerald Guard, Liberty Hall Volunteers, Virginia Hibernians, and Berkeley Border Guards would be organized in the weeks ahead into regiments. Companies of Valley men filled entirely, except for a handful of units from the western mountains, the ranks of the five infantry regiments and artillery battery that would become the Stonewall Brigade. The command "comprised the very pride and flower of the upper counties of Virginia," boasted a Winchester woman.
Few, if any, Confederate brigades reflected such commonality of place, heritage, and kinship. "I never saw so many persons I knew in my life," remarked a member, "every third person speaks to me." Every company of the command contained descendants of the Scotch-Irish pioneers. Those of German, English, Irish, and Swedish ancestry stood beside the Scotch-Irish in the ranks. A surgeon of the brigade estimated later that only one man in thirty belonged to a slaveholding family. Little class distinction separated enlisted men from officers. Strong-armed farmers stood beside eloquent lawyers; unshaven college students beside bearded mountaineers.
Blood ties bound many to each other. One volunteer thought that the brigade appeared to be a "cousinwealth." One regiment counted eighteen members of the Bell family of Augusta County, eleven of whom were destined to be either killed or mortally wounded in battle or to die of disease. Pairs of brothers, fathers and sons, uncles and nephews shared mess fires in the regiments.
"America was young, and filled with younger sons," recalled a member. Approximately sixty percent of the volunteers were those "younger sons" between eighteen and twenty-five years old. The most common age was nineteen, with the majority of men in this age group in their early twenties. A few members had lived for sixty years, while a handful at fourteen and fifteen had barely passed childhood. Private David Scanlon was an unusual recruit, a fifty-one-year-old drummer boy.
Characteristic of the Valley and of much of America, farmers and farm laborers comprised the largest segment of the command. There were dozens of professional men, clerks, and merchants, and scores of artisans, craftsmen, and mechanics that reflected the vibrancy and diversity of the economy in the region. Other occupations listed on enrollment papers included undertaker, jeweler, nailcutter, druggist, artist, distiller, confectioner, hatter, toymaker, and gentleman. One private listed himself as a "comedian," and another as a "Yankee school master." One company of roughly one hundred men had twenty-six different occupations noted on the rolls.
"Probably no brigade in the Civil War contained more educated men," a historian of the command has asserted. Current students and alumni of Washington College and the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville were among the rank and file in each regiment. One company, the Liberty Hall Volunteers, was recruited on the campus of Washington College and included fifty-seven members of the seventy-three-man student body, with a quarter of the volunteers studying for the ministry. VMI cadets and graduates provided a core of drillmasters and officers for the brigade.
The organization of the companies into regiments occurred throughout April, May, and June. Most of the volunteers entered the service under the authority of Virginia, but on June 8, Governor Letcher transferred the state units into the armies of the Confederacy, with the men's original twelve-month term of enlistment remaining in effect.
Civil War infantry regiments consisted, as a rule, of ten companies, designated by the letters A-K, except for the letter J. United States Army regulations prescribed a company size of 3 officers and 98 enlisted men. With 15 field and staff officers, a regiment numbered 1,025 officers and men at authorized strength. Although the Confederacy would adopt a slightly higher figure for a regiment--1,389 officers and men--few regiments on either side ever had a full complement during the war. The recruitment of new volunteers and the infusion of conscripted or drafted men never restored a regiment to the numbers it possessed at its original mustering in. Both governments chose to create new units instead of filling old regiments to authorized strength.
In turn, usually three or four regiments were organized into a brigade, which was, according to a historian, "the fundamental fighting unit of the army." Once again, Confederate brigades consisted generally of more regiments--five or six--than their Union counterparts. Because of the importance of localism in the South, most Confederate brigades contained regiments from the same state. Regulations in both armies designated a brigadier general as commander of a brigade. Casualties among officers of that rank resulted often, however, in the temporary appointment of a senior colonel to the command. Finally, three or four brigades comprised a division under a major general. In time, both governments created corps of three or four divisions within an army or department.
Consequently, as the companies of Valley men gathered at Harper's Ferry, officers organized them into regiments. The effort consumed weeks, but eventually forty-eight companies were assigned to the five regiments--the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Twenty-seventh, and Thirty-third Virginia--that would constitute the future Stonewall Brigade. Each regiment had at its core companies from a particular section of the region--the Second Virginia consisted entirely of companies from four counties in the northern end or Lower Valley; the Fourth was formed with a majority of its companies from the Upper Valley; the Fifth originated from the militia companies of Staunton and Augusta County; the Twenty-seventh counted most of its members from the mountainous counties of southwestern Virginia, beyond the Valley proper; and, the Thirty-third contained volunteers from six counties, with Shenandoah County contributing one half of the number.
The regimental field officers--colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major for each unit--were men who possessed either prior military education, militia training, or Mexican War experience, or had been leaders within their communities. Of the thirteen field officers--the Thirty-third had only a colonel initially--five were graduates of VMI, two had attended West Point, four had fought in the Mexican War, and/or four had served as militia officers. One of them, Lawson Botts, an attorney, had been a "decided and uncompromising opponent of secession doctrines" and had defended abolitionist John Brown, whose raid on Harper's Ferry, in October 1859, hastened the destruction of the Union. Like Botts, four others practiced law, while Kenton Harper, a native Pennsylvanian, was a distinguished newspaper publisher, politician, and farmer.
The company commanders or captains in the five regiments reflected the diverse origins and composition of their units. Like the field officers, at least one third of them had either prior military training or experience. The remaining captains were usually men of local stature--mayors, attorneys, state legislators, businessmen, and well-to-do farmers. Among the group several were destined to attain higher rank and to play prominent roles in the brigade's history, including John Quincy Adams Nadenbousch, James A. Walker, Charles A. Ronald, John Henry Stover Funk, Hazael J. Williams, Frederick W. M. Holliday, and Abraham Spengler.
Among the regimental captains none perhaps had sacrificed more for his loyalty to Virginia than Thompson McAllister. Born in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, in 1811, McAllister had prospered in his native state and had served in the legislature. In 1849, he moved with his family to Covington, Virginia, bought 2,200 acres of land, built a large brick home, Rose Dale, and made money in the milling business and in promoting railroads. McAllister remained in touch with his family, particularly his brother Robert. In January 1860, he returned to Pennsylvania for a family reunion during which he and Robert engaged in a heated argument over politics. The brothers departed enemies, and when the nation divided, Thompson joined the Twenty-seventh and Robert became lieutenant colonel of the First New Jersey. The wound between the brothers never healed.
In May, an artillery battery from Lexington arrived in Harper's Ferry, and in time would be attached to the brigade of Shenandoah Valley regiments. Within a week of Virginia's secession, seventy recruits had enrolled, voted to be an artillery company, and adopted the name Rockbridge Artillery. On May 1, William Nelson Pendleton asked the company if he could serve as its captain, and the men accepted the offer. Pendleton was an 1830 graduate of West Point, but since 1838 had devoted his life to the ministry. He was serving as rector of the Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington when the war began.
"Old Penn," as the young gunners dubbed Pendleton, drilled the company with borrowed small brass cannon from VMI. On May 11, the Rockbridge Artillery departed for Harper's Ferry with two cannon while Pendleton traveled to Richmond for additional guns. Pendleton obtained two, and rejoining the company at Harper's Ferry, resumed drilling the gunners with four cannon that were soon named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. By June 30, the battery consisted of Pendleton, three lieutenants, and eighty-one enlisted men.
The formal organization of the forty-eight infantry companies and one artillery company lasted into July. Throughout the weeks, the Valley men labored with the rigors of military drill and discipline. But the volunteers maintained their morale and gave the reasons for their and their families' sacrifices. "The men work willingly," Captain William S. H. Baylor assured folks in Augusta County, "eat heartily, and sleep as soundly on the ground, as a prince in a palace. They are ready for a fight, and I believe are eager to show their courage in driving back any invading force."
To the officers and men of the brigade, the stakes were evident. The actions of the Lincoln administration threatened the rights of Virginians and the beloved Valley itself. They understood the gravity of their choice, for as a member asked his wife, "Is not this Revolution?" A lieutenant stated to his wife that he and his men were engaged "in a glorious cause," one "of defending our good old dominion from the threatened invasion of northern hords."
Lieutenant Samuel J. C. Moore, Second Virginia, worried whether his young sons would understand their father's absence and his reasons for entering the army. Most likely speaking for many other fathers he wrote home:
Do you know for what your Papa has left his family and his home and his office and his business? I will tell you. The State of Virginia called for all the men who are young and able to carry arms, to defend her against Lincoln's armies, and it is the duty, I think, of every man to answer her call, and be ready to keep the army of our enemies from ever setting their feet in the State.
War is a dreadful thing, and I would rather do anything in the world than kill a man or help to kill one, but then if we were to let Lincoln's army pass here, they might go into the State of Virginia, and burn our houses and kill the old men and the women and children, and do a great deal more harm, and I am sure I would rather see a thousand of them killed around me, than to know that they had done any harm to my wife and dear little boys.
So Moore and his comrades prepared for the "dreadful thing" at the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley. With a swiftness they probably never expected, their lifelong allegiance to the old country had been severed. Now they were willing revolutionaries, defending home and family, bound to the cause by duty. In the Valley, as they learned to be warriors, the wheat crop "never was more promising." For it to ripen and to nourish those at home, the Valley men stood in ranks.
Spring only beckoned across Wisconsin in mid-April 1861. Winter was a stubborn adversary, a season with an iron grip. During the months of the long nights, in farmhouses, villages, and lumbering camps, the residents had waited for news from the East. The state's voters had gone for Abraham Lincoln, and then watched as a succession of Southern states withdrew from the Union and created a new government. And now they waited more as the melting snows filled creeks.
Wisconsin had offered them a renewal, like the promise within spring's new grasses and flowers. During the previous two decades, they had flooded into the territory and brought it statehood in 1848. They were Americans come from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the states along the Ohio River, and German, Scandinavian, and Irish immigrants. In 1860, the census counted a population of over three quarters of a million residents in fifty-eight counties. They planted fertile fields in grains, milked cows, sheared sheep, cured cheese, hewed timber, and brewed beer. For many, if not most, Wisconsin had kept its word.
But they saw beyond Wisconsin's promise to that of America's. To them, the country offered opportunity found nowhere else in the world, for if Wisconsin played out, a common man could begin again in another territory or state. As the crisis, brought by secession, deepened, they steeled themselves. A La Crosse newspaper in a typical editorial admonished its readers: "There is a grand old storm coming up--there will be such fighting as this country has never yet seen, and that right soon. This is no time for wavering."
When the news of Fort Sumter, followed by Lincoln's summons for volunteers, reached Wisconsin, the citizenry did not waver. "Patriotism was effervescent," claimed one man. On April 18, as militiamen marched away to cheers in Staunton, Virginia, residents of Oshkosh met in what the local newspaper described as the "greatest and most enthusiastic gathering which ever assembled" in the community. Across the state townsfolk held similar "war meetings." "Every rugged backwoodsman, whether American, German or Norwegian, was full of patriotism," a citizen avowed. "Indignation at the firing on Fort Sumter was genuine and universal." An Irish farmhand and future recruit put it simply, "I want to do what I can for my country."
Two days before the Oshkosh meeting, on April 16, Governor Alexander W. Randall issued a proclamation to the state's residents. "For the first time in the history of this Federal Government," Randall began, "organized treason has manifested itself with several States of the Union, and armed rebels are making war against it." He then noted the consequences of treason, affirming that the attack against a federal installation must be met "with a prompt response." He concluded with a call for unity: "It is a time when, against the civil and religious liberties of the people, and against the integrity of the Government of the United States, parties and politicians and platforms must be as dust in the balance. All good citizens, everywhere, must join in making common cause against a common enemy."
Randall also stated in the proclamation that one regiment of militia "will be required for immediate service, and further service will be required as the exigencies of the Government may demand." Within days enough companies had volunteered for three months' service to organize the First Wisconsin Infantry. An additional nineteen companies had offered their services, so on April 23, the governor authorized the creation of the Second Wisconsin Infantry, the first regiment to be organized that would become a part of the Iron Brigade. Randall ordered the three-month volunteers of the Second Wisconsin to report to Madison, the state capital, by May 1.
The ten companies of the Second Wisconsin came from nine counties across the breadth of the state. From Racine County came the Belle City Rifles, a unit composed entirely of unmarried men; from Winnebago County, the Oshkosh Volunteers, formed by members of a local fire company; from Rock County, the Beloit Cadet Rifles, whose ranks included a dozen students and graduates of Beloit College; and from Grant County, the Grant County Grays, one fifth of its members listing their place of birth as outside the United States. Four companies--the Portage Light Guard, La Crosse Light Guard, Citizens Guard, and Miners Guard--originated as prewar militia units. The Janesville Volunteers, like the Beloit Cadet Rifles, hailed from Rock County, while the Randall Guards filled its ranks in Madison and surrounding Dane County.
The volunteers departed from their homes for the state capital amid an outpouring of support. The local heroes received meals, heard speeches, were presented with flags, and were accompanied to railroad stations by vociferous crowds. Like Virginians and other Americans, North and South, Wisconsinites gave of their own in a torrent of celebration. Over a year later, after the cheers had died long past, one of the recruits explained to his parents why he had boarded a train for Madison. "With thousands of others," he wrote, "I was so much excited at the thought of treason breaking out in our Old Union that I thought nothing but to be if possible the first to enroll my name amongst those of her defenders."
The La Crosse Light Guard from La Crosse County and the Portage Light Guard from Columbia County arrived together on the same train in Madison, on May 1. Officials directed them to the State Agricultural Society's Fairgrounds, a forty-acre area located about a mile from the city that had been converted recently into a training camp for soldiers. Even as the two companies passed through the gate, scores of workers were changing cattle pens into barracks. During the next fortnight, the remaining companies of the Second Wisconsin joined the La Crosse and Portage volunteers at the fairgrounds, now designated as Camp Randall.
Camp Randall served as home to the regiment for the next seven weeks. The installation offered few comforts. "We are cooped up in a 40 acre lot fenced in," Horace Emerson informed his brother on May 10, "and our Barracks are made up by the side of the fence and every time it rains the damn Shanties leak and wets our beds." They slept on beds of hay, had not enough blankets, drank "dish water coffee," and awoke each morning from the discharge of a large brass cannon. The regimental historian later described their stay at the camp as "the short woodshed life in Madison."
The cannon's blast began the daily routine for the men at Camp Randall. The recruits drilled twice a day at first, four times a day by the end of the month. First sergeants of companies usually conducted the drills, with one or more officers present. At night, many of the men visited Madison, and if the opinion of one of them was shared by most of the men, the city had few inducements. Alured Larke grumbled that "there is scarcely a pretty woman here," adding that "as a town Madison is miserably dull, as a capital wretched." After some members of the Janesville Volunteers participated in a "great rumpus" in the city, no man was allowed to leave camp without a pass signed by his captain and the regimental colonel.
Despite the assertion by one member that "our boys are all good hearted Noble fellowes we all love one another as Brothers," evidence indicates that an element in the regiment did not accept willingly the strictures of military discipline. In fact, one officer described them "on the whole" as "rough, vulgar blackguards." Even the Second's historian admitted that "the regiment had become a terror" to Madison's citizens by the time it departed.
Responsibility for the discipline of and instruction of the rank and file belonged to the company commanders and field officers, the latter of whom had been selected by Governor Randall. For the colonelcy of the Second, Randall picked a prominent Milwaukee lawyer and former attorney general of the state, S. Park Coon. A forty-one-year-old native of New York, Coon had been a resident of Wisconsin for nearly two decades, and during the winter of 1861 had been outspoken in his support of the Union. He knew little, if anything, about commanding a regiment, drank too much whiskey, but counted among his friends the governor for whom Coon had named the camp. Within the regiment, it was believed that the subordinate officers would compensate for Coon's shortcomings.
Randall appointed Henry W. Peck as lieutenant colonel and Duncan McDonald as major. Peck was an Ohioan by birth and had attended West Point but withdrew before being graduated. "A great deal was expected of Peck," stated a member of the Second. Like Peck, McDonald had some military experience, having served for two years as a colonel in the state militia. When the war began, McDonald was a prominent and respected Milwaukee businessman.
The captains, elected by their respective companies, were men of local stature. Six of them had practiced law in their communities, while the other four owned and/or operated a business. Each captain had been involved in the recruitment of a company. George H. Stevens of the Citizens Guard, John Mansfield of the Portage Light Guard, and William E. Strong of the Belle City Rifles would be the best of the group.
On May 9, the volunteers heard a rumor that their three-month term of enlistment was to be changed to three years. For several days, individual companies met and discussed the news, with some men from each company deciding to return home. But only one company, the Beloit Cadet Rities, refused to enroll for three years. On May 15, officers read the order that authorized the change, and at 10:00 A.M., on the 16th the regiment formed, with 517 members sworn in for three years. A week later, the Wisconsin Rifles from Milwaukee County, led by Captain Andrew J. Langworthy, former county sheriff, marched into Camp Randall, replacing the departed Beloit Cadet Rifles.
By the end of May, most of the company ranks had been refilled with unassigned recruits in the camp. June 11 was designated for the mustering in of the regiment into Federal service. To allow men to visit friends and relatives, Coon approved passes to upward of four hundred members on the night of the 10th. Uncounted others sneaked out of camp without passes, and by the early hours of the 11th, gangs of drunken soldiers roamed the streets. A large group of them gathered outside a brewery, demanding admittance. When someone broke a window and others grabbed whiskey bottles, the owner, from an upstairs window, fired a shotgun over the crowd. Several soldiers discharged pistols and threw stones at the gunman. The men fled, however, when neighbors ran into the street.
The next morning, a sobered Second Wisconsin, dressed in state-issued gray uniforms, entered the service of the United States. Nine days later, on June 20, the regiment marched from Camp Randall after receiving a national flag, with "2ND REGT. WISCONSIN VOL." on each side, and after listening to a speech by Randall. The governor wanted to say farewell and to remind them of the cause for which they had volunteered. "This rebellion must be put down in blood," Randall averred, "and treason punished by blood. You go forth not on any holiday errand, not on any Fourth of July excursion, but as men to perform great and urgent duties." They go, he added, "because you will to aid with your own right arms in maintaining the integrity of your Government and my Government."
The 1,048 officers and enlisted men of the Second Wisconsin boarded railroad freight cars for the nation's capital to a chorus of cheers. Many in attendance were undoubtedly glad to see the soldiers leave Madison. The town meetings, the sumptuous meals, and the boisterous support upon the men's enlistment had given away now to the reality of leaving families, friends, and Wisconsin. "It is safe to say," remembered Captain Thomas S. Allen, "that not a man in the regiment knew anything of actual warfare." But the recruits, Allen believed, were "actuated by a common motive and by similar patriotic impulses, yet differing as to policies and parties." Perhaps Corporal Horace Emerson, as he found a place in a car, recalled the words he had told his brother at the time of enlistment. "If I fall," Emerson stated as explanation, "I die in defence of the Flag I was born under and which I will die."
The train carried the Wisconsin men east, through Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and on to Harrisburg. At the Pennsylvania state capital, Colonel Coon refused to continue the trip until the regiment was issued arms. During the previous weeks, contingents of Union troops had encountered mobs in Baltimore, Maryland, the next stop for the Second Wisconsin. Authorities consented, issuing 780 Harper's Ferry muskets to the unit. The train proceeded to Baltimore, where the regiment marched from one station to another with loaded and capped muskets. On June 25, the Wisconsin soldiers reached Washington, D.C., and camped along Seventh Street, next to a regiment of New Hampshire troops.
The Western men roamed through the capital as sightseers for about a week, visiting the stone edifices that marked the government they had volunteered to save. Horace Emerson and two fellow corporals arranged a meeting with President Lincoln and drank a glass of wine with the chief executive. After they left the White House Emerson wrote, "bulley for old Abe he is a Brick." "If ever I get a chance to draw sight on a Rebel," the corporal vowed, "down goes his shanty."
The Second Wisconsin filed into column on the afternoon of July 2, and marched across a bridge over the Potomac River into Virginia, a land of "Devels," as one called the Southerners. They were halted at Fort Corcoran on the road to Fairfax Court House, and assigned to a brigade under Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman. "Many were confident," a soldier asserted about his comrades, "that the war would last but for a few months and none anticipated remaining more than a year" away from Wisconsin.
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