Waukesha, Wisconsin Civil War History

Source: Waukesha Freeman, The | Waukesha, Wisconsin | Thursday, May 30, 1895


The Memorial Edition of the Freemen is presented to the public in the belief that it contains very much of interest, especially to past and present residents of Waukesha county. The war history of this county has never been written, except on the hearts of men and women, and in a fragmentary way in the files of the local papers, and anything in the way of a complete history probably never will be written. This edition of The Freeman contains, as far as the knowledge of the writer goes, by far the best collection of data and reminiscences ever made of local war history. It has thus an inherent permanent value that we do not doubt will insure it careful preservation in many households. We feel sure these pages will receive careful perusal from all our older patrons—whoever had arrived at years of realization during the war feels an intense interest in anything pertaining to that momentous period. If they may also be a center of interest to the younger generation, the boys and girls, who know of the Rebellion only as they know of the wars of the Greeks and Romans, through the pages of books, we shall be especially pleased, and shall fool amply repaid for all our labors. It is difficult to give these young, inexperienced persons any clear realization of what the war really was and what it meant to the people of this country. Something of this, much we hope, they can surely learn from these column where the past is as far as may be rolled back to let us see our county and its people thirty years and more ago. It is by reminiscences such as these that we learn the significance of the word "country" and the devotion of our fathers and brothers who were its defenders.

See also Civil War Regiments


This County's Work During the Great Rebellion

The Excitement, the Patriotism, the Recruiting, the Draft, the Mournings, and Rejoicings of Our People

The war record of Wisconsin is one of her proudest possessions and one of her most glorious bequests to her children. No state was more fervent in attachment to the principles of freedom for individuals and the perpetuation of the Union, and no state responded more promptly or according to her means, more liberally to the oft repeated calls for men and money.

It is Waukesha county's never ending glory that a proportional share of the Badger state's fairfame in patriotism and honor belongs to her.  This county was early stronghold of abolitionism, being the, home of men who did not hesitate to express their abhorrence of African slavery and their determination to rid the country of it. In early days Waukesha was an important station on that peculiar highway known as the "underground railway" and a number of fugitive slaves were received by abolitionists here and assisted to escape to Canada.  When the war came on Waukesha county had a population of something over 26,000.  Waukesha and Oconomowoc were as now, the principal villages, less than a quarter probably of their present size.  When the news of the firing on fort Sumter reached this village it caused, as elsewhere, tremendous patriotic excitement.  Meetings were called and resolutions adopted denouncing the traitorous rebels and crying in strongest terms for the upholding of the honor of the government.  There were of course a few souther sympathizers, a few whose quibbles and complaints have amusing interests now,, but these were only enough in number to point the moral and adorn the tale of impassioned war orators and diplomatic recruiting officers.  The county as a whole was patriotically loyal from the start to the finish of the war.  It gave ardent support to President Lincoln and the prosecution of active hostilities until the right kind of peace could be secured, and it bestowed liberally of its treasure of men and money whenever the government called.

The history of Waukesha county soldiers would include nearly the whole history of the war. Few among the fifty-seven regiments which went to the front from Wisconsin did not include a greater or less number of Waukesha county men and few were the important events of the war in which some one of these regiments, in whole or in part, did not participate.

According to the best data at hand, this county furnished 1219 soldiers to
the war of the rebellion, divided among the towns as follows:
Brookfield ..............99
New Berlin...............92

This does not include those men who belonged in this county but enlisted from other places, as each man is accredited to the place in which he signs the roll. Waukesha soldiers did honorable work all and some of them wrote their names imperishably on the page of fame.


The next week thousands of war meetings were held all over the north and this county was not behindhand.  The first important meeting here was held at Robinson's Hall on Saturday evening, April 20.  The hall was more than full of people and each person was more than full of enthusiasm. W.D. Bacon was made chairman, C.G. Heath and Malcolm Sellers vice presidents, and C.C. White secretary.  On motion a committee consisting of H.N. Davis.  P.H. Carney and Vernon Tichenor was appointed by the chair to present resolutions expressive of the sense of the people of Waukesha.

Speeches were made by C.K. Davis, W.S. Hawkins, M. Sellers, C.C. White, H.K. Smith, D. Casey, Rev. Dr. Savage, Rev. J.M. Walker, S. W. Warner, A.F. Pratt and others.

M.G. Townsend, C.G. Heath, A. S. Bennett, B.F. Cram and O.Z. Olin were appointed a committee to establish a recruiting station at Waukesha.

Then came up the question of enlistment and of providing for families of volunteers.  A.S. Bennett was the first man to sign the enlistment roll and was thus the first man to enlist from this county.  Years later "Andy" Bennett was killed fighting Indians in the far West.

The sum of $1500 was quickly subscribed for the benefit of volunteers' families, under a resolution adopted providing that the public assume that responsibility.

The chair appointed the following central committee to receive subscriptions and push on war measures: Capt. George Lawrence, O.Z. Olin, E. McNaughton; Menomonee, J.B. Nebs; Brookfield, A.V. Groat; Pewaukee, J.H. Waterman; Lisbon, Henry Phillips; Merton, C.W. Cotrell; Oconomowoc, P.A. Woodruff; Summit, E.M. Danforth; Ottawa, T.C. Dousman; Eagle, Marvin H. Bovee; Mukwonago, A.L. Perkins; Muskego, P.L. Bigelow; New Berlin, Benjamin Hunkins; Vernon, William Guthrie; Genesee, Thomas Sugden; Delafield, Albert Alden; Waukesha, D. Casey.


This was the beginning of a great wave of patriotic demonstration that swept over the county.  Meetings were held in all hamlets and almost all schoolhouses. In these early days public feeling seemed absolutely united-there was as yet no carping criticism of men or measures, and whoever disapproved the popular movement had the good sense to keep quiet.

A rousing meeting at Eagle which says the record, was pervaded by the spirit of '76, was addressed by Messrs. Hendrickson, Bronsen, Green and Stuart. The following young men enlisted, most of them for the Milwaukee Light Guards: Wm. B. Sherman, Alverston Bigelow, H. Skidmore, Frank Fox, David Kindar, Thos. Lacey, Chas. Brown, N. Neustadt and M. Schultz.

The first recruits from Mukwonago were Wm. Sherman who enlisted with a Milwaukee Company, and Messrs, Craig and Brownell, who enlisted with the Whitewater Grays.  At a reunion meeting at Delafield $400 were subscribed for the purpose of sustaining the families of volunteers from that town.  In Merton steps were taken to organize a military company, and resolutions were adopted to sink party and party organizations in the laudable purpose of maintaining the Union.  At Hartland a meeting was addressed by G.H. Allen, Joel R. Carpenter, S.M. Sherwood and others.  At Oconomowoc patriotism also had been active and 81950 had been subscribed for the volunteer family fund.


The first draft followed close on the heels of the filling of the 28th regiment.  The enlistment, large as it seemed, was not enough. In the early part of September the draft was ordered. Vernon Tichenor being appointed draft commissioner and Dr. Dunlap examining surgeon. Then did the more ignoble side of humanity come to the front. Draft malaria became a frequent disease, cripples were of a sudden astonishingly numerous, and the lame, the halt, and those with dangerously sick relatives in Canada painfully climbed the stairs to the draft office to secure exemption. The draft began at the Court House Monday, November 10, under the superintendence of Mr. Tichenor. There had been fears of trouble and those in charge were full of anxiety, but the draft passed off quietly with only natural excitement. Here is The Freeman's account of the modus operandi of drafting.

"A box such as is used for voting had placed in it small slips of paper containing the names of all persons of a town liable to do military duty.  Then the box was thoroughly shaken by the sheriff, after which a gentleman who was blindfolded (Mr. Edgerton of Summit) inserted his hand in the box and drew out names until the quota of the town was full."

The drafted men numbered 12 in Brookfield,  in Delafield, 1 in Eagle, 31 in Genesee, 29 in Lisbon, 3 in Merton, 6 in Muskego, 49 in Menomonee, 12 in Otawa, 12 in Pewaukee, 12 in Summit, and 9 in Vernon. The other towns of the county escaped the draft by reason of already having furnished their quotas. The drafted men were given a few days to get their home affairs in order, and some of them took the opportunity to "skedaddle," so that of the 181 drafted, Commissioner Tichenor was able to escort only 117 to Madison.  

A number of drafted men secured substitutes, the prevailing price ranging from two to three hundred dollars.  In one instance it is reported that $500 was paid and Joseph Mason of Lisbon was the happy man to receive it.

The second draft for this county took place in Milwaukee November 12, 1863,   and was completed in three hours. All the towns were included, their quotas being as follows:

New Berlin.....................32

The third draft for this county was in Milwaukee in September 1864, when 766 able-bodied men found themselves involuntarily recruited.  So many of these escaped that a supplemental draft was ordered for December of the same year to fill up the thinned ranks.  

Only a few weeks later the President called for 300,000 more.  The quotas were assigned and the fateful ships drawn, but in a short time they meant nothing as Lee surrendered and the great rebellion was over.


In the early spring of 1863 the Union League of Waukesha was organized.  A meeting was held at Jackson's Hall over which N.A. Spooner presided, L.B. Wright serving as secretary.  The object of the League was to secure the election of uncompromisingly Union men to office and to discountenance any in sympathy with the specious peare propositions that have been introduced in the legislatures of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin."  All persons upwards of 20 years of age, whose loyalty was unconditional, were eligible to membership.  Officers of the League were:

President-John Hodgson.
1st Vice-George Lawrence Jr.
2d Vice-N.A. Spooner
Recording secretary-O.M. Tyler
Corresponding Secretary-L.B. Wright
Treasurer-Wm. Blair

To oppose this republican association the Waukesha Democratic Club sprang into existence and for some months a very bitter and acrimonious contest was waged between the two organizations.  The object of the club as laid down in its constitution was "to support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Wisconsin," but this did not by any means include, in the opinion of members, unconditional support of the then existing government and its war measures. The club boasted much of its loyalty and its freedom of speech and this freedom was used liberally in criticism of "Abe Lincoln and his bloodthirsty followers."  It was freely called "copperhead" by the opposition and took no pains to deny the charge. In return it spoke of the rival organization as the "Gopher League."


Democratic clubs similar in method and aim to the Waukesha club were instituted in several towns in the county, the most conspicuous perhaps being in Muskeg, where meetings were frequent and the privilege of saying what he pleased about public matters was abridged to none.

It must not be supposed that any great number of people, democrats or otherwise, in the county were in sympathy with the above expression of opinion--far from it but there were enough of them to bear their side of the controversy and serve as a constant thorn in the flesh to the war majority. The situation was prolific of angry discussion and violent recrimination. There was even talk of personal violence to some of the anti-Lincoln men, and perhaps there was at one time really danger of an outbreak. But happily nothing came of it.


To supplement the work of the Union League, the Ladies Union League was organized, its special work being the relief of the families of volunteers. Meanwhile the thoughts of women both in this league and out of it were ever turned toward


Women took part in the war movement from its inception, and early developed great activity in helpfulness.  They not only attended the rallies, joined in the choruses and made red, white and blue rosettes, but by the last of April a ladies meeting was held in Jackson Hall for the purpose of providing lint, bandages, and blankets for our volunteers.  A few weeks later it is recorded that they had completed 231 shirts for the soldiers, the flannel being furnished by the state.  This was but the beginning of a good work which was continued with unremitting ardor for four years, with the result that supplies of all kinds were constantly being forwarded to our soldiers-clothing, medicines, house-wifery appliances and such articles of food as would bear transportation.  A few months later a Soldiers Aid Society was formed with the following officers:

Directors-Mrs. R.N. Kimball, Mrs. M.H. Bar dwell
Secretary-Mrs. I. Lain
Treasurer-Mrs Lydia Holbrook
Soliciting Committee-Miss H.M. Chester, Miss Georgie Bennett, Miss Frank Hubbard, Miss M.J. Walton, Miss Sue Totten, Miss M.C. Olin