This exciting collection boasts plenty of documents showing how Civil War soldiers from Wisconsin fought and lived as members of the army. Since these soldiers were all from Wisconsin they fought for the Union side against southern states, or the Confederacy. Both sides had huge armies separated into smaller units. These documents correspond to the smaller units called companies and regiments (see glossary). They give you access to a ton of great details about brave Wisconsinites and fighting in the Civil War.
The documents in this collection can be thought of as falling into two categories: 1) documents tracking individual soldiers and their experiences and 2) descriptions of the combat activities.
There are a range of documents that help bring the characteristics and experiences of individual soldiers to life. Muster in papers, for example, give information about the soldiers when they signed up for the army, like height, hometown, and occupation. Discharge records give reasons why soldiers left the army, often because they were injured or killed. Court cases shed light on the rules soldiers needed to follow and the corresponding punishments. The large numbers of troops and savage combat of this war meant that armies were constantly replacing their soldiers. As a result, muster in and discharges appear in every folder in this collection and provide a great sense of the range of Wisconsinites who fought in the Civil War.
Soldiers’ letters and written histories are much rarer but reveal the important role these Wisconsin units played in combat. There is a letter from one of the North’s most famous and brilliant generals, William T. Sherman. He praises his Wisconsin troops for their success in battle. There is also a written history by Lucius Fairchild. It gives specific details about battles. Fairchild describes the “murderous fire” and “disaster” his regiment encountered in some of the most important battles of the war like Bull Run and Antietam. Amazing stuff!
The handwriting in these documents can be challenging – but not impossible – to read. Documents which describe individual soldiers’ identities (like muster in roles and discharge papers) are forms with a lot of filled in blanks, which makes figuring out the handwriting relatively easy, while Fairchild’s documents contain paragraphs of rather sloppy penmanship. I suggest beginning with the documents that describe individual soldiers so that you can get used to this style of cursive before tackling long written paragraphs in Fairchild’s and Sherman’s documents.
This collection consists of one small box with six folders and two larger boxes each containing over ten folders. The folders in the small box correspond with a company, while those in both large boxes focus on the 2nd Wisconsin regiment. This review focuses on just a few of the folders from each box, focusing on soldiers and combat.
Folder 3 contains William T. Sherman’s letter praising Company I of the 8th Wisconsin regiment for their success in battle (until an illness in camp kept them from entering future combat).
Folder 4 holds Colonel Lucius Fairchild’s written history describing the fighting and marching his regiment endured.
Folder 4 holds an order given to the whole regiment which describes soldiers’ daily routines like when they woke up, ate and drilled. Very interesting!
File 8 contains lists of clothing which show that many soldiers lacked full sets of clothing!
Folders 1 and 2 contain the largest group of court cases in the entire collection. These documents reveal the rules soldiers needed to follow and the punishments if they disobeyed them.
Reviewed by: Steven Bonin