The War Begins:
The fall of Fort Sumter in April of 1861 sent shock waves across the nation. The call by president Lincoln for Volunteers so magnified those waves upon our shores that it would take four violent years for the waters to recede.
By May 2, 1861 Fond du Lac already had sent young men to the state capitol as volunteers. The company called the "Badger Boys", was admitted to the First Wisconsin Volunteers as Company I. Edwin Brown's brother-in-law and friend, Colwert Pier, was one of the "lucky few" who made it to Madison in that group. Back in Fond du Lac, Edward Bragg, Edwin Brown, Jim T. Conklin, C.R. Harrison, William Barry, G.W. Swift, and a few other young and influential men of the community quickly gathered and decided to form another company. On May 5th, during some point in that meeting an election was held and Bragg was voted in as Captain. Brown became his Orderly Sergeant.
Bragg and Brown went to many of the area households, on farms and in villages, and recruited men for their company which became know as "Bragg's Rifles". By May 7th the company had enough men to meet the Governor's minimum requirements and on the 22nd of May, 1861 the unit was accepted by Madison. The unit was originally a 90 day unit, but before another week was out the term of service had changed to three years. At this point some of the men began to have second thoughts. The unit was still in town; the men living at home. This change gave them a legal means to back out and some did. The 2nd Lieutenant, C.R. Harrison was one of several men who dropped from the rolls. Bragg chose his colleague Edwin Brown to replace him and in a vote the position was confirmed. A company in Appleton, WI, formed by a Professor Platchke, had more serious problems. This company could not get beyond 45 men to sign its roster. As a minimum of 78 were needed by June 25th, a deal was made to join the unit to Bragg's -- if Bragg would keep one of the Appleton officers. Forty of the Appleton men including one officer were placed on the rolls as of June 15th. The company was complete.
Colwert Pier, 1st WIS
Courtesy of FDLCHS
On July 1st, 1861 Bragg's Riffles, now known as company "E" of the 6th Wisconsin went to Madison. Rather, than let someone tell you about the camp a century and a half latter, I'll let Edwin Brown tell you. The first letter we have that Edwin wrote to his wife was dated July 3rd, 1861. A portion of that letter is presented below, and as always, with no attempts at correction for spelling, grammar, or punctuation -- except to improve understanding when necessary.
I have not slept a wink since I left home, and do not feel very cute as you may imagine, taking the loss of sleep and the thoughts of leaving my family together, perhaps you may have thought because I did not show my feelings before the crowd at the time of parting, that I did not feel very bad at going from you, but Ruth it was pride that kept me up. I did not want people to think that soldiers were baby's. I should not regret at being here were it not for you and the children. As it is now, I think too much for my peace of mind. Ruth you must kiss the children often for me, and don't let them forget their father, cherish and have patience with the dear things, and hope for the best in all things. I think my chances is as good to come back as any ones else, and if I should see you again after doing my duty you would then be proud of your husband.
They are very Strict (not cruel) in this camp, it is hard for anyone who is not an officer to get a pass to go outside the walls. Tonight I try a board for a bed with nothing over or under me except the coverlid you gave me. I expect it will be hard.
Lt. Edwin Brown, July 3rd, 1861
By July 10th things had improved -- At Camp Randall, Brown had received a tent and a Promotion.
Camp life seems rather hard to me Ruth, plenty to do, poor fare and sleeping accommodations. I will assure you that if eating a peck of dirt will make one fat, we shall be as pursy as Doc Wright..... Well, here we have no pie, cake, sauce and good bread, [Bread] and butter of poor quality once a day - as for sleeping arrangements I get along well except cold nights, then one blanket in an airy tent is hardly enough. ...I don't speak of these things Ruth complainingly, or for the purpose of getting anything sent to me because it would only make one dislike the fare more to have anything rich to eat, and I knew pretty well what hardships we should have to endure before I came here, and I know full well that we have not seen the worst of it.
I got my commission for first Lieutenant yesterday, we have had quite a time over it, but the Company would have me and I begun to be ambitious too. Everything is settled now. what reconciled the Appleton man (and his men of course) was that the second Lieutenant will get a months back pay....
Lt. Edwin Brown, July 10th, 1861
The election came about because of the resignation of yet another of the Bragg's Rifles inceptors. Jim Conklin's resignation was accepted on July 9th and a new election held the same day. "The Appleton Man" was Joseph H. Marston, and was one of the "Appleton 40". Things were getting serious now, life in camp was tough, and the following week, on Tuesday the 16th, the regiment would be sworn in to the U. S. service. By the 24th of July, 1861, the 5th Wisconsin Volunteers had left Camp Randall. The time in Madison was running short for the boys of the 6th. Lt. Brown was asking for his fathers sword to be sent by express "until I can do better, it wants cleaning up and grinding and the handle tightened..." The men had received new Gray Uniforms (Yes, Gray!) but still awaited arms. With departure on the minds of all the men Brown wrote his wife the following.
Once more I am compelled by distance to take up the pen as a means of communication between those who ought not to be separated, but chance or something else seems to govern the acts of my life and I with thousands of others seem to be playthings of fortune without any assurance of what kind of freak she may play upon us. Love, I assure you that my heart feels pained to know how lonely you will be, and how much trouble and anxiety you will experience and feel on my account. But dear, you must cheer up and hope for the best as I do, It will be time enough to feel down hearted when Calamity really does befall you and me, which I hope may not happen to either of us or ours very soon. I hope to live some years of life yet with you and the children and hope they will be happier ones than we have ever experienced before.
Lt. Edwin Brown, July 24th, 1861
By July 31st, 1861 First Lieutenant Edwin Brown found himself in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.
Again, we will let Lt. Brown tell you of the trip.
We have arrived so far on our journey and such a journey. Men, women and children rushed in one great mass along the entire line to shake hands, feed us and give us words of encouragement. In some places the very prettiest of girls went from car to car bidding the Boys good bye, God Bless you, and even kissing the poor dusty fellows. The likes of our reception I never again expect to see, twas like the march of the conqueror. The 5th Wisconsin Regiment moved this morning for Harpers Ferry they will see the boys of the 1st Regiment. I gave a message to Wm Berry who is with them for Colwert......
We had a long and tiresome ride on the Cars here, we were packed in too thick for sleep, but the magnificent Scenery over the Allegheny Mountains and the greeting we got on the route done away with the necessity of sleeping. I do not see how a man can be a coward when the women and children of the nation are so patriotic and cheer on to the performance of his duty. Ruth I may never see home again, but you will have at least the consolation of saying that I died like a soldier, and did my duty to my Country. And if I do come back which I hope to do, perhaps people will appreciate me who have not done so before.
Lt. Edwin Brown, July 31st, 1861
The trip to Washington was not just filled with cheering, hand shakes, and kisses. It had its darker side as well. While the unit was in Baltimore a confrontation with the anti-war "Plug-Uglies" took place. Maryland was a border state and was officially neutral -- even though it sent units to both the North and the Confederacy. Baltimore was a confused town. People flocked to the train yards to cheer the men during the day, but at night the people of the same town took up brickbats and clubs and harassed the men. On the night of August 5th, the Plug-Uglies attacked the camp and a fight ensued. The 6th had as of yet not been issued weapons. I can only imagine that tent poles, shovels, and fists were employed to beat off the attackers. The only recorded injury (to pride anyway) was to a Lieutenant Kellog, of another company, who was injured after missing a latrine pit in the dark and fell in. It was a joke, in bad taste, to refer to Kellog as the only casualty of the "Battle of Baltimore".
By the 7th of August the 6th Wisconsin was in Washington. Within a few days Lt. Brown and the 6th was moved to Georgetown Heights and encamped near the "Chain Bridge" just a few miles from the front. The Chain Bridge was an important crossing of the Potomac River and as such had military significance. Lt. Brown did travel back to Washington, a four mile journey, at least once as this next tale explains.
Last night I went to the City to look after our baggage, and came very near being locked up in the Calaboose for my pains. They have Patrol guards marching at intervals of about 15 minutes about all the streets, taking up officers and soldiers without they have a permit from the Brigadier General.
Well, the colonel told me I might go, and when I was in front of the National Hotel, up comes about fifty men with an officer at the head of them, who stepped up to me in the Gas light, and wanted to see my pass, I told him I had none, except a verbal one from the Colonel.
I justified myself as well as I could, told him I had just got in Town, did not know anything about the rules of the concern, and was in search of my trunk and he said it made no difference to him, he was ordered to arrest every one running at large, the prospect looked as though I was to be locked up like a criminal until the next morning at any rate, about that time a Pennsylvania Officer was passing by a little tight [a 19th century term meaning "drunk"] and in arresting him, there was a little con
The 6th Wisconsin was brigaded with the 5th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana Regiments. Brigadier General Rufus King was given the command. Over the next month the brigade spent most of its between picket duty around the Chain Bridge area and drilling at Camp Kalorama. The Chain Bridge was an important bridge across the Potomac River along the Georgetown Turnpike. It was located about four miles Northwest of Washington DC and upriver, was the DC's last bridge over the Potomac. Brown tells us that Camp Kalorama was along Georgetown Heights.
In August the weather was hot and the accommodations about as bad as those at Camp Randall. The men's morale was at low ebb. Brown watched closely as the condition of the men deteriorated and the comforts of some of his superiors improved. At the time of an August 13th letter Brown reported that; "The sick in our company seems to multiply, about twenty two being under the Surgeon's care: cases mostly of dysentery, measles." The next day, about 35 men were unable to perform active duty. Brown was disappointed in Bragg for his aloofness and his preoccupation in "fishing for some higher place and not promoting the health or good feeling of the company" and how he did "not carry an even hand with his men." About this time Bragg took possession of a sleeping car and, according to Brown, acted as if "he was traveling for his health." Brown wrote his wife openly and honestly of these things. And much to his misfortune Ruth was unable to keep her husband's opinions private. Before the end of August Bragg had word of Brown's complaints and his comments had got him "into a scrape." Lt. Brown wrote; "It did not suit him [Bragg] to have me complain and have it reach the ears of his wife." After another similar incident in September, Edwin was much more careful to warn his wife to keep his opinions secret and took the trouble to mark some letters to his father as "private". Brown did like Major Sweet and wrote how he "takes as much care as he can of the men." (Authors Note: I wish to be fair to Bragg here. He may have been a small man with a big ego, but as the war progressed he proved to be an excellent officer and absolutely fearless in battle. Eventually promoted to a Brigadier, he was later nick-named the "Little General".)
Image of Edward S. Brag
Before the end of August Brown explained to his wife...
Our regt has received the substantial compliment from Gen. McClellan of a new blue uniform and new Belgian Rifle Muskets, which are his favorite arms. The reason for the change of clothes was because the enemy wear gray clothes. The reason we get good guns is because they think we will use them on the enemy. The unit received Belgian Rifle Muskets and at first believed these to be "most improved"
Most of the soldiers around the Capital expected to be put to the test at any time. Signs of "Large Concentrations" of Union troops, "extensive preparations", and expectations of "important movements" abounded that fall of 1861. On August 13th Brown wrote his wife a message to pass along to her brother, "Tell Colwert that if Co "E" don't loose ten times as many men as the whole first regiment within the next thirty days I shall be thankful," Brown even ends this letter, "...two shots fired by the guard, good bye..." But not much happened that autumn in the East, other than reviews, picket duty, and an Army wide purge of unqualified or disliked junior officers. Duty at pickets was not all boring. On September 4th, 1861 the unit was forced march at 11:00 p.m. from camp to five miles out beyond the Chain Bridge. There Brown and his 15-man squad sighted what may have been their first enemy soldiers. The first lieutenant writes, "I saw some of the enemy's horsemen and footmen about a mile off just before night on a rise of ground looking toward us - in the night we saw them throw singal lights on a line in front of us for a great distance, and we heard drums beating a good deal of bustle in their camp." Back at camp in October Brown himself put the whole operation in to perspective when he wrote, "...have two days rations cooked ready for a march, and have had for a week or more, but we do not move. And God and McClellan only know when we will."
On August 27th the 2nd Wisconsin (back and reorganized after taking part in the July battle of First Manassas) joined King's Brigade. They "look as though they had been "through the wars" ragged and saucy..." described Brown. Their discipline had suffered according to Brown. However it may just have been that being a veteran unit, that had performed very well in a lost fight, made them a little less worried about protocol, straight lines, and proper drilling. "...they spend their time, telling big stories about their exploits.... Every sentence is embellished with some tall swearing. They are a hard nation. ...Capt Bouck was having some altercation with a private, and both seemed to try who could sear the worst and call each other the hardest names."
On September 21st, Brown writes home of a promotion and a little politicking of his own. Bragg was promoted Major of the regiment and Brown was made Captain of Company E, effective September 18th. Marston, the "Appleton Man" was made 1st Lieutenant and Jerome B. Johnson was made the 2nd Lieutenant. Johnson had appeared as 2nd Sergeant on the Bragg's Rifles roster as having signed up May 5th, 1861. His promotion bypassed the 1st Sergeant, W. A. Reader. Edwin explained to Ruth, "You ask me why Reader did not get promoted instead of Johnson, first because there was an election held, and he did not get votes enough, second I thought Johnson the most of a man and helped in a sly way. Major Bragg wanted Reader to have the office but the dear voters did not agree with him."
On October 1st, 1861 the 7th Wisconsin (who had been held back until after the September harvest) arrived in Washington. Just prior to this, the 5th Wisconsin had been reassigned to General Smiths Division and the 7th was ordered to replace it. This left the 2nd Wis, 6th Wis, 7th Wis, and the 19th Indiana in King's Brigade. The future Iron Brigade was now complete.
The time between October, 1861 and the beginning of April, 1862 was spent in endless reviews, picket duties, and making preparations for unrealized operations. During this time Captain Brown became what I can only describe as depressed. His concerns for the men's welfare along with worry and longing for his young wife back home and topped off perhaps by poor living conditions and poor diet would be cause enough. In the Eastern Theater of war the Union met yet another defeat at Ball's Bluff in Virginia.
to be continued.....