Last week on a hot, sultry day ripe for a squall I stood on Little Round Top at the Gettysburg battlefields and imagined how a simple summer thunderstorm might have altered Civil War history.
Some 2,100 of the 91,000 Wisconsin men who served the Union Army were dispatched to Gettysburg. Some 149 of the 3,750 Wisconsinites who died in the nation's deadliest war to date perished at the Battle of Gettysburg in early July 1863.
History tells us that apparently Confederate miscommunication and insubordination allowed the Union to take that strategic hill in what was arguably described as a turning point in the war and was the Civil War's deadliest battle.
Some historians contend that no matter the outcome of that battle, it was the North’s three Ms—money, machinery from industrialization, and more men from the greater population—that won the war. In any case, Gettysburg remains a powerful symbol of the tragedy and complexity of war.
If you’ve visited Gettysburg you’ve likely felt the somber discord that permeates the battlefields. One thing that remains the same is that war is still horrific; a harsh reminder is the recent news of the one-day record of 30 American deaths aboard a helicopter in Afghanistan, many of whom were Navy SEALS, including Nick Spehar from the nearby St. Croix Valley town of Chisago City, MN. Add that and more to a July 26, 2011, tally of 4,473 U.S. military deaths, in addition to 100,000+ lost lives of civilians, Iraqi police and soldiers, U.S. allied troops, journalists, insurgents and others.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee himself expressed the conflict and remembrance of war well: “It is history that teaches us to hope.” Ambivalent about the war and joining the Confederacy, Lee ultimately deciding that his Virginia would rebel. He wrote to his son at the beginning of the war in January 1861: “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union.”
Evidently we are slow to learn: war is still about capital and resources and ideals and ideology, whether human slave labor or thick black oil to fuel a way of life. Recently I met a husband and wife who are retired veterans with active duty in both Iraq wars and who answered me when I asked their opinion, "What do you think it is mostly about—stopping despots or securing oil?"
“It’s all about the oil,” was the answer.
Finding Wisconsin—and Hudson—at Gettysburg
For Wisconsin, calamity was in the 3,750 men who perished and the families they left behind. Those 2,100 Wisconsinites mustered at Gettysburg were from the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 26th Wisconsin Infantry in addition to 371 men from the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters Company G (known as the “Wisconsin Sharpshooters”). Those Wisconsin regiments are represented by seven monuments erected in 1888 at Gettysburg National Military Park.
For decades local historian, Hudson native and former resident Richard (Dick) Larsen has been researching local connections to Civil War where a total of 620,000 perished. He notes that Hudson newspapers from 1863 were destroyed in a fire so are not available on microfiche.
Some of Larsen’s work is assembled in an easy-to-use volume at the Hudson Library’s History Room. He’s currently writing the stories of three Civil War veterans from Hudson, including one with a Medal of Honor, from letters, diaries, correspondence and public records.
“It gets in your blood,” says Larsen, a 1953 graduate of Hudson High School who owned an insurance and financial firm in town before retiring and moving to Oregon, WI, 15 years ago.
“I grew up in town and [Hudson Star Observer publisher and historian] Willis Miller was one of my great friends and encouraged me to do research. [In doing his research for his Hudson biographical index], Willis often went to cemeteries, and that got me interested. Also I had spent time in military service and once you get in the system, you see there’s all these great stories to tell.”
Larsen worked with the St. Croix County Historical Society to arrange for his Civil War research relating to Hudson to be available in the library’s history room before he moved away.
A three-inch binder includes rosters on Wisconsin regiments including the Prescott Guards (Company B of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment), known as the Iron Brigade of the West. He also has assembled information on the life of Silas E. Lowery, 2nd Corporal of the Prescott Guards, from an 1861 edition of the Hudson North Star, the Red and Blue Muster Books from the Wisconsin Historical Society, and military records.
Lowery was a laborer born in Philadelphia who enlisted in Prescott on April 10, 1861, and listed his residence at Hudson. At age 19, he was elected 2nd Corporal at training camp overlooking the Mississippi at Prescott.
He saw action at the battles of Gainesville, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. The Antietam, Md., Battle was just south of a farm own by a relative of Willis Miller, notes Larsen. Lowery also participated in the battles of Fitzhugh’s Woods, Chambersburg and Gettysburg, where his company stopped the Confederate advance at the railroad gap on July 1, 1863. Of the 340 in the 6th Wisconsin Infantry at Gettysburg, 30 died, 22 went missing and 116 were wounded.
Reenlisted in December 1863 in Georgia, Lowery was promoted to Corporal in 1864. He endured the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Jericho Mill, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. In June 1864 he went on a secret mission and was captured and spent nine months in prison.
Larsen notes the men from the St. Croix Valley in Lowery’s Company B who did not survive: Harry Anderson from Stillwater, Minn., who died at age 36 on July 2, 1863 and left behind a wife; Corporal William Evans, age 20, single and described as a “a tall drink of water” from Prescott who was killed July 1, 1863; William Foust, age 30 from Beldenville; and James Kelly from Prescott, who died from Gettysburg battle wounds on July 21, 1863.
Larsen writes: “In scouting the records I found another Hudsonite with Company B … He was Peter Moses, 26 in 1861, born in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. He was a lumberman, 5’5” tall with blue eyes, sandy hair and a light complexion.” His fate was unknown.