Friday, August 12, 2011

"...the faithfulness of its sentinels..."

Last weekend, while visiting the Dickson Street Bookshop in Fayetteville, I happened to see the book below shelved behind the counter.

After looking through The Military History Of Wisconsin: A Record Of The Civil and Military Patriotism of the State, In The War For The Union, I made a quick decision and purchased it. Normally, I don’t engage in “impulse” buying, but this is a quick purchase that I have not regretted. Written by E. B. Quiner and published in 1866, this huge volume has short histories of essentially all of the units raised in Wisconsin during the war. There are also sections on recruiting, draft calls, legislative actions, economic matters and many other topics. The fact that the State of Wisconsin published this book so soon after the war ended is rather remarkable; a State would be hard pressed today to produce such a data packed book in such a relatively short time. As a bonus, a large map that had come apart at the horizontal creases, was tucked into the front of the book. This turned out to be a colorful map of the “seat of war” that accompanied a book written by Horace Greeley soon after the war ended. I am hoping to have the map conserved as it would look attractive on my office wall.

While thumbing through the book last week, I read the short sketch of the 13th Wisconsin Infantry; unless you had an ancestor that served in this regiment, chances are that you have never heard of the unit. For it served in no battles during its four years of duty, but instead did garrison duty, guarded communication lines, and engaged in other work in Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas. Since the regiment participated in no combat service to speak of, does this mean that the 13th Wisconsin Infantry was unimportant? I thought that E. B. Quiner’s assessment of the regiment was well worth including in my blog. Here are his words:

“Though the Thirteenth has not been called to take part on the field of battle, yet the duties which it has performed have been just as important, for it is to the faithfulness of its sentinels, that an army owes much that it achieves on the battle-field. With its supplies cut off, its communications closed, an army is often defeated. It is then that the faithfulness and vigilance of the regiment, who guards the trains and keeps the enemy at a distance from the highways, by which supplies reach the army in an enemy’s country, begins to be appreciated. The Thirteenth held many important positions, on which the success and welfare of Sherman’s whole army depended. Ceaseless vigilance and stern fidelity characterized the operations of the regiment, and while others may pride themselves upon achievements in the field, this regiment may point with pride to its four years of service, as being one of the material elements in the success of the armies of the Union, whose communications and flanks it was called upon to protect” (p. 597).

Although our attention is often riveted by units that suffered high casualties during the war, it is worth noting that the great majority of units on both sides had relatively modest casualty lists. Certainly, deaths by disease outweighed battle deaths in practically every Civil War unit. And, as evidenced by the 13th Wisconsin, a small number of battle deaths did not necessarily mean that the unit had an insignificant role in the war.


  1. Congrats on the impulse purchase--sounds like something I would have done too! I love rare finds like that.

    By telling this story of the 13th Wisconsin, you hit upon an important point about service during the war. So many men played a key role in guarding the flanks, protecting the supply lines, and keeping the enemy at bay. I am often reminded of the same thing in my studies of the Civil War defenses of Washington. So many heavy artillery units did duty there, yet the soldiers were considered to have perfomed "light duty." These defenders of the nation's capital were a vital deterrent during the war, and also helped to drive Early away in 1864. Your post is a nice reminder that we should not forget the less glamorous, but no less important, units!


  2. What's interesting to me is there was a similar book published around the same time by William deLoss Love. The Wisconsin Historical Society has that book online in image form: (scroll down). I've looked through both of them but it's been a while. I can't remember why there were two different books published. I do remember Love's book was arranged more chronologically to try and give a better history of multiple regiments in the same area.

  3. Ron,
    It's pleasant to know that there is someone else out there who might have made such a purchase. I was with several family members when I bought the book--none of them had any interest in the book but they were excited because I was so thrilled about finding the book.

    Those heavy artillery units have certainly gotten some bad press over the years because of their "cushy" duty. I've never thought that attitude was quite fair as they were only doing the duties that they had been assigned. I agree with you that their work was quite vital.

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Theron,
    I have never heard of the book by William deLoss Love, and I will certainly go look at it online. Thanks for the information about it! It does seem a bit odd that two similar books were published at about the same time.

  5. I have only recently begun to think the same way about the USCT regiments raised in 1863; the majority of these regiments I believe were mustered in the trans-Mississippi. Enough of these regiments were raised to permit the Army of the Tennessee to abandon the Mississippi River valley and reinforce Sherman on his drive to Atlanta. Without the Army of the Tennessee, Sherman is quite possibly stymied and November 1864 sees Lincoln presiding over stalemates across three fronts.

    Who freed the slaves? Quite possibly the answer is "the slaves freed the slaves." And the trans-Mississippi was ground zero.