Distant Civil War 'close' to region

Capt. John Perkins was commander of the company which went to war with the eagle Old Abe. Some say it was Perkins who named it after President Lincoln. Perkins was killed in the war.

     Spring activities were the center of attraction in the Eau Claire region Friday, April 12, 1861.
     They were concerned with a "good drive" of logs on the river which meant a good year at the sawmills.
     Capt. Frank Moore piloted the steamer "Chippewa Valley" on its first run of the season and merchants filled their stores with goods brought upriver.
     Farmers were busy plowing fields for spring crops.

Rumors of Civil War

     There were rumors of impending Civil War and editor Gilbert E. Porter wrote in the "Weekly Free Press" that he didn't believe President Lincoln would consent to evacuating Fort Sumter without resistance, as some felt he would.
     War seemed far away at the time, and interest dealt with getting the some 70,000 bushels of wheat from area warehouses to market.
      A hull was being assembled for Capt. Charles Whipple's new steamer, "Stella Whipple," which in another five months would take the first men from this area to the Civil War.

Writes of wonderful spring day

     "All of this coming and going made the levee a place of unusual activity this wonderful spring day. It reminds one of the growth and prosperity of our place," Porter wrote.
     In the next week's special issue his pen turned to more serious items as he wrote: "The terrible face of the Civil War now stares us full in the face. Lovers of the Union must meet the sudden though not unexpected responsibilities which devolve upon them."
     That war would soon touch the lives of countless men and their families from this area.
     There would be battles of lasting consequences in the west along the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers.

High percentage heading south

     Though their lot wasn't much different from those in other areas in the north, the people here felt they had a special stake in the war because of the high percentage of the male population heading south in Wisconsin regiments.
     The 1860 census showed a population of 7,782 in Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn Counties. Basing its figures on recent elections, the "Free Press" estimated there were some 1,900 men in these counties over 18 years of age. With 573 men in 10 state regiments by this time, the three counties had already sent a third of their adult male population to war. And more were yet to go.
     This caused some financial problems and the Eau Claire County Board set up a committee to look after welfare of soldiers' families and authorized the county clerk to draw such sums from the treasurer as seemed necessary to make them comfortable.

State camp project discussed

     So many men were being recruited in the valley that there was talk that winter of locating a state army camp at Eau Claire. Such an enterprise, it was figured, would be worth about $100,000 to the community. But plans never materialized and the area continued to send men to camps elsewhere in the state.
     Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, headquartered at St. Louis, commanded the Union Military Department of the Missouri, which included Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas and the portion of Kentucky west of the Cumberland River. He had a force of 91,000 men. Brig. Gen. Don C. Buell, headquartered at Louisville, Ky., commanded the Department of the Ohio with 45,000 troops.
     Under Halleck, U. S. Grant had 20,000 men in the Cairo-Paducah area and Brig. Gens. Samuel R. Curtis and John Pope each had 15,000 troops in Missouri.

Men from area included

     With Buell's army, there were 25 men from Chippewa Falls, Chippewa City and Eau Claire in the 1st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, a part of Brig. Gen. James S. Negley's 7th Brigade. They were mustered into federal service at Milwaukee's Camp Scott.
     Two of the men were associated with Eau Claire origins. Baptiste Demarie, Chippewa Falls, was the son of Louis Demarie who built the first log cabin along the Chippewa River opposite the mouth of the Eau Claire River in 1832.
     Stephen S. McCann, Chippewa City, settled here in 1856 and built the first sawmill on the river. A veteran of the Black Hawk War, he was an elderly man when he enlisted in Capt. Henry A. Mitchell's Milwaukee Union Rifles. He would be discharged because of a disability in April, but his seven sons and two son-in-laws would join companies in other regiments as the war continued.
     While camped at Munfordsville, Ky., the regiment was marched down to the north bank of the Green River as reserves with orders not to cross. They witnessed a desperate skirmish between and Indiana German regiment and Col. Terry's Texas Rangers.

Later would surrender fort

     Confederate troops occupied the south bank of the river much of the winter, first under Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman and then Brig. Gen. Simon B. Buckner. Tilghman was sent to fortify the two forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers 130 miles west of Munfordsville. He would surrender Ft. Henry to Flag Officer Andrew Foote's naval forces and Buckner would get terms of unconditional surrender from Grant at Ft. Donaldson.
     Johnston abandoned Bowling Green after Grant's victory and the 1st Wisconsin Regiment moved south with Buell's forces toward Nashville, Tenn., proudly led by their regimental colors which had a portion of Fr. Sumter's flag staff placed in its own.
     The 103 men in the Eau Claire Eagles, Company C, in the 8th Wisconsin Eagle Regiment were on guard duty at Ft. Defiance near Cairo, Ill. They also took turns with other companies guarding rebel prisoners at Mound City, a few miles north up the Ohio River.
     On March 4, the regiment received orders to leave Gen. Pope's command at new Madrid, Mo., some 50 miles south of Columbus, Ky., on the Mississippi and a short distance from a strategic bend in the river and Island No. 10.

Eagles miss enemy skirmish

     Like the 1st Regiment, the Eagles missed a skirmish with the enemy in October, though they saw action against Col. Jeff Thompson's Missouri Rebels at Fredricktown, Mo., 22 miles southeast of their camp at Pilot Knob.
     They arrived as other Union forces were under fire and shed surplus clothing and equipment as they ran toward the battlefield.
     However, they were ordered back as a reserve force to support heavy artillery located near the courthouse. One officer noted: "It was almost impossible to keep the men under subjection; they were so eager to take a hand in with the rebels."
     After the short skirmish, the Eagles returned to Pilot Knob and bivouacked without blankets or tents, subsisting on short rations while doing guard duty. They were moved to Camp Curtis at Sulphur Springs, 23 miles south of St. Louis on the Mississippi, late in November.

Joined by men from Dunn

     Shortly after arrival, they met nine men from the village of Dunn who had enlisted in the 11th Wisconsin Regiment. This regiment had arrived at Camp Curtis from Wisconsin a few days earlier. Four of the men were in the regimental band and the others in Company B.
     Col. Robert C. Murphy, Eagle Regiment commander, was also post commandant. While stationed there, both regiments guarded a portion of the Iron Mountain Railroad. Alphonse Beeman, a youth from Bridge Creek in the Eau Claire Eagles, became ill with the measles and died Dec. 4; the first death in the company.
     The Eagle Regiment was ordered to Cairo in January. The 11th Regiment continued guard duty until moved in Pilot Knob in March and then to Reeve's Station on the Black River to join Col Hovey's Brigade in Brig. Gen. Frederick Steele's army.
     While under Grant's command, one of the Eagles compared his lot with news he heard about the Army of the Potomac. "The western army is commanded by generals who are not afraid to fight. We are enthusiastic over the man Grant and are glad we are in his district, for now we believe we shall have something to do.

Another unit organized

     Back at Camp Randall in Wisconsin, the 148 men of the Chippewa Valley Guard became company G in Col. Benjamin Allen's 16th Infantry Regiment.
     The 54-year-old colonel from Pepin had been district attorney for Pepin and St. Croix counties, a state senator in 853 and 1854, and served on a committee appraising school lands in Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties.
     The Chippewa Valley Guard, representing almost every community and hamlet in the valley, was organized by Capt. John R. Wheeler, sheriff of Eau Claire County.
     Among recruits was John Taylor, captain of the short-lived Eau Claire Badgers, the first company recruited here after the fall of Fort Sumter. It was disbanded when many of its men grew impatient with the state's slow military buildup and hurried off to accepted in other regiments formed in nearby states.
     Before the 16th Regiment left Madison, Taylor was Battalion quartermaster in the Col. Edward Calvary Regiment.
     The 16th Regiment left the state with 1,070 men on March 13 and embarked the following day from St. Louis to join Grant's command at Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River near a small log church called "Shiloh."

Eau Claire Rangers formed

     While Wheeler recruited his Chippewa Valley Guard, Capt. Arthur M. Sherman, future sheriff and chief of Eau Claire's police and fire department, organized the Eau Claire Rangers, the only northwestern part of the state.
     While 100 men in the company left Eau Claire to become Company L. in Col. C. C. Washburn's 2nd Cavalry Regiment late in November, the "Free Press" noted: In point of size and muscular development of men that will probably leave this place."
     While the 100 men in the company left Eau Claire to become Company L in La Crosse in the company left Eau Claire to become Company L in Col. C. C. Washburn's 2nd Cavalry Regiment in late November, the Free Press noted: "In point of size and muscular development, they were the finest body of men that will probably leave this place."
     After visiting Grant and exchanging information with him from Halleck, Washburn returned to Milwaukee and the regiment left the state March 24 for St. Louis. Company L wasn't the only unit with men from the Chippewa Valley. Fifteen men from Chippewa Falls enlisted in Company I and two Menomonie men enlisted in Company A.

Winter recruiting rather slow

     Not long after Wheeler and Sherman led their men off to camp, Thomas Carmichael started to organize another company in Eau Claire with the intention of joining the 17th Wisconsin Regiment. Recruiting was a little slow during those winter months and they missed joining the regiment.
     Carmichael took the 35 men enlisted in his unit to St. Louis and with them enlisted in the 10th Wisconsin Light Artillery Battery. Capt. Yates V. Beebee, La Crosse, let the battery which would later join Gen. Pope's command at the siege of Farmington, Miss., about 10 miles south of Shiloh.
     Charles Whipple, captain of the "Stella Whipple" which had taken the Eau Claire Eagles down the Chippewa in September, was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 19th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment in January.

Could see pattern develop

     As families and friends at home compared news in letters received from some of these 421 Chippewa Valley men and followed newspaper dispatches from the warfront, they could see a pattern growing, and intimation of things to come in the year 1862. The foundation for Union victory was slowly being built along the great waterways into the South.
     There were another 152 men representing some of these same area families and other valley families serving in Union regiments along the Potomac. They were to help build legends with their prowess, wounds, and many cases their lives in the East.

--Bill Kelly

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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