THE STATE OF WISCONSIN was just 12 years young when the Civil War broke out, a patchwork landscape of farmlands, small towns, and urban rise, inhabited by a growing population of settlers from the East and immigrants, mostly German and Irish. Despite its newness to the Union, the state’s allegiance was staunch, and Wisconsin sent more than 91,000 of its sons to fight in the Federal Army. It’s almost impossible to discuss any of the major battles of the war without mentioning Wisconsin’s contribution, especially that of the famed Iron Brigade. At the Battle of Missionary Ridge, 1st Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur Jr. of the 24th Wisconsin rallied the troops, shouting “On, Wisconsin!” as he planted the regimental flag in the middle of Confederate fortifications. His battle cry was adopted as the University of Wisconsin Badgers’ fight song and can be heard during football games at the University’s Camp Randall Stadium, named for the training grounds of nearly 70,000 Wisconsin Civil War soldiers that stood on the site. You can visit a commemorative stone arch there, which also pays homage to another of Wisconsin’s Civil War icons, the bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin, Old Abe.
For a brief period in 1862, Camp Randall also served as a prisoner of war camp for 1,300 Confederate soldiers captured along the Mississippi River. One hundred and forty of the Rebel soldiers died and were buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, making it the northernmost Confederate cemetery burial site in the United States. Two-hundred and forty Union soldiers are in an adjacent but separate section of the cemetery.
Wisconsin men eagerly answered Lincoln’s call for troops at the start of the war, and more volunteers came forward than could initially be used. Governor Alexander Randall set up a training ground for troops in the capital city of Madison, where more than 70,000 men traveled from around the state to drill for war. The Camp Randall Memorial Arch, erected in 1912, is flanked by two statues, a young solider and a veteran. Old Abe, the bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin, sits atop the arch.
The Wisconsin Historical Society houses thousands of original documents about Wisconsin in the Civil War, including soldiers’ letters, diaries, and memoirs; regimental histories and rosters; photographs, maps, biographies, and battle summaries. The archives are open Monday through Saturday. www.wisconsinhistory.org
‘The Victorious Charge’
When John Conway’s soldiers’ monument was unveiled in downtown Milwaukee in 1898, it was considered one of the most artistically sensitive interpretations of the Civil War to date. Three of four figures are charging into battle while the last has fallen in front of his comrades, mortally wounded. The ceremony that accompanied its unveiling was also a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Wisconsin’s statehood and tens of thousands attended the event.
Wisconsin at War
Five Wisconsin regiments participated in the Battle of Antietam, including those of the Iron Brigade, as depicted in a dramatic diorama at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. An impressive collection of artifacts and images are housed here, as well as the life-size replica of the 8th Wisconsin’s Old Abe mascot. Displays also honor Wisconsin’s involvement in the World Wars, Vietnam, and other major conflicts. wisvetsmuseum.com
Bivouac of the Dead
Wood National Cemetery was established in 1871 as a final resting place for veterans who died while living at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee. The cemetery contains more than 30,000 graves, including members of the first Union unit of African-American soldiers and several recipients of the Medal of Honor.
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at Library Park in Kenosha was dedicated on Decoration Day, 1900. The monument and statue of Winged Victory was a gift to the community from 71-year-old philanthropist Zalmon G. Simmons to commemorate 1,367 Kenosha County men who fought and died during the Civil War. Seventy-two of the men were casualties.
Kenosha Civil War Museum
The Kenosha Civil War Museum opened in 2008 and includes innovative interactive displays that focus on the Civil War from the perspective of the people of the seven states of the upper Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Through the use of personal stories and narratives, the museum also explores how the Civil War impacted the people on the Western home front.
In 1916 a collection of pennies, nickels, and dimes from school children and factory workers across the state netted $18,000 of the $25,000 price tag for this statue of a young, beardless Abraham Lincoln by artist Gaetano Cecere. A local G.A.R. post donated the remainder. Dedicated in 1934, the monument is located on Lincoln Memorial Drive, part of a majestic view of the lakefront and the stunning 2001 sculptural addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Italian artist Santiago Calatrava.
The Kenosha Civil War Museum displays this feather from the 8th Wisconsin’s fierce eagle mascot Old Abe. Confederate General Sterling Price said, “I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags.
The Henry W. Maier Festival Park plays host to Summerfest, “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” every summer for two weeks in June and July, as well as ethnic and heritage festivals nearly every weekend into the fall, including Irish Fest, German Fest, Polish Fest, Pride Fest, and Festa Italiana.