1861 July 10: The Little Corporal’s Account of the Milwaukee Bank Riot
Today and tomorrow we will be posting two older letters from the “Little Corporal” that did not get published in the newspaper until July 10. Both were published in The Hudson North Star.
Camp Utley Correspondence
Head Quarters, 4th Reg.
Camp Utley, Racine, June 29, ’61
EDITORS OF THE NORTH STAR:— “Better late than never” is an old proverb, and a fine one, so I write, in compliance with my promise to you, at this late day rather than not write at all. Camp Utley has presented a lively appearance since your departure. On Tuesday night after our arrival, the Sheboygan Rifles and Calumet County Rifles arrived, making the Regiment full. Immediately after their arrival, the tents for the whole Regiment were pitched, and all hands turned in to sleep. Each company is provided with sixteen tents for the rank and file and two for the officers. Drilling has been the order of the day, and about seven hours each day are occupied in the different drills—company, squad, and battillion [sic] drill, each comes in its regular order, and a marked improvement has already resulted from the constant practice of the men.
The important and vexed question of the position the different companies are to have in the Regiment has been finally disposed of. It is understood that Col. Paine was anxious to place them in the Regiment according to the proficiency they have made in their drill, and had selected the Hudson City Guards as the Color Company. The army regulations provide, however, that the company whose Captain holds the oldest commission shall have the first position, and as there were several commissions of an older date than Captain White’s, the holders of which claimed their rights under the regulations, the Colonel was compelled to submit. An examination however, showed that there were three commissions of one date and two of another, and all claimed the same rights under them and would not consent that the others should be placed above them. In this dilemma the Col. announced that the matter would be settled by drawing lots, and on Thursday the lots were drawn, and the H.C.G.s were fortunate enough to draw number seven. We are satisfied however with our position, and will show them that position has very little to do with merit, and that we can serve our country quite as well as company “G” as company “A.”
We were aroused on Monday to a fighting beat, on our return from the Battalion drill, by an order from the Col. to Capt. White, to arm his company and report at head quarters. The order further stated that a mob was destroying the Banks in Milwaukee, and General King had requested him to send two companies of his command to assist in quelling the riot. It is said that Col. Paine on receiving the dispatch from Gen. King immediately gave orders detailing the Hudson Company as one of the companies, and then had a conference with his officers to decide which should be the other company. In less time than it takes to write this the Guards made their appearance at the appointed place, going from their tents on the “double quick” multiplied by four. The “Geneva Independents” being selected as the other company, both companies were shipped on a baggage train and arrived in Milwaukee at three o’clock. You have probably seen the accounts of the doings of the mob in the papers. The first plattoon [sic] of the Guards were first sent “down among the dutch” to assist the German Artillery Company in getting their cannon out of the enemies [sic]territory. On arriving at their armory we were stationed across the street to prevent the crowd from breaking through the gate that guards the entrance to the armory. The rioters being mostly Germans, had flattered themselves that the artillery company, who are also Germans, would refuse to use their peices [sic] against them, or give them up to be used by others, and when it was known that they had gone to their armory for the purpose of removing the peices [sic], the rioters assembled in large numbers to prevent their being removed. The passage from the street to the gate was cleared and a guard posted to keep it open. The crowd continued to increase and the probabilities of our having to use our arms seemed to be improving. Very soon however we were cheered by the sound of approaching music, and with a reinforcement of our members, there was less danger of an outbreak. The music consisting of two fifes, two snare drums, and a bass drum, soon made its appearance around the corner of the street, but instead of being a reinforcement of our members, it proved to be a large number of rioters armed with sticks of wood, brickbats, pistols, knives, and swords. You would have laughed could you have seen them as they approached us. When they first came around the corner they were waiving their hats, brandishing their arms, and cheering at the tops of their voices, and were a formidable looking set as they turned in the street in the direction in which we were posted, and discovered us drawn [missing word]1 across the street, every man with fixed bayonets, and looking hungry for a [missing word] man—the effect was laughable indeed. Like dew before the morning sun, the [missing word] melted away almost imperceptibly, and before they had proceeded two rods towards us there was nothing left but the music. As fast as they turned the corner they disappeared. The musicians were not long in following their example, but did not deem it worth while to “toot” any longer. In about twenty minutes after our arrival, the Milwaukee Zouaves, Capt. Hibbard, made their appearance and were posted across the street on one side of the gate while we guarded the other side. The guard which had been posted to keep the passage open were withdrawn until the artillery company could get ready to start. In a few minutes they reported themselves in readiness, and one section of the Zouaves were ordered to open the passage; they were armed partly with muskets and partly with rifles. The muskets were brought to the charge bayonets, and they marched into the crowd, who immediately seized hold of the muskets and attempted to take them from them. The rapidity with which the rifles were brought to the shoulders and cocked, however, convinced them that the best thing for them was to get out of the way in the shortest possible time, which they did. The artillery immediately drove out their pieces, and took position between the Zouaves and the Guards, and we marched off with our head and — up like a steer in a cornfield. Our boys behaved with a great deal of coolness and seemed equal to the emergency. At one time we were posted with our backs to the mob, which was very unpalatable to the boys, who did not fancy having a charge in the rear and “curses not loud but deep” were heaped upon the officers who persisted in keeping us in that position, and commanded every man to keep his eyes to the front. The effect of this order however was to increase the curses but not to change the eyes, which were cocked over the shoulders in a very unmilitary manner—Either because the men were determined to keep their faces, if not their fronts to the enemy or for some other reason unknown to us we got faced about, where it seemed to us we should have been all the time—Turning our back upon an armed mob …
[Here is where the portion that was cut out starts]
… our stay. To the “Montgomery Guards” and the “Milwaukee Zouaves” we owe a thousand thanks for many acts of kindness performed towards us, and which, should the opportunity offer, we shall be but too glad to reciprocate. To the city authorities of Milwaukee, or whoever it was that was charged with providing for us while there, we are also indebted for the shabbiest treatment ever bestowed upon men whom they asked to stand between them and danger, and I may add, should the opportunity ever offer we shall be most happy to liquidate the obligation we feel under, to them.
We are hoping, trusting and expecting that we shall be called to Washington ere many days.
YOURS TRULY, LITTLE CORPORAL.
1. This letter takes up a little more than two columns in the newspaper. A large portion of the second column was cut out before the paper was microfilmed, so we are missing not only a few words, but the second half of the account.