1862 December 17: “Details of a trip to enforce the draft in Brown county”
The following letter appeared in the January 3, 1863, issue of The Polk County Press. “Friend Sam” is the editor of the Press, Sam Fifield. Company A, 30th Wisconsin Infantry, was the Saint Croix Guards.
The official history of the 30th Wisconsin Infantry confirms that Company A was enforcing the draft in Brown County: “On the 16th of November, 1864, Company A was sent to Green Bay, to protect the Draft Commissioner, remaining several weeks,” and “One company was sent into Lafayette County, to hunt up delinquents under the enrollment.”¹
CAMP RANDALL, Dec. 17th, 1862.
FRIEND SAM:—I take this opportunity to give you a few items of the doings of Company A, and the details of a trip to enforce the draft in Brown county. A sergeant and four men had been sent to the town of Morrison to bring in nine drafted men, but returned without accomplishing their object. Some had fled to Canada, and others would not own their names, so the squad returned without a man. This was not satisfactory, and Capt. HARRIMAN [Samuel Harriman] determined to make one more attempt. Accordingly, on Wednesday December 10th, orders were given to eleven of us to pack up and be ready to move. The next morning we started out. We marched eighteen miles that day over mudy [sic] roads, and such mud! the good Lord deliver us from ever seeing again. Our plan was to surprise the “conscripts” and so we did not allow any traveller [sic] to pass us on the road. We stopped two females and although they had heavy loads to carry they managed to keep up with us, showing that the women in “these parts” know how to travel.
Gaining the vicinity of the town we stopped a short distance outside, while our Sergeant went on ahead to reconnoitre. He found a loyal German that led us around to the back of his house, where we entered, and were concealed in his chamber, and who furnished us with a good warm supper. Here we rested about four hours. As the evening advanced the moon rose and shone brightly, and we quietly moved on to prosecute our search. We could not procure a guide from among the settlers, they being afraid of the consequences of serving as such when they should be left without our protection, so we had to do the best we could without one.
We marched thirty miles that night, through timber and swamps, over bad roads, and sometimes nothing but foot trails, and searched twenty-two houses from top to bottom. We found but one drafted man, and he was hid in a potato bin.
The country through which we have marched is very poor. The roads where there are any, are very miserable, the swamps and marshes corduroyed² without being covered or leveled, and on the whole are as much worse than the poorest road in Polk county as one can imagine. The inhabitants are all foreigners and are mostly Irish, good fighting men but not very patriotic.
We got back to our German friend’s house on the morning of the 12th, about nine o’clock, where we were supplied with a warm breakfast.
It now began to rain and we concluded to remain until the next morning. We all got well rested and the next morning we took an early start for Fort Howard, our head-quarters, which place we reached at dark, tired and foot sore. The next day being Sunday, we were allowed to rest.
On Monday the 15th we bid good bye to Fort Howard, taking the [railroad] cars for Madison, where we arrived the next morning at six o’clock, and went into our old barracks, having been absent just one month from the time we left them.
When we went to rest that night, we could not help but think of the comfortable rooms at Fort Howard, and the kind and smiling faces that so often greeted us while there, and which so forcibly reminded us of our dear friends at home; but sleep put an end to our musings. About 11 o’clock we were aroused by the cry of fire, and on getting out found that Company H’s quarters were burning. The flames spread rapidly and before they could be arrested the quarters occupied by three companies were destroyed. No damage was sustained except by Company H, and their loss is trifling. The Colonel and Sergeant Major³ were both slightly injured while assisting in extinguishing the fire. The barracks, in order to keep the flames from spreading were torn down, and we now occupy more comfortable quarters.
The 25th regiment came in to-day and have pitched tents here. They are a hardy looking set of men, and have had a hard time of it in Minnesota. They tell some heart rending stories of the brutal treatment of the whites by the Indians in that state.
The Polk county boys are all able to eat their regular rations, and have been most of the time. We have got a good Captain [Samuel Harriman] who looks after the interests of his men. We like all of our officers, and it is really hard to tell which the men think the most of. Company A is becoming proficient in drill, as is, also, the whole regiment. We are counted number one here. Trusting in Providence,
I remain yours, a POLK CO. BOY.
1. The official regimental history of the 30th Wisconsin Infantry is in E. B. Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin (UWRF Archives E 537 .Q56 1866), chapter 38, this quotation is on page 789.
2. A corduroy road was a type of road made by placing logs perpendicular to the direction of the road, usually over a low or swampy area. This Civil War-era illustration is from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, a publication very similar to Harper’s Weekly.
3. Colonel Daniel J. Dill, from Prescott, and Sergeant Major Robert S. Ansley, from Mineral Point.