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1863 February 14: Letter from the 30th Wisconsin Infantry at Camp Randall

February 16, 2013

The following undated and unattributed letter from a soldier in the 30th Wisconsin Infantry appeared in the February 14, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal.


[The following letter, though not written for publication, gives so good a description of things in camp, that we publish it entire.]

Until recently all the commissioned officers have had the privilege of passing out and into camp, at their pleasure ;  and they took advantage of this privilege to such an extent—as report has it—that a few days ggo [sic: ago], mistrusting how the plan was working the Col. [Daniel J. Dill] went all over the camp, and not an officer, except those on guard duty, was to be found for several hours.  The consequence of this was an order read on dress parade, giving only three commissioned officers in the regiment the privilege of going out each day.  They now have to stop and show their pass, the same as the rest of us, instead of merely saluting the sentinels, as formerly.  You have no idea how much good it does the boys, when on guard, to stop a pair of shoulder straps.

We have battalion drill in the forenoon, and no one can get a pass till afternoon.  As the parade ground is not large enough to accommodate two regiments at once, the Thirtieth drills in the forenoon and the Twenty-fifth in the afternoon.  Our battalion drill generally lasts from ten o’clock till noon ;  but there has been so much cold weather lately, we have not drilled as much as we ought for our own good.  And I am sorry to say we are not very proficient, considering the time we have been in camp.  In the afternoon we generally have company drill, from two till half past three o’clock.  Besides drilling we have considerable fatigue work to do ;  such as packing wood and cutting it for the Hospital, and other purposes ;  but we do not have to work hard enough to hurt any one.  As far as that is concerned, it is no more than is necessary to keep us healthy.  We have been drilling a little in the skirmish drill, and also in the bayonet exercise, but are not yet perfect in either one.  The parade ground is now in excellent condition to drill on, it being frozen very smooth, and the weather is also as nice as any one could wish.

And now for the particulars in regard to company F :  As you well know, we left P. [Prescott] with upwards of one hundred men who styled themselves the “Tiger Guards.”  And as I look around me now, and compare the present condition of our company with its flourishing condition at that time, and think how short a time we have been gone from home, it reminds me of the saying that “change is stamped upon every thing.”¹  Out of those one hundred and four healthy, hearty men, only about forty are now fit for duty.  One has been transferred to Berdan’s Sharp Shooters, ten have been transferred to company I, two have deserted, and two discharged.  And three have been called away by the Messenger of Death, and are now sleeping their last sleep beneath the cold clods of the valley ;  and the afflicting hand of Providence is still upon us.  Sickness is still in our midst.  Nearly half of the remainder of our company are reported sick, and several of them are in a very bad condition too.  The measles and mumps are the prevailing diseases, but some are afflicted with diseases of a more serious nature than either of these.  There are six or seven more in the company who have been sick nearly ever since we entered camp, and have complaints from which they will never recover as long as they live ;  and what Uncle Sam wants of such men is more than I can tell.  Some of them ought never to have enlisted.  But probably they were anxious to do something to help sustain that government which had so long sheltered them, and hoped to be able to ensure the hardships of a soldier’s life ;  and if they were unable to endure its privations, they supposed they would be sent home, and not kept here to suffer after there was no prospect of their ever being able to do duty.  But getting discharged from Uncle Sam’s service is a trifle harder to do than getting into the service.  If it were not, I fear the army would be sadly diminished in size very soon.  Many would be ready to feign sickness, if by so doing they could get a discharge.  And so it is always the case; the innocent are debarred from enjoying privileges which they might enjoy, if those privileges were not abused by the guilty ;  and it is sometimes difficult to detect the counterfeit from the genuine.  We have so little hospital room here, that afer [sic] filling up every suitable building with the sick, every company has from ten to twenty sick ones in their barracks.  We provide for them here the best we can ;  but with the best of care, it is a poor place for a sick person, amide the noise and confusion which necessarily results from so many men being brought together under one roof, however ample it may be.  But the new hospital now in process of erection, I think will be large enough to accommodate the sick in one regiment at least.  The outside of the building is completed, and they are at work on the inside now.  As I have not yet been inside, I do not know how it is to be arranged.

You have asked in one of your letters how we spend our time here in camp.  I have already accounted to you for a certain portion of each day.  The remainder of the time is spent in various ways, according to the dispositions of the different persons.  Now we are away from home, you know we are dependent on our own skill to do our mending, washing, and so on, unless we prefer to hire it done.  Some employ nearly all the time that can be spared from these duties in playing cards ;  some in playing checkers, and some in reading and writing.  We have a building comfortably fitted up, in which prayer meetings are held every evening, and when the weather is not too cold, services in the open air on the Sabbath, by Chaplain Green.  Report has set several times for us to go, but we are still here, with but very little more prospect of leaving than there was when we first came.


1.  From Observations Designed as a Reply to the “Thoughts” of Dr. Maltby, on the Dangers of Circulating the Whole of the Scriptures Among the Lower Orders, by J. W. [John William] Cunningham, A. M. (London: J. Hatchard, 1812): 61. Available digitally on Google Books.
2.  A perusal of the official roster of Company F, 30th Wisconsin Infantry, does not reveal exactly the same numbers as listed in this letter. One private was transferred to the Sharpshooters but another one was transferred simply to “U.S.A.”  Only eight were transferred to Company I of the 30th, all of them on October 23, 1862. No one is officially listed as deserting, probably because the two individuals eventually are returned and serve. Three are discharged for a disability, but perhaps this letter was written before Eli Preble died on January 31, 1863.

  • transferred to Company G, 1st U.S. Sharpshooters: Joseph Sleeper, November 24, 1862
  • transferred to U.S.A.: James McDonald, February 3, 1863
  • 10 transferred to Company I:
    • Frank J. Birkel
    • Joseph Dauser
    • Frank Keriger
    • Nicholas Nopp
    • Joseph Reichert
    • John Schommer
    • Peter M. Simons
    • Leland J. Webb
  • 2 discharged:
    • Joseph D. Hilton, December 2, 1862, disability
    • Eli Preble, January 31, 1863, disability
    • Philetus S. Sutton, January 9, 1863, disability
  • 3 died:
    • Charles W. Danforth, died January 13, 1863
    • Corwin Gregory, died December 13, 1862
    • John M. Miller, died November 24, 1862.

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