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1864 February 13: Wisconsin’s Sharpshooters in Company G of the 1st U.S.S.S.

February 17, 2014

The following article is from the February 13, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  Most of the men in Company G, 1st Regiment U.S. Sharpshooters—also known as Berdan’s Sharpshooters—were from Wisconsin.  Company G members William A. Heath, Thomas A. Kirkham, Bennett E. Loomis and Martin H. Wiltse were all from Oak Grove in Pierce County.

From the Wisconsin Sharpshooters.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

CAMP BULLOCK, VA., January 23, 1864.

Having a few leisure moments to spare, I thought I would improve the opportunity by writing a “Camp Letter,” so that the friends of the sharpshooters may know how we flourish.  In the first place be it known that after the November campaign over the Rapidan, we encamped near “Brandy,” on the grounds of John M. Botts, and were not long in putting our camp in shape for winter quarters.  Long huts, with shelter tents on top, and good large fire places (some of brick) attached, have our encampment an appearance anything but uncomfortable.  There we remained throughout December without anything special transpiring, our duties being principally picket and camp guard.  One great drawback existed, however, which was the scarcity of timber, although the great Virginia statesman had a patch of hard wood close by ;  which, however, being under guard, required, to smuggle the same without being caught, some little strategy on the part of the soldiers quartered near.  That any soldier did actually appropriate to his own use, any of Botts’ timber or Botts’ rails, I couldn’t testify, but as the weather at times was cold and unpleasant with snow, slush, &c., and firewood scarce, Mr. B. probably concluded that they did, as orders were frequently published forbidding it.  All trouble about Botts and his timber however, finally ended in a removal some two miles in advance the second week of the present month.  And although the season was so much advanced in wintry weather, yet has the weather been rather favorable than otherwise for this time of the year.  The consequence is that at the present writing the 1st division, 3d Army Corps is again comfortably quartered, and the sharpshooters of the 3d brigade have cut down many trees and chopped off the stumps, can now show a well drained and regulated camp on ground that ten days ago was covered with a dense forest of hard timber and no small amount of underbrush.  Talk about pioneers !  Why, Messrs. Editors, you ought to see Uncle Sam’s soldiers convert a forest into a village.  It’s no job at all—a mere matter of exercise.  It’s among them where you can find pioneers.  Every old soldier here is a carpenter, housebuilder and mason, with a knack of doing any other job you may call for ;  in fact a regular jack o’ all trades—not the least conspicuous of which is the culinary department.  Every soldier is a cook, and all know how to make “Johnny-cake” out of “hard-tack.”  Is it good? ask you.  Well, if there’s anybody up your way that doubts it, I should advise him by all means to come down here and try it on—besides many other little affairs that constitutes a soldier’s life.

The boys sometimes get a “box” from home, although naught as yet from the various Soldier’s Aid Societies formed throughout the State.  This however may be accounted for in the fact of our not being known as Wisconsin, Michigan, New York or other state troops, but simply U.S.S.S.—Uncle Sam’s Sassy Sogers.  [U.S. Sharpshooters]

The Company and Regiment are much reduced in numbers of effective men—many of whom are recruits of the fall of ’62.  The latter fact will account in a great measure for the small number of Veteran Volunteers furnished ;  our stock of old 3 year men being pretty much exhausted.

In Company G, nine Badgers, “old grey fellows” every one of them, I assure you, that is :  in the matter of grim visaged war and Virginia campaigning, have gone in for the new term and expect daily the arrival of their stipulated furloughs.  Their names are: James Ragin, an old hunter and a model soldier ;  George Whitson, i.e. “Buckshot,” a good-natured but sturdy veteran ;  Amos Sumner, a worthy pioneer ;  “our infant,” Michael Costalo, the big-fisted Badger boy ;  Westley Armfield, the humorous and fearless scout ;  “our Senator,” Abner Johnson, the accommodating commissary ;  John W. Rathbun, a young and toughened Badger ;  Henry W. Woodbury, Corporal of the Colors ;  and Seneca Hawes.¹

These men are every one old veterans and have participated more or less in the Company’s 22 engagements.  Some of them have been shot several times but not hard enough as yet, thank God, to stop their career as Union soldiers.  That they will continue to do their duty as heretofore I’ll back ’em.  The State of Wisconsin cannot fail to recognize her representatives in the organization of United States Sharpshooters, when the facts become more fully known, as they undoubtedly will be, at some future time, in regard to their doings in the Potomac Army.

Our present camp is named after a Philadelphia gentleman, who very kindly presented to every man in this division a pair of mittens, which have been distributed.  The general health of the camp is good, although a case of measles has appeared.  But don’t be alarmed, nobody’s afraid on’t—not by a darned sight.

There is naught at present of warlike news to communicate, although guerrilla parties are said to hover around, prepared at any moment to pounce upon the unwary sentinel and gobble him up, bag and baggage.  We receive the papers about three times per week, such as the Herald, Enquirer and Chronicle.  The former paper has, however, the greatest demand.  Your kindness in furnishing the Madison Journal so often gives the Badgers a view of home matters, and from its well stocked columns more general news can be found than in the Eastern papers—The Fox Lake Gazette is also frequently received.

We have now but one field officer left, viz :  Major G. G. Hastings, at present absent on detached service, the regiment being under command of Capt. Hetherington, of New York ;  the redoubtable Colonel, H. Berdan [Hiram Berdan], Chief of Sharpshooters under Gen. Burnside [Ambrose E. Burnside], having been discharged from service on account of physical disability.  The latest Company promotions are Willard S. Isham to Sergeant, and Emery Munsell and Edward F. Bean to Corporals.  A recruit has lately joined us, Conrad Murat, who has seen service before.²

S. S.

1.

  • Westley Armfield, from Highland; he was wounded November 27, 1863 at Locust Grove; he will end the War in Company B of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry
  • Michael Costello, from Union, was wounded at Chancellorsville; he will die May 25, 1864, from wounds received at the Battle of the Wilderness
  • Seneca Hawes was from Middleton; he was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness; he will also end the War in Company B of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry
  • Abner Johnson, from Skinner was wounded at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg; was taken prison at Second Bull Run; he will also end the War in Company B of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry
  • James Ragin, from Eau Claire, was wounded May 6, 1864, at the Wilderness and July 30, 1864, at Petersburg
  • John W. Rathbun was from Madison; he will end the War in Company B of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry
  • Amos Sumner, from Middleton, will also end the War in Company B of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry
  • George Whitson was from Madison; he was wounded at Second Bull Run and on November 27, 1863, at Locust Grove; he will also end the War in Company B of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry
  • Henry W. Woodbury, from Blue Mounds, mustered out in October 1864.

2.

  • Edward F. Bean, from Union
  • Willard M. Isham, from Madison
  • Emery Munsell, from Madison
  • Conrad Murat, from Wilton, was killed June 4, 1864, at Cold Harbor.
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