A Brief History of the Citizens Guard
by Tom Klas
The Citizens Guard was officially formed on February 22nd, 1860 to protect the citizens of Fox Lake and nearby communities. Led by Captain George H. Stevens, the Citizens Guard was accepted by the State into the 22nd Regiment Wisconsin Militia a few weeks after their formation. This band of patriots met every week to drill during the fall of 1860 at the College Square in Fox Lake catching the eye of the citizenry and especially the local ladies. By January of 1861, the sentiments of war were stirring in Fox Lake as seen by the increasing frequency of their drill meetings. In the January 31st edition of the Fox Lake Gazette, it states:
The Citizens Guard meets twice a week for drill. They are put through the regular course of military tactics by Capt. Stevens, who is well qualified to issue orders. They are preparing for actual service, should Uncle Sam demand their services. Give the boys a chance, and their bayonet would find its way to the seat of many a traitor’s pantaloons. (Flemming, Fox Lake’s Civil War News and Letters 10)
During the next few weeks, preparations were made to host an invitation only party not only to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, but also the one-year anniversary of the Citizens Guard. The event was the talk of the town, and the Citizens Guard became ever more vigilant to prepare for the oncoming conflict.
On May 4th, 1861, the men from Fox Lake and neighbor communities marched down College Avenue to the train depot in Fox Lake. They had tendered their services to preserve the Union and were accepted by Governor Randall to be part of the newly formed Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. With great public support, the men from the Citizens Guard were led by horse drawn cars to Fox Lake Junction, where they would connect with the main train line to Camp Randall. After taking off from Fox Lake Junction, the train passed Beaver Dam and approached the small hamlet of Minnesota Junction where they rested for a few hours. Charles Stevens (the brother of George Stevens) writes on May 5th, 1861 about their stay at Minnesota Junction in the May 9th edition of the Fox Lake Gazette:
At Minnesota Junction we were obliged to lay over several hours on account of the non connections of the trains. Here we missed our drummer (Mr. Stafford) who was left behind at the last station, and young Van Buren was therefore called upon to take his place. During the course of the morning, however, the “missing man” was seen coming along afoot on the track, and with loud hurrahs, a deputation of the company rushed forward to greet him on his safe arrival, and immediately escorted him to the Junction on their shoulders, amid still louder cheers. About 1 P.M., the expected train hove in sight, having on board the Oshkosh Volunteers - - a fine looking body of young men. We soon after started off - - some of us in not the best of humor on account of the shabby treatment we received at the hands of the hotel proprietors, who failed to furnish us a full supply of “grub”, although well paid “in advance” for some. (3)
So for many of the men from the Citizens Guard, they left for Madison hungry but happy to see all the ladies in route to Camp Randall waving handkerchiefs at the boys which were of course followed by loud cheers. The funny part is that not only did the Citizens Guard boys get snubbed a prepaid meal by the innkeeper at Minnesota Junction, but a similar occurrence happened almost just the same for the Fox Lake Volunteer Rifles, Company “D” 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on their way to Camp Randall. (Hopefully we will cover that in another article soon).
One of the early heart wrenching decisions for most men of the Citizens Guard was to enlist for a new required term of three years instead of the 90 days they had expected. Due to this change, George Stevens, Henry B. Converse, Albert T. Morgan, and James Patch were dispatched from Camp Randall to recruit over 40 new men to fill the ranks of the Citizens Guard in such towns as Fox Lake, Randolph, Beaver Dam, and Columbus. With the great efforts of these men, the Citizens Guard filled their ranks to “..101 men” according to Charley Stevens in his Camp Randall Report appearing in the Fox Lake Gazette on June 13th, 1861. With all the excitement to recruit more men into the Citizens Guard, many citizens and soldiers felt that even though Steven’s boys were a top notch military organization, they might loose out on being assigned as Company “A” of the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. In the newspaper article titled “A Little Too Fast” printed in the June 20th, 1861 edition of the Fox Lake Gazette, the town newspaper editor addresses some rumors regarding the best company in the Second Wisconsin:
The “Family Paper” called the Wisconsin was a little too fast when it claimed for the “La Crosse Light Guards” as being the best drilled company in the 2nd Regiment, and that said company would be Company “A” in the regiment. The Wisconsin, we presume had not heard of the “Fox Lake Citizens Guard,” commanded by one Captain Stevens. We will enlighten the Wisconsin a little. In the 2nd regiment of W.A.M., may be found the letter named company, having for their captain the best drilled man in the regiment, and this said company has been placed at the right of the regiment and is therefore Company “A”, while the La Crosse company is placed at the left and is Company “B”. Will the Wisconsin make a note of this fact, and give those worthy of honor their due. (Flemming, Fox Lake’s Civil War News and Letters 43)
With such patriotic fervor brimming in both Fox Lake & La Crosse, the proud citizenry of these two excellent companies got a little too caught up in the moment. However the article was correct in stating that the Citizens Guard was given the honor of being placed as Company “A” of the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Now they just had to live up to such high expectations. On June 11th, 1861 the 2d Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment was mustered in for three years of service and headed immediately to protect our capital in Washington. Never again would many of these brave boys from Company “A” see their beloved home communities again.
The Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment led an honored and heroic battle history in such major conflicts as First Bull Run, Gainesville, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Fitzhugh’s Crossing, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and a full host of small engagements and actions from 1861-1864. In fact, the fierce combat that the brave men from Fox Lake participated in from 1861-1864 took a toll on their numbers. By May 11th 1864, after the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse at Laurel Hill, Company “A” was left with only nine men fit for service to the Second Wisconsin. With other companies in the same situation, the 2d Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment (with fewer than 100 men in its ranks) was kindly detailed to division provost guard for the rest of their term of service. On June 10th, 1864 Brigadier General Lysander Cutler of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers addressed these honorable men just before their enlistment term was completed. General Cutler writes:
HEADQUARTERS, FOURTH DIVISION
FIFTH ARMY CORPS, June 10, 1864.
The Second Wisconsin Volunteers, having served their full term of three years in this army, and being about to leave for their homes, the General Commanding deems it proper for himself, and in behalf of those of their comrades whom remain behind, to address the officers and men of that command a few parting words. Three years ago you entered the service, more than a thousand strong. You know leave with one hundred and thirty-three, all told. Where are they? O’Connor, Stevens, Colwell, Randolph and many others—both officers and men—are mustered with the hosts on high. Others are disabled for life. Others still are in rebel prisons. Among all these things you have always been true to your flag and your country. You have a right to be proud of your record. The State has reason to be proud of you. You leave with the best wishes of all your comrades, and to that I wish to add my most cordial desire for your future honor, prosperity, collectively and individually. (Otis The Second Wisconsin Infantry 126)
A day after this proclamation by General Cutler, the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment had completed their three year enlistment term to preserve the Union. Under the command of Major George H. Otis, the Second Wisconsin started for their journey home marching to Washington, taking a train to Baltimore, and then on their way home by train to Madison, Wisconsin. Members of the Citizens Guard whom were coming back home included: Sergeant George Hills, Sergeant Henry M. Hunting, Corporal Jesse Wing, Corporal Richard J. Leiser, Privates Henry Bennett, Milo C. Bennett, Charles Brooks, Rufus W. Clark, Orin G. Chapman, William Dutcher, John Foley, William J. Francisco, James H. Lewis, Frederick L. Phillips, Luther M. Preston, and Cady S. Pomeroy.
On June 18th, 1864 the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived back in Madison. A grand welcome home parade, an address by Judge Orsamus Cole, and bountiful dinner all took place on June 18th to honor of the brave men of the Second Wisconsin. They were even reacquainted with one of their beloved commanders of the old Second, Brigadier General Lucius Fairchild whom also gave an address. This famed regiment was mustered out of service officially on June 28-30, 1864 in Camp Randall. However, not all members of the Citizens Guard decided they had enough of the war.
Many members of the Citizens Guard and their fellow 2d Wisconsin brethren re-enlisted, to be known as the Independent Battalion – Wisconsin Volunteers companies “A” & “B” under the command of Captain Dennis B. Dailey. The Citizens Guard’s own Albert T. Morgan led Company “B” of the Independent Battalion and was promoted on September 14th, 1864 as Captain of the old Second Wisconsin boys that were still assigned to division provost duty. Sergeant Jasper Daniels also rose up the ranks in the Independent Battalion to the position of Quartermaster Sergeant on October 12th, 1864. A week later Jasper accepted a promotion to become Senior 1st Lieutenant of the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, which would end his term of service with the Citizens Guard.
On November 30th of 1864, the soldiers of the Independent Battalion – Wisconsin Volunteers were transferred to become companies “G” & “H” of the Sixth Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment falling in with their old comrades from the Iron Brigade. Albert T. Morgan once again served as Captain, this time leading Company “H” of the Sixth Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Some veterans of the Citizens Guard served under Captain Morgan in Company “H” of the 6th Wisconsin including Abram N. King whom became 1st Sergeant, Corporal Lewis P. Norton, Corporal Robert H. Brandon, & Privates Jacob H. Becraft, and Marshall M. Kinney. Those veterans from the Citizens Guard in Company “G” of the Sixth Wisconsin were Sergeant Frederick C. Waterman, Sergeant Andrew S. Hodges, Sergeant Eugene Cole, Corporal John Mason, Corporal George L. Powers, Corporal Charles Hanson, and Private Abel H. Silsbee. They now were in full duty once again taking the front actions with the rest of the 6th Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Here the veterans from the Citizens Guard fought in the battles of Second Weldon Railroad, Second Hatcher’s Run, Gravelly Run, Five Forks, and Appomattox Courthouse. Of particular note is the battle of Gravelly Run on March 31st, 1865 in which Corporal John Mason was killed and Sergeant Eugene Cole was mortally wounded from the Citizens Guard. Sergeant Cole would succumb to his wounds and pass away on April 16th, 1865 in Washington D.C. These would be the only two causalities in the Citizens Guard during their time in the Sixth Wisconsin. With the loss of officers in the Sixth Wisconsin, some prominent soldiers from the old Second rose up the ranks. Dennis B. Daily became Major in the Sixth Wisconsin by December 21st, 1864 and later would command the regiment. The Citizens Guard’s own Albert T. Morgan was promoted as well to brevet Major on March 13th, 1865 and to brevet Lieutenant Colonel on April 9th, 1865. On May 23rd, 1865, under the command of brevet Colonel Dennis B. Dailey, (from the 2nd Wisconsin) the re-enlisted veterans from the Citizens Guard marched at the Grand Review in Washington D.C. as part of the Sixth Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On July 14th, 1865, the veterans from the Citizens Guard would be mustered out of service at Louisville, Kentucky. The Sixth Wisconsin would arrive in Madison, Wisconsin on July 16th and were showered with affection with a large welcome home ceremony. The re-enlisted soldiers of the Citizens Guard had seen the war to its end.
The brave men from the Citizens Guard have plenty to be remembered for, especially their excellent founder, Captain George H. Stevens. Stevens as he did back in Fox Lake showed his tremendous leadership skills and knowledge of tactics resulting in his promotion on August 30th, 1862 to Major of the Second Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. By January of 1863, George Stevens was promoted to Lt. Colonel of the 2d Wisconsin serving under Colonel Lucius Fairchild as his second in command. On July 1st, 1863, the gallant George Stevens was mortally wounded near Mc Pherson’s Woods during the opening attack against Archer’s Brigade of Tennessee and Alabama regiments. He would die from his wounds on July 5th, 1863. George H. Stevens now rests in the Gettysburg National Cemetery alongside several Citizens Guard members who lost their lives at Gettysburg preserving the Union.
The Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment was also part of a larger famed military organization in the Army of the Potomac made up of regiments entirely from the Old Northwest. The “Western Brigade” comprised of the 2d Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, 7th Wisconsin, and 19th Indiana was transformed into a tough fighting unit under the command of Brigadier General John Gibbon starting in May of 1862. Through constant drill, discipline, and eagerness to uphold the honor of the West, these boys become one of if not the best brigade to fight in the Civil War. As the men fought courageously up the steep grade at the battle of South Mountain on September 14th, 1862, General George B. Mc Clellan, Commander of the Army of the Potomac, bestowed upon them the title of the Iron Brigade. In 1863, at the battle of Gettysburg, the Iron Brigade was nearly destroyed including the new comers to the brigade, the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 2d Wisconsin Infantry lost 77% of their men at Gettysburg, going into the battle with 302 men, and concluding with only 69 men by July 4th, 1863 (Beaudot and Herdegen. An Irishman in the Iron Brigade 115). Other regiments in the Iron Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Solomon Meredith suffered the same fate on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg. This hard fighting brigade would never be the same after the battle of Gettysburg, but the pride established in 1862-1863 existed throughout the duration of the war for the “Black Hats” as many Confederates identified them as.
The boys from Fox Lake, Randolph, Trenton, Beaver Dam, Kingston, Columbus, Fall River, and many other local communities gave their lives so that our Union could be preserved. Hurrah for the Citizens Guard!
“A Little Too Fast.” Fox Lake Gazette 20 June 1861. Fox Lake’s Civil War News and Letters.
Ed. Julie Flemming. Fox Lake, WI: Fox Lake Library, 2002. 43.
Beaudot, William J.K. and Lance Herdegen. An Irishman in the Iron Brigade: The Civil War
Fox Lake Gazette. 31 Jan. 1861. Fox Lake’s Civil War News and Letters. Ed. Julie Flemming.
Fox Lake, WI: Fox Lake Library, 2002. 10.
Otis, George H. The Second Wisconsin Infantry. Ed. Alan D. Gaff. Dayton, OH: Morningside
Stevens, Charles A. “From our Correspondent – Camp Randall” Fox Lake Gazette 9 May
- - -. “From our Correspondent – Camp Randall” Fox Lake Gazette 13 June
1st Edition: 3/4/03
2nd Edition: 7/5/05
3rd Edition: 4/6/06