One of the interesting rewards when a book is reprinted (in this case In The Bloody Railroad Cut at Gettysburg with William J.K. Beaudot, by Savas Beatie) is the chance to again go over materials used in the writing so long ago. Among the items I rediscovered is a letter written by Rufus Dawes to those attending a Grand Army of the Republic reunion in Mauston, Wisconsin, where he was the first captain of a company of infantry raised to put down the rebellion. It became the Lemonweir Minute Men, Company K, of the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry in the famous Iron Brigade of the West.
The camp fire at Mauston in Juneau County that January 8,1885, was a great success despite temperatures that dropped to 20 below. There was music by the Cornet Band and singing by the Glee Club as well as several speeches, including one by Phil Cheek of nearby Baraboo, an old comrade in the Sixth Wisconsin. Young Arthur Patterson used a drum carried from Atlanta to the sea for his drum solo. The supper was “good, substantial repast, and was partaken of by a large number of people. But the reading of a letter from “Gen. R.R. Dawes” received the closest attention.
It was written November 23, 1884, from Marietta, Ohio, where Dawes as living, and included his regrets that he would not be able to attend the camp fire at Mauston. He went on to say that he did want to recall the memories of his old Company K. He wrote:
”Glancing this morning at the official record of Wisconsin in the war, I find that from one devoted company, 21 men were actually killed in battle, and 51 shot besides; of those wounded men you have many in Juneau County. I can think of Eugene Rose, Jim Barney, Dan J. Miller, Eugene Anderson, James Sullivan, Wm. H. Van Wie, Franklin Wilcox, Erastus Smith; and there are doubtless others.
“These are now your plain fellow citizens, but they were heroes tried and true as ever offered life on a field of battle. The young generation can hardly realize that their modest neighbors are soldiers who have fought on more fields of battle than the Old Guard of Napoleon, and have stood fire with far greater firmness. Where has the firmness of the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg been surpassed in history? Two thousand muskets were carried into battle and for four long hours these men breasted the billows of rebellion until twelve hundred were shot down under the colors. Then, with colors flying and an broken front, they retired to the Cemetary Hill. But that four hours time saved for our army the Cemetery Hill, and that enabled it to save the nation. Here, as everywhere, upon fifty fields of battle, Company K held its portion of the line.
“But it was my purpose to recall,” Dawes went on, “rather the memories of my friends who died in battle. They lie scattered over the land, and their names should be gathered up around your campfires, and their character and deeds presented….”
In so many ways, those few sentences are an explanation of why I write about days long ago and the “plain fellow citizens” and “modest neighbors” of my home state of Wisconsin who fought on more fields of battle than the Old Guard of Napoleon.
Rest in Peace, Black Hats.