With the remembrance of the firing on Fort Sumter back in April of this year, marking of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, much attention will be paid to Civil War historical research in the next few years. That event which occurred in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina in April of 1861 was the beginning of the great conflict. As the 150th anniversaries of the various battles and campaigns are remembered between now and the conclusion of the “War Between the States” Sesquicentennial in 2015, there will be much attention paid to the history of the war. I wanted to take some time in my research on the history of La Farge to look back at the events of the Civil War from a local perspective.
Being a member of the Wisconsin Historical Society and a board member of the Friends of the WHS, I receive regular information from those organizations about events and exhibits pertaining to Wisconsin history. In April the WHS unveiled its new Civil War page on its website. The new page can be reached at wisconsinhistory.org/civilwar and has been established to provide a link to primary sources for information on the involvement of the Badger State in the Civil War. One of the features of the page is a handy reference to the roles of the various cities and towns in Wisconsin during the war. The site provides a scroll down list of place names in Wisconsin. It is quite a comprehensive list of place names, including some which no longer exist. However, there is no “La Farge” on the list, or the names of Star (Seelyburg) or Rockton either. Even though those fledgling communities along the Kickapoo sent men off to the war in the 1860’s, the towns did not make the WHS list.
Viola, Ontario, and West Lima did make the list. The information provided on the WHS site is very limited for each of those area towns. The site lists a regiment or two of a Civil War era unit for each of the villages and a reference to the county’s history of the Civil War. The references and listing of the histories for Vernon and Richland Counties is particularly valuable. By accessing those sites, one can start to piece together where some of the La Farge area men served during the war.
I found it interesting that West Lima was listed on the WHS site, but not Rockton. Since both communities were comparable in size and relative significance when the war broke out in 1861, one would think that Rockton would also be included. Then I remembered a reference to an account of a 4th of July Celebration held in Rockton during the time of the Civil War. The article told of speakers coming to Rockton to rally the locals gathered there that Independence Day (I’m not sure on the year, but I think it was either 1861 or 1862) and encourage the men to join the army. The next day, several men from the Rockton and Star area started out for West Lima, where they joined others who were heading out for war. From there, the group of recruits walked on to Richland Center, where a military company was being formed.
When using the “Places” feature of the WHS Civil War page, choosing county seats like Richland Center, Viroqua or Sparta will provide more information for you. These are the places where many of the military units were formed before heading off for places like Camp Randall in Madison or Camp Salomon in La Crosse to train. If you know of a particular person that you’re looking for, you many find him in these county seat accounts. Many of the county seats also had newspapers at the time; articles from these newspapers may be cited in the research sites and may help with information gathering.
There is also a search feature titled “People”, which can help if you know the name of a particular soldier that you’re looking for. I used this option on a couple of Kickapoo area names and found company and regiment information on Van Bennett, brothers Chauncey and Richard Lawton and Eli McVey. Bennett and McVey both were promoted to officer status in their unit (Company I, 12th Wisconsin Regiment), so more information was available on them. The Richland County history includes a written account by Bennett of his Civil War memories. (Later, McVey was instrumental in the establishment of the Grand Army of The Republic (GAR) post in Seelyburg. That GAR post bore his name.) Again the Vernon and Richland County histories, which are available in their entirety on the site, were valuable primary research tools in my search.
Another good source for Civil War research is a recently published book by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press titled, Exploring Civil War Wisconsin – A Survival Guide For Researchers. Brett Parker is the author of the book and in his introduction, he says, “This book offers both beginning and experienced researchers the keys to finding and telling the stories of Wisconsin’s Civil War soldiers, their families, and their communities.” In the information printed on the back cover of the book, it says, “This lively step-by-step guide helps Civil War enthusiasts, genealogists, and students navigate the sometimes daunting realm of primary resources. Exploring Civil War Wisconsin makes it easy for new and experienced researchers alike to find and use the vast array of historical materials about the Civil War found in archives, military and census records, published firsthand accounts, newspapers, and on the Internet.” This book has been made available to teachers in Wisconsin schools whose classes study the Civil War, and I want to thank Amy Lund, history teacher at LHS, for lending me her copy. It is a very good resource for Civil War research.
Speaking of “published firsthand accounts”, local historian Kevin Alderson is working on a gem of just such a primary source. Kevin has been busy transcribing a treasure trove of letters about the Civil War experiences written by a man who settled in Cashton. The letters provide such a detailed documentation of the experiences of the Wisconsin soldier during the war that Kevin’s book about the letters may have national significance. Kevin has signed on with UW Press to get the book he is writing about the collection of letters published. Look for the book to be coming out a year from now, but Kevin will probably be speaking in the area about the project before the publishing release. This is another exciting local history project taking place here in the Kickapoo Valley.
I continue to write on my latest history venture, a book about the La Farge Dam Project, titled, That Dam History! – The Story of the La Farge Dam & Lake Project. I hope to have the book ready for the public by this December. If anyone has photographs that pertain to that time in La Farge’s history, I would love to see them. Bernice Schroeder has loaned to me a couple boxes of information on the dam project, which have been invaluable in my research.