Young men on horseback rode through Reedsburg shouting, "War has begun. Troops have attacked Ft. Sumter." The date was April 12, 1861. At once in the livery stables and barber shops, across line fences, the farmers and shop keepers could talk of nothing else. None of them — Irish, German, English, Canadian, Scotch — had slavery in their upbringings. "Slavery is wrong", had been the teaching in their homes. '"Slave people should not be owned and worked like oxen and horses.
All that summer while the farmers were cutting oats, shocking hay, and weeding potatoes the talk continued over the fences. At the same time townspeople were gathered on street corners and saying, "let's get into the war and free the slaves in a couple months. It won't take long."
On posters in banks, stores and feed mills the call for volunteers came. It was September 2, 1861. Forty signed up that day. Within a week the 12th Regiment, Company B was filled — 1049 of Reedsburg area's best men. They were from Winfield, Westfield, Ironton, La Valle, Reedsburg, Wonewoc and Hillsboro — the largest group of volunteers in Wisconsin.
Arrangements for leaving were made. Brothers and wives took over farms and stores. Wives and children moved in with relatives and friends.
Under the leadership of Colonel George E. Bryanl and Captain Giles Stevens the "Pioneer Rifles" as the 12th regiment, Company B was called, started drilling in Reedsburg. On October 30, 1861 they were ready to leave for training at Camp Randall in Madison. On January 11, 1862, armed with Belgian rifles, they left the state. They took Sibley tents for shelter.
One can follow the trail of Company B by reading letters written back home by Elijah Seymour, one of the company's privates.
From Madison the soldiers took a train to Quincy, Illinois where they slept on the frozen ground with the temperature 20 degrees below zero. The next morning they crossed the Mississippi and spent the spring in Missouri and Kansas. They traveled to Columbus, Kentucky on June 2. From then until January, 1863 the men fought in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Elijah Seymour says the "year of 1863 was a year of wanderings and sickness." On January 23, 1864 the soldiers were either discharged or asked to reenlist. Five hundred twenty of Company B did sign up again. This group was allowed to go home on veteran furloughs on March 13. Most of the soldiers took the train to Kilbourn (now Rock Springs) where they were met by wives and children. Mary Ann Camp walked from Ironton with two children, ages five and three, to meet Nathaniel Camp. Mary Ann was living above her brother's hardware store in Ironton. The furloughed solders had six wonderful weeks with their families but returned to duty on April 22, 1864. They were still determined that slaves should be free.
After the furlough the soldiers were sent to Tennessee and then to Georgia for the assault on Atlanta. Many were killed in the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain, including Nathaniel Camp and Charles Reifenrath. Elijah Seymour died of "sickness".
Tragic were the battles fought on the way to Atlanta. From the12th regiment alone over 200 were killed, and more again on the outskirts of the city.
Nathaniel Camp's brother, James Camp (from Company E) lost the use of his right arm, but he came home bringing Nathaniel's diary and marrying his brother's widow.
As for Company B it pressed into Atlanta and beyond. At Bald Hill, L.B. Cornwell of Winfield, J. E Wickersham and Amos Ford of Ironton and Spencer Miles were wounded. Reminders of the Civil War are found in Reedsburg homes yet today. Harriet Pearson has the brass buttons from the army coat of her husband's grandfather, Charles Pearson. Ruth Burmester's sons have letters written in 1862 by their great uncle, Elijah Seymour. Dorothy Parent, Reedsburg, and Kenneth Pierce, LaValle, have the diary of their great grandfather, Nathaniel Camp. The last entry was the day before he was shot. Russell Douglas, LValle, has writings from his great grandfather, Henry C. Palmer. All are treasured keepsakes, but the real treasures are the memories of these brave volunteers from the 12th Regiment, Company B.
There were many other volunteers and drafted soldiers from the Reedsburg area who fought in the Civil War. However, the 12th Regiment, Company B was the first and largest.
Reedsburg's Civil War Drummer Boy Buried Here
By Dorothy Douglas Parent
Frank Pettis (1850-1918) was eleven when he enlisted in the army as a drummer boy during the Civil War. At the age of twelve he began military service with his teacher, Captain A. P. Ellinwood, in the 19th Infantry, Company A. He served from February 22, 1862 to August 9, 1865.
Pettis was with his Captain in every battle in which their unit was engaged — from Suffolk, VA and Newberne, NC to the Siege of Petersburg and on to Richmond, where the colors of his regiment were the first to float from the Confederate capital building, Richmond, VA.
After the Civil War, Pettis returned to Reedsburg. First he helped in his father's tailor shop, but at the age of twenty learned the miller's trade. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Reedsburg Drum Corps until his death on August 15, 1918. At his funeral the Reedsburg Drum Corps with muffled drums preceded the hearse to the Greenwood Cemetery where he was buried near his Captain.
Pettis left five children. One of his direct descendants, Richard Curtis Knight, lives today (1998) near Rock Springs.
Civil War Soldiers' Monument
By Bill Schuette
In 1891 at a meeting of the H.A. Tator Post, No. 13, G.A.R. members discussed the possibility of erecting a monument to ".. .perpetually commemorate the loyalty and devotion of those who volunteered into the service of the U.S., and battled for the preservation of the Union of States."
A fund-raising committee was appointed and area citizens contributed generously the $1,625 needed to construct the monument.
It was completed, and in June, 1892, the 27 foot tall monument was dedicated. Over four thousand people attended the ceremonies. It was the first of its kind to be erected in Sauk County, and only the second in the state.
The ceremonies opened in the public square with speeches, orations and singing, and then processed to Greenwood Cemetery where the dedication took place. The procession consisted of the Reedsburg Silver Cornet Band, a firing squad, the Drum Crops, dignitaries, and citizens.
"One of the features to attract attention to the procession, was forty-four ladies with badges representing the forty-four states of the union, thirteen of the number being 70 years of age and represented the thirteen original states," noted a Free Press article of the day.
With the singing of songs such as "Rally Around the Flag, Boys" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee," and more speeches, the unveiling was accomplished when three young girls (each dressed to represent the colors, red, white and blue) pulled chords which secured flags concealing the monument. "At a signal, the starry veil was withdrawn, exposing to view the beautiful column, erected in honor of the brave boys in blue, living and dead, who fought for the preservation of this glorious old Union." Then bands struck up the national airs, guns were fired, bells were rung, whistles blew, and added to the din, was the sound of volley after volley of musketry.
The monument rests on a foundation of cut stone laid in cement. It is constructed of Barry, VT granite and stands 27 feet tall. On the lower section of the base rests a cannon; on the third section is cut the year of erection, 1892, and above that, is the inscription, "In memory of the defenders of the Flag of our Union, 1861-1865, Erected by H.A. Tator Post and WRC and other citizens The Soldiers’ Monument Association." Near the center of the column is cut the Grand Army badge and in another section is the coat-of-arms of Wisconsin. On top, stands the figure of a soldier in full dress, at parade rest. Other inscriptions read: "Not a Star on our Flag is Dimmed," and "Angels Have Heard the Story and God knows all Our Names."