Oliver G. Thompson

Believed to have been taken circa 1862.

Wisconsin Historical Society, Iconography, ID 90629

Oliver G. Thompson

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

The Scandinavian Regiment

Name at Enlist Oliver G. Thompson
Birth Name
Other Names Ole Thorbjørnsen, Oliver Ygre
Patronymic Name Torbjørnsen
Lived 15 Oct 1836 - 20 Sep 1863
Birth Place Solberg farm, Skjeberg, Østfold
Birth Country Norway
Residence at Muster-In Chicago, Cook County, IL
Company at Enlistment A
Rank at Enlistment Second Lieutenant
Muster Date 15 Nov 1861
Cause of Death Killed in action
Death Location Chickamauga, Walker County, GA
Burial Location Unmarked grave on Chickamauga battlefield
Mother Pernille Olsdatter Letwitz
Mother Lived 1809- 1849
Father Torbjørn Syversen Solberg
Father Lived 1810- 1887
Immigration 1853

At the recommendation of Colonel (Oberst) Hans C. Heg, the 15th's commander, Oliver Thompson, was commissioned by the Governor of WI as the 2nd Lieutenant (Secondløitnant) of Company A on November 18, 1861, to rank from November 15, 1861. The men of the company called themselves the "St. Olaf's Rifles." They were also known as the "Sailor Company" because of the large number of seamen in its ranks, and the "Chicago Company" because so many of its members were residents of that city.

2nd Lieutenant Thompson was mustered into the Federal Army at that rank on December 20, 1861 at Camp Randall near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was 25 years old and not married. His residence was listed as Chicago, Cook County, IL. The other 2 officers in Company A were its commander, Captain Andrew Torkildson, and its second-in-command, 1st Lieutenant Emanuel Engelstad.

After about 10 weeks at Camp Randall learning to be an officer, Lieutenant Thompson departed WI with his company and regiment in early March 1862. He was then listed as being "present" with the 15th until September 1863. Buslett's 1895 history of the 15th WI includes the following about an incident that happened in March 1862:

"At Bird's Point [in Missouri on the Mississippi River] there were a lot of prisoners to watch, among these Bird himself, the man this tongue of land was named after. Lieutenant Thompson of Company A had the watch one night and received some information indicating that the prisoners were going to try to escape. It was a dark night, heavy with rain, really nasty weather. The Lieutenant had the prisoners form up in line outside the guardhouse for roll call every half hour thrugh the entire night. In that way he put a stop to their escape, and instead they got to have a stroll in the cold rain twice every hour. Towards morning they started to turn on the ones who had come up with the plan to escape and therefore had been the cause of all these wet clothes -- with nothing in return."

Lieutenant Thompson was next with Company A on the successful raid on a Confederate Cavalry camp at Union City, TN on March 31, 1862. In April, he participated in the siege and capture of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in TN.

On May 5, 1862, Captain Torkildson placed Lieutenant Thompson "under arrest" for alleged incidents that day in the 15th's camp at Island No. 10. Before he could come to trial, there was an incident that led to the arrest of a group of Company A soldiers for their participation in what amounted to a drunken mutiny. Below is a description of this event written by Private Lars O. Dokken of Company H in a June 4, 1862, letter to his parents from Island No. 10.

"I must tell you that our officers voted to give us the 17th of May [Syttende Mai, the Norwegian Constitution Day] as a holiday, so our regiment could have a little fun. Our company got some beer which we sent to Cairo [Illinois] for. But some of the men in Co. A got quite drunk and rowdy and started a fight. They were put in the guardhouse. But several of their friends set out for the guardhouse, shoved the guard out of the way, and freed the prisoners. But then our captain [George Wilson], who was officer of the day, arrived and he tried to get these fellows under control. But there was one chap who struck at our captain, and the whole company went wild. Then came an order that our 4 companies [F, H, I, and K] should bring them to order. The command "Fall in, fall in" was called out, and so we assembled as quickly as possible. We were told to load our guns quickly and were marched to the guardhouse in formation. Company A was lined up and we ringed them in. The major came to question them. All of them had to turn in their guns to the major and 6 of the men were put under arrest. Their [1st] Lieutenant [Emanuel Engelstad] was also arrested."

A General Court Martial of Lieutenant Thompson stemming from the alleged May 5th incident was held at Island No. 10 on May 29, 1862. Lieutenant Colonel (Oberstløitnant) David McKee was President of the court, which also included Captains (Kapteins) Torkildson, John A. Gordon of Company G, George Wilson of Company H, 1st Lieutenants (Premiérløitnants) Joseph Mathiesen of Company B, Lewis G. Nelson of Company D, and Hans Hanson of Company C. 1st Lieutenant Henry Hauff of Company G, who was then serving as the 15th's acting Adjutant, was Judge Advocate. Lieutenant Thompson was charged with "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. "He plead not guilty to the charges and succeeded in getting Captain Torkildson removed as a member of the court "on account of partiality." Captain Torkildson then testified as a witness that Thompson had been out of uniform, and had repeatedly insulted and kicked a sentry. 1st Lieutenant Thor Simonson of Company F testified that Thompson was in uniform, except for wearing a Panama hat. The sentry, Private Edward Howland of Company A testified he had not been insulted or kicked. The court found Lieutenant Thompson "not guilty." He was formally released from arrest and restored to duty on June 26, 1862.

Starting June 11, 1862, Lieutenant Thompson went with Company A and 7 other companies of the 15th on campaign through TN, MS, and AL. In August and September he would have participated in the grueling 400-mile retreat with General Buell up to Louisville, KY with the last 2 weeks being on half rations and short of water. During this last 2 week period, Lieutenant Engelstad resigned his commision and left the Army. Lieutenant Thompson would then have been present at the October 8, 1862 Battle of Perryville, KY, which is also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills. While this was the 15th's first big battle, it emerged without any fatalities.

Effective October 19, 1862, Captain Torkildson resigned his commission and left the Army. This put Lieutenant Thompson in temporary command of Company A until early November 1862 when 2nd Lieutenant John M. Johnson of Company E was promoted to be the new Captain of Company A.

On December 16, 1862, Henry Siegel was commissioned as the new 1st Lieutenant of Company A. On December 26, 1862, Lieutenant Thompson would have participated in the 15th's desperate charge upon a Confederate artillery battery at Knob Gap, TN just south of Nashville. There the 15th captured a brass cannon. Lieutenant Thompson would have also fought at the long, cold, wet, and bloody Battle of Stone River, TN, also called the Battle of Murfreesboro, on December 30-31, 1862. It is there that the 15th first suffered serious battle casualties, and was cited for bravery.

The 15th camped in the Murfreesboro area for the next 6 months, except for 2 weeks in February when it was sent to Franklin, TN. Starting June 23, 1863, the regiment took a minor part in the Tullahoma campaign led by U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans. On July 3, 1863, the 15th went into camp at Winchester, Franklin County, TN for 6 weeks. On August 17, 1863, the 15th left there to participate in General Rosecrans' Chickamauga campaign. Lieutenant Thompson is believed to have been present at the daring early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on August 28th, which the 15th led, becoming the first Union regiment south of the river.

Lieutenant Thompson was present with Company A at the September 19-20, 1863, fighting at Chickamauga, GA -- the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Some 63% of the 15th's soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. In the fierce fighting around Viniard's Farm on the first afternoon of the battle, Thompson assumed command of Company A when Captain Johnson was killed in action. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Thompson's time in command proved to be brief. Late the next morning, after the near capture of the regiment during the Confederate attack that is now known as Longstreet's Breakthrough, Lieutenant Thompson could not be found. His body apparently fell into the hands of the Confederate Army, which controlled the battlefield for the following 2 months. In the 15th's official after action report Lieutenant Thompson was reported as "missing." Later the Army listed him as having been killed in action near Brotherton Field during the breakthrough.

Sources:  The Battle of Chickamauga by Captain Mons Grinager (Chattanooga, TN, September 29, 1863); Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers] by Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, Iowa, 1895); Historie om Udvandringen fra Voss og Vossingerne i Amerika (1930); Civil War Compiled Military Service Records by Office of Adjutant General of the United States (Washington, DC); Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20 by the Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1885); and, Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume 1 by the Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1886); Genealogical data courtesy of Evi V. Selvén.

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