Andrew  Torkilson

Andrew Torkilson

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

The Scandinavian Regiment

Name at Enlist Andrew Torkilson
Birth Name Andreas Torkilsen Birkeland
Other Names Andrew Torkildsen, Andreas Thorkildsen
Patronymic Name Torkilsen
Lived 27 Jul 1825 - 18 Oct 1881
Birth Place Birkeland, Bakke parish, Vest-Agder fylke
Birth Country Norway
Residence at Muster-In Chicago, Cook County, IL
Company at Enlistment A
Rank at Enlistment Captain
Muster Date 11 Nov 1861
Death Location Rogers Park, Chicago, Cook County, IL
Mother Karen Sophie Johnsdatter Sandsmark
Father Torkil Aanesen Birkeland
Immigration 1849
Spouse Ingeborg Aasea Thorgrimsdatter Ventland
Spouse Lived -1857
Married On 4 Jul 1845
2nd Spouse Christine Friedriche Smith
2nd Spouse Lived 1837-1912
2nd Marriage Date 7 Jul 1858

Before emigrating from Norway to America with his wife and children, Andreas Torkildsen served as a Private (Menig) in the Kristiansand army garrison and as a Corporal (Korporal) in Stavanger's National Band. Once in America he tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the U. S. Army. Andreas then settled in Chicago, Cook County, IL. There he went to work as a cooper, eventually running his own business. It was successful enough that in 1856 he was able to afford to travel back to Norway and tour Europe with his family. However, Andreas sold his business in early 1861 and went to work as a Chicago Police Officer. At some point his name was Anglicized to Andrew Torkildson.

The American Civil War began in April 1861, and the next month Andrew and Charles M. Reese (who became the 15th's first Major) organized a company of volunteers for the 39th IL Infantry Regiment. Unfortunately, the government thought the war would soon be over and so it declined to accept the additional manpower. This attitude changed after the disastrous defeat of the Federal Army that summer at Bull Run, VA. In response President Abraham Lincoln called upon the Governors of the loyal states to quickly raise additional regiments for the Army. In WI a group of prominent Norwegians, including Hans C. Heg (who became the first commander of the 15th), successfully lobbied the Governor to authorize the formation of a regiment of Scandinavians.

On September 27, 1861, WI Governor Randall authorized Andrew Torkildson to recruit volunteers for what would become the 15th WI. Helping him was the 15th's first Lieutenant Colonel, Kiler K. Jones. Because of their quick success in enlisting men, the group they recruited was designated Company A, the regiment's first company. The men of the company called themselves the "Saint Olaf's Rifles." They were also known as the "Sailor Company" because many of them were Seamen by trade. At the time they joined up the majority of these men were residing in IL. Some were living in Boone County, up near the border with WI. Many were living in Chicago, which is perhaps why Colonel Heg referred to Company A as the "Chicago Company."

On November 12, 1861, Governor Randall commissioned Andrew as the Captain of Company A, with rank to take effect November 11, 1861. This made him the most senior of the original 10 Captains in the regiment. Captain Torkildson was mustered into Federal service on December 20, 1861 at Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was listed as being married and either 34 or 37 years old. His residence was recorded as Chicago.

On January 14, 1862, Captain Torkildson's men were issued Belgian rifled muskets. After several months at Camp Randall learning to be an officer, he left there on March 2, 1862, with his company and regiment to join the war. From then until October 1862, Captain Torkildson was listed as "present" with the 15th. As such he participated in the successful siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in TN during March and early April. And on March 31, 1862, he led 51 men of his company on the successful surprise raid with other Federal troops on a Confederate Cavalry camp at Union City, Obion County, TN.

After the surrender of Island No. 10 on April 7, 1862, Companies A, F, H, I, and K were sent to occupy the island, and Captain Torkildson was placed in command of this battalion. There was much hard, physical work to be done on the island, and quickly. The fortifications contained many cannons, which the Confederates had installed to defend against a Union attack coming down the Mississippi River from the north. These had to be moved and the fortifications changed so they could be used to defend the island against a possible Confederate assault coming up the river from the south. This task was made even more difficult due to the unhealthy nature of the island, and with problems getting an adequate supply of rations. These conditions caused many complaints, sickness, and even death amongst the soldiers there. They also caused some of Captain Torkildson's soldiers to get into mischief. The following incident was recounted in Ager's 1916 history of the 15th WI:

"A small steamer [steamboat] came with provisions and other things for Memphis [Tennessee]. It stopped overnight here [at Island No. 10], so, naturally, we had to place guards to see that nothing was stolen... The boys heard that there was a half-cask of whiskey on the boat, so then one of the barrel-bands was removed and a hole bored and a pipe set into the hole so the whiskey ran nicely into [our] canteens. When we were finished we plugged up the hole and put the band back in place. The next day many were drunk... The officers has some suspicion of where the whiskey came from, so there had to be an inquiry. Capt. [Andrew] Thorkildsen was installed as judge, as he had been a police officer in Chicago before the war, and, like King Saul, he was a head taller that the rest of the men. He had two other officers with him. We got wind of this and all who had whiskey in their canteens hurried and emptied them and filled them with water. Company A was the first to be questioned. The canteens were searched but nothing was found but water."

After 3 weeks in charge, Captain Torkildson was relieved of command of the battalion at Island No. 10.

The next month proved to be even more challenging for Captain Torkildson. On May 5, 1862, he felt it necessary to arrest one of his own officers, 2nd Lieutenant Oliver Thompson of Company A, for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." This was followed 12 days later by the arrest of a group of Captain Torkildson's soldiers by Major Reese 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) TorkildsonJohn A. Gordon of Company GGeorge Wilson of Company H, 1st Lieutenants (Premiérløitnants) Joseph Mathiesen of Company BLewis G. Nelson of Company D, and Hans Hanson of Company C1st 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.

On June 11, 1862, Colonel Heg departed Island No. 10 with 8 of the regiment's 10 companies. Company A left with him (except for those under arrest awaiting trial for the May 17th incident). That summer Captain Torkildson and his company were on campaign through TN, MS, and AL. In August and September the 8 companies participated in the grueling 400-mile retreat with U.S. Major General Don Carlos Buell up to Louisville, KY, with the last 2 weeks being on half rations and short of water. A week before arriving in Louisville, Captain Torkildson's second in command, 1st Lieutenant Emmanuel Engelstad, resigned his commission and left the Army. This left Captain Torkildson with only 1 officer, 2nd Lieutenant Thompson. On October 8, 1862, the 15th took part in the fighting at Perryville, Boyle County, KY, (also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills). While this was the 15th's first big battle, it did not suffer any fatalities.

On October 14, 1862, Captain Torkildson submitted a letter asking permission to resign his commission and leave the Army. Colonel Heg endorsed the request and quickly forwarded it up the military chain of command. That same day Captain Torkildson's resignation was approved to take effect on October 19, 1862, under Special Order # 166, issued in the name of General Buell. At the recommendation of Colonel Heg, the Governor of WI commissioned 2nd Lieutenant John M. Johnson of Company E as the new Captain of Company A on November 8, 1862, to rank from October 20, 1862.

Buslett's 1895 history of the 15th says this about the first Captain of Company A:

"Torkildsen soon tired of life at war and sent in his resignation...Torkildsen was a strapping fellow in uniform and looked quite impressive. He was a military man and understood his duties. Before he was discharged, he was twice offered the chance to be a captain elsewhere, but he didn't want to."

After leaving the 15th, Andrew Torkildson returned to Chicago where in 1863 he rejoined the police force. Later he moved to Fort Dodge, Webster County, IA where he took up farming and resumed the cooper's trade. His children included Caroline (1846), Tobias (1848), Gasine (1851), Benjamin (1860), Andrew F. (1864), Clara F. (1868), John U. (1871), Ann C. (1872), and Thos F. (1873).

Sources:  Oberst Heg og hans gutter [Colonel Heg and His Boys], Waldemar Ager (Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1916); Ole A. Buslett, Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers] (Decorah, Iowa, 1894); Regimental Muster and Descriptive Rolls, Vol. 20, 1861-1865, Wisconsin Adjutant General’s Office; Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume I Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1886); Norwegian Immigrants to the United States. A Biographical Directory, 1825-1850. Volume Four 1849, Gerhard B. Naeseth and Blaine Hedberg, 2008, Anundsen Publishing Co., Decorah, IA, p. 113, ID 1424; 1860 Census, Roll: M653_166, Page: 518, Image: 518, Family History Library Film: 803166; 1880 Census, Roll: 201, Family History Film: 1254201, Page: 276C, Enumeration District: 217; Civil War Pension Records, Roll #T288_476; genealogical data from Tove D. Johansen.


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