Erick  Olsen

Erick Olsen

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

The Scandinavian Regiment

Name at Enlist Erick Olsen
Birth Name Erik Olsen Høilien
Other Names Erick Olson
Patronymic Name Olsen
Lived 18 Jan 1829 - 19 Mar 1881
Birth Place Landgaard, Øyer, Oppland fylke
Birth Country Norway
Residence at Muster-In Westby, Bad Ax (Vernon) County, WI
Company at Enlistment G
Rank at Enlistment Private
Muster Date 9 or 10 Dec 1861
Death Location Westby, Vernon County, WI
Burial Location Coon Prairie Cemetery, Westby, WI
Mother Karen Hansdatter Galterud
Mother Lived ca. 1804-
Father Ole Erickson Høilien
Father Lived ca. 1801-
Immigration 1852
Spouse Marie Halvorsdatter Brunsdale
Spouse Lived 1830-1911
Married On 20 Mar 1857
Marriage Location Westby, Bad Ax (Vernon) County, WI

Erik Olsen Høilien was enlisted as Erick Olsen in Company G of the 15th WI on December 6, 1861, by Captain John A. Ingmundson. He joined up at Coon Prairie, WI, for a 3-year term of service. The men of Company G called themselves the "Rock River Rangers" after the river that flows through the counties that many of the men were residing.

Erick Olsen was mustered into Federal service at the rank of Private (Menig) on December 9 or 10, 1861 at Camp Randall near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was a 32 years old farmer who was married with 3 children under the age of 3 and another child on the way. He was recorded as having "grey eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion" and being 5 feet 6.5 inches tall. His residence was listed as Coon Prairie.

On January 14, 1862, the men of the 15th WI were issued Belgian rifled muskets. The next month Private Olsen was granted a 3-day furlough (leave of absence) signed by the 15th's commander, Colonel Hans C. Heg. The furlough is said to have been approved so he could return home to attend to his pregnant wife who was ill. On March 2, 1862, Company G departed Camp Randall with the rest of the regiment and left WI for the war. Beginning on that date the 15th officially listed Private Olsen as a "deserter" because he had failed to return to the regiment after his furlough ended. It noted that he could probably be found at home.

According to one of Erick's descendants, Private Olsen is believed to have stayed at home in Coon Prairie to nurse his sick, pregnant wife, take care of his 3 little children (Hannah, Oluf, and Helarius Emil), and do the spring planting. Late that summer his son, Hans (1st), was stillborn. It was not until August 31, 1863, that Private Olsen was arrested as a deserter and delivered as a prisoner to Camp Douglas near Chicago, Cook County, IL. By then he had been absent without leave for 18 months and the men he had enlisted with were half way through their 3-year terms of service.

During the time Private Olsen was absent, Company G had taken part in the successful siege of Island No. 10, on the Mississippi River, and the raid on Union City, both in TN. After the surrender of Island No. 10 in early April, 1862, Companies G and I had been detailed to guard it while the 15th's other 8 companies left on campaign, next to return. The area around Island No. 10 was considered to be unhealthy and many of the soldiers in the 2 companies became ill, with over 30 dying of disease there. In early October 1862, their camp, which consisted of 150 men, was attacked just before dawn by 300 Confederate Cavalry. The attack was badly managed by the Confederates and quickly repulsed with virtually no Union casualties. Companies G and I remained at the island until just after Private Olsen was arrested.

From Camp Douglas, Private Olsen was sent under guard to Chattanooga, TN where $30.00 was paid for his arrest and delivery. Chattanooga was where the few remaining survivors of the 15th WI were camped. The 8 companies that had left Island No. 10 had been terribly decimated by the casualties they had suffered at Stone River (also called Murfreesboro) TN, and Chickamauga, GA, as well as by deaths due to disease and disability discharges due to wounds and disease. Even with the recent arrival of Companies G and I, the entire regiment numbered less than 200 officers and enlisted men, down from the 850 that had departed Camp Randall. The 15th was commanded by Captain John A. Gordon of Company G because all of its regimental field officers had been killed, severely wounded, or taken prisoner at Chickamauga in September.

Chattanooga itself had been under siege by the Confederate Army since the Federal defeat at Chickamauga. The siege had resulted in severe shortages of medicine, food, and firewood which, together with cold, wet weather, had caused much suffering, sickness, and death amongst the Union troops. It was in this setting that Private Olsen was received back by the regiment. He was subsequently tried by an Army court martial and found guilty of desertion on November 3, 1863. The court sentenced him to 6 months at hard labor working on the Chattanooga fortifications, and the forfeit of all pay and allowances until January 1, 1864.

Three weeks later the Confederate siege of Chattanooga was finally broken by the Union Army's victorious charge up Mission Ridge on November 25, 1863, which the 15th took part in. Starting right after Mission Ridge the 15th was engaged in almost non-stop marching and counter-marching all over eastern TN throughout the winter of 1863/1864. By many original accounts, this was the worst period of the regiment's 3-year term of service. Poor rations, inadequate clothing and shelter, and unseasonably cold weather made these months nearly unbearable.

After completing his sentence, Private Olsen was returned to duty with the 15th on April 1, 1864. The regiment was then camped at Strawberry Plains, east TN. However, due to illness, he was sent to a hospital. On May 8, 1864, he was listed as absent sick in an Army hospital in Nashville, TN. He was recorded as being treated for "Inflammation of the Lungs" on May 27-29, 1864. On July 2, 1864, Private Olsen was listed as "present" on U.S. Army General Hospital No. 3 at Lookout Mountain, TN, across the river from Chattanooga, where he was treated for "Chronic Rheumatism." Private Olsen finally returned to the 15th WI in August 1864, after which he was listed as "present" with Company G until he mustered out in January 1865.

During the time Private Olsen had been absent sick the 15th had participated in the first 3 months of U.S. Major General William T. Sherman's famous campaign to capture Atlanta, GA. This campaign was marked by almost daily marching and/or combat for 4 months. During the campaign the 15th had taken part in the fighting at Rocky Face Ridge, GA in early May; at the bloody Battle of Resaca, GA on May 14-15; and at the disastrous Battle of Pickett's Mill (often called Dallas or New Hope Church), GA on May 27, 1864. It was there that the regiment suffered 50% casualties, including some 25 of its soldiers who were captured and imprisoned in the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp. The 15th then fought at Kenesaw Mountain, GA on June 23, and before Atlanta on July 22, 1864.

After Private Olsen re-joined Company G the 15th took part in the fighting at Jonesboro, GA on September 1; and at Lovejoy Station, GA on September 4, 1864. These were his first and only known combat experiences. After the capture of Atlanta, in early September 1864, the 15th was given several weeks to rest and refit there. The regiment was then briefly assigned to Provost (police) duty in Chattanooga at the beginning of October 1864. This was followed by 4 months of guard duty at a railroad bridge at Whitesides, TN, near Chattanooga. Many of the 15th's remaining soldiers felt that this was the easiest duty of their entire war service.

Most of the surviving soldiers of Company G were mustered out of Federal service on January 13, 1865, at Chattanooga, upon the end of their 3-year terms of service. They were then paid off and sent home to WI. Private Olsen and other members of Company G who had not yet completed their terms of service, were briefly transferred to Company H. When Company H was mustered out on February 13, 1865, the 15th ceased to exist. Private Olsen and the other 15th soldiers who had not yet completed their terms of service were transferred that day to the 24th WI Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Private Olsen and the others reported to the 24th at Huntsville, AL. His stay with the regiment was brief. On March 13, 1865, Private Olsen was admitted to the hospital of the 2nd Division, 4th Army Corps in Huntsville, where he was briefly treated for lumbago, bronchial catarrh, and chronic rheumatism. It appears that he never again physically returned to the 24th being admitted to the hospital. On March 17, 1865, he was transferred to the Cumberland General Hospital in Nashville, TN, where he remained for near 3 months. The Civil War ended in April 1865, in a complete Union victory.

On June 7, 1865, Private Olsen was transferred to the Hospital Steam Ship "Jennie Hopkins." It is believed that he sailed west and north on her because he was next listed as having been admitted on June 9, 1865, to a General Hospital at Keokuk, IA, on the Mississippi River. On June 11, 1865, the 24th WI was mustered out of Federal service and Private Olsen was officially transferred to I Company of the 13th WI Veteran Volunteer Infantry along with a number of other former 15th WI soldiers. At the time the 13th was in TX doing guard duty. This was a paper transfer; Private Olsen never physically served a day with the 13th.

On June 29, 1865, Private Olsen was recorded as entering the Swift General Hospital at Prairie du Chien, Crawford County, WI on the Mississippi. He remained there until August 7, 1865, when he was returned to duty and ordered to "respond to the chief mustering officer of Wisconsin." The next day he mustered out of the Army.

Erick Olsen then returned to his wife and children in Coon Prairie, WI. He and his wife had 6 additional children (Hans (2nd), Lauritz, Nordal, Carl Ludvig, Josephine Marie, and Adolph Julius). Erick lived and farmed at Coon Prairie for the next 15 years until he passed away there at age 52 on March 19, 1881. Marie lived until 1911. They are both buried in Coon Prairie Cemetery, Westby, Vernon County, WI.

 

Sources: Genealogical data from Erick Olsen Høilien's great, great, great grandson, Mark Anderson, and from The Westby Area Historical Society, Ellen Pederson; Oppland fylke, Øyer, Ministerialbok nr. 4 (1824-1841), Fødte og døpte 1829, page 91-92; Oppland fylke, Øyer, Ministerialbok nr. 5 (1842-1857), Utflyttede 1852, page 302; Coon Prairie by Hjalmar Holand (Coon Prairie, Wisconsin, 1927) translated into English by Oivind M. Hovde (Decorah, Iowa, 1977); Civil War Compiled Military Service Records by Office of Adjutant General of the United States (Washington, DC); Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers] by Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, Iowa, 1894); Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1885); and, Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Volume I, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1886); Findagrave.com.


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