Niels P. Olsen

Believed to have been taken post-war.

Photo courtesy his great great grandson, Brad Lebakken.

Niels P. Olsen

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry

The Scandinavian Regiment

Name at Enlist Niels P. Olsen
Birth Name Niels Olsen Puntervold
Other Names Nils, Nels, Olson
Patronymic Name Olsen
Lived 25 Mar 1826 - 18 Mar 1885
Birth Place Puntervold, Ogna i Eigersund, Rogaland fylke
Birth Country Norway
Residence at Muster-In Bad Ax (Vernon) County, WI
Company at Enlistment A
Rank at Enlistment Private
Muster Date 10 Dec 1861
Death Location Bad Ax (Vernon) County, WI
Burial Location Pleasant View Cemetery, Westby, Vernon County, WI
Mother Maren Nielsdatter Melhus
Mother Lived 1802-1898
Father Ole Tønnesen Puntervold
Father Lived 1795-1883
Immigration 10 May 1850
Spouse Guri (Julia)
Spouse Lived ca. 1818-
Married On ca. 1851
Marriage Location Chicago, Cook County, IL

Niels P. Olsen was born on March 25, 1826 in Puntervold, Ogna i Eigersund, Rogaland fylke, Norway. His parents were Ole Tønnesen Puntervold and Maren Nielsdtr Melhus. He immigrated May 10, 1850. He married Guri (Julia) in 1851 in Chicago, Cook County, IL. They had at least two children, including John (1857) and Andrew (1859).

Olsen was enlisted for a 3-year term of service in Company A of the 15th WI by Captain Andrew Torkildson on November 16, 1861 in Bad Ax (Vernon) County, WI. His brothers Amund Olsen and Michael Olsen joined the same company. Together they were one of 3 sets of 3 brothers who served in the 15th. The men of Company A 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 as the "Chicago Company" because so many of its members were residents of that city. Niels was mustered into Federal service as a Private (Menig) on December 10, 1861 at Camp Randall near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was 36 years old and married. His residence was listed as Bad Ax County, WI.

After nearly 3 months at Camp Randall learning to be a soldier, Private Niels Olsen and his brothers left there in early March 1862 with their company and regiment to join the war. The 15th participated in the successful siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in TN and the surprise raid on Union City, TN in March and April 1862. On June 11, 1862, his brother Michael was reported as being sick with a fever at Island No. 10. Michael was transferred to a hospital at Mound City where he died of disease on July 20 or 28, 1862. The news of his death did not reach the 15th until late in the war.

That summer the regiment was on campaign through TN, MS, and AL. In August and September the 15th took part 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. On October 8, 1862, the regiment fought in the 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.

In late December the 15th made a desperate charge upon a Confederate artillery battery at Knob Gap, TN, just south of Nashville. There it captured a brass cannon. The regiment then fought in 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 part in General Rosecrans' Tullahoma campaign. On July 3, 1863, the 15th camped at Winchester, Franklin County, TN. On August 17, 1863, the 15th left Winchester to participate in General Rosecrans' Chickamauga campaign. This included the daring early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on August 28th, which the 15th led.

Private Niels Olsen was present at the September 19-20, 1863, fighting at Chickamauga, GA -- the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. He survived the vicious fighting around Viniard's Farm on the first afternoon, as well as the near capture of the regiment around midday on the 20th near Brotherton Field during Longstreet's Breakthrough. Some 63% of the 15th's soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Niels' brother Amund was wounded and captured during the battle, but was paroled to Union forces shortly thereafter. Amund was then absent in hospitals in Chattanooga, TN and in Nashville until January 1864 recovering from his wound.

Starting right after the battle, the Confederates laid siege to Chattanooga, TN. The siege resulted in severe shortages of medicine, food, and firewood which, together with cold, wet weather, caused much suffering, sickness, and death. From October 7, 1863, to November 28, 1863, Private Niels Olsen was listed as "absent sick in hospital" in Chattanooga. The siege 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 entire 3-year term of service. Poor rations, inadequate clothing and shelter, and unseasonably cold weather made these months nearly unbearable.

Starting in May 1864, the 15th participated in the famous campaign led by U.S. Major General William T. Sherman to capture Atlanta, GA. This campaign was marked by almost daily marching and/or combat for 4 months. The 15th took part in the fighting at Rocky Face Ridge, GA in early May; the bloody Battle of Resaca, GA on May 14-15; and the disastrous Battle of Pickett's Mill (often called Dallas or New Hope Church), GA on May 27, 1864. There the 15th suffered 50% casualties, including 29 men captured, most of who were sent to the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp -- where many of them perished of malnutrition-related disease.

The 15th also fought at Kenesaw Mountain on June 23; Atlanta on July 22; Jonesboro on September 1; and Lovejoy Station on September 4, 1864. After a rest following the capture of Atlanta in early September 1864, the 15th was briefly assigned Provost (police) duty in Chattanooga at the beginning of October 1864. This was followed by several months of what the 15th considered easy duty guarding a railroad bridge at Whitesides, TN, near Chattanooga.

Private Olsen and his surviving brother Amund mustered out of Federal service with most of the other surviving members of Company A on December 20, 1864 at Chattanooga upon the expiration of their 3-year terms of service. Olsen family history relates that Niels was not heard from during his entire time in the 15th, and one day his 5-year old son saw him walking down the road with his knapsack and gun and didn't know who it could be.

After the war, Niels returned to Bad Ax County, WI. In 1880, he was living in Viroqua. He was very active in his church, having been a Lay Pastor in 1855 at the first ever Scandinavian Methodist Church which was founded in Cambridge, Dane County, WI. Later he served as a Lay Pastor in the Scandinavian Methodist Church located in what is now Westby, WI (which was named after a 15th soldier, Ole T. Westby).

Niels suffered from rheumatism, which he felt was related to his military service. He applied for an invalid's pension, but did not get one. Niels P. Olsen died just a few days before his 59th birthday on March 18, 1885. He was buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Westby, Vernon County, WI.


Sources: Genealogical data provided by Brad Lebakken and by his great grandneice Bette Minehart;  Egersund parish register #A7, born and baptised, no page, #A9, in- and out-migrated, p. 531,; Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers] by Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, Iowa, 1894); Civil War Compiled Military Service Records by Office of Adjutant General of the United States (Washington, DC); and, Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1885); 1880 Census, Roll: 1449, Family History Film: 1255449, Page: 403A, Enumeration District: 018.

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