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Rollin Olson

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
The Scandinavian Regiment

Database Record Change Request

Name at Enlist

Rollin Olson

Birth Name

Ola Olsen Gunstad

Other Names



01 Nov 1831 – 31 Mar 1898

Birth Place

Gunstad farm, Jevnaker, Oppland

Birth Country


Resident of Muster-In

Argyle, Lafayette County, WI

Company at Enlistment


Rank at Enlistment


Muster Date

8 Dec 1861

Death Location

Green County, WI

Burial Location

Jordan Lutheran Church Cemetery, Jordan Township, Green County, WI


Kari Iversdatter


Ola Hansen Kalnebberud




Mary Peterson (Smerud)

Spouse Lived

1837- 1913

Married On


Ola Olsen was enlisted as Rollin Olson by Captain John A. Ingmundson for 3 years in Company E of the 15th WI on December 4, 1861 at Moscow, Lafayette County, WI. The men of Company E called themselves “Odin’s Rifles.” His brother Christian Olson enlisted in Company K of the 15th. Rollin was mustered into Federal service at the rank of Private (Menig) on December 8, 1861 at Camp Randall near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was 30 years old and married, with 2 small children: Caroline, born 1855; and Morgan Peter, born 1859. Rollin’s residence was listed as Argyle, Lafayette County, WI.

Prior to enlisting Rollin had worked as foreman of a crew of lumbermen who chopped wood in the winter for use by Mississippi River steamboats. It is said that the name Rollin was given to him by his lumber crew because every night in camp he would tell them to quit what they were doing and “roll in” to bed. The Army listed Rollin as a farmer who stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, had blue eyes, sandy colored hair, and a light complexion. He wrote this to his wife about a special day during his training at Camp Randall:

“Monday the 6th [of January] was a festive day. The new state administration was sworn in. It was the opportunity of those regiments in Camp Randall which had received their weapons, namely the 15th and 16th Regiments, to have a parade in front of the Capitol building with a show of finery. Officials were sworn in by the Chief Justice up on the balcony. We, the 15th Regiment, performed for the new Governor. We also held a review at 2 oclock in the afternoon when he came to camp and had dinner.”

After several months at Camp Randall learning to be a soldier, Private Olson left there on early March 2, 1862 with his company and regiment to join the war. From then until September 1863, he 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 and the surprise raid on Union City, TN in March and April 1862. That summer he was with the 15th on campaign through TN, MS, and AL. He wrote home about his initial experiences of being on campaign:

“We are on march here among Tennessee’s thick and dark forests. For the past week we have seen some of Uncle Sam’s strengths. There are those who advance the thought that on this route along the Mobile and Ohio railroad there is a strength of about 100,000 in 3 brigades including all weapons of Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry. For 8 days now it has been almost like an endless wide stream of transportation trains and troops on this route…Our ‘Forte’ when we are on the march includes hard crackers, raw smoked hams and shoulders, and tea or coffee two times each day but if it rains, that is uncertain.”

In August and September, Rollin took part in the grueling 400-mile retreat with U.S. Major General Don Carlos Buell up to Louisville, KY of which the last 2 weeks were conducted on reduced rations and little water. He wrote this about it:

“We are still cut off and have lived on half rations since we were in Murfreesboro and have marched all day and often most of the night. We came here yesterday afternoon, completely exhausted from marching and shall probably march from here this afternoon.”

After a brief rest in Louisville, Rollin marched to Perryville, Boyle County, KY where he took part in the October 8, 1862 battle there, which is also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills. While this was the 15th’s first big fight, it emerged without any fatalities. Two days afterwards he wrote this to his wife:

“It seems to be a common opinion that the war will come to an end and I heartily wish to God that it will.”

Unfortunately, that was to be well over 2 years away. On December 26, 1862, Rollin participated in the 15th’s desperate charge upon a Confederate artillery battery at Knob Gap, TN, just south of Nashville. There the regiment captured a brass cannon. He 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. He wrote these thoughts shortly after the battle:

“We were in this area approximately 5 nights without fire and very little sleep. We did not have tents and it rained most of the time. Because of the mass of troops moving in all directions, the dirt becomes trod very much and there was mud almost over the entire battle field which covered 6 or 8 square miles… We have now been in several battles and in them, more or less of what a soldier carries with him gets thrown away. I and 3 others in the Company hung on to our knapsacks, the others threw them away and I came very near to throwing my knapsack. On the battle field lay all such things strewn in all directions and are trod under foot and ruined. A soldier who has had some war experience has with him very little more than he has on his body.”

The 15th camped in the Murfreesboro area for the next 6 months, except for 2 weeks in February when it was sent to Franklin, Williamson County, TN. Starting June 23, 1863, the regiment took part in U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans’ Tullahoma campaign. On July 3, 1863, the 15th went into camp at Winchester, Franklin County, TN for 6 weeks.

On August 17, 1863, the 15th left Winchester to participate in General Rosecrans’ Chickamauga campaign. Rollin is believed to have been present at the daring early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on August 28th, which the 15th led. Sometime prior to that he had been promoted to the rank of Corporal (Korporal) and in September 1863, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Rollin took part in the September 19-20, 1863, fighting at Chickamauga, GA — the second bloodiest battle of the war. The night before the battle he wrote this to his wife:

“Most of the company had gone to rest when the order came. Now all are on their feet. Five of us now sit around a table and write and at all places they sit and write in haste to their home, some to their wife, others to parents and brothers and sisters, and others struggle getting their rations packed. It is now 12 o’clock at night and bad weather is beginning. It is now thundering and lightning and a storm will break loose before dawn. We will soon find out that we will be sent up to the front, thought we are far from it. Dearly beloved wife, you must not worry because of this, because the Almighty rules over all things. Everybody is in good spirits and anxious to get going… I shall write again soon. Adieu my greatly beloved wife, from your devoted husband.”

The next day he participated in the vicious fighting around Viniard’s Farm on the first afternoon of the battle. It is said that toward the end of the afternoon Sergeant Olson was severely wounded in the leg just above the ankle and, unable to move, he lay upon the battlefield for 24 hours until taken prisoner. There is no confirmation of this wound in either official records or in his letters home. Rollin was initially listed as missing in action “probably killed.”

However, on November 17, 1863, the regiment learned he was a prisoner of war at Richmond, VA. This was a few days after his brother had died of disease in a U.S. Army Hospital at Chattanooga, TN. By that time Rollin had already been transferred to Prison No. 3 at Danville, VA. There his health suffered greatly. In August 1864, the Confederates transferred him, along with other sick and wounded prisoners, back to Richmond to be paroled. On September 1, 1864, he was released to Federal forces under a flag of truce, promoted to the rank of 1st Sergeant (the highest non-commissioned officer in a Civil War company), and taken to the U.S. Army Parolee Hospital at Annapolis, MD to recover. From there he wrote his wife the following:

“I got sick April 23 and had another attack of dysentary in June. Food was poor and I thought my days would be short. I am only skin and bones, unable to walk 10 steps.”

On November 10, 1864, Rollin was commissioned by the Governor of WI as the new 1st Lieutenant (second-in-command) of Company E, with rank from the same date. He filled the vacancy created when 1st Lieutenant Thorkild Rossing was commissioned as the Captain (commander) of Company E. Rollin was not mustered in at that rank before he was honorably discharged from the Army on January 18, 1865 at Madison, WI at the end of his 3-year term of service. It was not until 1889 that he was finally mustered-in as a 1st Lieutenant, to date from November 10, 1864, and honorably discharged at that rank effective December 16, 1864, retroactively.

On April 15, 1865, Rollin and his family settled on a farm in Jordan Township, Green County, WI, where he would live until his death at age 66. There he and his wife had 4 more children: Clara in 1866; Oscar in 1869; William in 1873; and Henry in 1879. He was granted a pension of $4 a month because of a wound to his left foot. He served as a member of the local school board, as township chairman, and as a member of the Green County Board. The following is from his obituary in a local newspaper:

“He was a man possessed of high moral character. He was a brave soldier, honored citizen and a noble father and husband. He builded [sic] a reputation that will live forever in the minds of all who knew him…”

Sources: ; Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers] by Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, Iowa, 1894); Oberst Heg og hans gutter [Colonel Heg and His Boys] by Waldemar Ager (Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1916); 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 provided by his great-great grandneice Susan Minkus and by Tove J. Johansen; Oppland fylke, Jevnaker, Klokkerbok nr. 1 (1815-1837), Fødte og døpte 1831-1833, page 88;  Rollin Olson Civil War Letters by Morris A. Olson (Morris, Minnesota, 1994); 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. 214, ID 2843.