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Nels I. Johnsen

15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
The Scandinavian Regiment

Database Record Change Request

Name at Enlist

Nels I. Johnsen

Birth Name
Other Names

Nels J. Johnson


14 Aug 1838 – 5 Jun 1900

Birth Place


Birth Country


Resident of Muster-In

Oconomowoc, Waukesha County, WI

Company at Enlistment


Rank at Enlistment


Muster Date

10 Dec 1861

Death Location

Austin, Mower County, MN

Burial Location

Oakwood Cemetery, Austin, Mower, MN





Spouse Lived

6 Sep 1847 – 7 Apr 1880

Married On

ca. 1867

2nd Spouse

Katie D. Goodman

2nd Spouse Lived

May 1853 –

2nd Marriage Date

26 Oct 1881

2nd Marriage Location

Dodge Center, Dodge County, MN

Nels Johnsen was an apprentice cabinetmaker when he left Norway at age 19 to come to America. Once here, he settled in Oconomowoc, Waukesha County, WI, where he farmed and worked as a cabinetmaker. It was there on October 25, 1861, that he was enlisted in Company D of the 15th WI by Captain Charles Campbell for a 3-year term of service.

The men of Company D called themselves the “Norway Wolf Hunters.” They were also known as the “Waupun Company” because a number of its members were residents of that WI town. Nels was mustered into Federal service at the rank of Private (Menig) on December 10, 1861 at Camp Randall near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time the Army recorded him as being 23 years old and not married. His residence was listed as Oconomowoc, WI.

On January 1, 1862, Private Johnsen was appointed to the rank of Corporal (Korporal) in Company D. On January 14, 1862, the men of the 15th WI were issued Belgian rifled muskets. After nearly 3 months at Camp Randall learning to be a soldier, Corporal Johnsen left there on March 2, 1862 with his company and regiment to join the war. From then until April 1863, he was recorded as “present” with Company D.

Corporal Johnsen was at the successful siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in TN and in the surprise raid on Union City, TN in March and April 1862. On June 11, 1862, he left Island No. 10 with Company D and 8 of the other 10 companies of the 15th to go on a summer campaign through TN, MS, and AL. In August and September he 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.

Corporal Johnsen was present at the October 8, 1862, fighting at Perryville, Boyle County, KY, which is also known as the Battle of Chaplin Hills. While it was the 15th’s first big fight, it emerged without any fatalities. On December 1, 1862, Corporal Johnsen was appointed to the rank of Sergeant (Sersjant) in Company D.

On December 26, 1862, Sergeant Johnsen 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. He then fought in the long, cold, wet, and bloody Battle of Stone River, TN, also called the Battle of Murfreesboro, at the end of December 1862. It is there that the 15th first suffered serious battle casualties and was cited for bravery. One of those cited was Sergeant Johnsen. The following is from Buslett’s 1895 history of the 15th WI:

“After the battle General Rosecrans issued an order to the various regiments’ commanders to submit to headquarters a list of one sergeant, two corporals and four or five privates in each company (altogether no more than six from each company), who had shown the greatest courage and ability during the battle. These would be entered on the Roll of Honor.”

 At the recommendation of the 15th’s commanding officer, Colonel Hans C. Heg, the name of Sergeant Johnsen was submitted to headquarters. He was subsequently entered on the Roll of Honor for the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 20th Army Corps for his actions at Stone River.

The 15th camped in the Murfreesboro area from January until June 1863, except for 2 weeks in February when it was sent to Franklin, Williamson County, TN. Starting April 10, 1863, Sergeant Johnsen was listed as absent “in Co. C Light Battalion.” On June 19 and 20, 1863, he was detached from the regiment by order of Colonel Hans C. Heg to serve with the Provost (police) Guard of 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 20th Army Corps. Starting June 23, 1863, the 15th 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.

On August 17, 1863, the 15th left Winchester to participate in General Rosecrans’ Chickamauga campaign. Sergeant Johnsen was present at the daring early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on August 28th, which the 15th led. He was also present at the September 19-20, 1863, fighting at Chickamauga, GA — the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. There Sergeant Johnsen was severely wounded in the “right thigh” during the vicious fighting around Viniard’s Farm on the afternoon of the 19th. It is said that, before being wounded, Sergeant Johnsen had taken command of Company D after both its officers had been wounded. Some 63% of the 15th’s soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.

After the battle, Sergeant Johnsen was sent to an Army hospital in Nashville, TN, to recover from his wound. Starting November 28, 1863, he was sent home to WI  on recruiting duty, where he was listed as “present” at Madison, WI in December 1863. This was his first time back there in nearly 2 years.

Sometime in January or February 1864, Sergeant Johnsen was ordered to report back to the 15th, which was then at Strawberry Plains near Knoxville, TN. In March 1864, he was, for a time, the Post Commander at Strawberry Plains.

Starting in May 1864, the 15th participated in 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. The 15th took 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. There the 15th suffered 50% casualties, including 29 soldiers who were taken prisoner, most of whom later died of malnutrition-related diseases in the infamous Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, GA.

The 15th also fought at Kenesaw Mountain, GA on June 23; Atlanta on July 22; at Jonesboro, GA on September 1; and at Lovejoy Station, GA on September 4, 1864. After a rest following the capture of Atlanta in early September 1864, the 15th was briefly assigned to Provost duty in Chattanooga in early October. This was followed by several months of guarding a railroad bridge at Whitesides, TN near Chattanooga. Many of the 15th’s soldiers felt this this was the easiest duty of their war service.

On November 20, 1864, the 15th’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ole C. Johnson, appointed Sergeant Johnsen as the regiment’s Sergeant Major, effective as of October 15, 1864. This was the highest-ranked non-commissioned officer (NCO) position in the regiment. The Sergeant Major had to be a man of the utmost reliability because he effectively ran the entire regiment for its field officers.

On February 11, 1865, Sergeant Major Johnsen was mustered out of Federal service at Chattanooga, TN, with an honorable discharge at the expiration of his 3-year term of service. At muster out the Army noted that Nels was due $100 in bounty money.

After his discharge, Nels Johnsen returned to WI, but in 1866 he moved to Austin, Mower County, MN. There he worked in the mercantile business for 3 years before taking a job in a plow factory. In 1867, WI Governor Lucius Fairchild, himself a distinguished Civil War veteran, belatedly honored Nels Johnsen for his bravery at Chickamauga by awarding him the honorary rank of Brevet Captain. The award citation reads as follows:

“In recognition of distinguished daring manifested by him at the battle of Chickamauga Ga. where he displayed conspicuous bravery in urging the men forward in the charge made by the Brigade during which he received a severe wound in his leg which compelled him to leave the field saying to the men before he left ‘Stand by the Flag boys!’”

Around 1867, he married Mary. Together, they had at least four children: Amanda (1869), Ida (1870), Arnold (1873), and Carrie (1875). All the children were born in MN.

In 1873, Nels Johnsen moved to Kasson, Dodge County, MN where he manufactured plows for 10 years. His wife died on April 7, 1880. On October 26, 1881, he married Katie Goodman in Dodge Center, Dodge County, MN.

In 188,4 he opened a grocery store and restaurant. Nels was a member of the Lutheran Church and the Republican Party. He was also a member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and served for 7 years as secretary of the Kasson Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF). By 1900, he and Katie were living back in Austin, MN. He was working as a gardener. Nels died on June 5, 1900. He is buried with Mary in Oakwood Cemetery, Austin, MN.


Sources: History of Winona, Olmsted, and Dodge Counties (1884); Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillige [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers], Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, Iowa, 1894); Oberst Heg og hans gutter [Colonel Heg and His Boys], Waldemar Ager (Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 1916); Civil War Compiled Military Service Records, Office of Adjutant General of the United States (Washington, DC); Register of Commissions by Brevet 1864-1870 (Madison, Wisconsin); Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1885);; MN 1875 Census, MNSC_5, Line 25; 1900 Census, Roll: 776, Page: 1B, Enumeration District: 0082, FHL microfilm: 1240776; MN Marriages, Batch # M73467-3, GS Film # 1316657, Ref ID #266.