Stener E. Bilstad
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|Name at Enlist|
Stener E. Bilstad
8 Feb 1828 – 25 May 1894
Sondre Bilstad, Skasfaa, Mo, Telemark fylke
|Company at Enlistment|
|Rank at Enlistment|
16 Jan 1862
Cambridge, Dane County, WI
East Koshkonong Lutheran Church, Dane County, WI
Dagne Tollefsdatter Midgaard
23 Aug 1843
Stener Bilstad came to America with his parents and four siblings on Aeolus, which sailed from Havre, France, and arrived in NY on August 28, 1843. After arriving in America, Steinar E. Bilstad settled with his parents and siblings on a farm in Oakland Township in Jefferson County, WI.
On October 21, 1861, he was enlisted under the name Stener E. Bilstad by Captain Ole C. Johnson at Christiana, Dane County, WI. He joined for a 3-year term of service in Company H of the 15th WI. The men of the company called themselves “Heg’s Rifles” after Colonel Hans C. Heg, but they were also known as the “Voss Company” because many of them were from that region of Norway. Stener was appointed as a Sergeant (Sersjant) in Company H on January 16, 1862. He was mustered into Federal service at that rank on February 13, 1862 at Camp Randall near Madison, Dane County, WI. At the time he was listed as 33 years old, not married, and residing in Christiana. He was promoted to First Sergeant on January 1, 1863.
After several months at Camp Randall learning to be a soldier, Sergeant Bilstad left there on March 2, 1862 with his company and regiment to join the war. From then until October 1863, he was recorded as “present” with the 15th. As such he would have been at 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. Starting June 11, 1862, he departed Island No. 10 with his company and 8 of the 15th’s 10 companies to take part in a campaign through TN, MS, and AL. In August and September he would have been on the grueling 400-mile retreat led by U.S. Major General Don Carlos Buell up to Louisville, KY, with the last 2 weeks on half rations and short of water.
Sergeant Bilstad would have been present at the October 8, 1862 fighting at Perryville, Boyle County, 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 he would have 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 would have also fought at the long, cold, wet, and bloody Battle of Stones River, TN, sometimes called the Battle of Murfreesboro, at the end of December 1862. It was there that the 15th first suffered serious battle casualties, and was cited for bravery.
On January 1, 1863, Sergeant Bilstad was promoted to be the 1st Sergeant of Company H, filling the vacancy created when 1st Sergeant Martin A. Erickson was promoted to be the 15th’s Sergeant Major. 1st Sergeant was the highest non-commissioned officer (NCO) position in a Civil War company. The 1st Sergeant ran the company for the officers. At that time the officers of Company H were its commanding officer, Captain George Wilson, who had been wounded at Stone River, and its second-in-command, 1st Lieutenant Cornelius E. Williams became its 1st Lieutenant (though he remained absent with the Pioneer Corps), and Sergeant Major Erickson was promoted to be its 2nd Lieutenant. Starting June 23, 1863, the regiment took part in the brief Tullahoma campaign led by U.S. Major General William S. Rosecrans. 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 Rosecran’s Chickamauga campaign. 1st Sergeant Bilstad 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. 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 during Longstreet’s Breakthrough. Some 63% of the 15th’s soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.
1st Sergeant Bilstad would have then served with the regiment during the Confederate siege of Chattanooga, TN, which began right after the battle. The siege resulted in severe shortages of medicine, food, and firewood which, together with cold, wet weather, caused much suffering, sickness, and death. Starting October 13, 1863, he was assigned as a guard with the vital supply train from Chattanooga, TN to the Army supply base at Stevenson, AL and back. By all accounts this was a difficult and dangerous assignment. 1st Sergeant Bilstad was back with the regiment in early November 1863. He then participated with the 15th in the wildly successful Federal Army’s assault up Mission Ridge on November 25, 1863, which broke the siege and sent the Confederate Army fleeing.
Starting November 28, 1863, 1st Sergeant Bilstad was listed as sick in Chattanooga. Right after that 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. 1st Sergeant Bilstad was not back with the regiment until sometime in February 1863.
Starting in May 1864, the 15th participated in the famous campaign to capture Atlanta, GA, which was led by U.S. Major General William T. Sherman. This campaign was marked by almost daily marching and/or combat for 4 months. The 15th and 1st Sergeant Bilstad 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 who were captured and ended up in the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp. To view a list of those men and their fates, click HERE.
The 15th and 1st Sergeant Bilstad also took part in the fighting at Kenesaw Mountain on June 23 before Atlanta on July 22; Jonesboro on September 1; and Lovejoy Station on September 4, 1864 — all in GA. After a rest following the capture of Atlanta in early September 1864, the 15th was briefly assigned to Provost (police) duty in Chattanooga starting at the beginning of October 1864. This was followed by several months of guarding a railroad bridge at Whitesides, TN near Chattanooga. Many of the 15th’s soldiers felt this was the easiest duty of their entire war service.
On February 13, 1865, 1st Sergeant Bilstad was mustered out of Federal service with most of the other surviving members of Company H at Chattanooga, upon the expiration of his 3-year term of service. The men of Company H were then sent to Madison, WI, paid off, and the company disbanded.
After leaving the Army, Stener Bilstad returned to Christiana. There he resumed working the 80-acre farm that he had purchased in 1855. In 1867 he sold it to his father and moved to Jackson County, Minnesota where he acquired an 160 acre farm. In 1873 he returned to Christiana. There he became a member of the Cambridge Post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and served 2 terms as Chairman of the Cambridge Town Board. In 1880, he was living with his parents and his daughter, Nely (1846). At age 66, Stener E. Bilstad passed away of “consumption” at the home of his brother, Ole Bilstad. He was buried in the same cemetery as his parents- East Koshkonong Cemetery, WI. The dates on the stone read: “1828-1894.”
Sources: Genealogical data courtesy of his Great, Great, Grandnephew Tom Bilstad and from Tove D. Johansen; Norwegian Immigrants to the United States: A Biographical Directory, 1825-1850, Volume One, 1825-1843, Gerhard B. Naeseth (Madison, WI, 1993); Mo bygdebok; History of Dane County Wisconsin (1880); Det Femtende Regiment, Wisconsin Frivillage [The Fifteenth Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers], Ole A. Buslett (Decorah, IA, 1895); Regimental Descriptive Rolls, Volume 20, Office of the Adjutant General State of Wisconsin (Madison, WI, 1885); 1880 Census, Roll: 1421, Family History Film: 1255421, Page: 268A, Enumeration District: 063.