Below are a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the 15th Wisconsin, linked to answers.
One of the great myths about the 15th is that a large number of its soldiers were named Ole Olson. It’s a great, stereotypical story. However, a review of Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Volume 1, Madison, Wisconsin, 1886) reveals that the 15th had 128 men whose first name was Ole, 75 men whose last name was Olson, Olsen, or Oleson, but just 15 whose names were Ole Olson, Ole Olsen, or Ole Oleson.
It is said that about 90% of the 15th’s soldiers were born in Norway.
According to Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin, the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment’s original strength at its 1862 muster-in was 801 officers and enlisted men. During its 3 years service the 15th gained 97 soldiers by recruitment, 1 by substitution, and 7 veterans for a total of 906 officers and enlisted men who served in the regiment at some point. All of the 15th’s soldiers were volunteers, none were draftees, though 1 was a paid substitute. Of the 906 who served, the 15th Wisconsin lost the following.
267 (30%) by death from disease and battle.
204 (23%) discharged from the service, almost all for physical disabilities.
47 (5%) by transfer to other units, including the Veterans Reserve Corps, or to the Navy.
46 (5%) by desertion, some of whom were later shown to have been lawfully discharged.
22 (2%) recorded as missing, some of whom were later shown to have been discharged or died while prisoners of war.
Just 320 officers and enlisted men (35% of the 906) were still in the 15th when it mustered out of the Federal Army after 3 years.
The 15th was known as the “Scandinavian Regiment” because its soldiers were almost all immigrants who had been born in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. While there were many ethnic units in the Civil War, and many Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes served in the Federal Army (some even in the Confederate Army), the 15th Wisconsin was the only Scandinavian regiment in either. And while most Civil War units were raised in a single state, the 15th’s soldiers were drawn from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Like many ethnic units, commands were given in both English and the predominant ethnic tongue, in this case Norwegian. The 15th Wisconsin enjoyed a reputation for bravery under fire and has a distinguished battle record. During its 3 years’ service approximately 1 out of every 3 of its soldiers died of disease or battle wounds, nearly 50 of them as captives at the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. In Quiner’s The Military History of Wisconsin, the 15th Wisconsin is described as “one of the bravest and most efficient regiments that Wisconsin has sent to the field.“ (p. 631)
Here is an overview. Additional information is available in the History section of this web site.
1861. The 15th Wisconsin was formed in response to the Federal defeat at the first Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, and the desire of prominent members in Wisconsin’s Norwegian-born population to raise a regiment of their own. Recruitment began in September 1861 and Governor Harvey of Wisconsin appointed Hans C. Heg to command the regiment. In December individual companies began arriving at Camp Randall, in Madison, Wisconsin, for training.
1862. The 15th Wisconsin finished its training, received its flags, and was mustered into Federal service in late February. In early March it left for the war, arriving a few weeks later at Island No. 10, Tennessee, in the Mississippi River, which it occupied in April after its defenders surrendered. Before the island fell, the 15th went on a quick raid to Union City, Tennessee, where it helped surprise and route Confederate forces. In June the 15th left 2 companies to guard Island No. 10 and went on campaign through Western Tennessee, and Northern Mississippi and Alabama under Generals Mitchell and Rosecrans. In August it joined the Army of the Cumberland, with which it would remain for virtually the rest of the war. From August 21st to September 26, 1862, it was part of General Buell’s grueling 400 mile retreat from Iuka, Mississippi to Louisville, Kentucky. It then participated in the bloody Battle of Perryville (Chaplin Hills), Kentucky, on October 8th, miraculously emerging without a single man killed. In November the 15th marched to Nashville, Tennessee, under General William S. Rosecrans. Just before the Battle of Stone(s) River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee, the 15th charged a Confederate artillery battery and captured a cannon. During the December 30-31 battle, Colonel Heg and the 15th distinguished themselves with hard, sacrificial fighting, suffering a large number of casualties, including Lieutenant Colonel David McKee who was killed in action.
1863. In May, Colonel Heg was assigned to lead the 15th’s brigade and Lieutenant Colonel Ole C. Johnson (Skipness) assumed command of the 15th. That Summer it served under General Rosecrans on his grueling, but successful invasion of East Tennessee and capture of Chattanooga. In late August the 15th made a daring and successful early morning assault over the Tennessee River in pontoon boats, becoming the first regiment to cross. At the September 19-20 Federal defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, the 15th suffered very high casualties, including the death of Colonel Heg and the capture of Lieutenant Colonel Johnson. All of the 15th’s regimental officers were killed, disabled, or captured, leaving Captain Mons Grinager of Company K in command. The 15th was so decimated that only the timely arrival of the 2 companies from Island No. 10 kept it from being merged into another regiment. After their arrival the 15th was commanded by Captain John A. Gordon of Company G. The regiment then suffered through the food and fuel shortages of the Confederate siege of Chattanooga. In late November the 15th took part in the unplanned, but wildly successful assault up Mission(ary) Ridge that broke the siege and sent the Confederate Army fleeing. Right after this Major George Wilson returned and assumed command. After the assault the 15th was immediately dispatched under General William T. Sherman to help rescue Federal forces at Knoxville, Tennessee. This effort saw the 15th march back and forth over the desolate Tennessee hills in freezing December weather with scanty rations and inadequate, worn-out clothing. This experience greatly demoralized the 15th’s soldiers.
1864. Because they had previously agreed to reenlist as veteran volunteers and extend their term of service from 3 years to the duration of the war, the 15th’s soldiers were scheduled for a 30 day furlough at home starting in January. This was to be the first opportunity to go home that most had had in 2 years. However, the Army kept postponing the furlough and moving the 15th from place to place for 2 months. In disgust, all but a few of the 15th’s soldiers decided not to reenlist. In March the 15th did guard duty at Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. Starting in May the 15th participated in General Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. During this campaign the 15th fought in Georgia at Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Kenesaw Mountain, and at Pickett’s Mill (often mistakenly referred to as Dallas or New Hope Church) where it suffered 50% casualties. In July Lieutenant Colonel Ole C. Johnson resumed command, having escaped from Confederate guards and walked for a month to reach Federal lines. In August the 15th helped lay siege to Atlanta and then in early September it helped defeat the Confederates at Jonesboro, which forced them to abandon Atlanta. During the campaign the 15th marched and skirmished with the enemy almost every day. After camping outside Atlanta for most of September, the 15th was ordered north to Chattanooga where it performed Provost (police) duty until mid-October. The regiment was then ordered to guard railroad bridges between Chattanooga and Whitesides, Tennessee, where it was based until mustered out of service. In December muster out began with its first recruited companies.
1865. As each company mustered out, it was sent to Madison, Wisconsin, paid off, disbanded, and the men released to their homes. During the muster out process the 15th’s recruits and veterans were temporarily transferred to Company H. When Co. H was mustered out in mid-February, the 15th Wisconsin ceased to exist. Its recruits and veterans were then transferred to the 24th Wisconsin to serve out their remaining terms. As the war ran down to its end in early April, the 15th’s soldiers who were prisoners of war and still alive began to be released from Confederate prisons. In ones and twos they were mustered out, paid off, and sent home. Shortly after the war ended the 24th Wisconsin was mustered out and the 15th’s remaining recruits and veterans were transferred to the 13th Wisconsin. Finally, in June, the 13th was mustered out and the last of the 15th’s soldiers were paid off and sent home.
The 15th suffered its largest losses at Stone(s) River, Chickamauga, and Pickett’s Mill.
The Battle of Stone(s) River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee, December 30-31, 1862, was not the 15th’s first battle, but it was the first where it suffered a large number of casualties. The regiment went into the fight on the right wing of the Federal Army with 17 officers and 290 enlisted men under the command of Colonel Hans C. Heg. On the afternoon of the 30th the 15th advanced behind a strong skirmish line commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David McKee. The 15th drove the enemy back to the area around the house of Mrs. William Smith before severe artillery fire and the withdrawal of other Federal regiments forced it to retreat slowly back. That night the 15th suffered through the December cold without camp fires, shelter, or food. Their losses on the first day were 6 killed and 35 wounded. Early the next morning the 15th was caught up in the massive Confederate attack on the Federal right. Only by careful firing and brave maneuvers was the 15th able to conduct a series of fighting withdrawals, starting near the Grissom house and ending at the railroad cut where General Rosecrans stopped the enemy with massed cannons and infantry. The 15th’s losses over the 2 days were 15 killed, including Lieutenant Colonel McKee, 70 wounded, and 34 missing for a total of 110 casualties (36% of the original 307). It was later learned that most of the missing had been captured. The 15th had just 197 officers and enlisted men left by the end of the battle. For their bravery, Colonel Heg was cited in dispatches and several of the 15th’s soldiers were later awarded the rank of Brevet Captain.
The Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 19-20, 1863, was where the 15th Wisconsin was virtually destroyed during this, the second bloodiest battle of the American Civil War, and a huge Federal defeat. The 15th went into the fighting on the right wing of the Federal Army with 176 officers and enlisted men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ole C. Johnson. On the afternoon of the 19th it fought hard, often at very close range, in the area around Viniard’s Farm. Late in the day the 15th was heavily engaged with Confederate forces in front when it was mistakenly fired upon from behind by a Federal regiment. To escape the galling crossfire, Johnson ordered the 15th to disperse. Though its soldiers joined other units and fought on, this was the end of the 15th as an organized unit on the first day. In 4 hours it had suffered nearly 50% casualties. In addition, Colonel Hans C. Heg was mortally wounded leading his brigade. The next morning the 15th, with only some 90 officers and enlisted men left, was posted in reserve. When Wood’s Division was mistakenly withdrawn from the Federal lines, the 15th was hastily ordered into the gap just as Confederate forces under General Longstreet attacked en mass. The 15th stood its ground briefly before being flanked and forced to flee to avoid capture. Johnson and a number of others stayed too long and were taken prisoner. The next morning just 75 officers and enlisted men answered roll call (43% of the original 176). All of the regimental officers had been killed, disabled by wounds, or captured. The 15th would have ceased to exist as a separate unit had it not been for the subsequent arrival of the 2 companies that had been left behind at Island No. 10; their numbers more than doubled the size of the regiment. For their bravery at the battle several of the 15th’s soldiers were later awarded the rank of Brevet Captain. [Note: the 15th Wisconsin at Viniard’s Farm was recreated at the September 1999 reenactment of the Battle of Chickamauga as reported in the Reenacting section of this web site.]
The Battle of Pickett’s Mill, Georgia (often mistakenly referred to as Dallas or New Hope Church), May 27, 1864, during General Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, was such a severe and embarrassing defeat that Sherman skipped over it in his autobiography. Despite the desperate and futile nature of the attack, the regiment, under the command of Major George Wilson, charged to within 15 yards of the Confederate entrenchments. There it lay exposed for several hours, exchanging musket fire at point blank range until out of ammunition. At dusk the 15th was ordered to withdraw. While doing so the enemy charged, capturing some of the 15th, including many of the wounded. Those captured were sent to the infamous Andersonville Prison, where most died before the war ended 11 months later. The 15th’s casualties in this 7 hour fight included 10 killed and 39 wounded. For their bravery, several of the 15th’s soldiers were later awarded the rank of Brevet Captain.
The last surviving member of the 15th Wisconsin is often identified as Private Louis Rolfson of Company C. In an interview printed in the Milwaukee Journal newspaper on January 22, 1933, Rolfson stated there were 4 surviving members of the 15th at the 1926 unveiling of Colonel Heg’s statue in Madison, Wisconsin, but that he was the only one still alive by the 1931 unveiling of an identical statue in the Town of Norway, Racine County, Wisconsin, near where Colonel Heg is buried. Rolfson died in 1936 just before his 95th birthday and is buried near Colonel Heg’s grave. He was survived by Private Andrew Torkildson of Company I, who passed away January 26, 1938, near the Town of Glenwood, Pope County, State of Minnesota, at 95 years of age. Surviving him was Private Syver A. Anderson of Company B who lived until December 24, 1938, when he passed away at the Town of Cove, State of Oregon, and was buried at the Town of Dawson, Lac Qui Parle County, Minnesota. At the time of his death at age 96 Anderson was said to be the last living Civil War veteran in Lac Qui Parle County. At this time we do not know for certain who the last surviving member of the 15th was.
Some of the other long-lived members of the 15th include those who attended the 1917 Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and Scandinavian Veterans Association reunion in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to Rolfson and Anderson, they included: Otto F. Steen of Company K from Wahoo, Nebraska; Anon Kjelavig of Company E from Blanchardville, Wisconsin; A. Tofte of Company B from Pine City, Minnesota; Thorkild A. Rossing of Company E from Decorah, Iowa; Joseph Mathisen of Company B from Evansville, Minnesota; Edlen P. Sime of Company H from Madison, Wisconsin; and Nils J. Gilbert of Company A from Eleva, Wisconsin. To see a photo of these veterans at the 1917 reunion, click HERE.
Sergeant Otto F. Steen of Winneshiek County, Iowa, is said to have become the youngest soldier in the 15th when he enlisted in Company K at age 16. He was known as “the Baby of the Regiment.” In July, 1862, he was promoted to Corporal at age 16 1/2, becoming the youngest Corporal in the regiment and, he claimed, the youngest Corporal in the entire US Army. Later Steen was the only non-commissioned officer (NCO) left standing in Company K after the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. In April, 1864, he was promoted to Sergeant, becoming the youngest Sergeant in the regiment. The next month Sergeant Steen was captured at the Battle of Picketts Mill, Georgia. Steen then spent 5 months in the infamous Andersonville Prison where he was tasked with carrying the dead out of the stockade each morning. He stated that during his time at Andersonville not a single man who got sick survived. Sergeant Steen was later transferred to a series of other Confederate prison camps before being paroled in North Carolina in February, 1865. Upon his release he was described as looking like “a bunch of skin and bones.” However, Steen survived the experience and lived to be 84 years old.
It is impossible to list them all in a FAQ, much less do any of them justice, but here are 3 who played prominent roles in the 15th.
Hans Christian Heg. He was born in 1829 in Lier, near Drammen, and came to Wisconsin in 1840 at age 10, settling at Lake Muskego, now Norway Township, in Racine County. He spent a year panning for gold in California before returning to Wisconsin and marrying. He became fluent in English and was an early member of the then new Republican party (started in Ripon, Wisconsin), sharing its firm anti-slavery view. In 1859 he was the first Norwegian elected to a statewide office, Prison Commissioner, earning a reputation as a pragmatic reformer. In 1861 he resigned to accept the Governor’s appointment as Colonel in command of the then forming 15th Wisconsin. He was 31 years old and his only prior military experience was in the Wisconsin Militia (a forerunner of the state’s National Guard). After distinguished service at Stone(‘s) River, Colonel Heg was assigned to lead the 15th’s brigade. Colonel Heg died of wounds sustained while leading his brigade on September 19, 1863, at Chickamauga, Georgia, becoming, at age 33, the highest ranked Wisconsin officer killed in the war. He is buried in Norway, Racine County, Wisconsin, and his statue is on the grounds of the State Capitol.
Ole C. Johnson (Skipness). He was born in 1838 at Skipness Tavern, Holla, Telemark, and came to Wisconsin at age 6, settling near Whitewater. He was a 24 years old school teacher living in Stoughton and studying law at Beloit College when he joined the 15th and helped recruit Company B. He had no prior military experience. Starting as Captain of Co. B, he was promoted to Major and Lieutenant Colonel of the 15th, which he took command of when Colonel Heg left to run the 15th’s brigade. He was captured at Chickamauga, Georgia, September 20, 1863, and held for 8 months, mostly in the infamous Libby Prison. In May 1864 he escaped Confederates guarding a prison train and walked for a month to Federal lines. In July he resumed command of the 15th, leading it till it finished mustering out in February 1865. Afterwards he was appointed by Wisconsin’s Governor as Colonel of the 53rd Wisconsin. After the war he married and was elected Wisconsin’s Immigration Commissioner and then Mayor of Beloit. He was also a partner in an agricultural implements manufacturing firm in Beloit and later a banker in what is now South Dakota. He died in Beloit in 1886 at age 48.
Stephen Oliver Himoe. He was born in Norway in 1832 and came to Wisconsin at age 14, settling at Norway Township, Racine County. He was a brother-in-law and close friend of Hans Heg. As a young man he taught school and worked in the Platteville, Wisconsin, Post Office. He attended the National Medical College in Washington, DC, and then the St. Louis Medical College, in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1856. After interning for a year in Arkansas, Himoe married Hans Heg’s sister and moved to Mapleton, Bourbon County, Kansas, where they were living when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Before then though, his anti-slavery sentiments motivated him to volunteer as the Surgeon of the 6th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, then engaged in fighting with pro-slavery partisans. In November, 1861, Heg, now Colonel of the 15th, got Governor Randall of Wisconsin to appointment Himoe as the regiment’s Surgeon. He was 29 years old. In the Army he earned a reputation as an excellent physician and his efforts saved the lives of many soldiers. He and Heg were close friends and usually tented together. When Heg was promoted to command of the 15th’s brigade, he appointed Himoe as Brigade Surgeon. As such he had the unenviable task of attending to Colonel Heg as he lay dying at Chickamauga. Shortly afterwards Himoe resigned from the Army. He returned to Kansas where he spent the rest of his life working as a physician. He died in 1904 at age 72 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Robert “Bob” Cheatham was one of several African-Americans who enlisted in the 15th. He joined at Winchester, Tennessee, in August 1863, serving in Company K as an African Undercook. At enlistment he was 21 years old, had brown eyes, curly hair, a dark complexion, stood 5 feet 10 inches, and listed his occupation as servant. Since his name is the same as that of a prominent Confederate General, there is a good chance that this was not his original name. Several African Americans were associated with, but not enlisted members of, the 15th Wisconsin. Perhaps the best known was Peter D. Thomas, an escaped slave who worked as a servant for 1st Lieutenant Charles Nelson of Company G. Thomas subsequently enlisted in the 18th US Colored Infantry. After the war he made his way to Beloit, Wisconsin, where he attended school. Later Thomas settled in Racine, Wisconsin, where he became the elected County Coroner.
The 15th’s first Major (the person who was third-in-command of the regiment) was a 38 year old Dane named Carl M. Reese (Riise) who had served in the Danish Army and was working as a newspaper reporter in Madison, Wisconsin when the war broke out. One of the officers who served as the 15th’s Adjutant was Lieutenant Hans Borchsenius, born at Næstved in 1832. Company B was commanded for most of the war by Captain Joseph Mathiesen, who was born in Copenhagen in 1840 and went through the war without a scratch. 2nd Lieutenant Niels Johnson of Company C was born in Bylderup, Slesvig, Denmark in 1832. 2nd Lieutenant Martin Russell (Morten Rasmussen Skafte) of Company I was born at Stillinge, Halsted Sogn, Lolland. Danes who served in the 15th as enlisted men included Private Jens Anderson (Andersen) born at Kundby Sogn in 1839, Sergeant Lars Hannibal (Hannibalsen) born 1822 at Fuglse, Lolland, and Private Soren Pederson (Peterson) born near Lestrup, Zeeland, in 1834. Perhaps the most famous Dane in the 15th was its first spiritual leader, Chaplain Claus Lauritz Clausen, born at Ærö, Fyen stift in 1820. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery who spent part of his youth in Norway before coming to America and founding several Norwegian Lutheran churches in Wisconsin and Iowa.
It is not possible to list all of the 15th’s soldiers who were recognized for bravery, much less do any of them justice in a FAQ, but here are a few who were awarded the honorary rank of Brevet Captain for their bravery. [Note: this list is not all-inclusive.]
Sergeant Ole K. Hanson of Company A from Boone County, Illinois, was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Pickett’s Mill, Georgia, May 27, 1864, where he was wounded 5 times and taken prisoner. In the 15th’s histories he is referred to as “the bravest man in the regiment.” He survived his wounds, and an extended imprisonment in the infamous Andersonville Prison, only to die after the war in a farm accident.
Corporal Albert Emmonson of Company C from Norway Township, Racine County, Wisconsin, was cited for “distinguished personal gallantry” at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 20, 1863. He survived to muster out with the rest of his company in December 1864.
Corporal James Overson (Oversen) of Company C from Norway Township, Racine County, Wisconsin, was cited for “distinguished gallantry” at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 20, 1863. He was severely wounded at the battle, leading to his disability discharge from the Army on August 9, 1864.
Private Ole Bendixsen of Company D from Columbia County, Wisconsin, was cited for “conspicuous gallantry” during the October 8, 1862, Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. There he was confined to the regimental hospital, but when he heard that the 15th was ordered into the fight he grabbed his rifle and joined his company for the battle.
Private Jens Hanson of Company K from Calumet County, Wisconsin, was cited for “conspicuous gallantry” for rescuing the 15th’s national flag from capture at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 19-20, 1863, where he was later taken prisoner. He died of chronic diarrhea in Andersonville Prison, Georgia, on June 23, 1864.
Private Sivert Pederson of Company K from Winneshiek County, Iowa, was cited for “distinguished gallantry” at the Battle of Stone River, Tennessee, December 31, 1862. He was subsequently captured at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 1863, and died of chronic diarrhea in Andersonville Prison, Georgia, on September 5, 1864.
Wagoner Torry Larson of Company F from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, was cited for “distinguished gallantry” at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, September 19, 1863. He survived the war, got married, had 7 children, and lived until 1926, becoming one of the very last 15th veterans to pass away.
Most of the 15th’s soldiers who were living in Illinois at the time they enlisted served in Company A which was recruited from the Scandinavian communities in the City of Chicago and in Boone County in northern Illinois. Most of the officers of Company A were from Chicago, including Captain Andrew Torkildson, 1st Lieutenants Emanuel Engelstad and Henry Siegel (Henrik Ziegler), and 2nd Lieutenant Oliver Thompson (Ole Thorbjørnsen). The 15th’s Hospital Steward, Anthon O. Oyen, who was captured at Chickamauga and survived a stay in the infamous Andersonville Prison, was also from Chicago, as was one of the regiment’s Commissary Sergeants, John Gysler. Some of the soldiers in Company A were from Boone County, including: Private Ole Anderson who was taken prisoner at Stone(‘s) River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee, and Private Henry Ellingsen who was mortally wounded there; Sergeant Ole K. Hanson who received the rank of Brevet Captain for gallantry at Pickett’s Mill, Georgia, May 27, 1864, where he was wounded 5 times and taken prisoner, but survived Andersonville Prison and the war; Privates Thomas Sampson and Samuel Sampson who enlisted the same day and died of disease within a week of each other at Island No. 10, Tennessee; and Private Oliver Stall (Stoll) who survived his 3 year service to muster out in December 1864 with the rest of Company A.
Most of the 15th’s soldiers who were living in the state of Iowa at the time they enlisted served in either Company H or Company K (with more in the latter). Those in Company H were from Clermont, Decorah, and Elgin, Iowa. They included, but were not limited to: Private Gulbrand Christianson of Clermont who was mortally wounded at Atlanta, Georgia, in August 1864; Private Frants Christopherson of Clermont who was died of disease April 1862 at Island No. 10, Tennessee; Privates Christian Ellingson of Decorah and Ole Iverson of Elgin who were transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps (V.R.C.) due to disabilities; Private Ole S. Houghness of Clermont who was captured at Picketts Mill, Georgia, and died in the infamous Andersonville Prison in January 1865; and Private Aslak Sivertson of Decorah who survived the war to muster out with Company H in February 1865. Those in Company K were from Emmett, Mitchell, North, Winneshiek, and Worth Counties, Iowa. They included, but were not limited to: 2nd Lieutenant John E. Irgens of St. Ansgar who resigned September 1862; Private Iver G. Dahl of Worth County who was captured at Chickamauga, Georgia, and died March 1864 in prison at Richmond, Virginia; Private Sivert Pederson from Winneshiek County who was promoted to Brevet Captain for gallantry at the Battle of Stone(‘s) River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee, on December 31, 1862; and Private Otto F. Steen of Winneshiek County, the youngest soldier in the 15th, who was captured at Pickett’s Mill, Georgia, and survived Andersonville.
The largest number of the men who were living in Minnesota at the time they joined the 15th served in Company K. A few also served in Company E and in Company I. Some of the Minnesota men in Company K included: Captain Mons Grinager of Freeborn County who was wounded at Stone(‘s) River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee, but survived to muster out with Company K in December 1864; Private Helge Erickson of Fillmore County who died of disease at Jackson, Tennessee, September 26, 1862; Sergeant Jens Jacobson (Jakobson) from Freeborn County who was captured at Chickamauga, Georgia, and died of disease as a prisoner of war at Richmond, Virginia, on February 16, 1864; and Private Johannes Martinson of Mower County who was killed at Stone(‘s) River, on December 30, 1862. Some of the Minnesota men in Company E included: Private Ole Erickson of Arendahl who died of disease at Nashville, Tennessee, on Valentine’s Day 1864; Private Syvert K. Foss of St. Peters who was discharged from the Army for physical disabilities on July 15, 1863; and Private August Moller from Rushford who survived to muster out with Company E in December 1864. Some of the Minnesota men in Company I were: Private Iver Olson of Albert Lea who was wounded at Bald Knob, Tennessee, dying of his wounds at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in September 1864; and Private Ole H. Ruste of Mitchell County who, when Company E mustered out in February 1865, transferred to the 24th Wisconsin to complete his 3 year term of service.
Kiler K. Jones served as the 15th’s first Lieutenant Colonel (the person who was second-in-command of the regiment). Jones was from Chicago and married to a Norwegian. Unfortunately, Jones became intensely disliked by many of the 15th’s officers and men and was forced out of the Army after only a few months. Company G was led by Captain John A. Gordon, who had been born at Orono in the State of Maine. Company I was led for a time by Captain William Montgomery. Both men were living in Beloit, Wisconsin, when the 15th was formed.
The highest ranked non-Scandinavian was David McKee who served as the 15th’s second Lieutenant Colonel (the number two job in the regiment). McKee was from Scotland, but married to a Norwegian. He served as the Captain of Company C in the 2nd Wisconsin before being appointed to the 15th by the Governor (a double jump in rank). McKee was killed in action at Stone(‘s) River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee, December 31, 1862. George Wilson, who began as a 2nd Lieutenant and later became the 15th’s Major (third in command), was born in 1836 at Hamburg, Germany, of English parents and lived for 9 years in Norway before coming to America in 1858. He was a 24 year old accountant in Madison, Wisconsin, when he joined the 15th. Wilson was severely wounded at Chickamauga, Georgia, but recovered enough to command the regiment for 8 months while Lieutenant Colonel Johnson was a prisoner. The 15th’s second Surgeon, A. F. St. Sure Lindsfeldt, was a Laplander and a French Army veteran of the Crimean War.
The highest ranked Swedish born officer in the 15th was Captain Carl Gustafson who commanded Company F Gustafson, who was considered to be the best swordsman in the regiment, was born at Ulrichshamm, Alvsborgs lan in 1823. He had served in the Swedish Army and as a volunteer with the US Army during the Mexican War. He was wounded leading his company at Stone(‘s) River, Tennessee, and captured at Chickamauga, Georgia, later escaping and returning to the 15th safely. 2nd Lieutenant Johan P. Stromer, who was said to have been the victim of numerous pranks at the hands of the Norwegians, served for a time in Company K.
Despite its uniqueness and excellent combat record, the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment is barely remembered today. In part this is because most of the histories about it were written in Norwegian, as were most of the surviving letters and diaries penned by its soldiers. It is also because the regimental and company order books, which recorded the day-to-day activities, have not been found. The end result is that the 15th has been little researched, written, or spoken about outside of the Scandinavian-American community. The 15th Wisconsin web site is designed to lessen this undeserved obscurity.