A Closer Look
The Civil War
Wisconsin's Involvement and the 13th Regiment
Story by Teresa Nguyen
Contributions by Keighton Klos and Jim Dumke
April 16th, 1861 - Governor Randall called upon Wisconsin residents to support the war. The Janesville and southern Wisconsin area was actively involved and Rock County had the highest number of men enlisted in the Union Army.
The Civil War Memorial in Janesville, WI
Photo by Teresa Nguyen
The following is a story of bravery, of the courage freedom seekers found while escaping the bonds and cruelty of slavery and of those who helped them. It is a story of profound sacrifice made by our own soldiers fighting the rebelion of the South. It is a story of a willingness by hundreds of Wisconsin men to enlist in the 13th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, answering President Abraham Lincoln's call to serve and fight to keep our nation unified and to outlaw the cruel practice of slavery. Follow the timeline to learn about these courageous souls, our ancestors, who fought for morality in our bloodiest war, for the future of the United States of America.
The Underground Railroad
Pre-Civil War - Since the dawn of slavery of Blacks in America, enslaved people sought ways to escape their brutal captivity. Many made their way northward on a loose network called the Underground Railroad. It was a system aiding freedom seekers at stops throughout the United States, in both the North and the South, under the cover of darkness, in secret and in disguise. The conductors were mostly former enslaved men and women, like the courageous Harriet Tubman, or those who were born free. They risked everything to help fellow escapees along the routes. A smaller minority of Underground Railroad conductors were white people who saw the moral duty to help those in need, those wrongly enslaved and seeking freedom.
The system grew in response to the inhumanity and brutality of the slave system, but became increasingly necessary as the federal government passed laws hostile to Blacks in the North. The most famous of these was the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which made it legal for slave holders to come into free Northern states. It also allowed whites to send Blacks back into slavery, which was an unjust, but common occurance. The law increased the penalties for those found aiding freedom seekers, and made it increasingly difficult for accused fugitives to defend themselves.
The 2013 biographical period-drama film12 Years a Slave is a a great case study of the time period, exposing the deep, cultural struggles of our nation.
Railway terms were used to navigate the secret system; there were "lines" to take and "packages" to be received at certain "stations" by specified "conductors". In Wisconsin, more than 100 freedom seekers were helped by local residents, guided toward true liberty in the North or in Canada via the Great Lakes.
1844 - The Milton House, at 18 South Janesville Street in Milton, Wisconsin, was built by Joseph Goodrich, with the purpose of providing an inn for travelers passing through the area.
The Milton House
Photo by SMR Photography
The hexagon portion served as the stagecoach inn, while the attached block operated businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second. The frame house and log cabin behind the Inn were also built by Goodrich.
This house, which is now a museum, is the last, certified Underground Railroad station in Wisconsin that can be toured. The Goodrich family's involvement in the Underground Railroad is substantiated by oral testimony, letters, and published biographical material.
Today’s visitors to the Milton House Museum are able to explore this impactful piece of our history.
Guests can step back in time, into the same secret passageway where freedom seekers found shelter and another step closer to true freedom.
A Nation Divided
Meanwhile, back in the middle of the 19th century, the issue of slavery led to a political realignment for Wisconsin. At the core of the national, political debate; the right to own another human being, the right to make him or her a slave. Many people in the United States, both the North and South, felt that slavery was inhumane and needed to be abolished.
A fresh wave of new European immigrants, mostly Germans and Norwegians, flocked to the state of Wisconsin. They began to seek a new party that embraced free-soil and antislavery ideals. Many native-born “Yankees” from the northeastern states also felt drawn to the antislavery movement.
1859 - On his campaign trail, while running for US President, Abraham Lincoln gave an anti-slavery speech in Beloit, Wisconsin on October 1st. Janesville’s William Tallman, also an abolitionist, went to Beloit and persuaded Lincoln to come and speak in Janesville. Lincoln was offered the hospitality of Mr. Tallman’s stately home and stayed for two nights.
Actor Randy Duncan as Lincoln
April, 1861 - Lincoln entered office during the time of great division and turmoil in our nation. Only a month into his presidency, Abraham Lincoln requested troops, once the Confederacy had fired on Fort Sumter. The request was received in Wisconsin on April 15th.
The Civil War (1861 – 1865)
April 16th, 1861 - Governor Randall called upon Wisconsin residents to support the war. Wisconsin, per capita, had the most soldiers in uniform in the United States! The Janesville and southern Wisconsin area was actively involved and Rock County had the highest number of men enlisted in the Union Army.
Summer, 1861 - The large,13th Regiment of Wisconsin volunteers organized at Camp Tredway. The regiment was made up of six companies from Rock County and four from Walworth and Green counties. Camp Treadway was located at the present-day area the Rock County fairgrounds.
Milton's Annual Civil War Days
Photo by Lee Ann Hare
A map showing the far reaching range (red dots) of the 13th Regiment
January, 1862 - The regiment was mustered in the fall of ’61 and by Jan.18,1862, the regiment left the state for Leavenworth, Kansas.
After the 13th Regiment of Wisconsin moved out, three more drafts of men from the area were held in Janesville. Over 2,800 men from Rock County served in the Civil War effort.
Local farms also sold grains to the Union Army. During the war, women took over much of the laborious farm work their husbands had left behind, when they went south to fight.
The women also sewed many quilts for the troops, often with prayers or messages on them, and sent gifts southward for Wisconsin’s Union soldiers.
The 13th Regiment Joins the Southwestern Expedition
The 13th Regiment traveled as far south as New Orleans, as far east as Jonesborough (Johnson City), Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains and as far west as San Antonio, Texas. Primarily, they walked on foot, but sometimes by road, by rail or by steamboat.
From their base in Kansas the troops made their way into Arkansas, joining the Southwestern expedition. From there it traveled to Kentucky for railroad guard duty. It accompanied an expedition against Clarksville, Tennessee, routing the Confederates and capturing a quantity of army stores. It defeated the enemy at another battle before driving Confederate General Forrest's forces through western Tennessee. It marched to Stevenson, Alabama, capturing a supply depot until it was reenforced. Our soldiers assisted in the successful defense of Huntsville, Alabama, against General Forrest, and later assisted in an attack on Nashville, Tennessee. During the war, 35 men of Co. G and their Lieutenant were captured at Paint Rock River, Alabama, by a force of 400.
Local Civil War reenactor, Jim Dumke, teaches local students about medical practices and how they cared for the wounded in Milton's Civil War Days event.
Photo by Lee Ann Hare
Meanwhile, the 11th brigade traveled southward to New Orleans via the rivers, and then marched on a 145-mile journey toward San Antonio, Texas. First, they encountered sweltering temperatures, then storms came through bringing a cold front, leaving many of the men in the hospital from the freezing cold.
Near the end of the war, another group of the regiment traveled northward up the east side of the Smoky Mountains, reaching Jonesborough, Tennessee, while on their way to Virginia. But, news of the Confederate surrender halted their mission.
1865 - Richmond, Virginia fell into the hands of Union Soldiers. On April 9,1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union's Ulysses S. Grant.
There were 1,455 men enlisted in our 13th Regiment. 5 were killed in battle,188 died of disease, such as typhoid.
47 were taken as prisoners of war, 4 of them died, while captive, and 245 of the men were disabled.
Many of the fallen soldiers are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville. This area is dedicated to the “Grand Army of the Republic”.
1901 - A 56-foot-tall Civil War monument to the fallen was erected on Courthouse Hill. It was dedicated in a ceremony in 1902 to the memory of our soldiers and sailors in the “War of the Rebellion”. The monument can be seen from several blocks around and stands out beautifully against the sunset, as one gazes northwest from the Courthouse Hill area of St. Lawrence Avenue.
Every spring, just prior to Memorial Day, the Milton House holds an annual Civil War Days event with reenactments, food, activities, music and tours of the Milton House.
The Civil War Monument in front of
the old Rock County Courthouse
Actress Tatyana Covington came to the 2018 Civil War Days in Milton and portrayed a freedom seeker. She spoke of her excitement as the actor playing this role:
“I portray a character named Abigail, a runaway slave. The reason why I decided to come here was that there was no one at the time who could properly portray the true emotions of a runaway slave. I feel that being an African American, I connect very well with my history…it was really important for me to tell her story.”
Documentation of the Underground Railroad at the Milton House recently came to light again, in late 2017, through a newly uncovered letter from freedom seeker, Andrew Pratt. The letter is dated November,1863, and written to Wisconsin Governor, Edward Salomon.
Tatyana Covington portraying Abigail,
a runaway slave at Milton's Civil War Days
In the letter, Pratt asked that “a colored man” be allowed to enlist in the Union Army. Pratt unsuccessfully argued his case, “I had faithfully served in the House of Bondage all my life until 18 months within, and I hope you will not blame me for deserving to be counted a Man.”
After he had arrived in Milton as a freedom seeker, Andrew Pratt eventually came out of hiding and worked in the community.
1864 - Andrew had already become a member of the Milton Lodge, thanks to Ezra Goodrich.After being tricked into resigning from the lodge because of the color of his skin, Ezra wrote the "Negro Imbroglio" stating his opposition to the treatment of Andrew. Despite Ezra's defense, Andrew moved to Minnesota. The story of Andrew Pratt was brought to life on the stage in Milton by actor Reggie Kellum.
Actor Reggie Kellum portraying Andrew Pratt,
a freedom seeker, who came to the Underground Railroad stop at the Milton House
Abraham Lincoln was portrayed by actor, Randy Duncan, at the Civil War Days event in Milton. He had an amazing resemblance to the 16th president. His likeness and similarity in mannerisms was quite astonishing! He reflected on the issue of slavery and the Civil War:
“We just finished listening to Andrew Pratt speak of his experiences as a fellow on the Underground Railroad and how he has emancipated himself. This area has been an important part of the Underground Railroad.
For every story like that, there are hundreds of other people whose stories we don’t know. Also, I’m certain there are stories of almost as many people who have assisted those folks. To go further, we have to think of the people who wanted to escape but were unable to. Those stories are worthy of being remembered, as well.
If history were slightly different, those people would be considered property right now…all of those worthy people!”
The Civil War Days event was canceled in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Milton House Executive Director, Keighton Klos, says there are plans to bring this exciting, educational, historical event back on May 21-23 in 2021. The event will be an in person/virtual hybrid format. This will allow for safety, as well as an opportunity for all to experience the event. Watch for details to come!
Keighton Klos shared these reflections on Milton's most famous building and its meaningful mission:
"Standing as an iconic structure since 1844, and serving the Milton Community as a museum since 1954, the Milton House Museum is proud to share the abolitionist history of our site and town. Sharing the stories of the bravery and courage shown by all freedom seekers, who risked their very lives to gain something many of us take for granted, their freedom, is one of the most important roles of the Milton House Museum. The history within these walls remains as relevant today as it was over 175 years ago, as our country continues to struggle with the meaning of equality for all. We are proud to be a place that has the opportunity to tell this important history."
Upon visiting the Milton House and the Civil War Monument at the Rock County Courthouse, let us remember our rich and complex history, our reasons for involvement, our moral obligations to our fellow man, and those profound sacrifices made by our courageous, Janesville area soldiers.
Let us hope to remember the important lessons from this dark chapter in our history, as we move forward today.