Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade_2nd WI

Recently I attended an American Civil War Reenactment put on by the 10th Tennessee and 2nd Wisconsin. It was not a large affair and the first year they did something like this in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Each side featured 8-9 infantry soldiers and one artillery crew each. The skirmish started out with the 8-9 Wisconsin soldiers sneaking up on a resting Confederate artillery crew. The boys in blue fired a few shots and the Reb artillerymen skedaddled to their other gun on the other side of the field. The Union boys brought along three artillery men of their own and turned their captured piece on the other Reb gun. (I’m pretty sure the artillery pieces were 10lb Parrots or maybe Rodmans. I should have asked but didn’t. Here’s a picture of a 10lb Parrot gun:

10lb Parrot Rifled Artillery

For those interested in this sort of thing the 10lb Parrot gun was more common with the North than the South although both sides used them. The other popular artillery piece was the 12lb Napoleon. The big difference in the pieces was that the Parrot was rifled and the Napoleon was not. This meant the Parrot had a much longer range that the Napoleon. On the other hand, the Napoleon was more effective when it came to close range serving as a giant shot-gun.

So back to the story. The Union boys capture one Reb gun and turn it on the other Red gun. Just then the Reb infantry (about 8-9 of them) come up and drive off the Union boys who were trying to take the second gun. The Union boys retreat to a rail fence and a firefight ensues and the Wisconsin boys get the worst of it. Just for the record my 14 month old grandson did not care for the artillery fire and broke out crying twice when the guns went off. This caused my son to skedaddle with him off the field twice. I cannot imagine what a battery of these things must have sounded like going off. A typical artillery battery would feature between 4 and 6 guns so I can hardly blame the little guy for crying.  Here he is looking very serious:

My grandson wearing the appropriate GB Packers colors.

After the skirmish the reenactors were ordered to mingle to take questions and recruit others to this fascinating hobby. Two of the boys in blue were on the same side of the field I was and they obliged me by letting me take their picture.

Union Army Soldier_John B.

This one is a private and he’s a bit generic in appearance. What I mean is he could be from just about any Union Regiment recruited for service in the Union western armies. The famous kepi was more popular in the eastern theater and slouch hats like this fellow is wearing more common in the western theater.

This fellow’s name is John and he told me he was usually a Reb in  the 10th Tennessee but the boys in blue were short so he suited up as a Yankee for the day. Follow this link to the 10th website. It’s a pretty neat outfit and I have a friend in it although he was not in Beaver Dam the day I was. John told me they were the 2nd Wisconsin for the day.

The 2nd Wisconsin was part of the famous Iron Brigade. The brigade served in the Army of the Potomac and as I recall it was the only “all western” brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Keep in mind that in those days “west” meant Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. The Iron Brigade initially consisted of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin and the 19th Indiana.  It was rounded out with attached artillery, Battery B, 4th US. The battery was armed with six 12lb Napoleons. After the bloodletting at Antietam and 2nd Manassas the brigade was brought up to strength with the addition of the 24th Michigan.

The brigade was in the forefront of the fighting on the first day of Gettysburg and took horrendous casualties losing 1200 our of roughly 1900. The Brigade got its name because they stood like iron. This fellow’s uniform is more like the Iron Brigade uniform than John’s although I’m sure more of them looked like John than Charles after a bit of campaign.

2nd Wisconsin soldier_Charles

Charles here however strikes an impressive image with the Iron Brigade’s trademark “Black Hat.” In the movie Gettysburg the first Reb General identifies the brigade to General Lee as the “Black Hat Brigade” much to Lee’s chagrin I’d imagine given their reputation and since the Rebs expected to face only militia and dismounted cavalry in Gettysburg.

Charles was quick to point out that his hat was not strictly regulation. The Iron Brigade wore the hat of US Regular Infantry and one side would have been folded up. Charles also noted that he lacked certain company ID badges. This says something about the care and eye for detail these reenactors have for their hobby.

Charles is a sergeant in the 2nd Wisconsin and I asked him how he got to be a sergeant and John answered for him and said something like you have to be voted in and have to have an eye for excellence. Kind of a neat honor then to be voted in by your reenacting peers. Way to go Charles.

I asked Charles if he was recreating an actual person because I knew some reenactors researched real people and played them. Charles said he did not because it made him uncomfortable and instead he just played a typical German immigrant who immigrated to Wisconsin ( a good part of the 2nd was raised in Milwaukee).

This comment interested me a lot. In a search of Civil War records of Wisconsin I found 6 Roeders. I cannot trace my family back to the Civil War since my direct descendants immigrated in the 1880’s from Germany. However, Milwaukee was considered a German city and many later immigrants often came to an area where they already had relatives so it is possible at least one of the Roeders in the Wisconsin Regiments is a an ancestor.

John tried a number of times to recruit my son and I to ACW reenacting. He said they even supply the equipment!!! I told him what I told my son when he told me about a recent laser tag combat he was in. I said I was too old, too crippled and a wee bit overweight but if you needed someone to hold a fort and not move I could be your man.

I admire the reenactors and their love of our history and their willingness to share their hobby usually for free. Thanks 10th Tennesse and 2nd Wisconsin for keeping history alive!

2 comments on “Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade_2nd WI

  1. I enjoyed your article on the re-enactment. I recently acquired a Lefaucheaux pinfire pistol that was picked up on the Gettysburg battlefield on July 6, 1863 by a man named A. Mosman. I have information that the second Wis. was issued some of these pistols. I am trying to find the name of the soldier who carried this gun. I have the serial no. which is 33862. Could you give me any clues as to where I might obtain this info? Any help would be appreciated. Cell phone is 660-626-5190 my name is Curtis. Thank you.

    • Hi Curtis,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve always had an interest in the Iron Brigade and Wisconsin’s role in the ACW. I am far from an expert though. I’m vaguely familiar with the Lefaucheaux because my dad worked on one many years ago and I came to understand their rarity. I had no idea that the 2nd WI was issued with any. Very interesting tidbit. The Wisconsin Historical Society maintains a roster of names of WI soldiers that served in the ACW, http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/roster/ , but I doubt they can connect a serial number with a soldier but maybe they could give you a further lead. Best wishes and good luck in your search. If you have any luck please let me know. I’d be interested in posting your search story if you’d like.

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