News of Norway, issue 4, 1999
Led by Colonel Hans Christian Heg, the 15th Wisconsin was known as the Scandinavian regiment. Though thousands of Norwegians served on both sides of the war, the 15th in the Federal Army was the only Scandinavian regiment on either side. The soldiers of the 15th were predominantly Norwegian, including Col. Heg, but there were officers and enlisted men from Denmark and Sweden as well. The soldiers of the 15th were immigrants who had settled in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The idea to include the Scandinavian regiment in the reenactment that takes place Sep. 17-19 came from Scott Meeker, a computer software salesman from Wisconsin. Meeker, who has been a Civil War reenactor for years, was working with a reenactment group in Wisconsin, piecing together parts of the 15th Wisconsin's story and reenacting it for the public in Norwegian- American communities in Wisconsin. Late in the summer of 1997, Meeker heard about the plans to reenact the Battle of Chickamauga, where the 15th suffered large losses. "I thought that it would be very special if we could arrange for the 15th to be portrayed as a part of the overall reenactment and got involved with trying to make that happen," Meeker said. In order to pitch the idea to the Chickamauga organizing committee, Meeker needed to know more about the story he was pitching. A reenactment is not the mere physical portrayal of a historical moment.
According to Meeker, the participants need to know who their characters were, what the dynamics of the regiment were like and so on. The reenactors not only paint the picture but they relive and experience a situation that took place over a hundred years ago. For an untrained eye, a reenactment might look like utter chaos, but every battle is carefully planned, in detail, years in advance.
When taking a closer look at the 15th, Meeker discovered that a lot of the 15th's history was inaccessible to him due to a language barrier, as the literature about the regiment was mostly in Norwegian. Meeker then began doing his own research. The results of his research so far can be seen at the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry web site at www.15thwisconsin.net. Meeker said that he felt this was the best way to make the material accessible to the public.
The web site offers the full history of the 15th and profiles many of the soldiers and their stories. Currently, Meeker is working on finding the personal stories and destinies of the 906 officers and enlisted men of the 15th Wisconsin. One can also find the latest news on the upcoming reenactment at Chickamauga.
There is also a help page on the web as Meeker is dependent upon information from relatives or family friends in order to piece together the story of the 15th. Currently, he is in search of the name of an unknown soldier, whose picture is displayed on the page.
The 15th Wisconsin reenactment at Chickamauga will be closed to the general public. However, a special viewing arrangement has been granted to descendants of the 15th's soldiers, a group visiting from Scandinavia and others who have a special interest in the 15th Wisconsin, according to Meeker. The special guests will get to watch the battle at the Viniard's Farm, which takes place early Saturday morning on Sep. 18.
The Battle of Chickamauga, which took place Sep. 12-20, 1863, was the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War. In 4 hours of battle, the 15th Wisconsin suffered around 50 percent casualties. When the 15th went into the fight on the right wing of the Federal Army under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Johnson, there were 176 officers and enlisted men. The morning after the battle, only 75 officers and enlisted men answered roll call. A number of the 15th's men ended up in the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp. If it hadn't been for two companies left behind at Island No. 10, which the 15th helped capture, the 15th Wisconsin would have ceased to exist. For their bravery at Chickamauga, several of the 15th's soldiers were awarded the rank of Brevet Captain.
Col. Heg, who had been crucial in recruiting the men of the Scandinavian regiment that was mustered into service on Feb. 14, 1862, at Camp Randall in Madison, Wis., was among the casualties. The popular Norwegian born officer who had emigrated to the U.S. in 1840 died in a field hospital the day after the battle.
He would never know that Major General William S. Rosencrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, had intended to promote Heg to Brigadier General. Heg was still the highest ranked Wisconsin soldier killed in the Civil War, though. Rosencrans, who was relieved of his duty as commander of the Army of the Cumberland after the defeat at Chickamauga, said of Heg: "His bravery, demonstrated in many engagements, is unquestioned. It is not however, the reckless daring of an unskilled and careless man, but the cool and determined valor of a competent, thoughtful commander. He is prudent, but not timid; deliberate, but not slow in movement. In person he is of medium size, rather slender, and with features more than ordinarily prepossessing. With the courage he has power of endurance so natural to the Scandinavian, and well calculated to share the hardships and privations of a march as he directs the movements of his command."
Heg, who was the first Norwegian elected to a Wisconsin state-wide office, was buried at the Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery near Wind Lake, Wisc.
But the 15th Wisconsin cannot only be found in Georgia this fall. The history of the Scandinavian regiment will also appear at an outdoor history museum during Southeastern Wisconsin Labor Day weekend. The event will include a reunion of descendants of the 15th's soldiers, a warm up event for the reenactors and portrayal of what life was like for the 15th Wisconsin soldiers of the Federal Army. Two weeks later, the reenactors of the 15th Wisconsin will be among some 10,000 people expected to take part at Chickamauga.
Scott Meeker can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to
3301 High Road, Middleton, WI 53562.
To learn more about the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, please visit www.15thwisconsin.net