The Forty-second Infantry was organized at Camp Randall, Madison, and mustered into service September 7th, 1864. The first person to enlist into the 42nd Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers was John S. Lynch of Beloit Wisconsin. His enlistment took place on August 2, 1864. John was later assigned to Company "H" and made the rank of Sergeant in that company.
Prior to the general enlistment of the men of the 42nd, the senior officers were gathered together for the organization of the 42nd Wisconsin. Colonel Sprague, Lt. Colonel Botkin, Major Blake, Adjutant Howes, Quartermaster Blackman and Surgeon Winch all received their respective ranks and the duty to organize the 42nd on July 29, 1864.
Erza Thompson Sprague, having been promoted to Colonel of the 42nd on July 29th, 1864, had been in service to the Union since September 1861. He had enlisted into the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, making the rank of sergeant. Later transferred to the 8th Wisconsin Infantry with the rank of 1st Lt. Adjutant. Erza Sprague also served as a 1st Lt. AAG on the staff of Brig. General Joseph B. Plummer. With the same rank and position he also worked on the staff of Brig. General Joseph A. Mowes, then on Brig. General Alexander Asboth’s staff before being promoted to Colonel of the 42nd Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers. When the 42nd was mustered out of service, June 20, 1865, Colonel Erza Sprague was promoted to Bvt. Brig. General., United States Volunteers, for meritorious services during the war.
Lt. Colonel Botkin had also been in the field since the early part of the war, in the Twelfth Wisconsin Infantry, first as lieutenant and then as captain. The lieutenants of the 42nd Wisconsin were all appointed for meritorious services, from the ranks of regiments in the field. The men were of the most substantial class of citizens either volunteer for the first time for service in the Union or had reenlist after serving their commitment to other regiments in the field, becoming Volunteer Vets within the ranks of the 42nd.
The ten companies recruited their enlisted men in the following counties:
Company A was recruited in Waupaca County;
Company B, in Richland;
Company C, from near Lodi, in Columbia and Dane Counties;
Company D, in Grant, from Boscobel and vicinity;
Company E, was from Oshkosh;
Company F, from Green and Dodge Counties;
Company G, from Jefferson and Waupaca;
Company H, from Rock;
Company I, principally from Vernon; and
Company K, from Dane and Dodge Counties.
The enlisted men were gathered together at Camp Randall where the regiment drilled and prepared in anticipation of their first assignment of active duty. On September 17, 1864 the 42nd Wisconsin left Camp Randall for Cairo, Illinois. The regiment traveled to Cairo by way of Chicago. The 42nd arrived in Chicago at 12 o’clock (it is presently unclear as to the time of day, and the exact date the 42nd arrived in Chicago) and camped until morning where they boarded a train of cattle cars on the Illinois Central Railroad. The whole trip took two days to reach Cairo, taking into account the stay over in Chicago, the number of times the train would stop for fuel or water and time for the traveling soldier to stretch his legs from riding in the freight cars, they made good time. The 42nd arrived in Cairo on the evening of the 19th of September and bunked on the ground. The barracks assigned to the 42nd were occupied by the garrison/provost unit still on duty in Cairo, the 139th Illinois Infantry Volunteers.
On September 22nd Colonel Sprague was placed in command of that post, and Lieutenant Colonel Botkin took command of the regiment, which was employed in the performance of garrison and provost duty. The weather at this time of year was wet as described in a letter written by Ed Richmond, the Principle Musician for the 42nd, to his uncle by the name of Ira Smith of West Point, Wisconsin. Ed reveals what the 42nd was doing as well in his letter, a portion is repeated here, "…It has been and is quite rainy and wet here, and we can’t find a great deal to do only write letters and music." Ed describes the activities of the 42nd, "…and now I will tell you what we are doing, and that is Post Duty. It is requisite that this place as well as others on the boarder should be guarded not only from attacks of guerrillas, which are both sides of us, but to keep quiet and peace in the surrounding country, and this 42nd regiment is stationed here for a while at lease for that purpose."
Early in October, the regiment was reviewed by the visiting Governor Lewis, of Wisconsin. Captain George M. Humphrey, of Company C, was appointed assistant inspector general and chief ordnance officer of the post held by the 42nd in Cairo, Illinois. Capt. Humphrey had charge of Fort Defiance, which sat at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at the southern most tip of both Cairo and the State of Illinois, and had the direction of the repairs which were then being made upon it.
Fortification on the levee at Fort Defiance, Cairo, Illinois
October 15th, Companies A, F, D, I, and C, under Lieutenant Colonel Botkin, were sent to Columbus, Kentucky, to assist in defending that place against confederate guerrilla activity in the area. Ed Richmond makes a quick note of this movement in a letter dated October 15th ,1864 to his sister, "…half of our regiment have been ordered to go no to the boat armed and equipped. I have this minute seen them march on, our company is with them, they expect to be gone two or three days near as I can get at it - they are going down the river about 25 miles to take some guerrillas who are constantly firing into steam boats that are passing up and down the river…."
Not ten days later was to show another major troop movement for the men of the 42nd Wisconsin. On October 25th, two dispatches were sent out of Springfield, Illinois. The first, sent from Brigadier General John Cook to Captain C. H. Potter Assistant Adjutant General, Cincinnati, Ohio;
Have just received information that 2,000 of Prices’ men are threatening Adams and Hancock [counties]. I consider this reliable, have ordered five companies from Cairo to report to me here for service in that locality.
The second dispatch was special Order #245 dated Head Quarters Post of Cairo October 25, 1864. This order sent Major John W. Blake, Asst. Surgeon J. P. Clement, Sergeant Major Fogo and five companies to the 42nd Wisconsin to Springfield, Illinois. The following five companies assigned to this detail were Companies B, E, G, H, and K. They arrived in the Illinois State Capital on October 27, 1864.Company B was assigned to provost duty in the city, Captain Chase of that company being appointed provost marshal.
After November 1st. four of the five companies stationed in Springfield were sent to various locations throughout Southern Illinois. Company G, under the command of Captain Porter, was ordered to Marshall, Illinois, Company E was stationed at Camp Butler just outside the city of Springfield, Company H was sent briefly to Addison Illinois, and Company K was sent to Livingston Illinois.
Part of the duties assigned to these companies were to comply to General Hooker’s general order, upon his taking over the Northern Department on October 1st. 1864, "..to do their best in enforcing the draft, forwarding the men to the field, safekeeping prisoners and protecting depots and public property." In addition to the above mentioned statement these companies were to search for deserters.
November brought only one company relocation, Company H that was stationed in addison was redirected and sent to Olney, Illinois. The reason for this movement is still under investigation. During the early part of winter, December 1864, the companies stationed at Springfield were attacked by the small pox, and several men died with that disease. On Christmas the members of Company E (at Camp Butler)were made glad by tokens of remembrance from their lady friends at home in Wrightstown, Brown County, in the form of a sumptuous Christmas dinner.
Sometime after the New Year, two of these detached companies, Company E and K, rejoined the regiment at Cairo. Company G was relocated from Marshall to Camp Butler. Company spent just a short time in Cairo before being sent to Chicago in February. Early in February, 1865, General A.J. Smith’s corps came down the Tennessee on their way to the lower Mississippi, and as they stopped at Cairo, some riotous and pillaging soldiers were promptly arrested, and taught better conduct, by Major Blake, then provost marshal of Cairo.
March brought all of the detached companies back to Cairo except for Company B, which remained it’s status as provost unit in Springfield. April brought on an event in the Capital city that involve the 42nd Wisconsin, Lincoln’s assassination. The celebration of the war’s end came to an abrupt en on April 15th, 1865, with news of President Lincoln’s death. Within a couple of days, Company B was notified that it will be included in the Honor Guard and funeral, accompanied with the 24th Michigan,14th Iowa,146th Illinois and 23rd Regiment of the Veterans Reserve Corp. The Honor Guard began special drilling for the detail they were to serve in. The uniforms were cleaned and brass polished, the drill was of a slow-step with arms reversed. The other duties performed by the 42nd included soldiers stationed to maintain order along the streets as passer-byes of thousands entered Springfield to pay their last respects to the fallen President. Guards were posted at the tomb and entrance to the Oak Ridge Cemetery to keep out the curious as well as potential Southern-sympathizing vandals. After Lincoln’s funeral, Company B rejoined the regiment in Cairo.
The regiment remained at Cairo, performing provost and guard duty, until June, 1865.
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