The escaped slave, the 21st Wisconsin and General Rousseau

Si Klegg

Jul 13, 2018
Bedford UK
As a big fan of the War in the West, I went back to a re-listen of the Oct 8th, 1862 Battle of Perryville on the Civil War - A History Podcast, rather than listen to another of the interminable Gettysburg episodes (up to episode 32 now) 😬

I heard a quite interesting aside of the preparatory dispositions for Perryville concerning the very green 21st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and their first venture to the South and thus Southern sentiments and practices, so I thought I'd share on here. Couldn't find an image of the men early war, but here's a crackin' image of Company D as Veterans on Lookout Mountain (c. 1864):


They were part of Gen Rousseau's 3rd Division in Alexander McCook's 1st Corps in Buell's Army of the Ohio. A quick google found this excellent book online at the Wisconsin Historical Society's excellent web site:

'Echoes of the Civil War as I hear them' by Michael H. Fitch (Pp55 on)

The line of march lay through Taylorsville, Bloomfield, Chaplin and Mackville. These places are unimportant aggregations of houses, stores, and shops with a few hundred people. The social element in them being colored (the only ones social with the Union troops), crowds of negroes visited the line of daily march and as many as could, visited our camps at night. At Bloomfield, the regiment remained one day, the army apparently being halted to allow the advanced cavalry to reconnoitre for the enemy, as our movements depended entirely on his.

While here three Kentucky farmers came into camp seeking a negro whom they said was in the camp of the Twenty- first Wisconsin, and after having a controversy with the men, desired the colonel commanding to deliver him to them. He declined to interfere. " We came down here to suppress a rebellion against the United States government and not to steal negroes, nor yet to be negro catchers. If your negro is in our camp, you can take him, but I shall give you no assistance in running after him."

The slave masters not liking the chilling northern aspect of the soldiers, sought division headquarters. Soon an order came down by a mounted orderly instructing that the negro should be given up, and after delivering it, unfortunately the orderly in passing out of camp stopped at a crowd of the Twenty-first Wisconsin men who were discussing the question of delivering slaves to slave masters, and entered into a controversy. The result was that the orderly soon found it convenient to hasten as fast as his horse could well carry him out of camp, with corn-cobs flying in rather close proximity about his head.

The episode was not seen from the headquarters of the regiment. The orderly immediately reported to his general (L, H. Rousseau), not the fact that outside of his duties as orderly, he was thus roughly handled, but that in passing through the camp of the twenty-first, he was stoned and driven out by the men.

This naturally aroused the impulsive passions of this fiery commander who took it as an insult to himself, and without further inquiry, he mounted his horse, had the three other regiments of the brigade, of which the twenty-first formed a part, under arms, surround the twenty-first, which he with many imprecations dire, ordered to be formed in line.

Thus standing, he addressed the twenty-first saying he would kill the man or men who attacked his orderly, and was determined to find out who it was. The colonel immediately called upon any man who had thrown at the orderly to step forward from the ranks. A half-a-dozen or more, without the least hesitation, stepped out. They were marched off to division headquarters and the parade dismissed.

In a short time thereafter the field officers waited upon the general, protested against the hasty and harsh insult upon the regiment by surrounding it with other troops. The general was informed of the facts in the case, apologized and sent the men back without punishment. The slave in the meantime had escaped out of camp and the owner did not recover him.