2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment

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2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment
Flag of Wisconsin.svg
ActiveJune 11, 1861 – July 2, 1864
CountryUnited States
EngagementsAmerican Civil War
ColonelS. Park Coon
ColonelEdgar O'Connor
ColonelLucius Fairchild
ColonelJohn Mansfield

The 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. It spent most of the war as a member of the famous Iron Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. It suffered the largest number of casualties as a percentage of its total enlistment of any Union Army unit in the war.[1]: 65 


Following the Battle of Fort Sumter, on April 16, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. Pursuant to that proclamation, the War Department requested each state provide a certain number of regiments of volunteers—they requested one regiment from the state of Wisconsin. However, following Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randall's call to arms, 36 companies of men were enrolled to volunteer for the war effort—enough for more than three regiments. The Second Wisconsin Infantry Regiment was the second unit created from these original volunteer companies. The regiment was organized at Camp Randall, in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily composed of companies from Madison, Racine, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, and La Crosse.

Governor Randall appointed 41-year-old S. Park Coon colonel of the new regiment—Coon was a native of New York, had served as Wisconsin's 2nd Attorney General, and was an influential Milwaukee County Democrat. The lieutenant colonel, Henry W. Peck, was from Ohio and had graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1851—Peck provided some professional military experience and training, versus the political appointee Coon.[2]: 5 

The regiment formally mustered into federal service on June 11, 1861.[3]: 438  Although President Lincoln's original request was for three-month volunteers, by June the need had become apparent for longer enlistments, and the 2nd Wisconsin was mustered as a three-year regiment.[2]: 4 


Field officers of the 2nd Wisconsin Vol. Infantry, photographed at a camp in northern Virginia circa 1862. The officers seated, from left, are surgeon A. J. Ward, Major Thomas S. Allen, Lt. Colonel Lucius Fairchild, and Colonel Edgar O'Connor.

The regiment was transported to Washington, D.C., and saw its first combat at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 in a brigade under William T. Sherman. Due to some of the men were state militia grey uniforms, the 2nd Wisconsin received some friendly fire from Union troops mistaking them for Confederates. Coon, never comfortable in his role as a military man, resigned July 30 to return to politics. Peck and the major also resigned, all were considered victims of the regiment's poor performance at Bull Run.[2]: 10  Three new field officers replaced them—Col. Edgar O'Connor, Lt. Col. Fairchild, and Maj. Thomas S. Allen. The appointment of O'Connor, married to a Southern woman and an outspoken Democrat, was met with sharp criticism in Wisconsin's media, particularly in the Republican newspapers. He would prove to be a brave and competent leader, however, and was killed in action in Virginia in late summer 1862.[2]: 11  Lt. Col. Fairchild was promoted to the rank of full colonel on September 8, 1862, to become the third commander of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers.

The regiment suffered severe casualties during the 1862 Northern Virginia Campaign, fighting against Stonewall Jackson's Confederates at the Battle of Groveton, and seeing more action at the Second Battle of Bull Run. During the subsequent Maryland Campaign, the 2nd Wisconsin attacked Turner's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, and then again took high casualties in the Cornfield at Antietam.

Perhaps the regiment's finest hour came at Gettysburg, where it lost 77% of its strength (233 casualties out of 302 effectives) in stubborn fighting on McPherson's Ridge during the Iron Brigade's lengthy action on July 1, 1863.[4]: 239  Colonel Fairchild lost an arm due to severe wound, and most of the line officers went down as well. The regiment reformed on Culp's Hill and entrenched for the rest of the battle. Although the 2nd Wisconsin was able to replenish some of its losses, it was never the same fighting force again. It later served in the Bristoe and Mine Run campaigns. The final campaign for the 2nd Wisconsin was Grant's bloody Overland Campaign.

With the regiment's original three-year enlistments expiring on June 11, 1864, those who chose not to re-enlist were sent back to Madison, with the final company mustering out on July 2, 1864. Newer recruits and re-enlisted veterans were restructured into a battalion of two companies, first under the command of Captain Dennis B. Dailey, then under Lt. Albert T. Morgan, and finally Lt. Henry Naegly. The battalion participated in the Siege of Petersburg—suffering several more casualties during that campaign—until they were ultimately consolidated into the 6th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment on November 30, 1864.

Total enlistments and casualties[edit]

The 2nd Wisconsin Infantry initially mustered 1,051 men and later recruited an additional 152 men, for a total of 1,203 men.[5] The regiment lost 10 officers and 228 enlisted men killed in action or who later died of their wounds, plus another 77 enlisted men who died of disease, for a total of 315 fatalities.[6]


Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dawes, Rufus R. (1890). Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers. Marietta, Ohio: E. R. Alderman & Sons. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Nolan, Alan T. (1994). The Iron Brigade: A Military History. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-20863-7.
  3. ^ Quiner, Edwin B. (1866). "Regimental History – Second Infantry". The Military History of Wisconsin. Chicago: Clarke & Co. pp. 438–482. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  4. ^ Busey, John W.; Martin, David G. (1994). Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg. Hightstown, New Jersey: Longstreet House. ISBN 0-944413-32-3.
  5. ^ 2nd Wisconsin Archived March 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Civil War Archive

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry - A large website with comprehensive information on the 2nd Wisconsin, as well as many other Wisconsin-based Civil War regiments and civilian life in the state during the period.
  • Wisconsin Battle Flags- A website by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation showcasing the battle flags of Wisconsin regiments, including the 2nd Wisconsin.