Old Settlers Club 1916

Early Milwaukee
Papers from the Archives of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County
Published by the Club

Wisconsin in the War with Mexico

By Henry W. Bleyer.

To write of "Wisconsin in the war with Mexico," or of "Milwaukee in the War with Mexico/* involves a distinction without a difference. Milwaukee was the real storm center of that eventful period.

When, in 1846, the news reached us that a Mexican force under Gen. Arista had engaged in battle with our troops under Gen. Taylor, we were soon at a fever heat. Capt. George at once offered the government the services of his company the Washington Guards and Capt. Meffert of the German Riflemen, was also pre-pared to place his men in the field, but the War department seemed all too slow to avail itself of our good offices in its behalf. This seeming tardiness was in a large measure due to the inadequate means of communication between the East and the West rather than to any disrespect on the part of the authorities at Washing-ton. Communication by telegraph could be carried on only as far West as Buffalo and railway mail service did not extend beyond Kalamazoo. News from Washington, when not telegraphed to Buffalo and dispatched by steamer, was usually two weeks on the way, while the mails from Mexico came to hand some four or five weeks after they had been posted. We were thus partially isolated from the rest of the country.

Under these circumstances little was known of us in the East, and perhaps less was expected of us, though our territory of 160,-000 souls had been shown to have enough brain and sinew to form several regiments of stalwart men, such as those who were associated with the Sixth United States infantry in driving Black Hawk and his savage hordes beyond the Mississippi river.

The Wisconsin Company.

The long waiting for an encouraging word from Washington wearied us into a state of such indifference about the war that Capt. George withdrew the tender of his company. Several Milwaukeeans, tiring of this inactivity, went to Illinois to volunteer their services. Others, in their zeal to serve their country, traveled to Detroit and more Eastern points, among them George A. McGarigle, who enlisted at Cincinnati, and Alexander Conse, a popular German litterateur, Herman Upman and Carl von Nekow at Alton, 111. In the meantime our territory was called upon to fur-nish a company under the president's call for troops. Through the influence of his friend Morgan L. Martin, our territorial representative at Washington, Gustavus Quarles, a popular and brilliant young lawyer of Southport, now Kenosha, was commissioned captain of this company. When he arrived here, accompanied by seven or eight of his townsmen who had resolved to follow him through thick and thin, he realized that the work of enlisting men was more arduous than he had supposed it would be. The explanation was to be found in the fact that we had a bitter but bloodless war of our own in full force. The foreign and the American elements of our community were arrayed against each other on questions involved in the drafting of a state constitution. The Germans claimed that the instrument discriminated against them in several particulars, especially in the matter of the elective franchise. The excitement became so intense that the opposing parties, while parading in torchlight procession, encountered each other and engaged in battle, their torchhandles serving as weapons. This collision so incensed the Germans that they resolved to let the Americans fight their own battles in Mexico and elsewhere, a determination which was not strictly adhered to, however, as the roster of Capt. Quarles' company indicates.

Terms of Enlistment.

Recruiting was more satisfactory on the advent of Capt. Hendrickson of the Sixth United States infantry, who posted bills to the effect that each recruit would receive a bonus of $12 on enlisting, $7 a month while in service, and a warrant for 160 acres of land or $100 in cash at the close of his term. Diedrich Upmann, J. A. Liebhaber and Lieut. Wright canvassed energetically to fill the Quarles company, Wright having opened an office in Watertown to facilitate the movement. The Milwaukee recruits, dressed in jacket uniforms of light blue, presented a creditable appearance as they marched through the streets to the music of fife and drum. They drilled almost daily on Market square, along Wisconsin street east to Milwaukee street, and at times along the bluff near a powder house situated at the head of Martin street. Their rendezvous was in Matt Cawker's large frame building opposite the City hotel, now the Kirby house, where they were very comfortably situated. On the 24th of August, 1847, Lieut. Abel W. Wright completed his enlistments at Watertown and brought his force of twenty-three men to Milwaukee in wagons. Just before his departure from that place a citizen committee consisting of Linus R. Cady, Daniel B. Whiteacre and James R. Richardson presented him with a hand-some sword and an engrossed testimonial of their appreciation of his methods as a military officer.

Departure of the Quarles Company.

The company having been brought up to its quota, its officers, Capt. Quarles and Lieutenants Upmann and Cady, busied them-selves with the preparations for an early departure. On Sunday, May 2, 1847, three signal guns announced the approach of the Steamer Louisiana, the boat commissioned to bear the volunteers down the lakes. The recruits hurried to their quarters and citizens gathered along Wisconsin street, where the Washington Guards, the German Riflemen, the mayor and the Common Council were marshaled into line by Capt. George as colonel and Capt. McManman as adjutant. After parading the principal streets of the town, the company was escorted out on the pier, where Mayor Horatio N. Wells addressed the departing volunteers and Capt. Quarles responded for them in a brief and soldierly manner. The mayor's parting words were :

"Soldiers! The step you have taken is of no trifling importance. The positions you occupy are alike honorable and responsible. You have made no slight sacrifice severed no common ties. You leave home, families and friends to go to a distant land, there to ex-change a life of comparative ease and domestic happiness for one of toil, of hardship and of danger. May you submit to all proper requirements with heroic patience meet your fate with becoming fortitude obey your superiors and discharge your several duties with honor to yourselves and with fidelity to your country, and may you bring no disgrace upon the fair escutcheon of this territory, whose shores you are now leaving. And now permit me, on behalf of the citizens of Milwaukee, to bid you and the patriotic officers and the soldiers under your command an affectionate farewell. May the god of battles guide, protect and return you to us in safety and honor."

The formalities over, the Milwaukee companies stacked their arms and mingled with the volunteers to grasp their hands once more and voice a final good-bye. The friends of Capt. Quarles and his lieutenants, of Liebhaber, Saborga, Brunst, Koerner, Schoellner and other popular Milwaukeeans, hastened to bid them farewell, husbands, brothers and lovers, in groups aside, joined in tender, tearful adieus, while those without kith or kin stood by in sym-pathetic accord with their sorrowing comrades. The bell ruthlessly warned all aboard, the hawsers were slipped, and the boat moved out and off amid the cheers of the throng.

The route of the company was to Lake Erie and thence down to the Ohio river on a canal which Byron Kilbourn had built years be-fore, to a camp at Covington, Ky., where several weeks were spent in the usual routine of a soldier's life. From this point they were conveyed down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, and after another brief stay, were shipped across the gulf of Mexico, arriving at Vera Cruz, their destination, early in June. Arms and accouterments were provided and drill in the manual of arms was steadily maintained. The company, which was designated as F, Fifteenth United States infantry, was assigned to Gen. Pillow's division of Gen. Scott's army.

Others Sent to the Front.

Affairs in Milwaukee had assumed their wonted composure when Lieut. Wright returned and renewed enlistment with such persistence that he was able at intervals to send large squads of recruits to a camp at Newport, Ky. On the 20th of September, 1847, he marched to the steamer Niagara with his last squad of the season, a force of sixty-four men. Returning before the close of navigation he resumed his work with such success that in the following Spring he had under command a fine-appearing and well-drilled body of 134 recruits. When the time came for their departure, on the 21st of April, 1848, they were escorted to the propeller Princeton by fire engine company No. 1 and a large following of citizens. Gen. Rufus King delivered the farewell address on this occasion, and Lieut. Wright replied in behalf of the volunteers.

On the 15th of June, 1848, Lieut. Wright, who had resumed charge of the office, received orders to cease enlisting under the "during the war" clause and insist upon the five-year term.

Our militia was not lost sight of during this bustle of the regular service. The state forces were organized with Dr. E. B. Wolcott as colonel, J. S. Rowland as lieutenant colonel and David George as major. The Americans of the city had formed an artillery company with Gen. King as captain, John N. Bonesteel and James Kneeland as lieutenants, and William Pitt Lynde as quarter-master. A third German company was organized a troop of dragoons with Edward Wiesner as captain and H. E. Heide and Dr. Wunderly as lieutenants.

Quarles Falls at Churubusco.

On the first of July, 1847, we received the first news of our company under Capt. Quarles. His volunteers were glad to land at Vera Cruz after their tedious trip by water. They had not long been ashore when they began to experience the assaults of an insidious foe. The dreadful coast fever had invaded their quarters. Two comrades had died and many others were in hospital during their brief sojourn at that port. About the middle of June the regiment had been ordered to the front.

Later we received news that the company had had its first baptism of fire and that it had fought valiantly from early dawn to late in the afternoon. It was at Contreras, a small fortified town, seven miles from the City of Mexico, that Capt. Quarles had the gratification of leading his men into their first regular battle. The fight, which had commenced on the previous evening, opened before the break of day, and was conducted by the Americans with the desperate valor and against the fearful odds which characterized that campaign. Capt. Quarles signalized his gallantry by a coolness and self possession worthy of an older soldier. The victorious troops were allowed but a half hour's respite, when, pushing forward, they beheld the splendid spectacle of the whole army of Mexico drawn up behind the fortress of Churubusco. The second battle of that bloody 20th of August began and ended in the afternoon. Gens. Twiggs and Worth attacked the enemy in front. Gen. Pillow's division was ordered to cross a deep marsh and fall upon their rear. The gallant Fifteenth regiment led the van and opened the battle with a spirit which soon broke and dispersed the advance column of the vaunting Mexicans. Foremost in this regiment, and excelled by none, where all were chivalric, Capt. Quarles fought and fell. The fatal bullet struck him after he had ascended part way up a slope and waved his sword to inspirit his men. Falling into the arms of his brave companion and successor in command, Lieut. Upmann, he was borne to an adjacent hacienda, where he breathed his last, after assuring Gen. Shields, his commanding general, that he was resigned to his fate that it was glorious to die on the field of battle for one's country. In the morning he had called on his colonel and requested to be assigned with his company to any post of peculiar danger, if such there might be. Col. Morgan replied that he knew of no occasion, but he would station his company at a post near the right of the regiment, where he would come early into action. He did so, and Capt. Quarles, in leading the desperate charge, fell gloriously at the head of his men.

Beside Capt. Quarles, Privates John Herrick and Moses Whitney died from the effects of wounds received at the storming of Churubusco and were buried on or near that fateful field. Three weeks later Gen. Scott entered the city of Mexico and thus practically ended the war.

The Dead and Wounded.

In all forty members of Company F were destined never to re-turn. Privates Shinewith and Mueller died in camp at Covington, Ky.; Private Barnard breathed his last on shipboard while crossing the gulf of Mexico, and the remaining thirty-seven, with the exception of Capt. Quarles, rest in the land of the Montezumas. The roll of honor runs as follows: Capt. Quarles, John Herrick and Moses Whitney at Churubusco; Enoch Benedict, Nicholas Burch, William Burnett, William Crosby, John Clark, James Davis, Amos Gooch, John Holbrook, Frederick Klauer, Charles Pratt, Martin Piper, Ernst Schubert, John Steinman, Henry Wild and John Walkin, at Pueblo; George Brock, Edward Calkins, Mathias Schnoerr and James Wright at Chapultepec; Edward Barnard at Plan del Rio; Oscar Warner at Perota; James Magone and John Bradshaw at Vera Cruz; John Wilkinson, John Ziller, John Rice,  George Gimbey, Jacob Schebely and Chase, at Guernavaca; Leonard Kissell, Frederick Koerner and John Road at the City of Mexico, and Private Gilliland at Jalapa; John Greiner, missing. Of the twenty-three whom Lieut. Wright enlisted at Watertown but six returned, J. R. Richardson, C. Gilman, T. D. White, Mc-Graw, Scott and Field.

James Magone was a public-spirited Milwaukeean who had been a member of the convention which drafted the first State constitution. He was accompanied to Mexico by his family of wife and two children. They had no sooner landed at Vera Cruz than they were prostrated by a fever that proved fatal to Magone and the children. Alexander Conze, who had enlisted at Alton, fell at Buena Vista, and in the same engagement Carl Van Nekow lost an eye and Her-man Upman was lamed for life by a wound in the knee. Privates Klein, Bastian, Frattinger, Hoehn, Metzen, Steinman, Wright, Sanger and Brunst were among the wounded at Chapultepec.

Return of the Survivors.

The few of our volunteers who survived the campaign straggled home in squads after they were paid off at New Orleans. Capt. Up-man, Liebhaber and other prominent members renewed their activities among us. Capt. Upmann when he had picked up the thread of his business was obliged to relinquish it again to accept a land registership in Minnesota. When his term expired he returned and built a hotel on Market square, which he named the St. Charles, after the famous caravansary at New Orleans, in which he had spent many happy hours. Liebhaber drifted down to Toledo, Schoellner, Brunst and others became more or less prominent in the affairs of our then young and growing city, Brunst, in later years, successfully conducting the offices of supervisor and sheriff. Not one of these is now among the living.  

Many who were known by us as veterans of that war were not among the numbed who volunteered in Milwaukee. Dr. S. Comp-ton Smith, the author of a book of Mexican war sketches entitled "Chile con Carne, and who, during the Civil war, was surgeon of the Fourth Wisconsin regiment of volunteer infantry, had joined the regular service in the East. Col. Thomas Kerr ran away from home at the age of 17 and enlisted in the Second Pennsylvania volunteers, with whom he learned the art of war to such a degree of perfection that in the Civil war he rose from the ranks to the position of colonel of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer infantry. George Phillips, a brother of ex-Mayor Phillips, belonged to a Mississippi regiment, William H. Bradford, received his commission at Cincinnati, and John C. H. von Sehlen, who after the war was for a time employed in the Milwaukee postoffice, enlisted in New York City at the age of 17, immediately after he had arrived from the old country.

Not Conspicuously Represented.

In the official enumeration of the forces which the states and territories had in the field Wisconsin is accredited with but 146 men. This number relates to the Quarles company and its reinforcement from time to time. Nearly 1,000 Badgers had enlisted for that war. Many were still on American soil when the conflict was so unexpectedly brought to a close. Capt. Hendrickson, Lieut. Wright and other officers had enrolled fully 700 men. Beside the Quarles company, which was attached to an Illinois regiment, as already stated, many volunteers were secured here to round out companies of Illinois soldiers.

View it as we may we were not very conspicuously represented in the fight with Santa Anna yet what we lacked in numbers we far more than made up in true grit. Eighteen years later, in our war of the Rebellion, Wisconsin contributed far more soldiers in defense of the Union than all the states and territories had in the field throughout our war with Mexico.

The Burial of Capt. Quarles.

An event of deep solemnity marked the close of our connection with the war beyond the Rio Grande. The remains of Capt. Quarles,  which had been shipped from Vera Cruz and placed in a vault at New Orleans, were brought home for burial. On the morning of the 27th of June, 1848, the Washington Guards, the Milwaukee Riflemen and the Milwaukee Dragoons, together with a large delegation of Odd Fellows, shipped on the steamer Ohio to pay funeral honors to the fallen hero. Shortly after their arrival at Southport, the steamer Globe landed with troops from Chicago under Col. Russell, his command including Swift's hussars, Capt. Schoeffer's riflemen and the Montgomery Guards. In the afternoon, the Odd Fellows assembled at the house of mourning, where, after the impressive burial service of the Episcopal church was read by the Rev. Frederick W. Hatch, the casket was borne to a platform in the public square.

Judge Hubbell's Oration.

Here Judge Levi Hubbell, who had been invited to discharge this sad duty, delivered the funeral oration. In the course of his eloquent tribute to the lamented dead he said:

"We have come to bury, not to praise, our dead brother. His remains were sent hither, to this, his home, by the order and at the expenses of the territory of Wisconsin. The act was designed as a mark of respect to the officer and to the service in which he was engaged. The country honors itself by honoring those who serve it. That beautiful sentiment of the Roman poet : ' 'Tis sweet and glorious to die for one's country' so appropriate to the deceased would lose its sublimity if the state did not honor those who sacrificed themselves for her sake.

"Standing on this hallowed spot, with the blue canopy of heaven arching o'er us, and the green mantle of earth spread beneath, I feel as if the kindred spirits of the universe were mingling with ours, and that they have come up hither to join us in pronouncing a fare-well blessing on these honored remains of the young and the brave. Surely, the beneficent God of Nature, smiling through all His works, is adding His blessing to the solemn rites we are here assembled to perform. Happy, indeed, would we be could we venture the hope that the willing honors and heartfelt blessings poured over this shattered corpse could reach the immortal spirit which has flown to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.

Such honors Illium to her heroes paid
And peaceful slept the mighty Hector's shade.

"You from Wisconsin will need no other watchword when the bugle sounds 'to arms !' than the magic name of Quarles the talisman of victory or death.

"You of Illinois have before you a bright and fadeless page in the history of the recent war. The flag of our country never spread its stars and stripes over better officers and soldiers than yours.

* * * "The earth closes over our departed brother. Peace, everlasting peace to his ashes. Let us cherish the memory of his virtues. Let us hallow the spot where he is buried. Let us point it out to our children as the grave of one who loved and died for his country. Let the great and the good honor it as a place conse-crated to public virtue. Let the state mark it by a monument de-noting her respect for valor and patriotism. Let all the people visit it and water it with tears, that the world may know how much Wisconsin loves her sons and mourns their untimely loss. Then will the splendid lines of England's bard be a fitting inscription on the tomb of our brother."

There is a tear for all who die,
A mourner o'er the humblest grave. But nations swell the funeral cry
And triumph weeps above the brave.

The Milwaukee military companies fired their parting volleys, the Odd Fellows dropped their sprigs of evergreen into the grave and all was over save the undying fame of him they had buried.

The civic and the military representatives of the territory had thus worthily honored the first commissioned officer of Wisconsin that ever died in the service of his country.