Today I have a piece in The American Spectator Online that expands on my earlier post here, concerning Col. Hans Christian Heg, whose statue in Madison, Wisconsin was destroyed by rioters recently.
One of my ancestors knew Abraham Lincoln. All right, that’s not strictly true. He was a collateral ancestor of mine, half-brother to my great-great grandfather. An early Norwegian settler in Illinois, he was active in the Republican Party. His obituary called him a “friend of Abraham Lincoln.” I take that to mean he was acquainted with Lincoln through party business.
But this story isn’t about him. There was nothing remarkable in an Illinois Norwegian being a Republican. You’d have had to search pretty hard to find one who wasn’t in those days. Antislavery feeling ran high among them, and they were eager volunteers for the Union Army when the war broke out.
Today’s big news in the Norwegian-American community is sadly something we might have seen coming. The Bolshevik mob in Madison, Wisconsin, in its zeal to judge people by the color of their skin, not the content of their character, has torn down, decapitated, and drowned (in Lake Monona) the memorial statue of Civil War officer and abolitionist Col. Hans Christian Heg.
Col. Heg was born in Lier, Buskerud, Norway in 1829. He came to America with his parents in 1840, spent time in the California gold fields, and then returned to Wisconsin.
A fervent opponent of slavery (like most Norwegian immigrants), he joined the Free Soil Party, and the Republicans after that, becoming the Wisconsin state prison commissioner. He was the first Norwegian-American to be elected to state-wide office in that state. As an abolitionist, he joined the Wide-Awakes, an anti-slave-catcher militia. He sheltered fellow Wisconsin abolitionist Sherman Booth, who had incited a jail break to free an arrested escaped slave.
Later in the fall several prominent Norwegian immigrants gathered in Madison, resolving then and there to organize a Scandinavian regiment to contribute to the civil war. They recommended to the governor that Hans Heg should be appointed colonel and regimental commander…. Hans Heg was a well-known figure in the immigrant community with many friends, and of course he made use of his influence. “The country which we immigrants have made our homeland has received us with friendship and hospitality. We have the same rights as those who were born here. Let us show ourselves deserving of this, and demonstrate that we are descended from the Norse heroes.” This was part of what he said in his speeches. Hans Heg came originally from Lier in Drammen, and a monument has been raised there in his honor. We find this same impressive monument outside the capitol in Madison. The monument in Lier is actually a copy of the original in Wisconsin.
The regiment participated in no less that 27 major battles. Losses were great, and the 15th Wisconsin was one of the units in the northern army to lose the most soldiers. But it was not in battle that the regiment suffered most. Many more actually died of disease than from southern bullets. Officially the regiment lost 33% of its full strength, but a notation attached to the regimental banner in the historical museum in Madison says that the total loss was all of 38%. It states that fully 345 soldiers of the regiment died, either in battle, of illness, or due to accidents. Col. Hans Heg was one of the many who never returned to his Gunhild, his beloved wife. He was killed in the great battle of Chickamauga, together with many other soldiers of the regiment. No fewer than 49 soldiers of the 15th Wisconsin died in the famed Andersonville death camp in Georgia….”
The Norwegian soldiers had a reputation for never retreating in battle, and their courage resulted in their regiment being among those regiments suffering the greatest losses in the American Civil War. (Translation mine.)
When I’m manning a bookselling table for hours on end at a Sons of Norway convention, my greatest concern is generally to have sufficient reading material. Although I do almost all my reading on my Kindle Fire nowadays, one has to consider battery life. Also, I have a few “dead tree” books I’ve been accumulating. The convention seemed a good opportunity to read one of those. And if it’s in Norwegian, it has the advantage of allowing me to show off, and who knows, maybe somebody will walk past looking for a translator.
So I chose a book called Rogalendinger i den Amerikanske Borgerkrigen (Rogalanders in the American Civil War. Rogaland is a county in Norway, from which my dad’s father’s family came). It was written by Arne Halvorsen and Mari Anne Næsheim Hall. Mari Anne is a friend of mine – she was the person who first put me in touch with Prof. Titlestad, author of Viking Legacy. She sent me a copy, and I was keen to read it.
The most renowned “Norwegian” regiment during the Civil War was the 15th Wisconsin, commanded by Col. Hans C. Heg, who was killed at Chickamauga. Wisconsin was more or less the center of Norwegian-American settlement at that point in time, but a number of other soldiers came from Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and (in lesser numbers) from other places, serving in various units. The reasons for signing up varied – many simply needed the enlistment bonuses. But many also felt honor-bound to demonstrate their loyalty to their new country – a loyalty sometimes doubted by their neighbors. And Norwegians in general were sincerely appalled by the institution of slavery (though there were some Norwegians on the other side – especially from the Norwegian settlements in Texas). Continue reading Reading report: ‘Rogalendinger i den Amerikanske Borgerkrigen’→