Nine decades before Oak Creek became a city, dozens of its young men served in the Civil War, with roughly half being killed or wounded in battle or dying of diseases in faraway places like Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia.
The year 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of when large numbers of men marched out of Oak Creek Township and into the war. Two would die in Tennessee only four months later, and seven more would be wounded in the same battle, one case eventually proving fatal.
The youngest Oak Creek soldier to die during the entire war was 17, according to the few records that are available. The oldest was 43; one of that man's sons served in the famed Iron Brigade and was wounded three times.
Oak Creek Township consisted of modern-day Oak Creek and South Milwaukee. White pioneers had arrived in the late 1830s and 1840s, at a time when Native Americans hunted and fished in the area. Wisconsin became a state in 1848, South Milwaukee incorporated as a village in 1892 and a city a few years later, and Oak Creek did not become a city until 1955.
A total of 38 men from the township served in Company K of the 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, according to "Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865," an invaluable research book that has been put online by the Wisconsin Historical Society. One of them joined in 1864, so the number from Oak Creek when the company went into the war in 1862 was 37.
The dead included two cousins – Frederick Fowle of Company K, in 1863 of wounds received in the Tennessee battle, and Royal Fowle, an artilleryman in another unit who died of disease in 1864 in Louisville, Ky. Disease was an equal-opportunity killer of Union soldiers and Confederates in the war; many units lost more men to illness than in battles.
Frederick was the son of Frederick Fowle Sr. and Electra Rawson, while Royal was the son of John Fowle Jr. and Lavina Fowle, according to Judy Balestrieri, a descendant of the Fowle clan and a mainstay of the South Milwaukee Historical Society.
They were grandsons of John Fowle Sr., who was one of the first pioneers of the area and built two sawmills on the waterway that was named Oak Creek. The soldiers' uncle, Horace Fowle (son of John Sr. and Sarah Dibley Fowle), built a Queen Anne Victorian home in 1892 that everyone today knows as the clubhouse in Grant Park.
Other local men in Company K shared last names – Edward and Kendrick Day, and John and Adam Hafer of Oak Creek, plus several pairs from Milwaukee – but it is lost to history precisely how they were related.
More men from Oak Creek served mainly in the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 35th Regiment, according to the state historical group, although a few also wound up in other units.
This series of articles on Oak Creek Patch will explore:
– The battle at Stones River, Tenn., in which the first Oak Creek men were killed. The fighting is well-known in Tennessee and books have been written about it, but other battles of the Civil War are discussed far more often in the North. The fighting on Dec. 31, 1862, marked a bloody debut for Company K and the 24th Wisconsin, and the battle over the next few days was a Confederate defeat. Two from Oak Creek were killed and Frederick Fowle received wounds that eventually would kill him. The 24th was in a battle sector that became known as the Slaughter Pen.
– The record of service by the 24th and when and how members of Company K died. Patch also will run the entire roster of Company K.
– One neighborhood that dozens of motorists drive through every hour in the heart of Oak Creek sent at least three young men into the war, one of whom was wounded and captured in the famous battle at Chickamauga, Ga., plus another died a year later of disease. The story also will include information about a little cemetery on S. Howell Avenue - which even more motorists drive past every hour - that is the final resting spot of a second veteran who was wounded and taken prisoner at Chickamauga.
- Other Oak Creek deaths in the war, including one soldier who enlisted only a week after the fighting began in 1861 and battled at renowned places like Antitetam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, and fell at Spotsylvania, Va., days after the hideous Battle of the Wilderness.
- More than 80,000 men from Wisconsin served in the war, a remarkable number from a place that had a population of only 775,000 and had been a state for only 13 years, according to the 1997 book “Wisconsin in the Civil War,” by Frank L. Klement. More than 11,000 died in battle, from wounds or from rampant illnesses.
The state's Sesquicentennial Commission is organizing current observances "to honor the legacy, service and sacrifice of Wisconsin's citizen-soldiers as well as the people left at home who raised money and provided food, animals, clothing and other goods to support the war effort."
This series in the Oak Creek Patch is by local author and historian Tom Mueller, who wrote a series of articles last spring about the men whose names adorn the city's American Legion and VFW posts: Emil Dallmann, Frederick Oelschlaeger, James Meyer and Mark Dziedzic. Dallmann was killed in World War I and is buried locally, Oelschlaeger died in World War II in New Guinea and is buried in the Philippines. Meyer and Dziedzic were killed within a month of each other in Vietnam in 1968 and are buried locally.
Mueller has written about the Ultimate Sacrifice for nearly 30 years, starting with a trip to his uncle's grave in France in 1984. He has authored three books – "The Wisconsin 3,800," about those like his uncle who are buried overseas or MIA from World War II; "Heart of the Century," about the Korean War and other news and domestic life in the years 1949 to 1951, and "Building the Bridges to Victory," about his father’s combat engineer unit in Europe in the final months of World War II.
This Civil War series, along with Mueller's articles about the men on the American Legion and VFW posts, will be part of his comprehensive book about the Ultimate Sacrifice and Wisconsin men and women, coming out in 2013.
Mueller has lived in Oak Creek since 1978 and also had a relative in the Civil War only three generations ago: Cpl. Moritz Ganser of Roxbury in Dane County, who served in the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment in 1864 and 1865, fighting mostly in Louisiana and Alabama. Ganser was the uncle of Mueller’s grandmother, who was age 3 when he died in 1895. Mueller developed this information only in the last year and a half, based on a tiny photo of a man in uniform in a complex family genealogy from the 1960s, and he urges other families to consider that their own tree could include such a war veteran if their family was in America at that time.