“If This is War” – Book Notes

Notes from “If This Is War”
Gary Van Kauwenbergh

I recently reread Alan Gaff’s book, “If This Is War”, and thought I’d share the notes I made on some items I thought were interesting. When reading the notes, bear in mind this book only covers the period of time when the unit began forming in late April of 1861 until shortly after the battle of Bull’s Run, which was fought on July 21 of that year.

1. Scott’s vs. Hardee’s: Gaff says the companies did start using Scott’s when they began forming at Camp Randall, but mixed in Hardee’s so quickly that within 2-3 months, were using nothing but Hardee’s. The unit was still wearing gray when they switched completely to Hardee’s. Gaff makes five references to the drill manuals the 2d Wisconsin used to train with.

A. Page 301. [While at Camp Randall]: “The Second Wisconsin began its military training with the officers reading from General Winfield Scott’s Infantry Tactics.”
B. Page 98. [Early June, 1861, still at Camp Randall]: “The companies were drilled during the day after their commanders had spent the evenings mastering the intricacies of Winfield Scott’s Infantry Tactics, first published in 1840, and W.J. Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, originally printed in 1855.”
C. Page 155. [After reaching Virginia]: “Although the tactics of Scott and Hardee were both in vogue, Scott’s manual was gradually superseded and one of the Badgers could claim, “We are drilling Hardee altogether, every movement being made in double quick time, a change which is liked very much.””
D. Page 303. July 2, 1861: “…after the regiment reached General McDowell’s Army…the use of Scott’s manual was gradually replaced by William J Hardee’s Rifle and Light Infantry Tactic, until one Badger wrote on July 2, “We are drilling Hardee altogether.””
E. Page 293. [August 4, 1861, After Bull’s Run]: “…with the arrival of [Col Edgar] O’Connor [as commander], the regimental drill was officially changed from Scott to Hardee.”

2. Muskets:
A. Page 129. June 22, 1861: “that evening seven hundred and eighty Harpers Ferry muskets, with 40 rounds of buckshot were distributed equally throughout the regiment.
B. Page 145. “By he afternoon of July 1[, 1861], the entire regiment was armed with Harpers Ferry flintlock muskets that bad been altered to the percussion system.
C. Page 303. “… it was not until the Second Wisconsin marched into Virginia on July 2 that every soldier had his own musket.
D. Page 161. “Captain Colwell’s Company B was issued eighty-four new Springfield rifled muskets on July 13[, 1861].”
E. Page 284: On July 23, after the battle, President Lincoln and Governor Randall review the unit, and the muskets are pronounced “unacceptable.”

3. Miscellaneous:
A. Page 117: “Each man carried a knapsack bearing his company letter, a haversack and a three pint canteen covered with flannel.”
B. Music in camp, page 105: “Every night when the campfires were blazing there would be groups of men gathered around amateur musicians playing the jewsharp, the bones, the banjo, the tambourine, the guitar or violin, (“drawing the tail of a horse across the bowels of a cat” as the boys liked to call it.)”
C. Numerous references are made to the oppressive heat, and men suffering from heat stroke during the battle of Bull’s Run. Even though the unit had newly issued gray cotton uniform available, but the unit wore their older gray wool uniforms during the battle. “The gray summer uniforms were left in camp because it was felt the soldiers needed the old wool clothes to keep warm in the cool nights.” (Page 165)
D. The original flagstaff on the regimental national colors was broken by a cannon ball that took of the head of color bearer (page 197.) During the retreat, the colors would have been captured by confederate horsemen, except for the efforts of two musicians who threw down their instruments in defense of the colors (page 237.) The first regimental flag was not presented to the unit until after the battle (pages 288-289.)
E. Page 69. Cpt. Allen sings “The Star Spangled Banner” at a rally in Mineral Point on May 4, 1861. The song is not yet the recognized as our national anthem.

4. Humorous Quotes:
A. Page 106. “The folks in Racine were disturbed by the news that the boys of their company “played cards, drank whisky and stole chickens [on] Sundays.”
B. Page 135, from Cpt. Tom Allen, concerning the regimental band: “…our brass band afforded us daily exhibitions of tunes of excruciating melody, and of marching time, to which no man, except a broken-legged cripple, could possibly keep step.”
C. Page 146. “[A member of Company K], while on picket, shot a cow that failed to answer his challenge.”