In addition to my admitted interests in Family, EMS, Blue Birds, Hurricane Katrina Recovery and various others subjects, for the past 50 years, I have had a deep interest in American History, more specifically, in American Civil War History.
When I was in grade school, in a small, one-room school in northern Richland County, Wisconsin, I loved to read, and read most of the books in our small school library there.
My favorite ones there, were those about history, and my absolute favorite book was about a Pony Express rider, riding in the Great Plains, from one Pony Express Station to another, which were located approximately 20 miles from each other on the route.
In my senior year in high school, I wrote a term paper for my English class, about the Battle of Gettysburg. Unknown to me at the time, was that I had a great great grandfather, Albert Harland Rolfe, from western vernon County, Wisconsin, who fought with the Union forces at Gettysburg during that awful three-day carnage, which many historians believe was the “High Tide” of the Confederacy. After that defeat, the Confederate cause seemed to go downhill.
The research sources I used for the term paper were all from our local town library, one of the many Carnegie-supported libraries in the United States. The research and reading I did on the subject, were fascinating to me, and at that point in time, I was definitely hooked on American history, especially American civil war history.
During my college years, history continued to be one of my favorite subjects of study, and I took a number of history courses that were interesting to me.
Shortly thereafter, when Blond Girl and I were living and working in western Wyoming, in the small Mormon town of Lovell, one of my co-workers suggested that I check out the vast library at the Mormon Church in town, which I did.
Upon seeing all the historical information available in and through the library there, I jumped in with both feet and spent literally several hours a week at the library, conducting geological research on my and Blond Girl’s primary family lines.
Part of the research I became attracted to and fascinated with during that time, was research about Civil War soldiers/ancestors, more specifically about Albert Harland Rolfe, and other ancestors who were in Union Service during that conflict.
Later, upon our return to Wisconsin, I continued my historical research, including research at the Wisconsin State Historical Society Library on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and research via the mail, with the National Archives, in Washington D.C., checking out civil war service and pension records.
Eventually, I discovered that I had had five great great grandfathers and one great great great grandfather who served with Unions forces in the civil war, and my wife had several great greats who served also.
I also did several oral history interviews with my great great uncle, Dr. Jean Rolfe, retired Education professor at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, concerning his father, the same Albert Harland Rolfe, who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.
By that time, my extensive research on Grandfather Rolfe had revealed that he served with Company K, 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, a regiment which was part of the famed “Iron Brigade” of the Union Army of the Potomac, from April 1862, until he was discharged in July of 1865.
The regiments making up the “Iron Brigade” were the 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantrys, the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, and the 4th U.S. Artillery. All five of the Infantry Regiments making up the First Infantry Brigade of the Union Army of the Potomac, were made up of “western men,” from the states of the Union which were then on the western edge of the U.S.
Through much of the civil war, the Union “Iron Brigade” of the Union Army of the Potomac, ended up in battle after battle in the eastern theatre of the war, fighting the famed “Stonewall Brigade,” of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, two very tough brigades who gave as well as they received.
At the Battle of Gettysburg, these two Brigades fought an incredibly bloody battle on the first day, July 1, head-to-head, directly across from one another, in which both Brigades suffered and inflicted some of the highest casualty rates of the entire war. Neither unit was the same after that battle.
The remarkable thing about his service, was that he fought with the Union Army of the Potomac through most of the terrible battles in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War, including the battles of Brawner’s Farm, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, South Mountain, Antietem, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Richmond, St. Petersburg, and others, without being wounded or killed, until April 1, 1865, when he was finally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks, south of St. Petersburg, Virginia, just 9 days before Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox. By that time, there were only a few men in that Company and Regiment who were in the original “muster in” of the unit in April 1861.
During the past 30 years, I have been privileged to have visited a number of Civil War battle field sites, including Malvern Hill, Gettysburg, South Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, Manassas, Brawner’s Farm, Cedar Creek, Richmond, St. Petersburg, Five Forks, Appomattox, Shiloh, Corinth, Tupelo, Brice’s Cross Roads, and Vicksburg – which due to my mission work in Mississippi over the years, I have been able to visit and explore 8 times. Blond Girl and I both had ancestor Union soldiers at Vicksburg, with Grant and the Union Army.
Approximately 15 years ago, I became a Civil War Reenactor, and a member of the same unit my great great grandfather Rolfe was in back then, a modern day reenactor unit, Company K, 6th Wisconsin Voluntary Infantry.
Ironically, almost all of the reenactors in Company K were from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with myself being the only member from Wisconsin, and the only member who actually had an ancestor who was a soldier in the original Company K.
I have several reenactor friends in Wisconsin who were born and raised there, but who reenact with Confederate infantry, cavalry and artillery units, not Union units. Over the years, I have met and become friends with a number of Confederate and Union reenactors, and I am glad to be able to call those who reenact with both sides, my friends.
Eleven years ago, along with approximately 28,000 other civil war reenactors, I was privileged to participate for 5 amazing days in the 135th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which was held on a 2000-acre ranch just a few miles from the actual battlefield.
Your author, participating in the 135th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, eleven years ago, a few miles from Gettysburg, along with some 28,000 other civil war reenactors. This image is from the Sunday, the final day of the 5-day reenactment, and shows your author and other members of the “Black Hat Battalion” of the Union Infantry forces, waiting for the charge from across the mile-wide valley, of the 12,000+ Confederate Infantry forces of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, under the command of Gen. George Pickett, reenacting the famous “Pickett’s Charge”, the final battle of the 3-day event. The 12,000+ Rebel soldiers, a full-scale charge, can be seen across the valley, as they march out of the tree line to begin their fateful charge. Only a small number of the Rebel forces actually survived the doomed, mile-long, march, to actually make it to the stone wall, behind which the Union Infantry and Artillery, waited.
I will always remember those 5 incredible days and nights, and someday, do a post about the experience.
For the past 8-9 years, I have continued my connection with civil war reenacting, but moved from reenacting as a Union soldier, into a medical role, serving as the volunteer Coordinator of the Event EMS Response Team at the Annual Boscobel, Wisconsin Muskets and Memories Civil War Weekend held the first weekend of August, each summer in southwestern Wisconsin.
I enjoyed reenacting as a soldier, trying to get a little better perspective of what it might have been like during the civil war for those who fought there, and helping to educate others about soldiering in the civil war, during my portrayal of my great great grandfather Rolfe, in the Iron Brigade of the Union Army of the Potomac.
I believe most civil war reenactors today, do it because they love history, enjoy it as a hobby, honor those on both sides who thought, rightly or wrongly, that their cause was just, and enjoy helping educate others about what happened back then in that terrible tragedy of American history.
I don’t see myself as reenacting as an infantry soldier anymore in my life, as I don’t really want to put my body through that kind of physical torment anymore. Perhaps it might be fun to do a reenactment with an artillery battery, though. I would like to see my sons try reenacting some day, but that will be their decision.
For now, I will continue to participate in the annual Boscobel event, helping to keep the participants there as safe as possible.
Group image of the Boscobel Muskets and Memories Civil War Weekend Event volunteer EMS Response Team, at the 2007 reenactment event, which provided continuous, on-site, emergency medical response all through the weekend. Your author is standing, second row, far left.
During the daily battles on Saturday and Sunday afternoons of this huge event, the EMS Response Team rings the battle field with EMS Teams, and also send several EMTs and Paramedics, in uniform, out on the battle field with the troops, to be that much closer should any reenactor become injured or ill during the battle.
The EMS Response Team at the Boscobel civil war reenactment always sends several of our medical crew volunteers, including these two fellows with canvas ice water buckets, right out onto the reenactment battle field during battles, outfitted in military uniforms or lab coats, to be as close as possible to where battle field accidents and injuries might occur during the battle sequences. The rest of the EMS Response Team are located around the battle field during the battle sequences, ready for immediate response to emergencies occurring on the field.
The Boscobel Civil War Weekend is one of the largest civil war reenactments in the midwest, with approximately 1000+ reenactors participating annually, including 30+ big guns (artillery), 60-80 cavalry, the rest Confederate and Union infantry.
During the Boscobel Civil War Weekend reenactments, EMS response to battlefield emergencies is always immediate and effective, as it was for this heat stroke emergency near the end of a recent Boscobel reenactment. EMS Response Team members include, from lower left: second soldier-blue coated- a paramedic, woman in period dress – EMT, second blue-coated soldier to her right, with white canvas emergency bag – EMT, three additional EMTs in safety yellow t-shirts, provide emergency care to a reenactor patient.
This Boscobel event has been regularly characterized as one of the top ten events of its kind in the entire country. Proudly, I can relate that our EMS Response Team is second to none in the U.S. in its presence and role at such an event.
I look forward to participating with our volunteer EMS Response Team during the first weekend of August in Boscobel (only 9 weeks from now), including with my youngest son, whose middle name, interestingly enough, happens to be Rolfe, named after his great great great grandfather.
This year at the Boscobel Civil War Weekend event, the Saturday battle will commemorate the Battle of Second Manassas (Second Bull Run), while Sunday’s event, will feature Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, on April 9, 1865.
If you are in the neighborhood of Boscobel that first weekend in August, stop by for an interesting look back in history.