Breif History of the 26th

by Major Francis Lackner


        The Civil War began in April, 1861; by the time the autumn of 1862 approached, it became evident that many more troops were needed to attack or cover all the strategic points in the border states, and extending from Potomac to the Mississippi and beyond, as well as to protect the long lines of railroads and other means of communications, and when President Lincoln called for more volunteers the German-Americans of Milwaukee concluded to raise a regiment. I was then a law student in Butler & Martins office in Milwaukee, was 21 years old, and concluded with friends of my age, also including Mr. Winkler, who was some years older, to form a company. This we succeeded in doing in a short time. Many of the recruits were former scholars of Engelmann's school, others clerks, mechanics, & the balance were farmer boys recruited from Ixonia, Janesville, etc. We all entered as private soldiers, but elected later our own officers. Winkler became Captain, Hultmann 1st Lieutenant, and I, 2nd Lieutenant. The Company consisted of 100 men & 3 officers & were Company "B" 26th Regiment Wis. Vol. Infantry. The Regiment had 1000 men and 35 officers. After drilling in Milwaukee for a month or two we were sent to the front in September, 1862. Most of the Wisconsin Regiments were sent to the Western Armies in Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, etc., but we were sent to the Army of the Potomac, then lying near Fredericksburg, Va., where we joined the 3rd Brigade (Gen. Schurz) of the 11th Army Corps (Gen. Sigel).
        In November the Army marched on Fredericksburg & was defeated; we were in reserve & did not get into this disastrous battle, which should never have been fought, because there could be only one result. Then came winter quarters at Stafford Court House, Va. Constant drilling until the end of April, 1863, when the entire
        Army made an offensive movement across the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers & on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of May, 1863 was again defeated at Chancellorsville. Gen. Hooker, who then led the Army, was completely outflanked & taken by surprise; it is claimed that he was intoxicated & taken by surprise; a full account of this bloody fight is given in Mr. Schurz's Memoirs. My regiment was on the extreme right flank of the army & I was with my company in advance on the skirmish line, so that we were the first to be struck by Stonewall Jackson's battalions. We had no notice whatever that the better part of Lee's army was within a mile of us & forming itself into battle array. Our skirmish line fell back on the regiment which stood its ground as long as it could, losing many officers and men. I then was 1st Lieutenant & commanded the Company; my 2nd Lieutenant, Doerpflinger, lost his leg, & about 1/3 of the company was annihilated in this, its first, battle. The entire army was again compelled to retreat across the rivers on pontoon bridges & then hastily reorganized. Very soon after Lee marched his victorious army up the Shenandoah valley, into Pennsylvania, threatening Harrisburg & Philadelphia. We followed him on parallel lines, keeping between him and Washington; this was in June, in the most intense heat & in a cloud of dust. We marched from 20-30 miles per day. Finally on July 1, 1863, the heads of the armies came into collision at Gettysburg, Pa. The marching troops were hastily concentrated on both sides & the great battle of Gettysburg, the decisive one of the war, was fought in & around that quiet town, now historic, on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd of July, when Lee, utterly defeated, hastily retreated to the Potomac & down the Shenandoah Valley. Our regiment lost heavily on the 1st day. I believe the great majority of our officers were killed or wounded & two were taken prisoner & marched to Libby prison. They were Capt. Domschke and Lieut. Walker; the former was a journalist & after the war published his experiences during 20 months of prison life; you will find his book in our library. I was shot through the calf of the right leg, but could limp to the hospital, which had hastily been established in a little brick church, where I lay during the 2nd & 3rd of July & heard the terrific rattling of musketry & the roaring of several hundred cannon. Practically we were prisoners, as that part of Gettysburg was held by the rebels, but when they retired they had to leave us behind, as well as many of their own wounded. I even kept my infantry sword, which however was burned in the great fire in Chicago; later on, when on staff duty, I got a cavalry saber, with a steel scabbard, which I still have; this sword was at one time (Kenesaw Mountain) struck by a bullet & probably saved my life. After our army left in pursuit of Lee, the 4th of July, I was transferred to a tent on Cemetery Hill, where we lay for several days among the dead & wounded, while the surgeons were operating and amputating.
        Within a week or so, however, I received a leave of absence & went home; as I limped through East Water Street in Milwaukee I saw a crowd of people before a newspaper office, reading & discussing the list of dead and wounded, my own name on the list; the crowd followed me to the nearby St. Charles Hotel where I held a little reception, but unfortunately could not answer all the questions of the anxious fathers and mothers as to the fate of their sons. At that time my parents lived about 14 miles from Milwaukee near Port Washington & one of the family friends insisted on taking me home in his buggy. In about six weeks my wound was sufficiently healed to enable me to return to my regiment, which I found again near Fredericksburg, Va. Very soon after this event our entire Army Corps was transferred to Chattanooga to relieve Rosecrans, who was being besieged & whose communications with Nashville, his source of supplies, was cut off. We came by the Balimore & Ohio RR in freight cars, lying on the floor spoon fashion at night. I forgot to say that by that time I had become Captain of my Company, many senior officers of my Reg't. having been killed or disabled & the older ones having resigned.
        We drove the rebels from the railroad & marched towards Chattanooga with supplies; the night before we reached there we were attacked by Gen. Longstreet; there was much confusion in the darkness, but the rebels were finally defeated & driven up Lookout Mountain, where they had come from; this called the battle of Wauhatchie, or Lookout Valley. After Gettysburg we were never in an unsuccessful battle & were constantly driving the enemy before us.
        On the next day we joined Rosecrans & his starving troops were fed; then Grant came from Vicksburg to take charge of the entire army there assembled & very shortly thereafter occurred the great battle of Missionary Ridge in November, 1863; we were in the line of battle but not actually engaged, as the rebel center was stormed & broken, before we on the left of the line got a chance. Our corps then immediately swung to the left & marched toward Knoxville, to relieve Burnside, there besieged, but when within 17 miles of the place, the enemy abandoned the siege & we immediately marched back to Lookout Valley where we remained during the winter of 1863-64. In the north this is still remembered as one of the coldest winters ever experienced & we too had trouble in keeping warm. During this winter the 11th & 12th Army corps were consolidated & became the 20th Army Corps, Gen. Hooker commanding. Our Regiment belonged to the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Division; the other Regiments in the Brigade were the 33rd Massachusetts, the 136th N.Y., the 20th Conn., the 55th Ohio & the 75th Ohio. The 33rd Mass. had one of the best bands in the Army & attracted much attention. After the capture of Atlanta this band gave a concert to the citizens in one of their halls. In our library is a book called the Regimental History of the 33rd Mass., in which YOU will find the programme of that concert. As this Regiment was with us to the end of the war, its history is also a history of my Regiment.
        While in Lookout Valley & during the winter, I was detached from my regiment to the staff of Gen. Schurz, who then commanded the 3rd Division, as Judge Advocate, & later on as Inspector-General of the Division, a staff position, which gave me an orderly & two horses & more comfortable quarters. I also had a clerk to write my reports - a good-natured Wurtemberger, whom I still remember for his enormous appetite, especially when sauerkraut & speck was to be had. Gen. Schurz resigned during the winter, & I then remained with his successors, first Gen. Tyndale & then Gen. Butterfield.
        In the spring of 1864, as the early flowers were showing themselves on the mountain sides, the campaign against Atlanta be-an. Our army was assembled at Chattanooga, the commander in chief being Gen. Sherman, Gen. Grant in the meantime having been called to the Army of the Potomac. Our objective point was Atlanta, the great Railroad Center of Georgia; the distance, I believe, was not over 150 miles, but it took us from the 2nd of May to the 4th of September to cover the ground & accomplish our object. The rebel army under Gen. Jos. E. Johnston had to be driven from position to position, over a hilly & partly mountainous country. We were engaged in a number of battles: Resaca, Dallas or New Hope Church, Kenesaw Mountain & perhaps others; the last was Peach Tree Creek, four miles from Atlanta, where our Regiment captured the flag of the 33rd Mississippi Regt. & was especially mentioned in the official reports. This was on the 21st of July, 1864, & from then to the 4th of September we lay in front of Atlanta, gradually encircling it, until it surrendered. Here I received a commission as Major of my Regiment, and left the staff to return to it. We were in Atlanta until the middle of November, when our whole Army abandoned it and marched southeast, through the rebel country, to Savannah. This was Sherman's great March to the sea, and, as we had little fighting, plenty to eat & glorious weather, we enjoyed it hugely. We reached Savannah about Dec. 15, and on Dec. 21, when we were getting ready to storm the town, it surrendered. Here we opened communication with our fleet & received our long delayed letters.
        After a few weeks we started on our march north through South Carolina, North Carolina & Virginia, our object being to get to Richmond from the south or rear & then capture Lee & his army. He reached Goldsboro, N.C. in the beginning of April, or end of March, 1865, & while they’re recuperating, received the news that Lee had surrendered & that Lincoln had been assassinated. Very soon after Gen Johnston, who had gathered an army in our front, also surrendered & the war was over.
        We then continued our march north, through Virginia & through Richmond, over the old battlefields of Chancellorsville & the Wilderness & finally entered Washington, thus completing the circle. In early May, 1865, we participated in the grand review in Washington, in which the armies of Grant & Sherman, with their tattered flags marched together for the last time, and then we were sent to Milwaukee there discharged; this was in May, 1865, at which time I also received a commission as Lieutenant Colonel by Brevet, signed by the President & Edwin Stanton, as Secretary of war, for gallant and meritorious services in Georgia & the Carolinas". This commission, as well as my sash, my saber, my shoulder straps and spurs, were saved in the time of the great fire & are still in my possession.
        After the war & in the summer of 1865, I came to Chicago, studied law for a while & then began to practice first under the firm of Thompson and Lackner, then for a while alone, then under the firm of Barker & Lackner, then again alone, & later on since 1889 under the firm of Lackner & Butz, and soon as Lackner, Butz & Miller.

Francis Lackner

Information by Betsy Morehouse

Toward a History of the Twenty-sixth by Francis Lackner