Commander of Oshkosh Post No. 10, in 1887, and belonging to Post 241, (1888)
was born in Cleveland, Ohio, May 17, 1842. In 1843 his parents removed
to Milwaukee, residing there until 1851, when they fixed their residence
at Oshkosh. At the latter place the son grew to manhood and, after obtaining
a fair degree of education at the common school, he obtained employment
in Milwaukee, where he was occupied at tile date of the rebel attack on
Fort Sumter. Under the influence of the enthusiasm awakened by that historic
shot, he hastened to enroll himself as a defender of the flag. His name
was on honorable record before Governor Randall was in possession of the
authority of the general Government to raise a quota of troops from Wisconsin.
The date of his regular enlistment was April 16th, 1861, when he enrolled
for three months in Co. H, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, at Milwaukee. The command
was assigned to the Army of the Potomac, and the regiment was involved
in several actions of greater or less importance until July 2nd, when it
participated in the fight commonly designated Martinsburg in official reports,
but better known among the soldiers of the 1st Wisconsin as Falling Waters.
The regiment was detained in service until Aug. 21st, when its surviving
members received honorable discharge at Milwaukee.
To a reflective nature, even the most limited acquaintance with the responsibilities of actual war carries its lessons, and for Arnold passed a year in awaiting the progress of events. The discouraging features of that time made it apparent that the pressing exigency was for men to do and die for the restoration of a united country, if need be. About the middle of August, 1862, he enlisted as a private in Co. E, 26th Wis. Vols. He enrolled at Fond du Lac for three years service, and his regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac, 11th Corps. Mr. Arnold was made Sergeant, and passed the intermediate grades of promotion to that of 1st Lieutenant, receiving his commission in February, 1865. He was under fire at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Resaca, Dallas, Altoona Station, Peach Tree Creek, Savannah, Averysboro and Bentonville, and in numerous skirmishes and engagements of minor importance, but having all the dangerous and disagreeable features of more decided warfare. He passed through the entire period without receiving a wound, and with a brief hospital experience at Benton Barracks. In June, 1866, at the termination of hostilities, he was discharged and returned to Oshkosh.
But there are other contingencies possible in war, and Mr. Arnold was not exempt from some of the most severe. He was in the fight at Chancellorsville on the day when "Stonewall" Jackson, tile inceptor and prime spirit in the celebrated flank movement on "the right" of the splendid Army of General Howard, were drawn up in "company column" and were thus disposed when the unexpected and totally disastrous attack was made. The route was complete, but Mr. Arnold succeeded in preserving the discipline of his squad and the handful of men separated from the command, held themselves in readiness for duty. General Schurz noticed and called to them to "stand firm." There will always be a question about the generalship of that day among the disorganized soldiery, but the little squad from the 26th Wisconsin was in hot battle all through the contest.
On the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, Mr. Arnold was made prisoners of war by the 2lst Georgia Infantry, under General Early. His regiment left Emmettsburg MD., 1st to July the forces under General Meade. In reaching the suburbs of Gettysburg the roaring of the cannon told the story of the situation. The command crossed the town and were ordered at once into the fight. Their onset with the rebels took place at close range, and with such disastrous results that the order to retreat followed. (See the letters Joseph Arnold sent to his mother) In the rush, Mr. Arnold was hurled to the ground and the Major of the regiment and a comrade fell above him, both surrounded. He released himself to be greeted with an order to surrender or die. He did the former, and was marched to the rear with a crowd of other prisoners. Unseen by the guard, he contrived to secrete his revolver and, after dark, he took it apart, separating it into as many pieces as possible to prevent the rebels making use of any portion of it. He distributed the fragments among his friends and afterwards reconstructed the weapon. On the following morning, parole was offered to the prisoners, but on conclusion with the officers it was decided to reject it, as the Government discountenanced the method. Accordingly the thousands of captives of a bogus government started to march to Staunton, Va., a distance of 170 miles. The march occupied 16 days and, July 18th, they reached their point of destination, worn out with the privations and hardships they had encountered, to be stripped of their equipments. They were left to camp in the open field, without protection from the heat, rain or dew. During the next four days 3,100 men were sent to Richmond by rail. Mr. Arnold was among those who stayed at Staunton until Aug. 4th, when, with others, he was placed in a freight car loaded with human beings. On their arrival at Richmond the next morning, the officers were sent to Libby and privates were placed for a few hours in the tobacco warehouse, where there was neither light nor ventilation and the suffering was intense. They were sent thence to Belle Isle in the James River. A whole day passed without food. Then they did get it, it was meagre in the extreme. Their daily rations were about the same as at first, except when the Richmond "ladies" stole their bread on its way to them. But gradually the supply became reduced in quantity and quality, until they ate raw sweet. potatoes, corn bread, mice and rats. A dog of the premises was killed and its supposed destroyers were condemned to eat its flesh as a punishment. They did so with great satisfaction and asked for the remainder of the dog. Salt sold for 25 cents for a small spoonful. It was a common thing to see men eat the rations of sick soldiers, who had swallowed them to poor purpose. Men died hourly and no day passed without a brutal murder.
Batteries were brought into range, should the prisoners make an attempt to escape. At Christmas their numbers had been so much increased by additional prisoners that it was no longer possible for the rebels to count them, and Mr. Arnold took advantage of the fact to draw rations for the squad which he controlled making no deductions for the losses. 'Thus he drew supplies for 83 men and divided the spoils among 50 poor wretches, thereby keeping them alive. One of the horrors mentioned is, that at one time the dead lay outside of the tents unburied for 14 days. Their perishing faces were devoured by a drove of dogs, and the soldiers, unable to bear the sight any longer, appealed to the commandant at Belle Isle. Two days later the burial took place. Can it be wondered that Belle Isle was called Camp Hell and that its occupants fell into a state of existence below that of beasts? Can those who read these words imagine what joy filled the hearts of the paroled prisoners on the morning of March 7th, 1864, when their eyes saw the Stars and Stripes floating from the masthead of the truce boat, " City of New York ", and they realized that their sufferings were ended?
In December, 1883, Mr. Arnold was elected Senior Vice-Commander of Oshkosh Post, and was re-elected the year following. In December, 1885, he was elected Post Commander and was made his own successor in December, 1886.
Mr. Arnold is of unmixed German extraction, his parents, Frederick and Margaret (Mark Arnold, being of Bavarian birth. The former came to America in 1835 and the latter several years later. They were married in this country and became the parents of seven children, Joseph being the second in order of birth. The mother is yet living. The son passed some years subsequent to his return from the army in various business interests and in 1872 embarked in the enterprise which he has since prosecuted with success that of bottling mineral waters. He was married in 1869 to Matilda, daughter of Wm. and Sarah (Slack) Moss. Mrs. Arnold is of pure English descent, her parent having been born in England. The family includes a quartette of daughters - Nellie Pearl Lizzie, May, Olive Etta and Florence Moss. Mr. Arnold has served two years in the capacity of Alderman of the Second Ward of Oshkosh.
Soldier's and Citizen's Album of Biographical Records, Grand Army Publishing Co. 1888 (Wisconsin Edition) pg. 657 - 659