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Some Civil War Letters of Knute Nelson
    edited by Millard L. Gieske (Volume 23: Page 17)

Knute Nelson, for many years a leading and powerful Republican politician in Minnesota, was born, an illegitimate child, in 1842 at Evanger, district of Voss, Norway. His parents were Ingeborg Kvilekval and Helge Knutson Styve. He emigrated to the United States with his mother in 1849, reaching New York in July. The two lived briefly in Chicago at the home of John Haldorson Kvilekval, Ingeborg’s brother. Then, in 1850, Nelson’s mother married another Norwegian immigrant, Nils Olson Grøtland, who later took the surname Tangen and eventually changed that to Nelson. Soon after the marriage, the family went to Wisconsin to live, and in the spring of 1852 acquired a farm in the Norwegian Koshkonong settlement near Deerfield, in Dane County. At this time Knute took the surname of Nelson, though he was occasionally called Knute Tangen. Prior to his adoption by Nils Nelson he was known as Knute Helgeson: that is, the son of Helge Styve. In the Koshkonong settlement, young Knute experienced the trials and deprivations of frontier living. And although an aggressive youth, he was closely attached to his mother and stepfather and to William and Henry, his two half brothers, who were born in the mid-1850’s. {1} [18]

The young Nelson was both typical and atypical of the emigrant frontiersman. He had a natural curiosity about the larger world about him, and this, wedded to a quick mind and a yearning for education and economic betterment, served as the foundation for the emergence of a personality strongly attracted to public life. Still, Nelson’s first twenty years were difficult. In 1858 he entered Albion Academy, a Seventh-Day Baptist institution in Albion, Dane County, Wisconsin, and there worked for his schooling for three years. {2}

He was interrupted by the Civil War. Nelson eventually came to value the conflict as an integral element in his education. His military service proved useful to him after his entry into political contests, because of the normal popularity of the veteran. And he had an innate bluntness that he exuded to public and politician alike. He served three terms in the lower house of Congress, 1883-89; he was governor of Minnesota from 1893 until his resignation in 1895; and he was United States Senator from that time until his death in 1923. He was never defeated in an election. {3}

Nelson enlisted in the Fourth Wisconsin Volunteers late in May, 1861, one of nineteen Albion students, reflecting the intense patriotism that permeated their small campus, to join the armed forces. They began to train for military service at Racine, Wisconsin, and on July 15 left for Baltimore and the [19] beginning of federal duty. {4} The letters that Nelson soon began writing home are valuable for several reasons. They mirror the experiences of a "man from the ranks" who reflected upon the progress of the conflict and his own commitment to it. As a chronicle of war activities, they are important. Finally, they comprise an early record of the ambitions of a future politician. These letters reveal hopes and frustrations, a yearning for genuine accomplishment, personal values ("Man is remembered by his deeds") , deep loyalties to family and friends, and a strong attachment to the national cause. They disclose much about Nelson’s character and offer hints as to why he was attracted to political life.

Some fifty-six letters in the Nelson collection in the Minnesota Historical Society cover the Civil War period. A little less than half (twenty-three) were in Norwegian, most of these to his parents. The remainder, in English, were directed mainly to friends and to his half brothers. Fifteen are presented here.

Some mechanical changes have been made in editing the letters. Nelson did little paragraphing. Occasionally he ran sentences together or broke one off with a dash. Wherever the meaning and rhythm could be improved, these instances have been altered in the text. Nelson wrote Norwegian in a peculiar style, and the translated letters were subject to most of the changes. Miss Nora 0. Solum and Mr. Andrew Davidson gave valuable aid in the translations. In the English letters, modifications have been limited to supplying punctuation and paragraph breaks. Nelson wrote well in English, but his spelling, which has not been altered here, reveals the youth whose education is still incomplete.

Nelson early showed a contentment with army life and a pride in his developing physical strength. He was exuberant over the warm receptions accorded the troops as they journeyed from Wisconsin to Baltimore. He became irritated with the "many disloyal at home." Soon he expounded on the war [20] itself, stating that rebellion must be put down severely and treason ousted by force. The harshness of the conflict did not deter him, however, from giving a picturesque description of the Southern countryside. He commented dismally upon the treatment of the sick and the poor health of many comrades.

By June, 1862, Nelson was in a melancholy mood. He was concerned about the health of his parents and promised to return home (God willing) with new knowledge about the world and respect for his fellow creatures. He apparently enjoyed describing battles and skirmishes, and without visible remorse he told how the troops set a town afire as an example to other communities along the Mississippi River. He felt that he was seeing too little action. He told of the stoical spirit with which he viewed the dead and the dying. Later his wish for a real engagement in battle was fulfilled, and he lost blood in the encounter. He was wounded during the second assault upon Port Hudson, Louisiana, June 14, 1863, and taken prisoner, remaining in custody for almost a month. When Port Hudson was retaken, Nelson, who was walking with a crutch, was given a horse by a Negro so that he could ride to a hilltop and watch the surrender. Southern officers furnished their own horses, and this one had been stolen from a Confederate chaplain. Nelson became acquainted with a young Southerner named Arnold, beginning a friendship that was to be sustained for fifty years. Somewhat curiously, he proceeded to name his horse for Arnold’s Negro slave, who had aided him at the battlefield. {5}

Nineteen months later, Nelson was offered a commission in a Negro regiment, and declined it. His enlistment period was almost up, and besides, he did not feel sufficiently sympathetic to "the black man" to accept. He was convinced, nevertheless, that the former slaves, with education now available to them, would at last begin to better themselves.

Nelson was something of a fatalist but held a rather [21] pragmatic view of the universe. Religious faith was not in itself enough, he wrote his parents. "You must not forget that you have been given worldly means to use and employ against human arrogance and wrong." Death among the very young was not always to be regretted, he told his brother; a longer life might be a sadder one. As it turned out, death of the young remained a plague upon his own house during his lifetime. Of his six children, five died early; the only survivor was the first-born, Ida, who married when she was in her fifties and had no offspring. One daughter succumbed as an infant, and, seven years later, three more within a week. Nelson’s only son, Knute Henry (later Henry Knute) died of tuberculosis in 1908 at thirty-seven.


To G. Thompson, a friend at home, from Camp Utley, Racine, Wisconsin, June 24, 1861. (Translation)

Keeping a promise made before I left you folks, I will now take pen in hand for a little while and tell you about my experience of a soldier’s life. We left Fort Atkinson by steam coach the fourteenth of this month and arrived in Racine late that evening. We were immediately marched to the camp, located half a mile south of the city. I do not believe a more beautiful place is to be found in the whole state. The camp lies on a twenty-five-foot-high level along the shores of the beautiful lake [Michigan] with a thick stand of trees around it and beautiful shade trees here and there in the middle of it.

Mess is fairly good. It is like what is found in American hotels except for cake and pie. Our utensils are all of tin except the knives and forks, which are part iron and part steel. At present about a thousand men are quartered here. It is a beautiful sight to see so many men together drilling. We are billeted in big canvas tents with six men living in each tent. One puts a little hay on the ground inside the tent and when we go to bed we wrap ourselves in big, thick woolen quilts or blankets. This is our bed. Our work for the day consists of the [22] following: Morning: 4:30 reveille; 5:00-6: 00 drill; 6:00 breakfast; 8:00-9: 00 drill; 10: 00-12: 00 drill. Afternoon and evening: 12: 30 dinner; 2: 00-3:00 drill; 4:00-5:30 drill; 5:30 supper; 7:00-7:30 drill-hence, seven hours of drill every day. Great emphasis is placed on cleanliness, so we must wash our feet every morning and our whole bodies once a week. Forty men are stationed around the camp in the daytime as guards, and sixty at night. A certain number of men are drawn from each company for this purpose. Standing guard is the worst thing, particularly at night, but since the guard is off duty the following day this isn’t so hard, and now that I am used to it, I don’t mind it.

I already feel much stronger than I did two weeks ago. As for clothing (and other necessities), we have so far received only shoes and socks, towels and blankets [towls og blankets]. We expect to get the rest in about a week.

When we will leave here is as yet [un]known, but it is certain that it will be before long. As for myself, I can say that I have never felt healthier and happier than since I came here.

Excuse this awful scribbling, but when I tell you that I am writing on a board across my lap as I sit on the floor, or ground, you will not wonder at it.


The first letter to Nelson’s parents after he left Wisconsin, from Camp Dix, Baltimore, July 28, 1861. (Translation)

Now, for the first time after going so far from home, I will take pen in hand and tell you about the journey from Wisconsin and how my health has been. On July 15 we left Racine at one o’clock in the afternoon. An enormous crowd of people had gathered to bid us farewell. So we left the city, and them, in a tremendous burst of hurrahs and immediately were tray-cling full speed toward Chicago. The steam coach was our horse and a speedy one it was. On our way we again passed the cities of Kenosha and Waukegan and in these places, as in [23] Racine, men waved their hats high in the air, shouting "Hurrah!" to us as we passed. The ladies did the same with their handkerchiefs. You may know how all this cheered the soldiers. At about four o’clock we were in Chicago, where we had to change trains. We marched from the north depot through the city, across the Clark Street Bridge, to the south depot. Here an enormous crowd of people had swarmed in to see the fine-looking regiment, the likes of which Illinois does not have in this war. While I was there I saw two people I know - Ragnvald Løhne and Stark Reque - but I didn’t talk to either one. At sundown we left Chicago without haying been given so much as a cup of water.

The steam carriage traveled all night and by six o’clock in the morning we were in Toledo, Ohio. Here the people had gathered together and prepared a wonderful breakfast for us. Great quantities of good coffee, cake, pie, eggs, sandwiches, and ham were consumed by all the soldiers. Everyone ate his fill, and that was not all. The ladies also filled our haversacks for the journey. At eight o’clock we finally left these friendly people, and having changed trains we moved on to tile city of Cleveland, Ohio, which we reached at three o’clock that same afternoon. Here they gave us a wonderful dinner and they filled our canteens with coffee, the best we could have wished for.

At six o’clock we had to bid these good people good-by. And then we took the iron horse to Buffalo, New York, where we arrived at six o’clock the next morning. Here we marched through several streets of the city in full battle dress without having eaten anything since the evening before. And when they finally got us to morning mess we ate more like animals than human beings. It is unnecessary to say that we ate our fill, and had a good meal. At ten o’clock we left Buffalo and traveled south to Elmira, New York, arriving there at twelve midnight. Here we left the coaches and marched to the camp recently vacated by the New York troops. Here the ladies received us with a wonderful evening meal and filled our [24] haversacks, and we slept through the night. Before five o’clock in the morning we were already on our feet. At seven we ate breakfast.

At nine o’clock we left Elmira and traveled southward. In some places this railroad cut through mountains, crossed trestles over valleys, and passed through thick woods. Though this was Pennsylvania, the country looked as if it were Norway. At three o’clock we came to the beautiful city of Williamsport in Pennsylvania. Here we were again given an excellent dinner and had our haversacks filled with all kinds of cake and good things. We left there by railroad at five o’clock in the afternoon and at twelve o’clock midnight arrived at Harrisburg, the capital of the state of Pennsylvania. There we marched from the coaches to a grassy field, where all of us, officers and everyone else, rolled into our blankets and slept well. I can say that I have never slept more sweetly than then. Next morning we were up early, and since we had to wait for our rifles we pitched our tents and got along comfortably enough. When a soldier has pitched his tent he is at home and feels that he is living well.

The morning after I got to Harrisburg, I felt a little dizzy and feverish. Actually, I was not very well. During the three days we spent there, I ate only once, but I was not sick abed. We left the town at four o’clock Monday afternoon, July 22, for Baltimore, where we arrived at four o’clock in the morning July 23. We have been here a few days, but we expect to leave soon and move southward to the combat theater. There are now about ten thousand soldiers here. There are a great many rebels in the city but they do not dare to say or do anything. I am not feeling much better than at Harrisburg, yet I am improving and expect soon to be well again. At present it is not much warmer here than it usually is in Wisconsin, but the water is not as good as there. However, I can say that we are standing it well. I can see that [you] think it strange that I did not write when I was in Racine. When you get this you must write to me. [25]


To Nelson’s "Faraway parents," from Camp Randall, Maryland, September 12, 1861, concluding, "Yours for the duration of the war." (Translation)

Only two hours ago I received your most welcome letter. I am glad to hear that you are doing well and are in good health. It seems to me that this year the Supervisor up above has blessed you more abundantly than in years gone by. Maybe that is because you were willing to give me up for service to the country: laid your mite upon the country’s altar.

I learn from your letter that a few of the young men at home have enlisted. That is as it should be. But it surprises me very much that so few of the ones who paraded every night last fall in black coats, carrying torches high in the air on long sticks and yelling like crazy, were willing. One sees only a very few of them in the military ranks. They boasted that they could lick those Southern fire-eaters, all right. Easy. No trouble at all. But now the poor folk do not even dare come out and look the enemy in the eyes. From this we learn much that will be interesting in the future.

But enough of this. I see that that unfriendly (and often too friendly) guest, Death, has been in the neighborhood, taking away one of our dear old settlers. It brought sorrow to many. But this is the lot of all the world and one ought to consider it not as a matter for sorrow but as guidance and example.

I see that your old neighbor Brynjel has suffered an accident. Let him learn from this not to be so sure of himself. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord, as the Scripture says. May he [the Lord] take this into consideration and compensate for the hurt.

The health of the regiment is very good. Only thirty men among us are on the sick list, and only two have died from illness. We must consider this a good record in a body as large as 1,100 men.

I have been very lucky this summer, compared to years gone by. I feel so healthy and full of energy that a five-hour [26] drill is nothing; just a little fun. I cannot, like my fellow soldiers, everlastingly complain about the food. I’ll tell you, I have eaten more pork and beef, coffee and sugar every day, than I ever did at [the] Tangen [farm]. Never before have I had such good food in my mouth, nor do I expect it to happen again in the future.

We are at the same place where we were the last time I wrote. We would like very much to enter Virginia, where we could attack the enemy immediately. But Major General [John A.] Dix wants us to stop here, not because it is his wish but because the natives who live around here want it. Tomorrow we are to move onto one of nature’s more strongly fortified places. It is said that we have to carry up batteries and make our post as strong as possible in case an attack should take place. We have only half a mile to go on foot.

Finally, I will mention again that you are not to worry too much about me. I am quite able to take care of myself. Think rather of yourselves and your two little fellows. Tell them they must be diligent, and acquire understanding and wisdom. Then everything else will come to them.


To Nelson’s parents from Ship Island, Gulf of Mexico, March 31, 1862. {6} (Translated)

Little did I think a month ago that I would be so far away from you, but even though I well know it causes you anxiety I can say truthfully that it has meant great happiness and encouragement for me. First, because there is now more hope than ever before of being permitted to go into combat and meet the enemy in open battle and test our own quality as warriors. Second, we get to see and learn more of the world than by staying in one place all the time. We arrived here the twelfth of this month after a six-day sail from Fort Monroe. For me those six days were like so many months. Like the others, I was seasick; moreover, we were so jammed together that we could scarcely move from one end of the steamer to [27] the other, so you can probably imagine what the trip was like. I have never valued ground so much as when I set my foot on this island. I’ll take the solid land for mine; and let whoever will keep the sea. There are now about fifteen thousand troops here and General [Benjamin F.] Butler has arrived to take command. More troops are expected every day; our strength will reach twenty or twenty-five thousand.

The fleet, which up to now was anchored at this island, has recently left; no one knows for where. Wherever it goes we are sure to follow. We are now under marching orders, with forty-five rounds of ammunition and four-day rations, packed, to carry. Tomorrow we will be leaving this island and we are sure to be on the mainland of the cotton states within a couple of days. New Orleans and Mobile must be taken before we can expect peace, and that mission falls to this expedition. About the climate, the heat here is about like yours in midsummer; the nights, on the other hand, are chilly and require full winter blankets, as there is so much dampness that it penetrates an undergarment or coat. A bakery which has been set up and is run by soldiers supplies us with fresh bread every third day. The other day the gunboat "New London," with four hundred men on board, went across to the mainland, which is only ten miles from here. The men went on shore and found a lot of iguanas moving about in the open. They shot and killed a lot of them and came back with a good deal of fresh meat.

The health in the regiment is not as good as usual. In my company twelve are sick, but I am well and strong as a horse. I have never had a better appetite, and that is a good sign. Do not worry about me. Knute will get through the world all right. Tell my friends that I am still on my feet.


To Nelson’s parents from the arsenal at Baton Rouge, June 10, 1862, with the conclusion, "Your reforming son." (English)

Though so far from home and seperated as it were by a wall of Rebells and blood-thirsty traiters, your favored token of [28] parental affection and anxiety has not failed to reach me. How glad was I now to receive it! and although 3 weeks old, it caried me back to the old home to father and mother, yes if my bodily self was not there you may safly credit that my imagination and feelings were there.

It gave me much grief to hear that Father is slowly declining. I hope, sincerly hope that I am once more [to] be permited to see him on this side of the grave. Should it be our fate never to meet again in this life of trouble and sorow tell him, tell him for me to burry in oblivion all trouble anxiety grief and disapointment that I have caused him; it has not been premeditated, but rather accidental. Let him gauge my conduct toward him by that toward mother and he will see that if I have treated him bad, I have mother eaqualy bad; and tell him not to have to much anxiety for william and Henry, if I should be permited to return safe and sound from this war. Whatever is mine, is theirs; their cause is my cause. Tell him that this is a good school for his undutiful son. The careless reckless wild boy that left home a year ago will return home if Providence wills it, with more experience, and more thoughtful. He has at least learnt how to associate with his felow beings, he has learnt that the world is not the school house nor the narow limits of the litle farm. In short he has learnt to respect the rights of his felow-creatures and regard them as eaqual to his own. I know that I caused you much grief in leaving you as I did; but my heart dictated it and I could not otherwise. Forgive me. Forgiveness is the law of Heaven, and let it also be universaly acknowledged on earth.

You have not been able yet to secure help for the coming harvest; this is discouraging and I know that it worries you very much. What advice can I give (who can not assist) in this mater? Manifestly little or nothing, I might perhaps say, but you trust in Providence; but I know there is little consolation in this, under such circumstances, even to the most ardent professors of releigon. This only can I say: Let us hope that some of those of your neighbors who have neither [29] contributed man nor mite toward this mighty work now progressing will take in consideration your need and the cause of my absence and lend you a helping hand. Would they prove their loyality and patriotism? Would they prove that they have a heart in the strugle? How could they better do it than by such acts in their verry midts? For by aiding the needy and dependant relatives of our Countrys soldiers, they aid the country itself. This must be evident to the most selfish and ignorant. I have confidence in some of our able neighbors at least. They should bear in mind that the fortunate of today may not be the fortunate of tomorow.

At ship island I wrote you tow letters, and if I mistake not your last is the answer to my first at said place. I also sent you a line while on board the Frigate Colorado in the S.W. pass of the Mississppi. Three days after sending this communication the Fts, were taken and the fleet steamed up to New Orleans. We soon folowed it; and on the 1st of May the 4th Wisconsin and 31st Meass. Regts. entered the city and took possesion of the Coustom House and P. Ofice. The day folowing the remainder of the troops were landed. No one molested or insulted us save a few drunken Rowdies who at their own expense and our amusment would dub us "dam Yankees" or "Abe Lincoln Monkies." But they were soon cured of this. Gen. Butler has his iron grasp around them. Implicit obedience is required and enforced. No man dare now insult or speak disrespecfuly of a U. S. soldier or his flag.

Ft. Jackson is to us here, what Ft. Lafayette is to you up North. The traitorous Mayor who would not take councel or advice from Butlers proclamation was sent to Ft. Jackson and many other smaller lights with him. The ‘Delta’ the leading Rebell sheet of the city was confiscated, and sold with all its appurtanances to a U.S. Officer. The old police has been discharged and a new one of strictly loyal men organised. The poor starving population has been feed and furnished imployment. The wealthy merchants have been compelled to open their stores and shops and sell at a moderate rate and all [30] Contrabands ariving are received and provided for. In fine the city has been civilized. A Northern man can now do what would have been madness 2 years ago:pass trough any part of town safe and unmolested without arms even.

Let the country remember that no better man can be found for the Rebells of New Orleans. On the 9th of May our Regts together with the 6th Mich. starded up river escorted by a portion of the fleet. When oposite Lake Ponchartrain we landed on the left bank of the river and marched 6 mis, trough a Cypruss swamp 2/3 of that distance, and burnt 3 bridges tore up a large portion of the track and cut the Telegraph of [the] great Rail way betwen Beauregard and New Orleans. {7} This being done we proceeded up the river unmolested under the convoy of the Gunboats, to Vicksburg. The demand of the comander to surender the town was refused in the most haughty and insulting language. "They had not yet learnt what it was to surender." "The meaning of that term was unknown to them." Now the Fleet could have taken the town emediately but the troops there were insufficient to occupy and hold it; for it is conected by R. R. with Memphis Corinth Jackson and other places. Hence we together with a portion of the fleet fell back to this place. Nor would we have occupied it had not the dastardly cowards fired on the crew (who were ashore) of a solitary Gun boat left here in our abscence up river. Our Regt and the 6th Mich occupied this place alone but we wer subsequently reinforced by 3 Regts and a Battery from N.O. Before their arival we were constantly on duty I did not sleep for 3 days and nights and was nearly gone [done?] up.

We are now living better again (once more like human beings are we treated) . There are plenty yes more than I have ever before seen of blackberries at the outskirts of the town. Milk and vegatables we obtaine in any quantities in exchange for our beef Bacon coffee and bread. There are many who have [31] not seen Coffee or Flour for the last 6 months. For a pint of ground Cofee we get 6 quarts of milk notwithstanding the milk is worth 10 cents a quart. For a pound and a half of salt tough beef I have got 1/2 bushel Onions, and so on. Weel have the Rebells paid the penalty of this war, but none to much. A few Guerillas have been hovering near town, but doing no further damage than wounding the Col. of the 21st Indiana. We have captured a No. of them among them one of their Lieutenants whose plantation we burnt and destroyed, capturing him in bed.

The Sanitary [health] condition of our Regiment is very poor. But 500 of those 1100 able bodied men who left Wis. 1 year ago are now doing duty nor those over well, but this is not owing to the climate as much as to the bad treatment of both sick and well men. Understand this, I wil not relate particulars I reserve that for the fireside. My Co. No.ed [numbered] 112 men when we left home at Camp Utley. Now 45 do duty 35 on the sick book some slightly others severly. The ballance Dead or Discharged. I am in good health and tolerable tough I am reckoned one of the Kernels of the Co. in this respect. The climate agrees with me very well.


To Nelson’s parents from Vicksburg, July 8, 1862. (Translation)

The mail came yesterday but there was nothing from you, nothing from anybody. I have been waiting for a letter for a whole month, and, as it happens, in vain. What can be the reason? So far as you are concerned, I don’t know; but as for the others it is of course my own neglect about answering their letters. But if they only knew the circumstances they surely would excuse me.

You know them, but do not take time to consider that the scene of the war is not home in the house with table and chairs, and that ink and paper are not always to be had. Nor do you realize how much letters are appreciated in these areas [32] of the burning South. But never mind that ;if you only will write I will not complain.

My last letter to you was written in Baton Rouge, the capital of the state of Louisiana. I was very concerned about you when I wrote that letter. Father was worse and there were no harvest hands to be got. All I could do was hear, not act. I suppose I gave a little advice, but of what use was that? I know that money speaks more loudly than need. Where need gets one person to help, money gets ten. We have had no pay since we left Baltimore; we are expecting money every day and after Vicksburg is captured they will have time to pay us. As soon as we are paid I will send you money and this you may depend on in August. Now then, you can promise whomever you will that if they will see you through the harvest they will be given money as soon as the work is done, and sound money too. Now what farmer is there in your vicinity who can do the same? Not one. I do not believe it even of Nils Bolstad. No, on other farms they will have to wait until winter, whereas at your place they will be paid as soon as the work is done. Use this method with a pious face and see if it doesn’t succeed. But don’t mention that I advised it.

June 13 we left Baton Rouge to go to Vicksburg, a brigade :four thousand of us. This was all that General Butler could spare from his small army. Two thousand men were left behind to protect the public buildings in Baton Rouge. On our way up, at a little town called Grand Gulf, the rebels fired on our transport boats. {8} We landed and took after the enemy immediately but they fled with their cannons in great haste. We pursued them, killed two, took ten prisoners. The rest got away, as they were faster on foot than we were. We set the town on fire and burned down every house as a warning to other small towns along the river.

The inhabitants had fled before we arrived. The town was about the size of Cambridge [Wisconsin]. We are now [33] encamped outside the city of Vicksburg in full view of the rebels on one side and those [of the Union forces] on the other. Our fleet lies in the river above and below the city; [Admiral Andrew H.] Foote’s fleet above and [Admiral David G.] Farragut’s below have their iron vise around the city. They [the rebels] now have a large number of batteries and cannon and a force of sixty thousand men under General [Earl] Van Dorn of Arkansas. This is the only point of any consequence they have on the river. And this will be the scene of one of the great battles of the war. Although we have both fleets here, we have only a brigade of four thousand men, but every day we look to see a sizable addition from above [the North].

But it is neither cannon nor bayonet that will do the worst damage to this city. No, this place will remember the war against our government just as long as there are inhabitants here. Vicksburg lies on top of a bluff on the east side of a large tongue of land jutting out into the Mississippi. From a point five miles below the city it is only three fourths of a mile overland to a point ten miles above. {9} Along this line we are now at work digging a canal twelve feet wide and fifteen feet deep. As soon as this is opened, a swift stream will rush through; and since the earth is sandy and loose the canal will grow, and it is anticipated that eventually the big Mississippi with its whole family of tributaries will change its course and bypass Vicksburg.

This is the plan we are now working on and have nearly finished. We have been pretty busy for a couple of weeks. The canal runs through a wood. Here half of us have chopped and dug every day, though we have not been alone at it. We have taught slaveholders that we can make use of their slaves as well as their government can. We have picked out twelve hundred of their best slaves, who now do all the digging under our supervision. We give them the same food we have and twelve hours of work during the day. There was no trouble [34] about our doing the digging as long as the canal was dry, but now it is deep and has two feet of water in it, so it is no fun standing in water and digging and digging with the hot sun above our heads. But now we have turned all the work over to the slaves and they like it very well. The health in the regiment is no better now than when I wrote before. One of my Albion comrades died the other day. He is the third of us [Albion students to die] and the fourth in the company. My health is excellent. I have the appetite of a horse.


To Nelson’s mother, from Plaquemine, Louisiana, February 18, 1863. {10} (Translation)

From the letter that you sent with William’s, I know, of course, even though you have not said it, that you are unhappy because you have not heard from me for so long; also that you have heard that the Fourth Regiment has been in combat. To the first I can say that I have answered all letters that have come from home and that I feel certain that all letters from you have come here, as I have received the socks and Fritiof’s Saga. I sent a letter to A. Gunderson from Baton Rouge, and in it one to William, which I believe you have already received. Concerning the other [worry], namely, that we have been in combat, I can tell you what you want to hear. We have not been in combat yet, nor do we know how soon we will be. This is not much to my liking. I would prefer being in a hard battle; however, I will be satisfied with whatever happens to me in this war, if only the country comes out of this peril safe and to the satisfaction of the finest and best government on earth. Do not grieve for me. God will surely take me under his protection, not for my own sake, but for yours and the country’s. And what if I fall? I must of course die sometime and what does it matter whether I die today or tomorrow or twenty years from now? Isn’t it the end of all of [35] us? What is best and most necessary usually happens. Let’s be content with that.


To Nelson’s brother William, from the field, May 22, 1863. The letter was interrupted by the first assault on Port Hudson, and finished June 3. {11} Eleven days later Nelson was wounded and captured. (English)

A week ago I received your letter enclosing lines from A. Gunderson and mother. I was glad to hear from you; endeed I can not hear from home to often. I have writen two letters since my return from the Port Hudson expidition which I hope have before now releived you of great anxiety concerning myself. I saw that you apprehended evil in advance and pictured to yourself Knute killed or wounded on the bloody battle field. Well the fault was mine - I should not have told you ere the thing was past. I simply intended to give you early news, insted of which it proved a bane of suspense and grief. I will be more carefull in future. I am glad to learn that you have paid so much of your Debts and that in these war times to. It is more than I could expect.


I had just scratched the above when we were ordered away in great haste. I will now resume and write what I can though I hardly think it will be but a little, for marching and fighting is the order of the Day. My last letter to you was sent from Opelousas in the begining of May; since I have received two letters from you. At Opelousas we were organized into mounted Infantry capturing our own horses in the country thereabouts. On the 3 of May [General Nathaniel P.] Banks left Opelousas with his whole force save a Regt. left to guard the place, and advanced to Alexandria on the Red river 100 miles distant, where he arived on the 7th. A portion of [Admiral David D.] Porters & [Admiral] Faraguts fleet had arived 10 hours previous. The Infantry remained and rested there; [36] while the Cavalry and Mounted Infantry advanced 35 miles up the Red river persuing and scatering Gen. [Richard] Taylors retreating force. The persuit of the enemy being of little importence we returned to Alexandria, and from thence the whole force marched to Simm’s port on the Atchafalaya 10 miles from the Red river the mounted force and Baggage bringing up the rear. {12}

From this point a portion of the force were shiped on Steamers up the Atchafalaya down the Red and the Mississippi to Bayou Sara 12 miles above Port Hudson on the same side of the river: the ballance crossed the Atchafalaya* [* "Pronounced/chaf-a-la-a accent on 1st syllable." (Nelson’s note.)] thence by land to Point[e] Coupee oposite Bayou Sara, crossing over to said place. We were with this part of the force having charge of the Baggage train. On the evening of the 25th ult. we crossed the Mississippi to Bayou Sara Bivouacking there over night. By this sudden movment from the Red river[,] Banks threw half of his entire Army to the north and rear of Port Hudson forming a junction with the other portion of his Army under Gen [Christopher C.] Augur from the south and below the enemy, thus investing Port Hudson completely by land from River to river. Augur had advanced from Baton Rouge on the 20th ult. and had advanced to and gained possesion of the Clinton road in the left rear of the enemy when the junction was affected. On the 25th the junction was complete. The country from Brashear city to Alexandria trough which Banks with his army had passed and defeated and driven the enemy was left without any troops or Garisons, thus showing that the chief object of the expidition was to throw a force on the rear and flank of the enemy at Port Hudson so that he could be captured or starved to a surender at all events. {13} [37]

Well, western La. is nearly cleared of the enemy and Port Hudson invested. But to the Regt. again; to comprehend the whole I can say but little and that a mere guess at best. On the 26th we left Bayou Sara and took up our position in the rear of [General Halbert E.] Paines Division behind Port Hudson with the rest of the mounted force. In the evening we were in ill humor supposing that being mounted we would have but little share in the fight. The moron [morning] pacified us when we were ordered to leave our horses and join in the fight as Infantry.

This was our element and we advanced as Wis Infantry. The day previous the enemy had in this portion of the field been driven to within a mile of his Earthworks and now the task was to drive him within completely. Being some distance in the rear we were not on the ground til the fight had begun. Two lines of troops had advanced ahead of us, we formed a portion of the third which emediately advanced. The ground was broken into small hills and ravines densely covered with heavy timber felled by the enemy to obstruct us. This kept our line broken, but reccompensed for this in now and then afording us shelter. Previous to the advance early in the morning this space of felled trees was held by the enemy. In advancing we unmasked him and gradualy drove him to his intrenchments. We advanced, the two lines ahead gradualy melting into killed wounded and an astonishing number of skulkers and cowards found laying on their faces hugging the ground shivering with fear. These we passed over kicking punching and damning them though a very, very small number of even our Regt showed the white feather much to our regret yet in this respect we were better than other Regts. When within 80 Rods of the Earthworks we found ourselves ahead of all steadily advancing encountering a storm of bullit, grape shell and canister yet hesitating not we came to within 30 Rods of their position of Breast works when order was given to halt. We halted dropped down among the fallen timber and were out of sight yet keeping up a fussilade of minies so that [38] few heads were seen above the parapet and several pieces of canon were silenced the Artiilerists being picked off so that the guns could not be worked. Owing to the felled timber our Artillery had given us no assistance yet; but now it came thundering and whising over our heads. The Rebell Breast work soon became a dead mound with no visible occupants. This gave us rest we needed it for it was half a days hard work we had endured. The investment here was complete.

Looking back over the crests and gullies we saw our own and Rebell killed and wounded. The scene was not a happy one yet we looked upon it in the cold stoical spirit of a soldier; a slight chilling pang and then a return soul and body to the enemy before us. The wounded were soon picked up and taken care of, and before night most Dead were burried. We bivouacked among the graves of the Heroic Dead that night, but without camp fires. 8 companies of the Regt. were engaged, 308 in all. 65 were killed and wounded in the days engagement. Co. B lost 9 killed and wounded out of 44 in action. Thank God not a hair of mine was hurt. I am tough, healthy, and rugged as never before. We remained for six days holding our position; on the third of which our much beloved Col. [Sidney A. Bean] was killed by the sharpshooters of the enemy while going from our Co. to the next, giving orders.

Last night we were relieved and returned to our camp and horses. This morning we were ordered to report to Col. [Benjamin H.] Grierson Chief of cavalry seven miles in the rear of Port Hudson which we have already done. Our duty will now be in the rear and on the flanks not in the midts of the fray. This Col. Grierson made a raid with the 6th and 7th Ill, cavalry from west Tennesse to Baton Rouge trough the width of Jeff’s confedracy thus giving Bank’s a much needed cavalry reinforcement. John Shearer an Albion boy was killed the only one in the Company. Tell this to Pollock’s Kenedys and J. H. Stewarts they were acquainted with him.

Night has now overtaken me. I must quit. I have no pen, [39] no Ink. I think you can hardly read it. If you cant[,]get some one to decipher it for you. Scribbled hastily.


To William, an undated fragment of July, 1863. Nelson had been held prisoner for almost a month following his capture on June 14. (English)

This Negroe’s name was "Pud." His master, the Mississippian Arnold by name, was a frank warm hearted generous young man of my own age nearly though a great deal taller. His Father was a wealth [y] Planter of North Mississippi who had reaped the full reward of his iniquitous rebellion. Being only 22 mis. from Memphis our army had overrun and devastated his Home and lands, leaving the rich Nabob and his Family without anything to eat save a few barrells of Apples hid in the Cellar; and a Major of an Ills regiment had smashed up his Daughters Piano for refusing to play the "Star-Spangled Banner" on it when requested.

Young Arnold became an intimate friend of mine. We would read to and talk with one another a large share of the time. I came into the Fort nearly shirtless, he furnished [me] with shirts; and I had no books to read: he got me Books. Whatever he had he divided with me.

The day before the Fort surendered he had a long conversation with me, when he told me that he had once taken pride in the Confederacy, its cause and in being its soldier, but this had now vanished. Could he but get home, he would never fight Uncle Sam any more, and would deport himself peacably under our government which after all is not so bad. He bid me goodby saying, "When the war is over come and see us in North Mi[ssissippi]. If the U.S. do not confiscate everything my Father owns we will have somthing still left to receive a Guest with." "You will be welcome. Come by all means." Poor man he was contrite and penitent. He had felt the war to the utmost having had three brothers killed, and [40] himself very near it in this unusual war. The war had made him respect the Union if not love it.

But to my Horse Pud. I called him so to remember both Master and Slave, as well as Port Hudson and the Chaplain. {14} Besides there is something odd and lugubrous in the comparison of Arnold’s Pud and my Pud. His a Human being, mine a Brute. Yet both being eaqualy dear to and beloved by and holding nearly the same relations to their masters.

Last week I sent you a letter informing you that I had sent 80 dollars to Ft. Atkinson for Father. I write of it now if perhaps the other letter might not reach you. No military movements are at the present transpiring here. Having nothing more worthy of aluding to I close with my best wishes to you and all at home.


Nelson to his parents from Baton Rouge, September 3, 1863. He looked back to the eve of his wounding and his feelings of that time. (Translation)

Your welcome letter of August 18 came yesterday. I note with much joy that you are still alive and in pretty good health and also that everything has been settled about the harvesting of our usual good crop. That things are going so well with you now under this war’s fearful swervings of fortune is of tile greatest joy and satisfaction to me, particularly when I see almost daily how many rich become poor, how many have as good as nothing to live on. Remember now that, next to God, you have a good government to be thankful for; a country without its equal in the whole world. And teach the little ones to appreciate all this so that in the future they can become good, loyal citizens. It is with this as with religion: one usually believes what he has been taught.

The fellow who gave you such unnecessary grief was really a nitwit; I would call it reckless foolhardiness. Even if the scoundrel knew it to be true, it was still not his place, as a stranger, to go and report it to you. The newspaper had the [41] true story. I was wounded and taken prisoner. You grieved four times as much forme as I did for myself.

The evening before the attack of June 14 we knew very well what the morning had in store for us, and that our regiment would lead the attack. We were not unaware of the dangers. We handed such of our little things as might have some value to a few who were sick and could not take part in the attack, and gave them the addresses of our parents and friends so they could write to them if we died and send them all the articles we had left. We did all of this as calmly as you eat your dinner. There is one thing I want to tell you about the soldier: He thinks less about eternity than about home, parents, and friends.

That evening, when I lay down to get some sleep before three o’clock in the morning, I could not go to sleep immediately. My thoughts kept going round and round about you and home, in concern about you and your future. As soon as my thoughts had collected themselves, I fell asleep. I compared your present situation with what it was when you came to Koshkonong and had nothing. Now you have a good little farm, nearly debt free, and as much if not more help. William is as old as I was at that time, and Henry is right on his heels. Now you have enough, even if it is not wealth, to live on, and with these thoughts it seemed to me that my death could not injure you and might be a help to my country. About the unknown future I did not allow my thoughts to soar. That death was near, I suppose I believed, but I saw it only as a rest after the day’s work.

I recently wrote to William and now have no more news except that nearly all the troops around here have been sent to New Orleans. One expedition will soon be leaving for either Mobile or Texas. We do not know whether we will be going with them or not. Our health, on the whole, is good. I get your newspapers. Send them as often as you can. And you must also write to me; but not in Danish. With good health and courage. [42]


Nelson to his parents, from Baton Rouge, December 16, 1863. (Translation)

Your welcome and very much appreciated letter came into my hands yesterday. It was just what I wished for, full of news and very interesting. I am overwhelmed to hear how well you are getting along. In the midst of these hard times it is our good health and good sleep that are enjoyable. But we have many other things of a worldly nature and activity. I cannot report anything else except what is good. But also, that articles for sale here are sold at high prices. However, you in Wisconsin are luckier in one thing. The war has not devaluated your paper money. Greenbacks are to be used as money, not devaluated.

War reports of any setbacks are not in the news at the moment. Part of the army has captured the southwestern part of Texas around the Rio Grande River, the dividing line between Mexico and the United States. It is a very important location. Throughout this area the rebels had gathered great quantities of war materials, provisions, and clothing. It was the only supply depot the enemy had established anywhere inside Union territory. The expedition which went overland toward Texas has returned. They had a few slight skirmishes with the enemy, of very small consequence, and really no loss. The aim of the expedition evidently was just to scare enemy power away from the protected part of Texas while one detachment made an invasion. As a result of this, our troops met very little resistance.

It is reported that we are organizing a regiment of Negroes. There are now over twenty regiments, of five hundred men each, of these black and white units, manned by white officers. Officers in the Negro regiments hold the same rank as officers in the white regiments. Many in our regiment have acquired commissions in these black corps. The same examination is required for all candidates who make application for officer’s rank. I could acquire a commission in one of these [43] regiments if I wanted to fill out one of those application blanks. Officers of my regiment have recommended it. But as my enlistment time will soon be over, I have no desire to secure this officer rank. It would take my enlistment time beyond the end of the war, and I do not like the black man well enough for that.

The troops’ health is good at this time of the year. The weather is mild, very warm some days. November was cold and rainy. December is much milder. The ground hasn’t frozen yet and about a hundred recruits have arrived for this regiment. Christmas is just a little way off, but not much of a Christmas forme because we have no steak, no big can of beer, no gathering of friends or elaborate meals, no dance, no church service, not even a Jule buk [Christmas goat]. Christmas Day for us is just December 25, no more, no less. This doesn’t cause us any sorrow. We are just as happy and cheerful; maybe on account of this we are better off.

About three months ago I wrote to Gullick Saue. I have not received an answer. Ask him to give his opinion about the war. Is he against it or for it? How does he behave from day to day? {15} No more. Now greet all my friends and relatives.


To William, with a note added for Henry, from Baton Rouge, March 25, 1864. (English)

Your very well writen letter of the 25th of last month has come also one from Henry and Mother. I am glad to hear from each and all of you as often as you can write. I only miss Father; he never sends any word in your letters. Next time, you write a few words for him just as he will tell you.

I hope Father and Mother may be better by the time you get this. Help them all you can with deeds and kind words. [44] God will reward you for it. My time is out July 2nd and then I will come home as soon as I can. I hope to be home by the 15th or 20th of that month, though I might be delayed until the first of August but not beyond that time I think. If you can hire anyone do so, to make sure for an early harvest and to make hay befor that time. How many acres of Wheat and Oats are you going to have this year? Sow thick and drag it in well and good so that you may have a good Crop. Sow and plant all the Onions Carrots Turnips Rota Beggas Cabbage and Vegatables of all kinds that you can. I shall want a plenty of them you may depend upon since I have been so long without them. You must not forget Water Melons or Musk Melons either. Have a good Garden when I get home if you can.

Those who have reinlisted are going home on Furlough ;that is with permission, next week to stay a month. The remainder of the old soldiers and the Recruits are going to New Orleans to drill, so it is said. We surely need this for wee have had scarcely no time to drill hitherto.

A Fort on the Red river was captured two weeks ago and 315 prisoners and several pieces of Artillery. Banks is moving with a large army in western Louisiana and up the Red river driving the Rebells into Texas where he will no doubt follow them. I think the Rebel army beyond the Mississippi will be defeated and scattered this summer and Fall. No movment against Mobile is intended by Banks at present as all the troops are withdrawn from that direction. Sherman has crossed the river into west Louisiana where he will probably unite with Banks. It was a portion of his force that captured that Fort on the Red river.

Gen. Banks has issued an order for the instruction of Negro children. Schoolhouses are to be built or rented and Teachers hired for this purpose, and the farmers and planters are to pay the Taxes in support of this. Thus these Negro children who 3 years ago dared not be seen with books in their hands are now to have their education at the expense of their [45] old masters who formerly treated them like so many Dogs. These young Negroes will learn too. Many of them learn faster than many White children I have seen. And all both young and old are very anxious to learn. They have not had the opportunity before, but now they have. We shall soon see how they will improve it. If I mistake not they will astonish us.

There has been a few cases of Small Pox and Measels in the regiment, confined mostly to recruits. With this exception the health of the regiment has been good. Send Emigranten when you have read it, every Week if possible. I will send you some Stamps as soon as I can get them, for that purpose. Yours fat and hearty.

To Henry: Dear brother I read your letter you sent me. It is very good. Write more and better next time. Be a good boy to Father Mother and brother William mind them and God will like you. If you are a good boy I will come and see you next summer.


To Nelson’s parents, from Baton Rouge, March 30, 1864. (Translation)

I received your letter of the eighth of this month a couple of days ago. It makes me very happy to know that you are still alive and in tolerably good health, and that you can look calmly upon matters of worldly concern. You say that your hope is in God, and he will, I am sure, stand by you. But you must not forget that you have been given worldly means to use and employ against human arrogance and wrong; it is necessary to see such things with a broad mind in order to oppose them. Nothing is ever so bad that no good comes of it, says the proverb, and that can be said about Gullick’s conduct toward you. {16} You had many kindhearted neighbors whom you pushed aside at a hint from Gullick, just to please him, and in this you made a mistake by placing too much [46] confidence in a mortal being and he a most unjust one. Your blind reliance on him and your fear of him drove you too far.

But now the veil is lifted. You can now see and observe Gullick as he really is. You can now see that a man has not gotten on bad terms with his whole neighborhood without blame and reason. I suppose you will say that Gullick helped you a great deal when you needed it badly. True enough. But for what reason? That is the question. The answer is short. In order to enrich himself. Why did he buy the east forty? In order to get his stock to the creek. Why was he so ready to help in getting the road over the creek laid on our land? So that no road southward from Hollingen [?] would run across his own land, and to satisfy his hatred of some of his small neighbors. And many lesser affairs can be brought up against him in the same way, but it isn’t necessary. You can think them over yourselves. The short of the matter is this, that Gullick was good to you as long as he could use you either for his own pocket or for his revenge on the neighbors. Do not deceive yourselves; it was for these reasons you were once used. I do not say this to censure you, but that you may be more careful in the future. As I have said before, let the matter rest where it is until I come home. My health is good. I am fat, strong, and hopeful. I wrote to William a few days ago and so have no news to report at this time.

Enclosed I am sending you forty-one dollars to use and employ as seems best to you. Write as soon as you receive [it].


To William, from Baton Rouge, May 15, 1864. (English)

Your letter of the 23d of last month came yesterday evening. I had long and anxiously awaited it, for your letter of the 11th of Apr. gave me a very gloomy and discouraging account from home. I can hardy tell you how glad it made me, to hear that Father was up and well again. It has allways been my hope and wish that if I am permitted to return home again I may see all of those that I left there when this terrible war [47] broke out. It would be but a half home should either Father or Mother die before I could see them once more.

I am glad, yes truly glad, that the Death Angel has passed you by untouched this time, though he has not gone far from you for a victim. "Caroline T[hompso]n is dead and Thomas her brother sick and near the point of death." {17} This is very severe on Thompsons family, and yet it may be for the best. The longer we live on this earth the further we go astray and depart from the way of the Almighty, and the more difficult to reform and return. While young, though we may be very anxious to live, our hearts have not become hardened our faults and frailities are not so many and we die repentant sinners rather than doubting fearing unpardoned reprobates. On the whole I can say I am never sorry that a very young person dies for if any enter gods kingdom it is those who die young; and even were I to wish them a longer life and were that wish to be fulfiled I can not help thinking that the wish would be far oftener for the worse than the better. Not only may it be better for Thomas and Caroline to die in their youth, but what good may it not do that hardened hardhearted man: their father. It may make him a better man, maybe a Christian, You say G [ullick] has become a little softened towards you. I am glad of that. I think he will be more reasonable hereafter. I hope so at the least.

I am very glad that you had plenty of Hay and thereby got help enough to put all your grain into the soil. How many acres of Wheat have you? You ask me to send you a couple of Rifles. I dont know how to get any without paying double what they would be worth up north. When we were changed into Cavalry we turned our Rifles over to the Quarter Master. Our arms are now, a Sabre or Sword, a Carbine (a short breechloding Rifle) and a large Six shooting Pistol or Revolver. These arms belong to Government. And as long as the war last it has need of these arms, so that if I wanted to buy any I could not get them on this account. [48] I would like to take home a Pistol but see I cant do it. Besides you don’t want a Rifle. A good little Shot-gun is just the article you need, and that you can get much cheaper up north. You must tell Lewis the same too.

Henry must be a smart boy to have been draging so much this Spring. It is to bad that old Tom is used up. Havent you got some big Steers to break in that you can use in his place.

I am pleased to learn that you are to have School this summer. You must attend every day possible. Give my compliments to your teacher. She has recited many lesons with me before our former Lutheran ministers. I cant help thinking of school days once in a while yet.

On the 3d of this month the Regt. went out some 25 miles in the country. 1000 infantry and 4 pieces of Artillery went with us. We came up on the enemy fought them and drove them four miles, when they crossed a creek tore up the Bridge and laid in ambush on the creek bank in thick brush and timber. We came up supposing the Rebbs kept on retreating, but on coming to the bridge, we found we could not cross for the planks were torn up. Here they emediately opened a heavy fire on us killing the Colonel [Lieutenant Colonel Frederick A. Boardman], and a man in Co. C, and wounding one man and killing 3 horses in Co. B. The Col. rode at the head, and Co. B just behind him. Hadnt the Rebells fired too high every one of our Co. would probably been killed or wounded. We stood their fire for a few minutes but as we could not advance right away, we had to fall back. With the Infantry we could have crossed but we got orders to go no further. We captured 1 officer and 3 men and killed or wounded about a dozen. Yesterday we went out on another scout[,I about 100 of us[.] 20 miles out we came up on 600 Rebs fired a few shots at them, took 3 prisoners, and came back. [49]


Nelson’s second to last letter home, to his stepfather, from Baton Rouge, June 16, 1864. He was mustered out July 13, 1864. (Translation)

Your letter of the thirtieth of last month came yesterday. It is good to hear that all goes well at home; that you have seeded and planted as much as you wish to. Last month the weather was pretty dry here too, but during these last days it has rained almost continuously. A part of the day it rains and then again the sun shines extremely hot. The cotton and corn are growing fast, and garden produce and small plants are ripe and ready to eat. But everything is so extremely expensive that a dollar here is no more than ten cents among you. Butter is sixty cents a pound, eggs are sixty cents a dozen, and it’s that way all down the line.

There is a little sickness in the regiment, mostly among the recruits or latest arrivals. The army now lies inactive and will continue to do so until the start of autumn days; for it is now too hot to do anything in this line of work. It is in Virginia and Georgia that the war now rages and where it will continue; for at these points - Richmond and Atlanta - the enemy’s main strength is concentrated. If we take these places we take the head and heart of the whole rebellion, and this we will certainly do in the course of the summer. Up to now all has gone well with our armies in these places. Great battles have been fought but always with victory for our side.

As for news of any interest to you, I have none to report. Yesterday I had a letter from Knute Quitne. He is in good health and spirits, but he says he wishes he hadn’t re-enlisted. His regiment is in northern Alabama. Those who re-enlisted and were home on furlough came back the thirtieth of last month: Asbjørn’s Nels was one of them but he stayed and hasn’t returned yet and no one expects that he will. He promised me when he went home that he would go to see you, but evidently he has not done this, since you say nothing about it.

You would much like to know when I am coming home. [50] That I cannot tell you exactly; more than that, you must not begin to expect me before July 10 and then it might perhaps be still better not to look for me before the twentieth. It is not known yet whether we will be mustered out here or will be sent to Madison. If we are mustered out in Madison we will get home sooner. I would advise you to hire a worker for the harvest if it is possible, as it is uncertain how I will stand the change of climate and of food and water. If only I could come home half a month before the harvest, it would be better. Yours in good health and full of hope.


<1> Nelson believed that he was born February 2, 1843, but his baptismal certificate shows the correct year to be 1842; photocopies in the Nelson Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, and the Norwegian-American Historical Association Archives. For his early life, see Brynjulf N. Hugaas to Laurits B. Swenson, December 25, 1924, Nelson Papers (box 261); Leiv Slinde, Knute Nelson: Fra fattiggut til verdskjent statsmann (Oslo, 1950). A sketch of Nelson is in Dictionary of American Biography, 13:418. See also K. A. Rene, Historie om udvandringer fra Voss og vossingerne i Amerika, 382, 502-506 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1930); Mary B. Dillon to Nelson, May 6, 1878, Nelson Papers. There is a story that Nelson’s father was Ivar Nilson Evanger, in whose household Ingeborg was employed. Evanger’s mother objected to her son’s marriage to one beneath his station and hired Styve, a somewhat bibulous vagabond, to assume the responsibility of parenthood. See Knut A. Rene, "Min tur til Norge 1947," in Vossingen: Tidsskrift for Vosselaget, 49-54 (May, 1950).

<2> Nelson cut wood, built fires, and took care of the principal’s horse. Every two weeks he walked fourteen miles home for provisions. After the war he returned to Albion, then entered a law office in Madison. A. R. Cornwall, principal of Albion Academy, to Alexandria Post, December 4, 1874. See also Martin W. Odland, The Life of Knute Nelson, 19-23 (Minneapolis, 1926).

<3> Millard L. Gieske, "The Politics of Knute Nelson, 1912-1920," chapter 1 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1965).

<4> [Knute Nelson] to General F. C. Ainsworth, December 12, 1911, in Minnesota History Bulletin, 5:351 (February, 1924); Dictionary of American Biography, 13:418.

<5> Nelson later wrote some anecdotes of his early days at the request of Simon Michelet; see item of September 6, 1919, Michelet Papers, Minnesota Historical Society. See also Nelson to D. B. Arnold, August 4, 1911, Nelson Papers.

<6> Ship Island is south of Biloxi, Mississippi, about ten miles offshore.

<7> Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, is on the Texas border northwest of New Orleans.

<8> Grand Gulf, Mississippi, is on the Big Black River near where it joins the Mississippi.

<9> The winding course of the river would necessitate a fifteen-mile boat journey between the two points.

<10> Plaquemine is on the Mississippi, about 150 miles south of Vicksburg as the crow flies.

<11> Port Hudson, Louisiana, is on the Mississippi River about seventeen miles in a straight line north of Baton Rouge.

<12> Opelousas is in St. Landry Parish, west of Baton Rouge, and Simmesport is northeast of it. Alexandria is on the Red River about forty-five miles in a straight line northwest of Simmesport.

<13> The Atchafalaya River runs parallel to the Mississippi and empties into Atchafalaya Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. Pointe Coupee Parish is along the west bank of the Mississippi above West Baton Rouge Parish. Brashear City is on the Atchafalaya about eighteen miles north of the Gulf.

<14> For the incident of the chaplain’s horse, see ante, p. 20.

<15> Gullick Thompson (Saue) had become rich during the California gold rush, and he acquired about two hundred acres in the Koshkonong area. The Nelson farm was near his home, and the school attended by Knute Nelson, called the Thompson School, was on his property. Thompson ruled the neighborhood. Odland, Life of Knute Nelson, 19.

<16> See ante, note 15.

<17> Caroline and Thomas were Gullick Thompson’s children.

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