Ancestors in the Civil War

John Hoeschler

Jacob John Hoescheler – 6th Minnesota

Jacob John Hoescheler was my great grandfather. He was born in Austria in 1841 and came to this country at the age of 11. He enlisted as a private in Company K, 6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry on August 16, 1862 at Brownsville, Minnesota. This was two days before the Dakota conflict ignited near Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, followed on August 19, 1862 with fighting at New Ulm and continuing with more battles at the two sites. September marked great battles at Birch Lake, Fort Abercrombie and Wood Lake in which he was involved. He was active until the end of October, 1862, on furlough, and then back to duty from January, 1863, through August, 1864. During the summer of 1863 Henry Hastings Sibley led the 6th and 7th Minnesota on an expedition to the Missouri River, where they fought the Dakota, drove them across the Missouri, but did not capture them.

On June 14, 1864, after almost two years of frontier service, the 6th Minnesota left Fort Snelling for duty in the South, first being stationed in Helena, Arkansas. The regiment travelled down the Mississippi to New Orleans and remained there until March. They then travelled by boat to Dauphin Island, Alabama, and joined forces with four “Nashville” regiments, the 5th, 7th, 9th and 10th. The combined troops launched a campaign against Mobile and its defenses from March 8 to April 12 with much of the fighting done from earthen entrenchments. The siege of the Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely was waged from March 26 to April 8, with the final assault and capture of Fort Blakely on April 9th. The units next succeeded in occupying Mobile on April 12, 1865. The 6th Minnesota quickly left the victory site and marched up to Montgomery, Alabama, April 13-25. During its service the 6th Minnesota had lost 12 men in battle and 165 from disease.

Before being mustered out at Fort Snelling on August 19, 1865, my great grandfather suffered heat or sunstroke from riding on a train flatcar from Selma to Jackson, Mississippi in the July heat. His eyes were affected and he became almost blind but lived an active and useful life until he died at the age of 53 from cancer.

Alexander McMillan – 39th Wisconsin Volunteers

My maternal great grandfather was Alexander McMillan. Two weeks after his 15th birthday (his papers stated he was 18), he enlisted with Company K, 39th Wisconsin Volunteers. This regiment was one of three Wisconsin “One Hundred Day Troops” formed when President Lincoln accepted a Spring, 1864, proposition from the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin for the services of such three-month military groups. They were attached to the 2nd Brigade, Post and Defenses of Memphis, until September 22, 1864. Work comprised of garrison, railroad guard and picket duty with a repulse of Forest’s attack on Memphis on August 21st.

After a fairly placid first term of duty, Alexander re-enlisted and was mustered into Company B, 16th Wisconsin Veteran Infantry, which was formed in January, 1862, and which had fought through the battle of Shiloh in April, 1862 – the battle in which Alexander’s older brother, Malcolm, died. Alexander fought entirely in the final days of the campaign of the Carolinas, which had begun in January, 1865, with his service beginning in North Carolina: Averysboro, March 16; Battle of Bentonville, March 19-21; Occupation of Goldsboro, March 24; Advance and occupation of Raleigh, April 10-14; Bennett’s House, April 26; Surrender of Johnston and his army; march to Washington, D.C. for the Grand Review, May 24. In its 3-1/2 years the regiment lost 147 men in battle and 252 from disease.

Alexander returned home, hung his uniform in the barn and would never talk about the war. He lived to be 81 years and was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, 11 children, 31 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.

Patrick Derivan – Company E, 29th Wisconsin Infantry

My most interesting ancestor is my great, great grandfather’s brother, Patrick Derivan. He signed up for duty at the age of 26 on August 21, 1862. He mustered at Camp Randall as a musician in Company E, 29th Wisconsin Infantry. The regiment moved to Helena, Arkansas in early November and saw action at Helena on December 5th. At Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, the regiment saw terrible battles over the spring and summer. It participated in the Battle of Port Gibson on May 1; Battle of Champion’s Hill, May 16; Siege of Vicksburg, May 18-July with assaults May 19 and 22; advance on Jackson, Mississippi July 4-10 with a siege from the 10-17. At that point the unit was ordered to New Orleans, but Patrick went home to Fox Lake on furlough for the month of August, 1863.
In June, 1863, Patrick had written a Fox Lake friend a wrenching letter about the brutal war in Vicksburg. The letter was found in October, 1927, in the walls of the “Ferguson place.” It reads as follows:

“Vicksburg, June 26th, 1863, Friend Ben Ferg: Remembering of old times and thinking of past pleasures in that good old village of Fox Lake, I thought I would drop a few lines to one of our oldest citizens, thinking you will have no objections to read them. We have got round in the rear of Vicksburg after a long march through Louisiana and Mississippi and were engaged in two pretty hard battles in which our regiment suffered badly each time. The first battle was fought near Fort Gibson on the first day of May and that day I will remember if I should live to be as old as Kate Carney’s cat. It was a terrible sight to behold after the battle was over to go over the battle grounds and see the piles of dead and wounded that lay on the fields, some of them with their brains hanging out, and in fact, it would be impossible for me to describe the way they were disfigured. The worst of the sight was at the hospitals. There was piles of legs and arms too numerous to mention, and to hear the groans and lamentations of the suffering brave men – it was awful.

The next battle was fought at Champion Hill, and the piles of dead and wounded there was larger, a good deal than the other one. It must be awful when the sorrowful tidings reaches the widows, orphans and mothers of the killed, and some of them with perhaps not one weeks provisions for their families, but that it not thought of. Greely, Philips and all such men will console them by telling them they died and bled in a glorious cause. They do not think of any more of mens lives down here than you would of gophers up north. They have got hardened to it there are so many of them killed and dying every day….

We are here five weeks in the rear of Vicksburg. The artillery and gunboats are playing away on them with what effect I am unable to state. Our men have their rifle pits up within 50 yards of the rebels, shooting away. Every day they pick off some of our men. I suppose they will have to surrender before long for want of provisions. Grant says he does not hear any force Johnston can bring in his rear so they think they have a sure thing on Vicksburg. I read in the papers that Lee is going to Pennsylvania with his force, whether it is reliable or not I do not know, but I pity the farmers if they make a raid through there, they will pay them off for what destruction Grant’s army did on their march round here. I must close for want of room. Hoping you are all well and enjoying good health. My health was never better. I am your friend, As ever, Patrick Derivan.”

Vicksburg finally fell on July 4, 1863, the day after the Battle of Gettysburg. Patrick was furloughed for a trip home on August 1, 1863. When he left the regiment, he was perfectly rational and was expected to return in a few days. But according to an article in the “Beaver Dam Argus,” after a drink from a glass of liquor on the way home, Patrick became insane as could be clearly seen by his talk and actions. He declared that he would not go back to the war, even if he had to kill himself. A close watch was kept on him, but on Sunday he succeeded in leaving the house without being discovered. As soon as he was missed, his father started in search of him and in a very few minutes heard the report of a gun. To his horror, he found his son lying dead from a gunshot to his head. It was believed that the liquor contained poison and was the cause of his insanity. He was 29.