The 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment was first organized under the call for volunteers for three months service. After the full number was accepted, the Second mustered into the service of the U.S. on June 11, 1861, in Madison, Wisconsin. Their term of service was specified as "Three years or during the war" under the call of the President, dated May 3, 1861, for "500,000 men." They left the State on June 20, and arrived in Washington, D.C. on June 25. Afterwards, until the regiment was mustered out, the Second Infantry served in that part of the Union Army known as the Army of Virginia and the "Army of the Potomac."
In July, the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment brigaded with three New York regiments of Infantry; all of them under the command of Colonel (later General) William T. Sherman. Together, they participated in the battle of Bull Run in Virginia on July 21. On August 27, the regiment was assigned to the brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. Rufus King. This brigade became known as the "Iron Brigade." The Iron Brigade participated in all the historic battles fought by the Army of the Potomac until May 11. After the battle of Laurel Hill, the Second had less than 100 men present for duty. Because of this size reduction, they permanently detached from the brigade and was assigned to duty as provost guard of the Fourth Division of the Fifth Army Corps.
Following the march of that division, they crossed the North Anna River on the 21, arriving at Chickahominy, Virginia, on June 6. The regiment remained in Virginia until the expiration of their term of service. On the morning of June 11, 1864, the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment started for Wisconsin, except those who had re-enlisted and recruits whose term of service had not expired. The Second reached Madison on the June 18 and mustered out of the military service of the United States on the July 2, 1864.
The 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment lost one officer and six men to mortal wounds and 22 men to disease.
About the Battle Flags of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment
National Colors - Dated 29 June 1861. This flag was handmade by Mrs. R.C. Powers who was paid $37.23. It was completed within three weeks only hours before the unit left for Washington. This flag was carried without its regimental counterpart in the battle of Bull Run. Private Robert S. Stephenson carried the flag in the absence of the Color Sergeant. Dressed in grey uniforms, the Second Wisconsin was fired on from front and rear. The flag was nearly lost when the color guard was surrounded, but fifteen Union soldiers rallied and brought Private Stephenson and the flag to safety. Of the original nine man color party, only two survived.
The Second Wisconsin received the corresponding regimental flag on August 2, 1861. Private Stephenson was promoted and rejoined the regiment on the eve of Antietam. After the battle, his body was found next to Color Corporal George Holloway in the cornfield.
At Gettysburg, this flag was carried by Sergeant Philander B. Wright, detached from Company C. Corporal Paul Brisbois took over as color bearer when Wright was wounded.
Although a replacement flag was sent to the regiment in June 1863, the new flags were not put into use until after Gettysburg.
Regimental Colors - Presented to the regiment on August 2, 1861, by Governor Randall. This flag reached the regiment after the battle of Bull Run, where only two of the original nine man color guard survived to receive it. This flag would be carried from August 1861 to August 1863 and was retired after the battle of Gettysburg.
Shortly after the battle of Gettysburg, this flag and its corresponding National flag was replaced by a new set. "Your regiment will doubtless part with regret with the glorious old flags beneath which it has won so high a reputation, and around which its brave officers and men have so often rallied, and poured out their blood like water in the contest with the enemies of the Union and Constitution; but those flags, returned to this state, will be guarded with care, and serve as mementoes of your valor."- William H. Watson, Military Secretary of Wisconsin to Colonel Fairchild, 2nd Wisconsin. June 1863.
National Colors - Although this flag was delivered to the regiment before the Battle of Gettysburg, the earlier set was still in use and this flag was put into service after that battle. V1964.219.40
Regimental Colors - Although this flag was delivered to the regiment before the Battle of Gettysburg, the earlier set was still in use and this flag was put into service after that battle. V1964.219.41
For Further Research
Search our collections for photos and artifacts from Wisconsin in the Civil War. Read about other Wisconsin Civil War regiments. For detailed regimental histories of the U.S. Civil War, consult the Frederick H. Dyer, Compendium of the War of the Rebellion: Regimental Histories.
The histories above, unless otherwise noted, are adopted from Charles E. Estabrook, ed., Records and Sketches of Military Organizations, (Madison, 1914).