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Civil War cap

It’s amazing the number of small items we have in our collection that have a significant story attached to them. Take, for instance, a small thing like this Civil War cap. It has a great story behind it.

In early 1861, when Company E of the 12th Wisconsin regiment was training on its drill grounds at Delton (today known as Lake Delton in the Wisconsin Dells area), the men couldn’t help but notice a 12-year-old boy who was a quite consistent visitor.

It was learned that his name was Johnny Ingalls who was totally captivated by the smartly-dressed soldiers. Johnny kept pleading with the command officers to let him join the ranks of the command, but he was given a pat on the back and sent home crying.

In the autumn of 1861, Company E was moved to Camp Randall in Madison. Young Ingalls was not with the unit, but his desire to join was still burning. During 1862, Company E spent most of the year as a reserve unit in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky. They were involved in two skirmishes in Hatchie, Miss., on Oct. 5 and at nearby Lamar on Nov. 8.

New recruit

All too quickly, it was 1863. Company E was still in Mississippi. They had been involved in skirmishes in Hernando and Coldwater in April, then became involved in the sieges of Vicksburg and Jackson.

While the Company was in the area of Vicksburg in February of 1864, it received its newest recruit, 14-year-old Johnny Ingalls, quite possibly the youngest soldier from Wisconsin to be sent into battle during the Civil War. About Ingalls, the Company historian wrote that he “... did just as good service as anybody twice as old.”

Ingalls participated in 20 engagements that included three weeks in Sherman’s March to the Sea and the surrender of Confederate General Bradley Johnson at Raleigh, North Carolina in April 1865.

Near miss

Ingalls survived the war unscathed, but he did have a close call in an unnamed battle when a mini ball passed through the crown of his cap, just missing his skull. If you look at the picture and follow the pointer down, you can see the entry hole.

Two years after the war ended, Ingalls found himself attending Ripon College in Wisconsin. He spent the next nine years attending classes interrupted by long periods of work to earn money to go back to school.

Ingalls finally graduated in 1876 and was hired to be the superintendent/principal of our own Menomonie High School. One of the teachers in the Menomonie School System was Miss Janet Stewart. She caught Ingalls’ eye and then his love, and the two were married in the fall of 1881.

Ingalls served in the Menomonie School System until 1887 when he left teaching to go into business. During this time, the Ingalls had three children Marion, Edna and John Jr., all of whom led rewarding lives.

You can see Johnny Ingalls’ hat — complete with bullet holes — in the Civil War exhibit at the Dunn County Historical Museum. Stop by and have a look.

Bruce Gardow is a volunteer at the Dunn County Historical Museum who shares his extensive knowledge as he explores some of the many treasures that exist in the archives of the Dunn County Historical Society’s Rassbach Heritage Museum, located at 1820 Wakanda St. in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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