Francis Deleglise Civil War Experience
Francis Deleglise's Civil War Letters
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Francis Deleglise was a young man of 25 with a wife and children, living in Appleton when he enlisted in the Iron Brigade, Wisconsin’s most famous Civil War unit. They fought in the Army of the Potomac, suffering high casualties at Gainesville, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Francis Deleglise wrote to his wife and father in Appleton and to his uncles in his native Switzerland. The letters describe his training in Camp Randall, battles he fought in and wounds he received at Antietam and Gettysburg, and his rehabilitation in hospitals in New York and Madison. Nineteen of these letters are in the archives of the Langlade County Historical Society museum.
Camp Randall was where he began his military career. In translation from French he described to his arrival in Madison in July 1861. “I arrived here on the 2nd at 3 o’clock in the morning…We marched to Camp Randall between two lines of guards” They marched directly to the dining hall where they each stood at a place containing a pint drinking cup, a tin plate, and a knife and fork. They had a light meal of bread and butter, fat meat and cold coffee. The camp was a guarded area of about 100 acres in which were housed about 2,000 men. Deleglise describes several instances of rowdiness and vandalism of soldiers on leave in town. On his leaves he would just go swimming in Lake Mendota.
A typical day consisted of waking at 5am with roll call at 5:30. Then there was drill until 7am and a breakfast of bread, potatoes, and meat. Then more drills until noon and a meal of meat, soup, potatoes, bread, butter, bacon, and butter. After the afternoon drills there was a supper of bread, meat, butter, potatoes, coffee, and molasses or apple sauce. This was followed by parade drill and to bed at 9:30pm. Deleglise wrote that “I have never felt better…I have never eaten better bread nor other provisions of better quality.”
Once he went off into battle things changed dramatically. In August 1862, at the Second Battle of Bull Run he estimated that about a third of his company was lost. By the time of the battle at South Mountain a month later there were only 88 men left out of his group of 300. On September 17, 1862 the deadliest single battle in American history took place at Antietam with 23,000 casualties. Deleglise himself was wounded. “I took aim upon the advancing standard bearer. At the same instant a bullet hit my right cheek. I turned to catch up with the few men left in our regiment when I was hit in the thigh. I loaded and, turning,.. received a third bullet about three inches above the right eye and ear. With that I left the field.” Deleglise was treated at a field hospital near the front and in Fredrickston, Maryland where he was housed with 1,000 other wounded. His wounds healed, Deleglise returned to the battlefield. He fought at the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia and described the battle in a letter to an uncle in Switzerland. On July 1st 1863 Deleglise’s troop advanced to Gettysburg and attacked the Confederate soldiers there at 10am. The Battle of Gettysburg lasted from April 30 to May 6. Deleglise himself was wounded by two separate shots in his right calf and knee, and held prisoner for four days before being freed. Again he went to a hospital in Baltimore Maryland. His wounds were severe enough that his fighting was done.
He was in Baltimore for two months. When he was considered able to stand the strain of a trip he was transferred to David’s Island in New York harbor. He was well enough to visit New York, a city which amazed him and which he described as a busy, bustling, modern and growing metropolis. By June, 1864 he was recuperating in Harvey Hospital in Madison and he wrote his father with concerns over his leg wounds which he thought might not heal. He asked his father to select land for purchase, planning for his discharged and a land grant promised for his military service. The land he was considering was around what is now Leopolis, a town he founded in 1871 before he moved on to established Antigo.