With Music In Its Soul, Wisconsin Went To War

Michael Goc

The credit scandal and recession that had felled the economy three years previous had eased but the manufacturing, financial and real estate sectors were still lagging.

The Republicans had swept into office at the last election, taking the governor’s office and gaining commanding majorities in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature.

The party’s vehement opposition to the Democratic administration in Washington had brought national attention to the state and its aggressive young governor, Alexander Randall.

News from Washington had been troubling for months and, as the winter of 1860 warmed into the spring of April 1861, the national crisis worsened.

On April 12, word reached Madison that armed forces of the state of South Carolina were firing on United States troops and on the American flag at Fort Sumter. The news arrived the same day it occurred, thanks to the latest innovation in communication technology—the telegraph.

On April 14, the receiver tapped out the message that the U.S. Army had surrendered Sumter to the Carolinians.

On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln, in office for only six weeks, issued his proclamation calling on the states to raise 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion and “cause the laws to be duly executed.”

In Madison, a crowd gathered outside the Capitol, along with two companies of Wisconsin militia men who paraded around the Square. Inside the Capitol, the Republicans isolated themselves in the governor’s offices to discuss how to respond to the President’s appeal. The Democrats held their own caucus in another room.

Second Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol, 1860.

About nine o’clock at night, the Democrats came to the Republicans and said that they all wanted to work with the majority party “in defense of the country and the restoration of the principles of our National Constitution.” The Republicans welcomed them warmly.

The next day they went to work—together—and agreed to raise and equip all the troops the President required and borrow several million dollars (in 2011 money) to equip and pay them.

The session lasted until April 18. On that final day, while waiting for the Assembly to finish some work, the Senate went into recess. As they milled around their desks and out in the hall, one of the Senators started to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Soon the other thirty Senators joined in.  By the time the Senators finished the first chorus, they were joined in singing by ninety-some voices from the Assembly meeting across the hall.

The legislators continued and the song was taken up by spectators and workers in the Capitol. It spread outside to the militia men, as well as women and children in the Square, until several hundred people—inside and out—were singing the anthem.

“Everyone, whether possessed of music in his soul or not, did his utmost to do justice to the song.”

Then the legislature adjourned and, along with the citizens on the Square, shouted  cheers “that shook the building,” for the militia and the flag.

With music in its soul, Wisconsin went to war.

Source: E.B. Quiner, The Military History of Wisconsin, 1866.

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