Friday, February 17, 2012


     They were found dead on the battlefield, both together with their knapsacks under their heads as if they had laid down to rest after a long day of toil.  Yesterdays great 12 hour battle was over.  Sounds – footsteps, horses, rolling wagons, coughs made it seem that the events of the past day were some violent, but distant nightmare.  The dead were all about, thousands of them.  Unfortunately this battle had been all too real. It was the Battle of Antietam.  Private Robert S. Stevenson (shown as “Stephenson” in the Roster of Volunteers), and Corporal George W. Halloway were dead; two men from tiny Beetown who had answered the call of their country as members of Company C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry. 

    Brave, even in the company of the wars most stalwart soldiers, Stevenson determined to do his duty, seemingly without consideration of his life.   His first act of bravery occurred during the rout of Union forces at First Bull Run, as recounted in The History of Grant County: 

"George L. Hydewas wounded in the mouth by a ball which passed through the neck. Lieut. Dean and Orderly Gibson assisted him to a place of comparative safety. James Gow, Color Sergeant of the company, hearing of his friend's condition, and being an exceptionally powerful man, went to his assistance, leaving the colors in care of George Stephenson, a member of Company C, from Beetown, who found it difficult to keep up with the rest and retain the flag. He was charged by some cavalry, but managed to put a fence between him and them. Seeing his danger and the impending disgrace from the loss of the colors, Richard Carter, one of the musicians, and his brother, George B. Carter, threw away their instruments, secured a rifle each and a few cartridges, and "rallied 'round the flag." After four or five attempts to increase their number in the presence of the enemy, a dozen or more of their comrades came to their assistance, and together they beat the cavalry back and secured their flag."

     The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 was the worst one day fight of the entire Civil War, with some 23,000 men killed, wounded or missing. The 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer infantry, as part of the Iron Brigade had been in the thick of it, fighting and dying in a field of corn.  The men of the 2nd Wisconsin were not shielded.   They suffered the highest percentage of soldiers killed and dead of wounds of any Union Regiment in the Civil War, 19.7 percent.   Company C of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment, the ‘Grant County Grays’ were there.  They had seen repeated battles; at Gainesville (more commonly called The Battle of Brawner’s Farm), on August 28th, which was the first day of the battle of Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), and at South Mountain on September 14th.  At Brawner’s Farm alone, the 2nd Wisconsin had lost 276 of its 430 men. At Antietam, already decimated when the battle began, with only 150 able to assemble for the fight, 91 of them were killed or injured. Robert S. Stevenson was courageous, standing out even in this, one of the hardest fighting units of the war.   At First Bull Run he had helped to save the colors as described above, but he would do much more.   

     Robert S. Stevenson was born in Missouri in 1821. By 1845 he was living in Dubuque.  On April 7, 1845 in Dubuque he married Caroline Shattuck daughter of George C. Shattuck (George is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Platteville), and Anne Bronson, Yankees from Vermont and Connecticut, who had settled in the Waukon area in August of 1849.  He moved from Dubuque to Waukon Iowa in the spring of 1850, with his wife, and infant son Ralph.  They joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in Lansing in June of 1852.  On July 6th of that same year Caroline died.  In the ensuing years Robert Studied law and became an attorney.  In May of 1856 he married Minerva Shattuck, the younger sister of his first wife.  They had a child, Ida, born in 1858.

     By 1860, Robert and his family were living in Beetown, in Grant County, where he was engaged in mining.  On May 20, 1861, a little more than a month after word of the fall of Fort Sumter he enlisted into Company C of the 2nd Wisconsin.  When he died at Antietam on September 17th 1862, he left behind his wife, Minerva, and their children.  Minerva married Benjamin Howard in March of 1868, and returned to Waukon, Allamakee County, Iowa where she lived out her life, dying on April 23, 1912.  In her pension file the following newspaper clipping was found.  It is not known where it was published, but the author, Charles K. Dean, had been 1st Lieutenant of Stevenson’s company in the war: 

To the People of Grant Co.
The following we publish by request of the wife of the deceased, who now lives at Waukon, in this State:
Many of our late citizens now lie in humble graves in remote parts of the country, who have fallen victims to this unholy rebellion. Among the number is Robert S. Stevenson, late of Co.C, 2nd Regt. Wis. Vols., who fills and honors a soldier’s grave on the bloody field of Antietam.
Being only a private, and thus having no place in the regular color guard of his regiment, yet it was his pride to stand by and uphold the colors, in the face of every danger, regardless of personal safety, as the following record will show:
1. During the disasterous battle of Bull Run the 1st, while our forces were everywhere scattered, and in disorderly retreat, he voluntarily relieved the color Sargeant of the colors, and bore them safely out the conflict.
2. In the severe fight of Gainsville, on the 28th of August, ’62, where the Regiment, in the short space of one hour and twenty minutes lost over 250 officers and men out of the 450 engaged, and when every man of the color guard had fallen, he rushed to the post of danger, and after the enemy were driven back; bore the National colors from the field, and carried them all through the two days of fierce battle which followed that bloody day.
3. At South Mountain, Sept. 14th, though too unwell for duty, he was there to float his favorite flag in the face of the foe. And—
4. At Antietam, in the early morning of Sept. 17th, as the sound of the first gun announced the opening of that memorable conflict, he left a sick bed in the hospital at the rear, and disregarding the remonstrances of the medical officers, sought his regiment then in line of battle under fire, and saying to his Capt. As he came up—“Captain I am with you to the last,” took his post by his favorite colors, when he well knew what was apparent to all—that he was entertaining “the very jaws of death.” Brave, noble man, and worthy of a better fate; it was his “last.” Within an hour he fell pierced with five bullets!
Some idea of the hazard attending the post which our deceased comrade fought can be formed by an examination of the regimental colors of the 2d. They show in the National colors, two bullet marks in the staff, and twenty-two in the colors; and in the State, 3 in the staff and 24 in the colors; and besides these, many marks have been shredded out and worn away by the hard usage the colors have seen.

Fellow citizens, I call upon you to unite with me in paying a proper tribute of respect to the memory of Private Robert S. Stevenson. Let us erect a monument, to him which shall have engraved upon it in imperishable characters the record of his patriotic devotion to the flag of our country, and of his glorious death; to inculcate in the minds of all, both of the present and future, the virtues of him whom it will commemorate.
I beg leave to name Hon. J.H. Rountree, Esq., S.E. Lewis, Esq. and Geo. Cole, Esq, as suitable persons to act as Trustees in this matter, and would respectfully suggest the Court House Square at Lancaster, as a proper place in to locate the proposed monument. The persons named or their representatives can call upon me for $25, or twice that amount if required, as my contribution to the fund.
Respectfully submitted,

Stevenson's death is recounted in The Military History of Wisconsin, by Edwin Bentley Quiner:  "Private Robert Stephenson, of Company C, Second Wisconsin, who carried off the regimental flag on the first Bull Run battle-field, and bore it on the 29th and 30th of August, 1862, on the same bloody field, sprang from his bed in the field hospital at Antietam when he heard the skirmishing on the morning of the 17th, and pushed on alone to find his regiment. It was under fire. He reported himself to his Captain, saying, ' Captain, I am with you to the last,' and took the colors, which he held until he was shot down with seven bullets. Corporal Holloway was mortally wounded at the same time. When discovered after the battle, their bodies were found with their heads resting on their knapsacks."

No Monument was ever constructed to remember his brave deeds.  We do not know why, but his name is engraved on the Civil War Monument that sits near the Courthouse in Lancaster, Wisconsin. 
     Today, more than a dozen soldiers of the 2nd Wisconsin are buried at the Antietam National Cemetery.  Among them are Private Robert S. Stevenson and Corporal George W. Halloway, two brave men of Beetown, Wisconsin.  They rest in peace, side by side, part of a field of silent sentinels who affirm to us over the span of nearly 150 years that we are one nation, indivisible, and still a beacon of freedom to the world.

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