‘We did it for you’
I would like to remind You and your readers of a forgotten group of martyrs in the fight for the forward progress of our state.
From Norway, Denmark, Sweden they came. Some to escape famine, some for religious freedom and most because in their homelands the eldest son inherited the land, and the younger sons went to America. They came because they wanted a farm, a home, and a family.
They embraced their new home, and when it was torn apart by conflict they volunteered. They went to war under the command of one of their countrymen, Col. Hans Christian Heg. Nine hundred and six men from Wisconsin formed the “Scandinavian” regiment. This was common practice of ethnic units that joined and fought together (in New York, Irish disembarking, forming up and marching off to battle was their first American experience). Governor Alexander Randall appointed Heg commander of the regiment whose official name was the 15th Wisconsin. This aspiring young politician was chosen because of his involvement with The Free Soil and later The Republican parties.
His last job had been commissioner of the state prison in Waupun. An evangelical Christian he believed that “prisons should be used to reclaim the wandering and save the lost”. He focused on job training and other reforms to accomplish these goals.
The 15th fought in campaigns from the Mississippi River to Georgia. They suffered casualties along the way. From the day they were mustered in at Madison until they were demobilized, they incurred three 336 deaths from wounds or disease. At Chickamauga, Heg was shot through the stomach and died. He was one of several Wisconsin commanders to offer their lives on the altar of liberty.
Before the war he had been in the Wisconsin Wide Awakes, an anti-slave-catcher militia. His religion, his country, and his life were about freedom, opportunity and progress.
His statue, and that of Lady Forward (carved by a female Wisconsin sculptor) were both knocked down and defaced recently. Those that did it said it was to make us listen, and to have a conversation. I wonder if the protestors who destroyed the statue of Col. Heg and threw it in Lake Monona heard the voices of those Norwegian boys who lay buried in their graves dug long ago, after fighting for their strongest beliefs?
Did they hear them say, “We did it for you”?