Classroom Resources - Civil War Mail Call
The triumph, tragedy, and story of our local civil war soldiers comes to life
Teachers: are you looking for a fun exciting way to have your students work on writing skills, learn some history, or even explore some concepts of STEM in your class?
Here is your students chance to write to a civil war solider from the Manitowoc County, Wisconsin Volunteers, also known as the Fifth Wisconsin, Company A. There is no cost to you as the teacher other than envelopes, paper, and your class time.
What was Company A of the Fifth Wisconsin?
It is the year 1861 and the village of Manitowoc with a population of 3,061 people was still struggling to take its place as a center of lumbering, fishing and farming on the shores of Lake Michigan. Its citizens were increasingly concerned about the news regarding the problems of the Southern states and their withdrawal from the United States to create their own confederacy. On April 19, word reached Manitowoc that Southern forces had fired on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln had declared that military force had to be used to put down that rebellion and he called for volunteers to join the armed forces to fight for the Union.
The April 12, 1861, attack on Fort Sumter instantly pulled the Village of Manitowoc and the 104 young men of the Manitowoc Guards into the American Civil War. Later, they were officially mustered into the service as “Company A of the 5th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.”
In total, Manitowoc County sent 2,467 men to the front lines of the Civil War. Nearly all of the men were volunteers. The men sent amounted to more than three-fifths of the entire voting population.
In June, 1861 104 men left Manitowoc to become Company A. Their average age was just under 24 years old. Only 4 were married. Only 36 of these 104 men lived to see the end of the war (Falge, pg 254-255).
The Flag of Company A
In 1925, the flag of Company A was gifted to the Manitowoc County Historical Society by Judge James S. Anderson. During the gift ceremony, Miss Flora Waldo told the story of the flag and the work of Mrs. Gideon Collins, wife of the president of the Village of Manitowoc. Miss Waldo remarked: “This night, of the re-dedication of this flag, does not seem to belong to the present. It is rather the twilight and evening of a day that is gone. … And tonight, instead of reading to you myself this address to the Boys of the Fifth Wisconsin, I would invoke the spirit of the author; I would that you might see and hear, not myself, but Mrs. Gideon Collins, as she in her patriotic fervor presented this flag. It was — and is — their country’s emblem, wrought by the hands of the women whom they loved, consecrated to and by the Volunteer Guards of Manitowoc County.”
On June 17, 1861, as Company A marched toward its training site at Union Park, a group of ladies joined them and approached their captain, Temple Clark, to present the company with a flag. The flag had been made by ladies of the village and given to the soldiers in recognition of their courage and bravery as volunteers for the noble cause for which they had enlisted. Mrs. Gideon Collins, who had made the presentation, moved the men of the company to pledge they would stand by the flag, take it into every battle and never see it disgraced. Among them was 19-year-old James Anderson, who had enlisted for the war after a meeting at the courthouse.
“When the money to purchase the material was raised, a committee of the ladies went to Chicago to buy it,” described the story of the Flag of Company A during the presentation of the flag to the Historical Society in 1925. “The red and blue silks were obtained, but though the stores of Chicago were searched for days, no plain white silks were to be obtained. All flag material had been bought up.
“In this dilemma, a young lady who expected soon to be a bride, brought out the white silk purchased for her bridal garment and laid it on the altar of patriotism. It was used in default of stronger and heavier material. One condition of the gift was that the name of the giver should not be made known.”
Following the Battle at Williamsburg, Temple Clark left the company and Lt. Horace Walker took his place. Walker packed the flag into his valise and sent it to the rear along with his personal belongings. The flag was captured and lost until 1876, when it was found at the Philadelphia Exposition by Judge W.W. Waldo. The flag came back home to Manitowoc, and James Anderson retained it in his possession until 1925, when he presented it to the Manitowoc County Historical Society.
Letter Writing Activity
Students are able to learn the stories of the 104 men who left Manitowoc in June, 1861 to become Company A. You can view biographies of Civil War veterans who are buried in Manitowoc County biographies HERE.
Students can read sample letters from the life of one soldier named James Anderson, from Manitowoc. He was part of the first group of soldiers to leave from Manitowoc County with Company A. Read some of his letters HERE.
After learning about the lives of the soldiers, students can write a letter to them. Students can ask question to soldiers on their education, advancing technology, their job before the war, why they are fighting the war, well really just about anything. Letters should be sent to the Manitowoc County Historical Society. Within 4 weeks, responses will be sent to your students.
Reading Materials: The Manitowoc County Historical Society has a grouping of 40 “Flag of Company A” books available for your classroom to borrow for up to 4 weeks. Please contact the Manitowoc County Historical Society about borrowing these materials.
Take a tour: Learn more about our Life of a Civil War Soldier tour offered at the Manitowoc County Historical Society.