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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Haskell, Col. Frank A. (1828-1864)

Definition:

b. Tunbridge, Vermont, July 13, 1828
d. Cold Harbor, Virginia, June 3, 1864

Col. Frank Haskell served as aide-de-camp (personal assistant) to the top commanders of the Iron Brigade. Historian Bruce Catton called Haskellís memoir of the Battle of Gettysburg, "one of the genuine classics of Civil War."

Early Life

Haskell grew up in Vermont and came to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1854 after graduating from Dartmouth College. In 1856 he was admitted to the bar and opened a law practice in the state capital. He also became captain of a local militia group known as the Governor's Guards.

Iron Brigade

Haskell was appointed adjutant of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry in August 1861, with the rank of 1st lieutenant. In March 1862, his colonel temporarily took command of the Iron Brigade and brought Haskell with him as aide-de-camp. Two months later, Brig. Gen. John Gibbon retained Haskell when he took over the Iron Brigade. When Gibbon was promoted to lead a division in the spring of 1863, Haskell again accompanied him.†Haskell was close to the Union's top commanders as the Iron Brigade fought at Gainesville, South Mountain, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. On September 17, 1862, he charged on horseback through a hailstorm of bullets to deliver urgent orders for Gibbon.

Gettysburg

Haskell and Gen. Gibbon arrived at Gettysburg with their troops on July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle. That night, Haskell took part in a meeting to decide upon Union strategy. The next day, Confederate forces mounted one of the largest and bloodiest charges of the war, Pickett's Charge.

After Gen. Gibbon and other high-ranking officers were wounded and carried from the field, the Union troops faltered and their line began to break. Haskell rode into their midst, rallied them back to fight, and then brought reinforcements that stopped the enemy attack. Gibbon commented afterward, "I have always thought that to him, more than to any one man, are we indebted for the repulse of Lee's assault."

Death at Cold Harbor

On February 9, 1864, Haskell was appointed colonel of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry and he travelled home to Wisconsin to take command. It joined Gibbon's command in Virginia on May 19 and fought for the first time in the Battle of Cold Harbor.

On June 3, the 36th Infantry took the lead in a charge against the enemy. When the brigade commander was killed, Haskell stepped up to lead it. As he gave his initial commands, he was shot in the temple by a Confederate sharpshooter. He died later the same day. When Gibbon was told, he reportedly cried out: "My God! I have lost my best friend, and one of the best soldiers in the Army of the Potomac has fallen!"

Links to Learn More

Biographical sketch by Andrew Jackson Turner in the Columbus Democrat, May 29, 1895

View Haskell's 70-page memoir of the Battle of Gettysburg

History of the 36th Infantry by E.B. Quiner in his book, "Military History of Wisconsin" (Chicago, 1866)

[Source: Turner, A.J. "Col. Frank A. Haskell." Columbus Democrat May 29, 1895; Byrne, Frank, and Andrew Weaver. Haskell of Gettysburg (Madison, 1970); Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866)]
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