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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Had Enough

Between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, few American military men were as well-known as General William S. Harney (1800-1889). He served all over the country, from Louisiana north to Wisconsin and from Florida west to Utah and the Pacific Northwest. According to his biographer, he was bold, ambitious, and innovative but also impulsive, vindictive, and violent.

Harney was one of the officers stationed at Fort Winnebago when it was built at Portage in 1828-29. A strict disciplinarian, one day he found it necessary to reprimand the most fierce fighter at the fort, a massive enlisted man named Hewitt. The combative soldier naturally resented submitting to punishment, and said to Capt. Harney, "If you were an enlisted man or I was a captain, you could not treat me in that way."

Harney took him out behind the barracks told him to consider himself a captain, and do his best. In the words of Satterlee Clark, a clerk at the fort who witnessed the encounter, "Hewitt pitched at the captain furiously, when the captain knocked him down. This was repeated about a dozen times, when he said, 'Captain, I have been a captain long enough to suit me. I would now like to be reduced to the ranks."

This is just one of the hundreds of anecdotes that will be available shortly, when the 20 volumes series called Wisconsin Historical Collections goes online later this summer.

:: Posted in Curiosities on July 8, 2006

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