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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Secret Service

After the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, patriotic fervor ran so strong in Wisconsin that many under-age boys tried to sneak into the army. 15-year-old William Chesbrough of Rock County was one of them.

In February 1862, Chesbrough ran away from school and tried to enlist at Camp Randall but was rejected due to his age. That summer he made a second attempt, but his father dragged him home to work on the farm.

The next spring he learned that one of his friends at the front was sick, and he offered to escort the young man's mother to the South to bring him home. After arriving there, he made his third attempt to join the war effort.

When his friend was well enough to return home, Chesbrough switched places with him and stayed behind. He appropriated his friend's uniform and weapons and tried to pass himself off as the recovered soldier.

Company officers saw through the disguise right away, but they so admired Chesbrough's determination that they decided to let him stay. The unit, Co. A of the 13th Wisconsin Infantry, was not facing direct combat at the time and so they thought the boy would be safe enough on garrison duty. This continued for four months until in the fall of 1863 the regiment was called into active combat and young Chesbrough was sent back to Wisconsin.

Finally, after he turned 18 in the spring of 1864, Chesbrough enlisted in Co. A of the 40th Wisconsin Infantry and served at Memphis, Tennessee.

For more stories like this one, view our latest digital collection, Wisconsin in the Civil War.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on June 22, 2011
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