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Odd Wisconsin Archive

First Civil War Fatality Predicted His Own Death

Last Saturday, July 2nd, marked the 150th anniversary of the first combat death of a Wisconsin soldier in the Civil War.

Just a week after the war broke out in April 1861, militia units from Madison, Milwaukee, Beloit, Fond du Lac, Kenosha and Horicon were organized into the 1st Wisconsin Infantry. They trained at Camp Scott in Milwaukee and six weeks later headed for Washington, D.C., to defend the nation's capital.

Before they got there, however, they were ordered to join a Union force searching for Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley. On the morning of July 2nd, they encountered a brigade led by General Stonewall Jackson near Martinsburg, West Virginia, at the Battle of Falling Waters.

The raw Wisconsin troops were in front when the enemy opened fire from woods overlooking the road. The 800 men of the 1st Infantry advanced across open fields and over fences, under constant fire for more than an hour, until they had forced the Confederates to retreat.

The first Wisconsin soldier killed in the war was 18-year-old Private George Drake of Milwaukee. At Camp Scott he had said in his tent one night that he did not expect to return home. And while he was wading the Potomac at dawn on July 2nd he commented to a companion, "We are going into battle, and I expect to be among the first to fall."

He was the very first. As his company lined up to return the initial fire, Drake was shot through the heart and killed instantly.

:: Posted in Strange Deaths on July 4, 2011
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