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Harvey, Gov. Louis P. (1820-1862) | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Harvey, Gov. Louis P. (1820-1862)

Wisconsin Civil War Officer, Wisconsin Governor

Harvey, Gov. Louis P. (1820-1862) | Wisconsin Historical Society
b. East Haddam, Connecticut, July 22, 1820
d. Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, April 19, 1862

Louis Powell Harvey is remembered today as the martyred war-time governor of Wisconsin. In April 1862, while on an inspection trip to visit wounded Wisconsin soldiers after the Battle of Shiloh, he accidentally drowned in the Tennessee River.

EnlargeLouis P. Harvey, WHI 37904.

Louis P. Harvey, 1860

View the original source document: WHI 37904

Early Years

Louis Powell Harvey was born in East Haddam, Connecticut, in 1820. He came west as a young man, attended Western Reserve College, and tutored at Woodward College in Cincinnati. In 1841, he moved to Wisconsin, settling at Southport (modern Kenosha), where he opened an academy.

Harvey was active in local Whig politics and edited the "Southport American" newspaper from 1843-1846. In 1846 he moved to Clinton, Wisconsin, to engage in business, and in 1850 settled in Shopiere, near Beloit.

Political Career

Harvey was described by a contemporary as "generous, genial [and] possessing an unusual flow of humor," a quality which helped make him "popular among all classes." His neighbors chose him to represent them as a delegate to the Wisconsin Constitutional Convention of 1848. Harvey also helped to organize the Republican Party in 1854, and was a state senator from 1854-1857. He served as secretary of state from 1860-1862, and in January 1862 became governor.


Three months after Harvey took office, Wisconsin troops fought at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. This was the bloodiest battle in U.S. history up to that time, and reports soon reached Madison that hospital conditions and medical treatment of the wounded were inadequate. Gov. Harvey organized an expedition to visit the wounded, inspect conditions, and arrange for needed doctors and medical supplies to be shipped south.

The night before he was to start home, April 19, 1862, Harvey accidentally slipped while crossing between two boats in the dark and drowned in the Tennessee River.

His widow, Cordelia Harvey, championed her husband's cause. She worked as a medical inspector at the front, raised funds, delivered supplies, and persuaded President Lincoln to set up a soldier's hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. Both Harveys are buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.

Links to Learn More

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin Biography; Dictionary of American Biography; E. B. Quiner, The Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866); William D. Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion (Chicago, 1866); History of Rock County (Chicago, 1879); WPA MS]