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Barstow, William Augustus 1813 - 1865 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Barstow, William Augustus (1813-1865)

Barstow, William Augustus 1813 - 1865 | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


b. Plainfield, Connecticut, September 13, 1813
d. Leavenworth, Kansas, December 13, 1865

William Augustus Barstow was third Governor of Wisconsin from 1853 to 1856 and served as a Union Army General during the U.S. Civil War.

He attended the local school and worked with his brothers in Norwich, Connecticut and Cleveland, Ohio, until the business failures of 1837.

He moved to Wisconsin in 1839, settled in Prairieville (now Waukesha), and became a prosperous merchant. A Democrat, he rose swiftly in politics, becoming village highway commissioner and member of the Milwaukee County Board.

In 1850 he became Wisconsin's Secretary of State. Scandals connected with federal school land grants, printing contracts, the insane asylum, and the state treasury led to his defeat for re-election in 1851, but in 1853 he was elected governor. He was re-elected in 1855 but his Republican opponent, Coles Bashford (q.v.), charged that the Barstow-dominated canvassing board had manufactured votes, and brought suit before the state supreme court, producing so much evidence that Barstow resigned on March 21, 1856.

During these years Barstow was involved in railroad promotion schemes, including the ill-fated St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad, of which he was president. He also opened a bank in Janesville, but it failed in 1857.

When the Civil War broke out he raised the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment and became its colonel. In 1862, when serving in Kansas, he was made provost marshal general of the state. His further war career was unfortunate. In his only encounter with the enemy his command was routed, and he spent most of his remaining life in hospitals. He died in Leavenworth, Kansas, on December 13, 1865.

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[Sources: Dict. Amer. Biog.; Natl. Cyclopaedia Amer. Biog., 12 (1904); J. G. Gregory, ed., S. W. Wis. (4 vols., Chicago, 1932); T. W. Haight, ed., Memoirs of Waukesha Co. (Madison, 1907); E. B. Quiner, Military Hist. of Wis. (Chicago, 1866); J. W. Stearns, ed., Columbian Hist. of Education in Wis. ([Milwaukee] 1893); J. B. Winslow, Story of a Great Court (Chicago, 1912); WPA MS. Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]