Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Heg, Col. Hans Christian (1829-1863)

Wisconsin Civil War Officer, Politician

Heg, Col. Hans Christian (1829-1863) | Wisconsin Historical Society
b. Lier, Norway, December 21, 1829
d. Chickamauga, Georgia, September 20, 1863

Col. Hans Christian Heg led the predominantly Norwegian 15th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War.

EnlargeColonel Hans Christian Heg, WHI 47408.

Colonel Hans Christian Heg

View the original source document: WHI 47408

Early Career

Heg migrated to the United States from Norway as a child in 1840 and spent his youth at Muskego, in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. As a young man he went to California in the Gold Rush and stayed from 1849-1851. He returned to Wisconsin in 1851 following the death of his parents in order to care for his younger siblings and manage the family farm.

Heg married soon after his return and entered local politics. He served on the county board (1855-1857) and joined the fledgling Republican Party. He was a delegate to the Wisconsin party convention in 1857. In 1859 Heg was elected state prison commissioner, a position in which he advocated vocational training rather than punishment of prisoners. When hostilities broke out in April 1861, Heg devoted state prison labor toward the war effort.

Military Service

In the fall of 1861 a new Scandinavian regiment was recruited and Heg accepted appointment as its colonel. The 15th Wisconsin Infantry, made up largely of recent immigrants, went into training at Camp Randall in December and left for the South on March 2, 1862.

On March 31, soon after arriving at Island No. 10 south of St. Louis, the 15th Infantry defeated a band of Confederates in Union City, Kentucky. When Island No. 10 fell on April 8, most of the regiment advanced into Tennessee. They moved through Nashville to Perryville, Kentucky, where on October 8, 1862, Heg led his regiment safely though its first large-scale battle.

On December 30, 1862, at the battle of Stones River, Heg's regiment lost more than 100 men. His horse was shot out from under him and his general called him "the bravest of the brave." In February 1863 Heg was put in command of the entire brigade and pursued retreating Confederate troops through Tennessee, briefly into Alabama, and across the state line to Chickamauga, Georgia.

Death at Chickamauga

At Chickamauga, Georgia, 10 miles south of Chattanooga, the Confederates made a stand. On September 19-20, 1863, Heg's brigade was outnumbered and the 15th Infantry again lost more than 100 soldiers.

On the afternoon of September 19, 1863, Heg was charging forward at the front of his troops when he was shot in the abdomen. He managed to stay in the saddle for a short time, but loss of blood compelled him to leave the field and move to a hospital behind the lines where he died the next morning.

Links to Learn More

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin Biography (Madison, 1965); Blegen, Theodore. "Col. Hans Christian Heg." Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 4 no. 2 (1920): 140-165; The Civil War Letters of Colonel Hans Christian Heg (Northfield, Minn., 1936)]