Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Rusk, Gov. Jeremiah M. (1830-1893)

Wisconsin Civil War Officer, 15th Wisconsin Governor, U.S. Congressman

Rusk, Gov. Jeremiah M. (1830-1893) | Wisconsin Historical Society
b. Morgan County, Ohio, June 17, 1830
d. Viroqua, Wisconsin, November 21, 1893

Jeremiah Rusk was a farmer, soldier, and politician who commanded the 25th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War and served as Wisconsin's 15th governor.

EnlargeJeremiah Rusk, WHI 56244.

Jeremiah Rusk

View the original source document: WHI 56244

Early Life

Rusk grew up in a log cabin in rural Ohio and as a young man worked as a farmer, stage driver, and barrel maker. In 1853 he followed neighbors and relatives who had moved to Wisconsin and settled in Vernon County. He opened a tavern, engaged in farming, and served for several years as county sheriff beginning in 1855. In the fall of 1861 he was elected to the state Assembly, but resigned to form a regiment of Wisconsin volunteers.

Civil War Service

In July, 1862, Rusk accepted an appointment as major of the 25th Wisconsin Infantry, a regiment composed largely of soldiers from western Wisconsin. After several months dispersed across Minnesota following the Sioux Uprising of 1862, the 25th Infantry traveled south in time to participate in the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, during June 1863. Rusk was promoted to lieutenant colonel in August 1863 while his regiment was operating in the lower Mississippi Valley.

In 1864 the 25th Infantry joined the Union advance on Atlanta, and Rusk fought at Resaca, the Peach Orchard, and other battles along the route. On June 15, 1864, he was wounded at Kennesaw Mountain, near Marietta, Georgia. After his colonel was severely wounded, Rusk assumed command of the 25th Infantry for most of 1864 and 1865. After Atlanta fell he led the regiment on Sherman's March to the Sea, the capture of Savannah, and the Campaign of the Carolinas.

In honor of his bravery and leadership, Rusk was brevetted a brigadier general in March 1865.

Political Career

After mustering out in June 1865, Rusk returned to Wisconsin and entered politics. He was elected to U.S. Congress in 1870 and was twice re-elected, serving from 1871-1877.

In 1881, he was elected governor of Wisconsin, serving from 1882-1889. During his administration, he dealt with railroad bankruptcies and labor disputes. He called out the National Guard during the 1886 strikes for the eight-hours day, leading to the Bay View Massacre in Milwaukee. After leaving the governorship, Rusk served as the nation's first Secretary of Agriculture from 1889-1893.

After leaving the Cabinet, Rusk returned to Viroqua where he died on November 21, 1893.

Links to Learn More

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin Biography (Madison, 1965); Quiner, E.B. Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866); History of Vernon County, Wisconsin (Springfield, Ill., 1884); Casson, Henry. Uncle Jerry: Life of General Jeremiah M. Rusk… (Madison, 1895).]