Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

La Grange, Col. Oscar H., 1837-1915

Wisconsin Civil War Officer

La Grange, Col. Oscar H. (1837-1915) | Wisconsin Historical Society
b. Fulton, N.Y., April 3, 1837
d. New York City, N.Y., January 5, 1915

Oscar Hugh La Grange of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry was an ardent abolitionist who rose through the ranks from company captain to become a brigadier general.

Anti-slavery Work

La Grange moved from New York to Ripon, Wisconsin, with his family in 1845. In 1855, as a teenager, he journeyed west to fight in the anti-slavery crusade in "Bloody Kansas." La Grange returned to Ripon, attended Ripon College, and the University of Wisconsin. In 1860, he helped abolitionist editor Sherman Booth escape from a Milwaukee jail and spent several weeks hiding from the law for his action.

Military Career

When the war broke out in April 1861, La Grange was one of the first to enlist in the "Ripon Rifles" (Co. D of the 4th Infantry). He was unanimously elected its captain, but four months later, when the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry was formed, he accepted a promotion to major in that regiment instead. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, on June 12, 1862, at age 25.

One of his men later recalled that La Grange's "personal courage was a marked trait, amounting almost to rashness. He did not say 'go' but always 'come.' He enjoyed nothing more than a headlong cavalry charge, when he was in the front rank." Another said, "He looked like a berserker, and was full of daring. His fixed rule was to let no man get deeper into the battle than himself."

In February 1863, La Grange was assigned to lead the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division in the Army of the Cumberland. He commanded it at the Battle of Chickamauga and during the Atlanta Campaign. On May 9, 1864, when he and his brigade attacked the cavalry of Confederate General Joseph Wheeler at Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia, he was taken prisoner. He was exchanged three months later.

La Grange fought his last battle at West Point, Georgia, on April 16, 1865, when he and the 2nd Brigade captured Fort Tyler along with 265 prisoners. He was promoted to brigadier general in May 1865 in recognition of his four years of service.

Postwar Career

When the war was over, La Grange returned to private life. He moved to California in 1866, where he held various positions, including superintendent of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. He relocated to New York City in the 1890s and worked in law. La Grange died of pneumonia on January 5, 1915.

Links to Learn More

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin Biography (Madison, 1965); Quiner, E.B. Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866); Madison Democrat, May 30, 1915.]