Saturday, 18 June, 1864
Camp Randall, 9 PM

Madison, Wisconsin

I arrived in this fair city to discover that it was not, as I’d heard, a place entirely lacking in those elements we commonly associate with civilization. There are even a few ladies whose beauty might rival that to be found in New York, Boston or some other metropolis of our East. While the men are somewhat coarse and outspoken, in keeping with our Western territories, those who reside in this part of the state do not fall short in their hospitality to visitors. The public buildings here are remarkably well appointed though smaller in scale than those to be found in New York City. Madison city is attractively situated on an isthmus between two fresh water lakes. I am reliably told that the decision to locate the capitol building there, upon the isthmus, was more the product of straightforward Yankee commerce than civic design.

The mood of the populace here can only be described as "jubilant" at the return of the 2d Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, one of the first of our three year regiments to muster out after arduous service. However, the exuberance displayed by the citizens has been quickly tempered by the knowledge of the cost to that regiment which so nobly served out Union.

As cheering throngs greeted the men as they marched to the Capitol today I saw scores of people turn to a companion and express astonishment at how few men have returned. Over a thousand men of good Western stock left to answer their nation’s call to arms in 1861, only to return after three long years numbering less than two hundred. Major James Otis led the regiment on a last triumphal march from Camp Randall through the dusty city streets lined with citizens of every description who had turned out to greet then. Many a woman held a handkerchief to her eyes to dry a tear as the men marched smartly past. As the procession made it’s way along Dayton Street, two young men shouted three cheers for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy from the opposite side of a railway embankment. The scoundrels did not have the courage or manliness to show their faces to these brave men as they marched past. This display of Copperhead sentiment was not characteristic of the proceedings. The people here are strong supporters of the present Administration, and Governor Lewis assures me that the people of Wisconsin are determined that the conflict shall be seen through to the end despite the failure to win a decisive victory this summer in the Wilderness, and slow the progress of our armies in Georgia.

For these men who have sacrificed so much, the false bravado and blind patriotism of the recruiting office has long faded. Yet, as the column wound its way ever nearer the state capitol building, the rearmost company of the 2d began to sing "Battle Cry of Freedom." The tune was taken up enthusiastically by much of the remainder of the regiment entering or leaving the fight against the foe. These men shall retain their absolute determination that our cause will prevail and that the Union shall be preserved.

Formal ceremonies honoring the regiment and featuring a host of dignitaries and an immense crowd numbering in the thousands awaited them at the Capitol. On its very steps was constructed a large speaker’s platform along with a proud banner which read "Liberty, Freedom, Union." Cannon boomed and flags fluttered in honor to those who have returned and those who have fallen in their country’s service.

The Reverend St. Clair of Carroll College gave the invocation followed by several patriotic airs played by what was truly a fine military band and the voices of Madison city’s Glee Club. Wisconsin Governor James T. Lewis gave the opening address stressing the willingness of the men of the regiment to sacrifice "the pleasures of home and all it’s endearments," in order to answer a call to higher duty. To the Governor, the men of the brave Second Wisconsin are to be seen as "a band of freeman, a thousand strong, going out to the sacrifice at a nation’s bidding, going out to defend the right, and carve a still higher niche in their country’s fame." For this is the senior regiment of the famed Iron Brigade of our Army of the Potomac. Governor Lewis reminded all that many men of the Second lie ill in hospitals or in the hands of the enemy in Confederate prisons. The Governor called forth the tempest and said that the heaven’s weep for the fallen. As if to give the gathering divine sanction, the rumble of thunder and a gentle cleansing rain fell upon those assembled here.

When the Governor had concluded his remarks, the men of the 2d left no doubt what they wanted. They called for their Colonel, Lucius Fairchild, and called for him repeatedly. Loud cheering greeted the Colonel as he came to the platform to address the men. Colonel Fairchild bore with him the mark of sacrifice, an arm lost at Gettysburg; a coat with one sleeve pinned to the shoulder. Nevertheless, the Colonel was unflagging in his admiration for his regiment.

The Colonel reminded the men that they had been admonished to "so acquit yourselves that every parent who had a son, every sister who had a brother and every sweetheart who had a lover in the old Second would be proud to acknowledge it, and that when you returned to your homes the whole people would welcome you as having done your entire duty." The Second Wisconsin has met that test. The question beating upon the breast of every true patriot now is whether those men who will replace them and carry this war to a victorious conclusion will be able one day to make the same noble claim.

S. Wilkeson

(This dispatch was submitted by Thomas S. Sobottke as Samuel Wilkeson, Chief Correspondent, New York Tribune.