In 1861 Wisconsin had been a state for only 13 years. With a total population of a little under 700,000, the state sent 91,200 men into the field in 53 infantry regiments, 4 cavalry regiments, a company of Berdan’s sharpshooters, 13 light artillery batteries and 1 unit of heavy artillery serving in both the East and the West.

That comes out to around 1 in every 9 residents regardless of age, sex or qualification for service and further breaks down to 1 out of every 2 eligible to vote.

Of the 91,200 who served, 11,000 were killed and a majority returned partially disabled due to wounds or disease.

Wisconsin Losses in the Civil War
Wisconsin Regiments and Engagements
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We meet in these fair October days, a few old companions in arms. 
We meet in prosperous times. 
Our beloved country reposes in all the tranquility of peace. 
In its sheath the saber slumbers and the cannon’s lips are cold.

All the energies of this great people - magnificently terrible when directed in war - are now in myriad lines of activity achieving a marvelous development. A freer, lovelier land was never home for man. A more prosperous; happier were never among the favored of God. The flag of the Union, around which we rallied called it "Old Glory," floats over all, over every part of the great domain, and there is, now, In all the land, no dreamer, no prophet of evil, who conceives it possible that, through secession, there can ever be a destruction of this union of states. The ties of union and fraternal feeling between the two sections once rudely snapped asunder in the whirlwind wrath, are again knitted-together in a firmer, stronger one real union than ever before.

In these peaceful days we are come together. In this beautiful northern city by the majestic river that flows unvexed to the sea we assemble, many of us to clasp again the hands that were grasped in parting more than a quarter of a century ago.

There is much to remind us that we are well forward in the middle age of man. Busy years have come and gone. Care and work and thought and time have graved their marks upon us. A sturdy generation of men full-matured in manhood are now bearing the burdens of life, yet their memories are but faint of the eventful times when we first came together. There are boys and young men now of the best age for soldiers, who have been born since the war. We find them in our own homes and they even come to our they even come to our firesides to wed own daughters. They call us "old fellows"-and, well they may. What with whitening locks and thickening wrinkles, a sobered way of looking at life, a gait a little drooping, size a little altered, and forms a little less shapely than in earlier days, the recruiting sergeant would look us over and say that in the great emergency we might do for "home guards," but that our day for enlisting as soldiers had gone by.

But still - begging the pardon of those young lads and gentlemen - we insist that we are "the boys," 
We are the boys of 1861.

It is the lot of most of the sons of men to live their appointed time, do their appointed work and die - their lives uneventful, their names soon fading out of memory, their work on earth forgotten. Of such the German poet said that they "on earth in silence wrought, And their graves in silence sought."

It was not our fate thus to live out all our days. We were not different from other boys of our age or from any of the generations of boys that grow up. All the races that blend to make this composite. American people are the best soldier races of the world. No generation of American, English, Irish, German or Norwegian boys ever lived that did not have in them superb material for soldiers. The "dude" and the dandy, the clerk, the book keeper, no less then the farm - bred boy and artisan or mechanic, the school boy and student in these piping times of peace, could and would, did his country need it, became in a short time the steady, sturdy soldier, cool in danger, brave in action, faithful on guard and useful in every military requirement.

In every able-bodied one of them, with but rare exceptions, is the embryo hard-rider of the cavalry, to live in the saddle, to make those gallant raids, to be the eyes and ears of the army or the artilleryman to stand to his gun when shell are flying and caissons bursting about him, or’ strong reliable infantrymen, to bear the hard brunt and strain of the battle.

And these young men of each generation as they come upon the stage of manhood are the grand army of the American republic. We need no great standing army. Better than a great war establishment; better than forts bristling with cannon, better than navies on the seas or coasts fortified until impregnable; better than picketed frontiers; better than all of these is the great reserve army of American boys. The record of what they have done is an earnest of what they can and will do when occasion calls. That record written with sword and bayonet in the most glorious of the annals of war is before the world, and all the nations take due notice and govern themselves accordingly.

Yes, we are " the boys"; old age may come. It may settle upon us, as in the order of nature it must, and doubtless, it will come a little earlier to us all for the hard wear we had in our soldier days but still we shall always be " the boys."

There is something in the comradeship of arms, something in the rich memories of the past that makes us feel as though we were still young. Says the poet- "Life is but thought, so think, I will, That youth and I are housemates still." We shall always be "the boys." There will stand out in all the coming years, long after our bodies are dust, a historic picture, viewed with pride by all Americans, of the, "boys of 61."

The story, the song, the orator’s glowing sentences, the artist’ masterpiece will keep ever fresh the memory of those gallant legions. The student of history will read with rapt interest the story of their deeds. The fields where they fought will be visited by myriad's, as spots sacred in the midst of our fair land. The graves where they sleep will be sacred shrines; and the future citizens will be proud to trace their lineage to the soldiers who shed such glory on soldiership under Sherman, Sheridan, Meade, Thomas and the unconquerable Grant.

The boys who fought in the Shenandoah, who made every river bank and hillside in old Virginia historic ground, who, served under Grant in that most brilliant campaign of wars, ending in the investment and surrender of Vicksburg, who made Gettysburg the most renowned of battlefields; who fought at Lookout Mountain, who stormed Mission Ridge, who fought inch by inch the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta, who started out with Sherman at "right shoulder shift," and the long , sweeping route step on the famous march to the sea; the boys who fought at Shiloh, at Stone River at Chickamauga; who made that fearfully bloody campaign from the Rappahannock to the James, and thence by superhuman endurance closed about the shattered legions of Lee at Appomattox - the boys who swept from Atlanta to Savannah, thence through the Carolinas and over their old Virginia battlefields to their old camps about Washington and made their last review before the immortal Lincoln - the boys who fought with bravery never excelled, yet with no malice in heart, who were generous and considerate to the foe, who could change greetings and tobacco on the picket line with the enemy, and next day meet him in shock of battle, who cared for the wounded enemy as for the friend, and shared their rations with the vanquished captive, throwing about the stern figure of courage unsurpassed the tender grace of chivalry - these, "The boys of '61," are a generation chosen to stand out in all future times as the ideal soldiers of liberty. They fought not from love of arms but from highest sense of duty. They conquered not to devastate. They vanquished not to destroy, but to befriend, and there are few of those once their enemies that do not now rejoice that in the providence of God the flag of the confederacy went down before the banner of Union.

And wherever patriotism glows in the heart - so long as men hear with emotion the story of brave deeds done in noble cause - while valor and high courage are held in honor among men - while it is deemed heroic to dare and suffer for country and man - there and so long will the future generations read with glistening eye and swelling heart those pages that tell of the mighty campaigns and valiant deeds of "the boys of '61."

Gen. E. E. Bryant

Address to 3d. Wisconsin Association 1890