Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cooksville and the Civil War, by Larry Reed

Major R.W. Hubbel, left, and unidentified soldier, tintype c.1862, Civil War album, perhaps from Rock County
The Civil War in America ended 150 years ago in 1865. Like all communities, Cooksville and the surrounding area were deeply affected by the four years of the War.  Although there are few documents and even fewer anecdotes about Cooksville and its citizens during the War years of the1860s, a few facts are known.

On May 11, 1861, the citizens of the Town of Porter met “to listen to addresses on the present crisis of our national affairs, and to appoint a committee to receive subscriptions to the fund for the equipment of volunteers to the war, and for the support of the families of those who join the army for the purposes of putting down rebellion and sustaining the government.” The committee then presented a lengthy Town of Porter resolution “to maintain and defend before the world the principles of liberty and justice…”

At the end of the meeting, “Mrs. J.K.P. Porter and Mr. Charles Stokes sung [sic] the Star Spangled Banner in which they were enthusiastically joined by the whole audience.”
The patriotic meeting was reported in the Daily Gazette of Janesville on May 15, 1861.

Marshall Cook, tintype c.1862, perhaps from Wisconsin
About 90 men from the Town of Porter enlisted and served in the Civil War, eight of whom appeared to have been from the Village of Cooksville.  (The Town of Porter’s population in the 1860 census was 1269.) Records identify the local men who served in the Civil War as being from the township of “Porter” so it can be difficult to determine how many lived in the village of “Cooksville.” Most were recruited through the “enlistment bounty” system whereby men who volunteered for military service were paid by the Town of Porter an enticing fee or bounty of $200 each to sign-up. This system of recruitment bounties avoided the need for localities to establish drafts to fill enlistment quotas.
Van Vleck’s Farm Implement Factory, photo c.1900

News of the progress of the on-going War was brought to the village by courier on horseback, and Cooksville’s citizens gathered in Van Vleck’s Lyceum Hall, above his farm implement factory at the corner of Webster and Dane streets, to hear the latest reports. Sometimes news of the War was shouted to the community’s citizens from the second-story porch of the factory. The Van Vleck Implement Factory (1861-1928), manufactured wagons, corn and potato planters, farm gates, and other implements, as well as repairing them; the second floor housed the Lyceum Hall and the Cooksville Academy, a private, advanced school. The factory was called Wisconsin’s first farm implement factory when it was abandoned and demolished in 1928.

Three unidentified men, tintype c.1860s, perhaps from Cooksville
According to records of enlisted men serving in Rock County’s companies of the 13th Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers, no local Porter men were killed in action. Four were wounded, eight died of disease, and six deserted. (The same records indicate that most of the volunteers ranged in age from 15 to 26 years old, with the most popular occupations of volunteers being farmer, carpenter, clerk, laborer and mechanic, in that order .)

However, local records indicate that twelve Cooksville area men had died from diseases during the War and were buried in the South. A wooden marker was erected after the War in the Cooksville Cemetery to memorialize those twelve men, but the marker and the names it contained were lost in the early 20th century. Four of the men have been identified as Perry L. Brooks, Ira Sturtevant, John Shurrum and James M. Van Vleck, all of whom apparently died of diseases at Vicksburg and Memphis in 1864. An effort made by Cooksville historian Cora Atwood in 1944 to identify the other eight men whose names had been painted on the old memorial did not succeed. In the mid-20th century, a modern flag pole was erected on the grassy memorial mound near the south end of the cemetery, the site of the original wooden memorial.

Ultimately, about ten old Civil War veterans were buried in the Cooksville Cemetery and marked with grave stones.  

Veterans from other wars—the Indian War, the Spanish War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War— are also buried in the village’s historic cemetery.