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1st Wisconsin Cavalry

Group Portrait of Company I, 1st Wisconsin Cavalry (1865)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-6387

Jefferson Davis and Madison

Jefferson Davis graduated from West Point in July 1828. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he and his slave Pemberton arrived at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien on April 9, 1829 for his first active assignment. In May Davis went to Portage to help build Fort Winnebago.

On October 20, 1829, Davis was sent on a mission to round up some deserters, and traveled all the way to the isthmus looking for them. He later wrote: “Fort Winnebago had been occupied but a short time before my arrival there and I think nothing was known to the garrison about the Four Lakes before I saw them. Indeed, sir, it may astonish you to learn in view of the densely populated condition of that country, that I, and the file of soldiers who accompanied me, were the first white men who ever passed over the country between the Portage of the Wisconsin and Fox rivers and the then village of Chicago.”

Davis left Wisconsin in 1833.

Thirty-two years later, at the close of the Civil War, as he fled through Georgia in disguise, Davis was captured by a Madisonian, General Henry Harnden.

Descended from seafarers, between the ages of 18 and 23 Harnden sailed to the coast of Africa, rounded Cape Horn, visited islands in the Pacific, and explored the entire west coast of South America. He was in Mexico in 1848 during the war and helped convey wounded from the Battle of Palo Alto back to New Orleans. He then clerked in a store in Lowell, Massachusetts.

In 1850 he went overland to California to mine gold, encountering several groups of Indians on the Plains. Meeting little success he worked his way home aboard ship, earning high wages because of his prior experience. He came to Wisconsin in 1852 and opened a sawmill. The grandson of a lieutenant in the Continental army, he enlisted in the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry as a private in July 1861. He rose through the ranks to become its lieutenant colonel. He fought in thirty engagements throughout Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, participating at Chickamauga and Chattanooga and pursuing Wheeler’s Rebel cavalry. A horse was killed from under him early in the war. His shoulder was shattered by a bullet fired from three feet away in May 1864 at Dallas, Georgia. At Durch River, Tennessee, his horse drowned and he was carried two miles downstream when the bridge he was crossing collapsed. He was shot in the thigh in a fight at West Point, Georgia.

In May 1865 Harnden’s 1st Wisconsin Cavalry captured Davis at Irwinville, Georgia. Harnden received a $3,000 reward for his action. Two months later his horse fell and rolled on him, breaking his leg.

Upon his return to Wisconsin Harnden was elected to the Assembly representing Jefferson County, then was appointed trustee of the Soldiers’ Orphans Home. In 1873 he became U. S. collector of internal revenue, and in 1899 was elected commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He bred Jersey cattle at his Hickory Farm and ran a grocery on State Street. He is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Mark Gajewski