The Ladies’ Aid Association of Milwaukee for the Aid of Military Hospitals, which in time became the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society, was located on the east side of the Milwaukee River. The West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society, as its name indicates, consisted of prominent young women who lived west of the river in Milwaukee’s Fourth Ward. Because of the similarity in names, the efforts of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home have often been confused with those of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society, the prominent auxiliary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Make no mistake! These were separate entities with distinct missions and philosophies.
The following chronology has been developed from primary sources. We are grateful for the painstaking transcription of Ellen Puerzer for articles from the Milwaukee Sentinel and to Patricia Lynch for excerpts from other local newspapers and the Minutes of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home.
Also see our West Side S.A.S. history page, our companion website for the modern-day Society, and the March 15, 2013, blog from Preservation Nation.
EARLY DAYS: OCTOBER 19, 1861
Ladies’ Association of Milwaukee for the Aid of Military Hospitals is established. Mrs. Alexander (Martha Reed) Mitchell is President. (Milwaukee Daily Sentinel)
STEP TOWARD INDEPENDENCE: DECEMBER 15, 1862
West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society is established. This Society distinguishes itself by innovative fundraisers and a spirit of independence. An 1881 History of Milwaukee notes that the West Side S.A.S. retained a “peculiar local individuality, sending many of its contributions direct to the Chicago Branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and always taking care that on every package was marked the name of the society.”
“I WILL NOT STOP”: 1863
The legendary “conversation on the train” is overheard by Peter Van Vechten.
Ethel Hurn’s account of the conversation of Mrs. Lydia Hewitt, Mrs. Hannah Vedder and Mrs. E.L. Buttrick overheard by Van Vechten:
They were having an animated discussion over their mission, which had continued for some time, and then the conversation ceased. Mrs. Hewitt looked out of the window for some minutes in silence. Then turning suddenly, as if she had caught an inspiration from the landscape, she exclaimed with vehemence, “I will not have anythng to do with the Chicago proposition. It will be a failure. I am going to call a meeting to discuss the matter and will listen to what everyone has to say, but I will not allow anyone to deter me from my purpose or turn my from my object. I will have a soldiers’ home in Milwaukee and will not stop until it is an accomplished fact. That’s settled.” “I will go with you,” said Mrs. Buttrick. “So will I,” said Mrs. Vedder. So on the following Monday a call was issued for a meeting of Milwaukee women, which resulted in the formation of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home Association.”
Van Vechten’s account in Milwaukee Illustrated News Annual, 1871, has a minor variation in Mrs. Hewitt’s statement: “I will have a Soldiers’ Home Fair and will have a Soldiers’ Home in Milwaukee…”
FORMAL USSC RECOGNITION: DECEMBER 15, 1863
The Ladies’ Aid Association on the East Side of the Milwaukee River changed its name to the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society, becoming in word as well as in practice the mother agency of Wisconsin.
Misunderstanding arises about allocation of funds at a fundraising fair given by the ladies of the West Side. A manuscript in the John Gregory Collection, UWM Archives, cites this incident as the beginning of a long-term disagreement between the ladies of the West Side and Henrietta Colt of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society.
DOORS OPEN! MARCH 9, 1864
The West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society is legally dissolved and reorganizes as the Soldiers’ Home Association at Milwaukee with its own constitution and bylaws. Storefronts are rented in Mrs. Kneeland’s new block on West Water Street north of Spring Street (now Plankinton and Wisconsin).
March 9, 1864, Semi-Weekly Wisconsin:
A Soldiers’ Home in Milwaukee. The ladies of the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society, having conferred with many of our prominent business men; with the executive officers of the State Soldiers’ Aid Society; with Mrs. Hunt of the State Hospital at Madison; with Mrs. Livermore, Directress of the “Home” at Chicago; and with Mrs. Bickerdyke, the “mother” of all our “boys” in the Army, have determined to found a Soldiers’ Home in Milwaukee. In accordance with this intention, the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society, as an auxiliary, was disorganized and the funds remaining in the treasury appropriated to form the basis of a “Home.” The members resolved to co-operate direct with the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society, in Main street, for the soldier abroad, and invite the interest and assistance of city and country in establishing a rest for the weary and penniless soldier on his way home. An adjourned meeting was held on Wednesday, 3d of March, at the Methodist Church in Spring street, when the need, the object, and the requirements of a Soldiers’ Home were discussed by the ladies. The need and the gratifying knowledge of a Home in Milwaukee for our Wisconsin heroes, has long been felt by the convalescent men in hospitals and camp, and by our Surgeons when discharging men for home. This charitable purpose has for its object the accommodation of Soldiers returning home from the army on furloughs, or discharged from the service, and others returning to their regiments, who arrive in our city without means of paying hotel expenses, and are thus liable to fall into bad associations, or suffer neglect for want of proper surroundings. The requirements of the Home will be made known in the Constitution and By-Laws, a competent committee having been appointed to draft the same for publicatin. The following are the officers and committees unanimously elected under said Constitution and By-Laws: Mrs. Alexander Mitchell, President Mrs. G. P. Hewitt, Jr., Vice President Mrs. E. L. Buttrick, Vice President Mrs. J. J. Tallmadgem Vice President Mrs. A. J. Aikens, Secretary Mrs. D. A. Olin, Treasurer Directresses: Mrs. S. T. Hooker Mrs. Chas. Bigelow Mrs. G. P. Gifford Mrs. James Holton Mrs. A. Vedder Mrs. By’n Kilbourn Mrs. Walter Burke Mrs. M. Com’s Mrs. John Ogden Mrs. Wm. B. Hibbard Mrs. A. Maxfield Mrs. R. Houghton Mrs. J. M. Durrand Mrs. B. B. Jones Mrs. Pfeil Miss Fanny Ogden Mrs. Chas. F. Haley Mrs. Jas. H. Rogers Mrs. E. Terry Mrs. Robt. McCarter Mrs. A. Greene Mrs. J. M. Kimball Mrs. C. Bradley Mrs. Vode Mrs. Henry Crocker Mrs. Theo Yates Mrs. A. Messer Mrs. Langworthy Mrs. Mat Finch Mrs. Chas. Larkin Mrs. M.A. Wolfe Advisory Committee: Messrs. John Plankinton, S. T. Hooker, George W. Allen, Alexander Mitchell, H. T. Thompson. A committee was appointed to secure a suitable building. On motion, the meeting adjourned until next Tuesday, at 2 o’clock p.m. The offiers, committees, and all interested parties are invited to attend. Mrs. A. J. Aikens, Sec.
A superintendent and matron live on the premises, but the Ladies themselves take turns on Home duty and in soliticing donations and subscriptions. They make their purpose clear:
[This Home is] not an alms house but a home where our brave boys shall receive at our hands some faint return for the benefits their valor and patriotism have won for us and our beloved country. No solider of the Union shall be compelled to ask of charity a supper or a night’s lodging, but shall be received in this home and ministered to as if with the loved ones of his own fireside.
The first floor of the Home includes a reading room and berths with “soft downy beds, spread with clean linen.” One account says the ladies take pride in the beautiful scarlet coverlets on beds. The second floor offers a pleasant dining room and a small suite for the matron and superintendent, Mr. and Mrs. Owen Greene. Within a short time, the Home is “inundated with applicants for board and lodging.” The “work” of the Home includes care for soldiers of Wisconsin regiments, including 36 men of Company E, 40th Wisconsin Volunteers (Lawrence Guards); individuals from Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Missouri and Minnesota; and even a group of “rebel deserters from Camp Douglas, enlisted in the Federal Service and transferred to the Department of the Northwest.”
As the need increases, additional storefronts are rented—a total of 4 stores on the west side of West Water Street and portions of 2 large stores on the east side.
A GROWING CRISIS: JULY – SEPTEMBER, 1864
Fanny Burling Buttrick, Vice President of the Soldiers’ Home, accompanies her husband, Col. Edwin Lorenzo Buttrick, to Memphis, Tennessee, with the 39th Wisconsin and other 100-days men. While traveling to Memphis she visits Soldiers’ Homes and Soldiers’ Rests and hears reports that Mrs. Henrietta Colt opposes the Soldiers’ Home at Milwaukee.
July 9, 1864 Fanny Buttrick to Lydia Hewitt:
On visiting the Soldiers’ Home in Cairo, Illlinois: “Mrs. Grant—the matron, a middle aged, kind looking woman, received me cordially. Almost her first question was ‘Why does Mrs. Colt oppose the Soldiers’ Home in Milwaukee?’”
August 28, 1964 Fanny Buttrick to Lydia Hewitt:
What think you of Mrs. Colt’s letter? Of course I shall take no notice of it but it may serve to amuse you and the other kind friends who sent that glorious box—the real secret of the old lady’s excessive irritation. She is a weak foolish woman. Yet in some respects superior to the rest of her sex as one meets them in everyday life.… You speak despondingly of the many needs of the Home. Now my advice to you is: make a requisition for all you need upon the Soldiers Aid Society. We have already received something and we may as well die for a sheep as for a lamb. Winter will soon be here and we shall greatly need a supply of warm bedding. Why not get it in the way other Homes do? Through the Sanitary Commission? I did not advise this once and should not now but for the extremely high prices of everything. Fuel, provisions and the wages of our employees I fear will take all that we can raise. Without spending anything on dry goods. And is it not our duty to make our soldiers as comfortable at home as we do those abroad? Let your requisitions embrace: shirts, sheets, comforters, pillows and cases, towels, old cotton, dressing gowns and slippers. All these things we need and where shall we get the money to buy them?
You know how adverse I have always been and I think you too to opening any business connection with the Soldiers’ Aid Society. But circumstances sometimes control us and in view of the hard times I question if it is not best to take all we can get. I feel that our Home is now established upon so firm a basis that we can lay aside the scruples that formally controlled us. We need no longer fear that the public will confound the two societies.
CONFRONTING THE REALITY OF VETERAN CARE: SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1864 The Soldiers’ Home at Milwaukee is inundated with the sick and dying as winter approaches. The Lady Managers purchase plots in Forest Home Cemetery for those who die without friend or family. This plot will also be used for some of the first burials from the National Military Asylum through 1871.
STATE APPROVAL FOR EXPANDED EFFORTS: FEBRUARY 1, 1865
Gov. Lewis and the State Legislature grant a charter and a $5000 subsidy for the newly renamed Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home and authorize a fund-raising fair.
MOUNTING TENSIONS: FEBRUARY 7, 1865
Tensions grow between the ladies of Milwaukee and the organizers of a parallel effort in Chicago.
Milwaukee Daily Sentinel WISCONSIN SOLDIERS’ AID SOCIETY It is due the Northwestern Branch of the Sanitary Commission, and also to our country auxiliaries, to make a plain statement of facts in regard to the forthcoming Fair at Chicago. Three-quarters of the proceeds are for the sanitary Commission and one-quarter for a Soldier Home in Chicago. The managers of that fair offer the Wisconsin Branch, or Soldier’s Aid Society, a separate department, already adorned and beautified, their choice of place in the Bazaar their own salesmen and saleswomen, their own secretary and treasurer, and take home all the money they make for the use of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society—Chicago paying all expenses and keeping none of the money. The ladies of this society, thinking the offer a very generous one, and needing money more than ever for their department of doing good—departments which will continue till a year after the war closes, asked the advice of some of their gentlemen managers in regard to accepting it. These gentlemen preferred this Society should join the ladies of the West Side, who were arranging to give a fair for the home in Milwaukee; that our society should bring in all the interest of their auxiliaries throughout the State and divide the profits equally. In compliance with their wishes, the Society consented to do so. The offer was presented to the managers of the home and they declined it.. We would not be misunderstood by our Chicago neighbors, and we therefore desire, as a society; and through our own papers to acknowledge their offer as noble and enlarged. Mrs. Charles Keeler, President [Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society]. Mrs. Wm Jackson, Mrs. J H Rogers, Mrs. Levi Hubbell, Mrs. Button, Vice Presidents. Mrs. J. S. Colt, Miss Fanny L. Ogden, Mrs. J. B. Dousman Secretaries. Mrs. John Nazro, Treasurer.
FEBRUARY 8, 1865
The West Side ladies respond in the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel:
Fair plans for Soldiers’ Home group corrected.. Ed. Sentinel—The card signed by the officers of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society, and published in your edition today, calls for an explanation from the officers for their action in the premises. The communication says: “The ladies of the West Side are arranging to give a fair for the Home in Milwaukee.” The managers of the Soldiers’ Home are ladies and gentlemen from all sections of the city. None are more active than those from the East, West and South Side so that to style it an enterprise of the West Side, is equally unfair and untrue. The Soldiers’ Home is chartered by the Legislature and is a State Institution, founded and supported for the benefit of the soldiers of the United States, who may for hundreds of special and unavoidable reasons, need such an institution. The managers have for a long time had in contemplation a State fair as one of the resources by which to raise the means to put it upon a basis of usefulness and prosperity. In declining to connect another with the enterprise in hand, we disavow any intention of deciding upon the merits of other great works. WE feel it a duty to the HOME to present its claims to the people disconnected with other interests. The officers of the Soldiers’ Home have visited the ladies connected with the Soldiers’ Aid Society, and other benevolent associations in the State, to join them in this enterprise of a Great State fair. In regard to the fairs heretofore held in Chicago, we would say that the ladies of this association, and the citizens at large, have cheerfully contributed toward their success. But while the fair for our Home is at hand, it can not be expected that we shall devote as much attention to the proposed Chicago fair, however worthy it may be, as we should in the absence of the local demand upon our time and attention. While pressing claims upon the patriotism of the citizens of Wisconsin, we by no means claim they cover all the obligations of a generous public. Mrs. G. P. Hewitt Jr. President; Mrs. E L Buttrick, Mrs. J J. Tallmadge and Mrs. S.S. Nevill, Vice Presidents; Mrs. A. J. Aikens, secretary; Mrs. J. A. Olin, Treasurer.
NATIONAL EFFORT: MARCH 3, 1865 Congress authorizes and Lincoln signs a bill to create a National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The bill had been introduced through the efforts of Delphine Baker, members of her National Literary Association, and allies in Congress.
LANDMARK ADDRESS: MARCH 4, 1865
Lincoln delivers his landmark Second Inaugural Address, calling the nation to “care for him who shall have born the battle…”
A GLOWING REPORT: MARCH 19, 1865
After officials visit the Home, the following report is issued in the Daily Milwaukee News:
WISCONSIN SOLDIERS’ HOME Report of Hon. Nat. Clark, Chairman of the State Senate Committee on Benevolent Institutions. The committee on benevolent institutions, of the senate, and the committee on benevolent and charitable institutions of the assembly respectfully report: That in obedience to a joint resolution of the legislature, they visited, among other charitable institutions, the “Soldiers’ Home,” at the city of Milwaukee, and find that in April 1864 about forty ladies of the state of Wisconsin, dicovered that sick and disabled soldiers of this and adjoining state were constantly passing through the city of Milwaukee. Cases of unusual suffering were brought to their attention, when sick and disabled soldiers had arrived in the city without money and without any knowledge of where to go for the actual necessaries of life. This often produced great suffering, and these ladies in the kindness and humanity which usually characterized their sex, associated themselves together to engage in the laudable undertaking of providing a home for all sick, disabled or indigent soldiers, who should arrive at Milwaukee, where they could be provided temporary rest and entertainment, and when too sick to proceed on their journey, they could receive such medical aid as they required, and such kind and careful nursing as can only be bestowed by their sex. During the year, or since the 15th day of April, the number of sick and wounded soldiers who have been cared for at the “Home” is twenty five hundred, of which number over three-fourths were Wisconsin citizens. The total number of meals given since the opening, fifteen thousand five hundred and seventeen. In addition to the above, over two thousand soldiers have been entertained each way, on their passage to and from the state. Over four hundred sick and sounded soldiers have received medical or surgical attention up to the 1st day of March. The number of deaths at the “Home” has been fifteen, of which number fourteen were from Wisconsin, and one from Minnesota. The expenditure in money, up to the 1st day of March, was four thousand and seventy-six dollars and forty-four cents, all of which was raised by voluntary contributions, and nearly all in the city of Milwaukee. In addition to the above, large contributions of necessary articles have been received from all parts of the state. Owing to the increasing demands upon the hospitality of the “Home,” the expenses have constantly increased from one hundred dollars per month, to eight hundred dollars per month. To be enabled to provide for the wants of the soldiers, as above set forth, these benevolent ladies, aided by the liberality of the several railroad corporation, (who carry not only the ladies of the “Home,” but all parcels designed that that institution, free of charge) have found it necessary to travel from place to place, and by their eloquent appeals enlist the people of each locality in this enterprise, and in this manner have been able, for nearly one year, to accomplish all for which it was originally designed. Not satisfied with furnishing a temporary “Home,” and entertainment for their fellow creatures in distress, this society of ladies, in the goodness of their hearts, have conceived the idea of establishing a “Permanent Soldiers’ Home,” to accomplish which it has been, and will continue to be necessary, with the most indefatigable industry, perseverance and energy, to tavel all over the state of Wisconsin, and levy voluntary contributions upon the charity, liberality and generosity of the people, in behalf of this undertaking. In addition to the above, it is their intention to hold a fair, to commence on the 28th day of June, and to continue for two weeks. The committee now beg to commend to the legislature, and through them to the people of this state, the objects for which this fair will be held, and we hereby cordially invite all the citizens of the state to co-operate with the ladies of the “Home” in their endeavors to ameliorate the condition, to some extent, of such of our soldiers as shall be so unfortunate as to return maimed, crippled or in any manner disabled. The experience of this institution has demonstrated the necessity for the establishment sooner or later of a permanent soldiers’ home for the disabled discharged soldiers, who have no home, and who must otherwise become objects of charity. The “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” proposes to erect buildings which shall be an ornament and honor to the state. The legislature has, at the present session, passed an act of incorporation for this “Home,” and there can be no doubt, it will ere long be an institution of which the people of the state may well be proud. The committee extend to the ladies, who compose this society, their most cordial approbation and commendation, for the self sacrificing devotion, their kindness and benevolence, their perseverance and industry, and also for the financial ability and business capacity which characterizes their efforts in this behalf. In view of the facts above set forth, your committee recommend, that all the people of the state shall have an opportunity to contribute to this laudable enterprise, and therefore ask the legislature to appropriate to the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” the sum of five thousand dollars, and report by bill. All of which is respectfully submitted.
Sat. Clark, Ch’n., March 15, 1865
A superintendent and matron lived on the premises, but the Ladies themselves took turns on Home duty and in soliticing donations and subscriptions. They made their purpose clear:
Not an alms house but a home where our brave boys shall receive at our hands some faint return for the benefits their valor and patriotism have won for us and our beloved country. No solider of the Union shall be compelled to ask of charity a supper or a night’s lodging, but shall be received in this home and ministered to as if with the loved ones of his own fireside.
The first floor of the Home included a reading room and berths with “soft downy beds, spread with clean linen.” One account says the ladies took pride in their beautiful scarlet coverlets. The second floor offered a pleasant dining room and a small suite for the matron and superintendent, Mr. and Mrs. Owen Greene. Within a short time, the Home was “inundated with applicants for board and lodging.” The “work” of the Home included care for soldiers of Wisconsin regiments, including 36 men of Company E, 40th Wisconsin Volunteers (Lawrence Guards); individuals from Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Missouri and Minnesota; and even a group of “rebel deserters from Camp Douglas, enlisted in the Federal Service and transferred to the Department of the Northwest.”
As the need increased, additional storefronts were rented—a total of 4 stores on the west side of West Water Street and portions of 2 large stores on the east side.
THE GREAT FAIR: JUNE – JULY, 1865
The Ladies and their committees forge ahead with the Soldiers’ Home Fair, netting over $100,000. The Fair, which deserves a page of its own, was wildly successful, with net receipts of $110,000. In today’s terms, that’s over $1.78 million. It lasted not 10 days as planned, but an entire month coming to a close on July 26, 1865 with a Grand Promenade Concert.
The grand fair is over; in a few days the building with its pleasant memories will take its place among the things of the past, and all visible signs of these months of toil will be comprised in the bank account of the treasurer. We are glad that it came, and in common with most of our citizens are sorry it has gone; it marks an epoch in our lives that will never be forgotten, and one that no person but him who has done nothing for its success, will ever wish to forget. Last evening we took a farewell look over the many well-remembered scenes of the Fair, all the beauties of which were vividly recalled to mind by a sight of the deserted stalls. The ticket office with its genial and fun loving committee, held out to the last, and did good service. The ice cream dept. too, gave their cooling refreshment till the “wee sma hours” last night, when they too, with that evanescent characteristic of all that is mortal, ceased their contributions to the general fund.
The throng at the concert was fearfully damaging to the corns of tender-footed individuals, and the concert itself may safely be set down as a success in every point of view, even as a corn crusher. Nearly five thousand persons listened to the excellent music provided for the occasion; several of them drew prizes in the grand scheme, and all, at a late hour, were performing those peculiar gyrations known to the public, through the medium of some obscure poet’s verse, as “Tripping the light fantastic toe.” It was a grand finale to a glorious fair, and a fitting tribute to the late Soldiers Home fair, to which we have to say “Hail and farewell.”
PRELIMINARY PLANS AND PURCHASES: 1865-1866 The Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home purchases land west of the city, hires an architect and procures building materials.
CHANGE IN DIRECTION: 1866-1867
The Lady Managers agree to turn their assets over to the federal government for the establishment of a branch of the National Military Asylum in Milwaukee, but not without deliberation and regret. Soldiers move to grounds of the National Asylum in May. A late attempt to retain the Ladies’ property for the construction of an orphan asylum is rebuffed.
March 5, 1867
Several articles announcing the fact that the committee has selected the site for the Asylum having appeared in the city papers—all containing more of less errors—I will state briefly a few facts in the hope of giving more correct information on the subject.
The locality selected contains about four hundred acres, embracing lands owned by Messrs. Williams, Tweedy, Mitchell, Hathaway and Story, extending from Spring Street on the north to the Mukwonago road on the south, consequently accessible by both roads.
Topographically these lands contain every variety of soil and surface to be met with in this region; from the richest alluvial bottom to the highest elevation in the neighborhood—the whole surface beautifully undulated, interspersed with rivulets supplied by springs arising in the highest lands —timber sufficient for all purposes of the institution and a grove of unsurpassed beauty near the center of the premises, preserved from the native growth, containing about forty acres, through which meander one of the brooks above alluded to, and on which, in the midst of the grove, is an artificial pond and waterfall; evincing the same cultivated taste and sound judgment that located and preserved the grove.
Here are sites for buildings such as no other locality with which I am acquainted in the county, can furnish. Protected on all hands both in winter and summer by the grove—furnished through the agency of rains, with a never failing supply of water, which can be taken wherever needed, saving the inconvenience and expense of pumping, which in the long run is no trifle, combining health, comfort and beauty pre-eminently. The Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad crosses the premises. A side track is to be constructed for the benefit of the asylum. The improvements on the premises are valuable. Among them are buildings sufficient for immediate wants and will be occupied the 1st of May, prox. The property cost $77,000.
In the selection of the above site, there has been no difference of opinion, either with the committee or those who have heretofore examined the various locations offered.
E. B. Wolcott Wisconsin Act Passing Title to U.S.
The National Military Asylum—The following act relating to the national Military Asylum, has passed both Houses of the Legislature and has become law:
An act ceding jurisdiction to the United States over certain lands in Milwaukee county, State of Wisconsin, and to exempt said lands from taxation.
The people of the State of Wisconsin, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
Section 1. That jurisdiction over the several tracts of land hereinafter mentioned, be and hereby is ceded to the United States of America, to wit: All those certain tracts of land in section twenty-six (26) and thirty five (35), purchased by the USA for the purpose of locating a “National Asylum for disabled volunteer soldiers.” Said several tracts of land lying and being situate in township seven north, or range twenty-one east, in the town of Wauwatosa, in the county of Milwaukee, and State of Wisconsin, and including all other tracts or parcels of land which shall be hereafter acquired or purchased by the United States for the purpose aforesaid; and all such lands and other property connected with said asylum are hereby exempted from taxation for any State or local purpose whatever; provided, that civil or criminal process issued from courts in the State of Wisconsin may be served within the territory hereby ceded.
Section 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage, Approved March 29, 1867.
MINUTES OF THE WISCONSIN SOLDIERS’ HOME
March 19, 1867
The meeting was called to order by the President at three o’clock sharp.
Dr. E. B. Wolcott was present and gave a report of the meetings of the Commission to locate National Asylums in Washington. No business was transacted on account of the absence of the quorum. He thought it was best for our Board to proceed with the sale of our real-estate, also thought it would be well enough to send the following letter prepared by the Secretary pro-tem to the next meeting of the Board but thought that it very improbable that the request would be acceded to.
To the Hon’s Smythe, Gunckel and Wolcott
The managers of the Soldiers’ Home have requested me to write and consult you on a plan that was suggested by some of the Ladies at their last meeting and unanimously approved.
The wish of the Ladies is to convey the property that is owned by the “Soldiers’ Home” on Spring Street, twenty-five (25) acres, to the Milwaukee Protestant Orphan Asylum.
The money of the Home was raised by the exertions of the Milwaukee Ladies. They therefore feel that it would be a source of great satisfaction and pleasure if an Institution of so much importance and one appealing to all our most tender feelings as the Orphan Asylum could reap such a permanent benefit from the Ladies of the Home.
We therefore request your attention to our wish and will anxiously await your approval of our plan.
Mrs. McCarter, Sec. Pro-Tem
It was also decided if it should prove best to let the real-estate for the coming year. Mr. Jennings should have the preference. Mrs. Burke was also instructed to purchase all necessary clothing for the inmates.
Meeting then adjourned.
Mrs. A. H. Vedder, Sec.
There was an unusually full meeting of the Board this afternoon. Mrs. C. K. Watkins presided with the usual grace and dignity. The Secretary’s, Treasurer’s and Superintendent’s reports were read and approved.
It was unanimously decided to present Hon. O. H. Waldo with a present of silver to the value of one hundred dollars as a slight token of the appreciation of the Board of Directors of his gratuitous services as legal counsel of the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home.” Mrs. C. K. Watkins and Mrs. Anthony Green were appointed committee to select the silver.
It was also decided to give D. A. Coleman, an inmate of the “Home,” ten dollars to enable him to go to Minneapolis, Minn. where he can find employment.
A long talk was had with Mrs. Kneeland. We decided to leave everything about the premises in as good a condition as when we leased the buildings three years ago. The Board felt that they were in a much better condition, that they had made many valuable and necessary improvements.
An application was made by the matron on behalf of some of the inmates for clothing. Referred to the purchasing committee.
On motion the meeting declared adjourned.
Mrs. A. H. Vedder, Sec.
April 23, 1867
The Board were called to order at the appointed hour by Mrs. Watkins, the President. The minutes of the last meeting were read, also the Superintendent’s report. The Board then went into a committee of the whole to consider the following letter.
Washington, D.C., April 13, 1867
To the Lady Managers of the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home”
The Board of Managers of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers have completed the purchase of land of Messrs. Tweedy, Williams and Co. for a site of a Branch of the Asylum, near Milwaukee, to be paid for from the funds so generously given the Asylum by yourselves.
Owing to the fact that no reports of the moneys in yours hands has been sent to us, I am unable to say with certainty whether you have Cash funds to pay for the purchase money to wit: $77,000._ and whether some of it may not be invested in Government Bonds. I have ventured however to draw on you drafts in the aggregate amounting to $75,700._ to pay our purchase so far as the title has been completed.
If to meet these drafts will require you to sell your Government Securities, instead of so doing, you or one of the persons in whose favor a draft is drawn, may draw on one for a Sum equal to the amount of each Government Securities, as I much prefer that the securities shall not be sold; having uninvested funds of the National Asylum in my hands.
I am in behalf of the National Asylum,
Your Obedient Servant
Benj. F. Butler
The Board then called for the reading of the original proposition to the Board of Managers fo National Asylum.
Dr. E. B. Wolcott on behalf of said board stated that they were ready to accede to every proposition, that they had located the Asylum here, were prepared with suitable accomodations to take charge of the Inmates of the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” the first day of May 1867, that, at the last meeting of the Board, $75,000 were appropriated to be drawn on at eight (sight?), for the erection of buildings here. He also read a letter from the Board authorizing him to commence work immediately, that he had already sent to Chattanooga for Mr. Van Horne to lay out the grounds and that he should immediately give the plan of the building into the hands of Mr. Mix or other competent architects to complete.
Mr. A. Green felt that Gen. Butler had been in too much of a hurry, that the Directors of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home had not been treated courteously, that the provisions of the proposition had not been complied with, if the ground was purchased they would not call upon us to pay for it, and that buildings similar in size and importance to the other Asylums were not even commenced.
Messrs. Plankinton, Bradford and Dyke believed that it was all right, that Government would do all that it agreed to, they had impllicit faith in the Hon. men composing the Board of Managers of National Asylums, and would advise the Board of DIrectors to honor the drafts for $75,700!
After the retirement of the Advisory Committee, the following resolution was offered by Mrs. McCarter, seconded by Mrs. Terry and adopted by a vote of 13 ayes, nays 2. Mrs. Watkins, Waldo, Bradford, Merrill, Bigelow, Terry, McCarter, Cummings, Langworthy, Richardson, Burke voting in the affirmative, Mrs. Green and Kimball in the negative.
Resolved. That the Treasurer, President and Secretary be authorized to sign the drafts drawn on the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home Fund by Gen. B. F. Butler, on Dr. Wolcott’s assertion that $75,000 have been placed at his disposal in Washington, and will be drawn for building purposes as fast as needed; and that he will immediately advertise for proposals and proceed to erect buildings; and will also assume charge of Wisconsin’s disabled Soldiers the first of May 1867.
Ten dollars was then granted to Charles Schafer to procure a license for making cigars.
Mrs. A. H. Vedder, Sec.
April 30, 1867
At its regular meeting of the Board of Directors held for the last time in the rooms of the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home,” nearly every member of the Board was present, the President Mrs. C. K. Watkins in the chair. The Secretary’s, Treasurer’s and Superintendent’s reports were read and approved.
A very interesting and beautiful and appropriate letter was read from Mrs. O.H. Waldo who was detained at home by sickness. Mrs. J.M. Kimball moved that the thanks of the Board be tendered to the Officers for the cheerful and efficient performance of their respective duties which motion was second by Mrs. D.W. Richards (Richardson?) and unanimously adopted. Mrs. Burke was instructed to buy shoes for Grandpa and the Secretary was authorized to write notes to accompany the gold-headed cane voted to Mrs. Green and the three hundred dollars to Dr. E.B. Wolcott.
The retiring Matron Mrs. C.M. Behan then expressed her thanks to the different members of the Board for their guidance and valuable assistance.
The meeting then adjourned to May 12 in the Methodist Church.
Perhaps we will find no better time to indulge in a few reminiscences.
Three years ago the earnest women who now and have composed this Board proposed with determination and misgivings and projected with hope and $292.22 cash the “Soldiers’ Home” which was formally opened with a lunch April 15, 1864. Many of us will remember days of real work, care and anxiety to make our few rooms barely comfortable. One friend contributed a few chairs, another a partially worn carpet and center table, another a bedstead or old bed quilts, pillow cases or a few plates, knives and forks, and it was a day of satisfaction when our eighteen little bed bedsteads were completed with the scarlet spreads. Since then 150,167 free meals have been furnished, 21,550 soldiers have been entertained at the Home, over one thousand have received medical treatment. Of this number only twenty-eight have died, and most of these were in the last stages of their disease when placed under our care.
Our funds have been like the widow’s cruse of oil – every week every bill has been promptly paid.
We have collected during the past three years by annual subscriptions, donations $21,295.02 which added to the Fair Fund amounts to $121,151.64 and we had about $100,000 in cash and property to turn over to the “National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”
Our work has been full of light and shade, but the light has predominated. Many a poor, sick, maimed and destitute soldier has been ministered to bodily, mentally and spiritually and sent on his way rejoicing. We certainly have cause for gratitude that we have been enabled to accomplish so much and now that this channel of usefulness is closed to us, we hope that we may have both the opportunity and the disposition to benefit our fellow creatures in other ways.
Mrs.A. H. Vedder, Secretary
Sample of Transfers to National Asylum, May 1867, from Surgeon’s Notes, NHDVS
- Hezekiah Atwood, fife major, served one year and three days in the War of 1812. General debility.
- Alexander Beuning, Co. L, 4th Missouri Cavalry, suffering from rheumatic pain in back and chest from exposure in Camp Pickering, Tennessee, and from the effects of mercurial medicine. Subject to attacks of dysentary.
- James W. Boyd, Co. A, 29th Wisconsin, gun shot wound right arm, May 1863, at Champion’s Hill, Mississippi, Necrosis of bone. Wounds open.
- Fred Cochenheim, Co. I, 14th Wisconsin, fracture of 8th rib right side and injury to head at Pittsburgh Landing, Tenn., 1862, caused by tree falling on him.
- John Evertson, Sgt.Major, 82nd New York, loss of left leg, lower third, Gettysburg, PA, July 3, 1863.
- Martin Hayes, Co. B, 15th Illinois, gun shot wound through left leg, just behind knee joint, cutting tendons. Received at Kennesaw Mountain, GA, October 3, 1864. Leg now partially paralyzed. Very weak.
- John J. Icklin, Co. B, 18th New York Vol., lLoss of sight of right eye and partial loss of left. Musket ball in right side. Lay 4 days and nights in Chickahominy Swamp, VA, June 28, 1862. Took severe cold.
- Michael Lahey, Co. C, 17th Wisconsin, wound in thigh, fracturing left femur. Lost both arms in firing a salute after leaving service.
- Patrick Mullen, Co. K, 2nd Wisconsin, loss of right thigh, middle third
- Patrick Sheridan, Co. A, 5th Wisconsin, 90th Illinois, injury to breast and sides, debility. Fell in getting over a stone wall, May 3, 1863.
- Frank Warren, Co. K, 29th Wisconsin, partial loss of sight in right eye, nearly total loss in left eye, the result of inflammation contracted, as he says, in the line of duty.
May 31, 1867
At a special meeting of Board this afternoon nearly all of the members were present, Mrs. Watkins as usual presiding. A letter was read from Maj. General Butler asking for the remainder of the money in our possession, also for a deed of our land on Spring Street. On motion by Mrs. Waldo and seconded by Mrs. Terry it was decided that the Secretary should answer the letter, stating that according to our proposition we did not expect to be called on for our money until the Board of Managers of the “National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers” should have commenced the erection of buildings similar in size and importance to its other principal Asylums, but relying on their better judgment, the drafts were cheerfully honored, also that the Board exceedingly regretted the absence from the City of their Treasurer Mrs. A. Green, consequently they could only decide immediately on her return to place to the credit of the National Asylum all moneys remaining in our possession, also the deed of our land on Spring Street. It was unanimously decided on motion by Mrs. Waldo, seconded by Mrs. Richardson, that Mrs. Watkins be authorized to purchase a large Bible for the Home. She was also desired to see that head stones were placed at the newly made graves in our lot at Forest Home, and that the lot be put in good order. Meeting then adjourned to the call of one of the Vice-Presidents or Secretary. Mrs. A. H. Vedder, Sec.
July 6, 1867 A final meeting of the Board of Directors of the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” was held on the grounds of the “National Military Asylum.” A majority of the Board were present. Mrs. McCarter offered the following resolution which was seconded by Mrs. S.S. Merrill and unanimously adopted.
Resolved. That the President and Secretary be and they are hereby instructed to execute under their signatures and the seal of the corporation acknowledge and deliver to the “National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers” a deed in due and legal form conveying to said National Asylum all the land and real-estate of which the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” is legally a possession wherever situated including the tract of twenty-five acres more or less on Spring Street in Section 25, Town 7 North Range 22 East which was purchased for a site for the buildings to be erected for the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home; also that the Treasurer do turn over transfer and deliver to said National Asylum all bonds, monies and other property of said “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” except the sum of one hundred dollars which she shall retain for the present to meet and pay any and all unpaid bills claimed against the “Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home” that may be still outstanding, and when all such bills and claims shall have been settled and paid, she shall deliver and pay over the balance, if any, that may then remain in her hands, and the President, Secretary amd Treasurer and other Officers and Committees are hereby authorized to sign any and all suitable papers to aid in carrying out this resolution and that proper receipts and vouchers be taken from said National Asylum or its agent for all property, papers and moneys so paid over or delivered.
A motion was then made and carried that the Board adjourn to meet in the same way and in the same place the first Saturday afternoon after the fourth of July 1868.
Mrs. A. H. Vedder, Sec.
Barker, Brett, Exploring Civil War Wisconsin: A Survival Guide for Researchers. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2003.
Corbett, Elizabeth, Out at the Soldiers’ Home: A Memory Book. New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1941. Expanded edition published by West Side Soldiers Aid Society, 2008.
Flowers, Frank, History of Milwaukee, 1881.
Gordon, Beverly, Bazaars and Fair Ladies: The History of the American Fundraising Fair. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1998.
Hurn, Ethel Alice, Wisconsin Women in the War Between the States. Madison: Wisconsin History Commission, 1911. Reprint with introduction by Lance Herdegen, 2014.
Kelly, Patrick J., Creating a National Home: Building the Veterans’ Welfare State, 1860-1890. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Palmer, Mrs. L. H., “War Work of Wisconsin Women in the Civil War,” address to the Sauk County Historical Society, Spring 1919. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Archives, John Conway Collection, records of the Young Men’s Association and Grand Avenue Congregational Church collection.
Newspapers: Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, Milwaukee Weekly Sentinel, Daily Wisconsin, Semi-Weekly Wisconsin, Milwaukee Daily News, Milwaukee Press and News, Janesville Gazette, Waukesha Freeman.