In 1862, at the age of 15, Elisha Stockwell, Jr., attempted to enlist when a Union Army recruiter stopped at his hometown of Alma, Wisconsin, set up shop in the town’s schoolhouse, and made his pitch to the gathered crowd. However, Elisha’s father caught wind of what his son was trying to do, marched to the gathering, confronted the recruiter, and informed him that his son was underage and that he did not consent to the boy’s enlistment. Since, technically, recruits younger than 18 needed their guardians’ permission (a requirement frequently ignored), the recruiter was forced to cross the crestfallen Elisha’s name off the list.
He did not remain crestfallen for long, however, and soon ran away to enlist, assisted by a friend who put him in touch with another recruiter. The duo walked Elisha through the steps/ lies necessary in order for a minor to enlist without his guardian’s consent. With the requisite winks and nods, and a cooperating captain falsely vouching for his age, the boy was duly enrolled in the 14th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.
Elisha’s first taste of combat came on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh, when he saw his first dead body, and took part in a bloody bayonet charge on Confederate lines that resulted in the death or injury of nearly half the men of his regiment. As Elisha described that come-to-Jesus moment, when he realized the difference between his fantasies and the reality of what war actually entailed: “I want to say, as we lay there and the shells were flying over us, my thoughts went back to my home. I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away to get into such a mess as I was in. I would have been glad to have seen my father coming after me“.
Elisha was wounded at Shiloh, taking canister in the arm, and a bullet in the shoulder. Recovering, he participated alongside the 14th Wisconsin in the battles of Iuka, Corinth, Champions Hill, and in the siege of Vicksburg, before marching to Georgia with Sherman and participating in the battles of Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, and Jonesboro.
After the war, Elisha returned to Wisconsin, eventually settled down as a farmer, married, and raised a family. Following the death of his wife in 1927, a grieving Elisha was cajoled by family and friends to write a memoir of his Civil War experiences, mostly to help take his mind off his grief. Despite his advancing years and failing eyesight, he managed to complete a manuscript, which was eventually published as the interesting and highly readable Elisha Stockwell, Jr., Sees the Civil War. Elisha Stockwell, Jr., lived to the age of 89, and died in North Dakota in 1935.