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Norwegian Genealogy

From Humble Beginnings

by Gene Estensen


Farm Såheim (Söum) was located near present day Rjukan in Tinn, Telemark, Norway. During the winter of the year 1842, Anne JohnsdModern-day schooner replicaatter Såheim prepared her eight children for the trip to America. In the spring, with husband Jacob Olsen Einung, they set sail aboard the sailing ship Ellida. Many from Tinn were on board including Torstein Østeinsen Böen, wife Kari, and son Østein. Herbjorn Nilsen Ingolfsland, Østein Gunleiksen Mæland, and their families made the journey too.

When the Ellida arrived in New York on August 8 of 1842, eight passengers were dead and thirty were "half-dead". Seventy of the 176 passengers were from Telemark. Anne Såheim perished on the journey. She would have been proud to see what became of her nine year old daughter, Gunhild. Gunhild Einung would grow up at the Muskego settlement in Wisconsin, marry the neighbor boy, Hans Christian Heg in 1851, and with him, they would become the most famous of all Norwegian-American couples of their era. The letters from Hans to Gunhild provide much of the information available about the 15th Wisconsin Regiment, the Norwegian Regiment of the American Civil War.

Others from farm Såheim would play a role in settling the Midwest and some would serve in the 15th Wisconsin Regiment. We will continue with the history of the 15th Wisconsin, and these sons of Telemark that served in the regiment.


Paths Cross at Decorah, Iowa

Near the Courthouse at Decorah stands a monument to the Civil War soldiers of Winnishiek County. A long list of names is carved in stone in the memory of these soldiers. It is not a perfect list. Missing are the names Kittil Tovsen Bömogen (Charles Thompson) and Per Torgiersen Såheimsmogen (Peter Thompson) of Tinn, Telemark.

Torgier Torgiersen Såheimsmogen came to America in 1850 with his brother Gunleik. Their sister Gro, married to Ola Kittilsen Såheim, had come to America early, in 1841. Torgier would settle at Ridgeway Township, Winneshiek County, near Decorah, Iowa. Later, he would become the well know pioneer Tom Thompson of Burk County, Minnehaha County, South Dakota. In 1859 his kid brother, Peder Torgiersen Såheim, came to Ridgeway just as war clouds were forming in America.

The following year, 1860, Peder's nephew Kittil Tovsen Bömogen came to America aboard the Amelia. His mother, Asloug Kittilsdatter Såheim, and stepfather Herbjørn Johnsen Runningen, would come to Ridgeway Township years later. Kittil was traveling with Nils Østeinsen Böen and his father Østein Nilsen Böen who would pioneer at Greenfield (Harmony, MN). Kittil, and others, including Tov Østeinsen Kaase, wife Astrid Kittilsdatter Såheim/Tveito, and infant daughter Anne , would push on to nearby Ridgeway Township where Astrid's brothers Halvor and Gunnulv Kittilsen were pioneers.

Colonel Hans Christian Heg came to Decorah in October of 1861 to recruit soldiers for the Norwegian Regiment. He probably used rhetoric at Decorah that was similar to that used at other recruiting stops. "The government of our adopted nation is in danger." "Come on, young Norsemen, and take part in defending our country's cause, and thus fulfill a pressing duty which everyone who is able to do so owes to the land in which he lives". "Let us band together and deliver untarnished to posterity the old honorable name of Norsemen." Peter Thompson and his nephew Charles Thompson enlisted and reported to Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin on January 23, 1862. After a cold winter, the 15th Wisconsin moved south.


Island Number 10

At Birds Point, Missouri, the regiment stormed the enemy after marching three miles in battle formation. The Confederates fled and two prisoners were taken without firing a shot. It was a good start for the young Scandinavians, but things would get much tougher.

The regiment first came under fire on March 15th, 1862 when they came across gunboats and there was an exchange of shots. The enemy retreated to Island Number 10. Shortly after that, the regiment participated in the capture of some prisoners, 70 horses and mules, and some wagons just north of Union City. This was an easy-won victory and they took their first flag. It was inscribed "Victory or Death" and belonged to an Alabama Regiment. Bersven Nelson wrote that "we felt like the old Vikings who never retreated from a bout".

Island Number 10On April 10, 1862 they distinguished themselves taking the strongly fortified Island Number 10, an island on the Mississippi. Gunboats had bombarded the island for three weeks. Then on a rainy night, April 7, 1862, Fairchild (later Governor of Wisconsin) took four men and drifted down to the fort at the island. These men then disabled six cannons then luckily returned to safety. Then the attack began and by morning a white flag appeared over the fort. They took 500 prisoners and General John Pope quickly overtook those enemy soldiers that had escaped in the night. All told, 14,000 prisoners were taken.

Now began an extensive period of marching. From June 12, 1862 until September 26 the regiment passed through Humbolt (near Corinth), then quickly to Jacinto, on to Iuka, then Florence, Nashville, and Louisville. "These marches thinned the ranks of the North more than battles did. Everywhere they trekked they left full hospitals and fresh graves. Army-cholera, typhoid, pneumonia, and other sicknesses lay waste and the soldiers succumbed by the thousands". On September 26, Hans writes to Gunhild describing a series of forced marches of more than 400 miles. Lars Olsen Dokken of Company H wrote to his parents "Many are sick and have been left behind here and there, some in every town we have passed through".

Kitil Tovsen Bömogen (Charles Thompson) of Company K became sick at Iuka, in August. He died at the hospital in Jackson, MS on October 7, 1862. This son of Telemark is buried at the National Cemetery located at Corinth, MS.


The Battle of Perryville

The Norwegian Regiment arrived near Perryville, KY on the evening of October 7, 1862. The next day the regiment was involved in the Battle of Perryville. The battle began with the men fighting over some water holes and ended with the great armies in combat. Colonel Heg, coming to the crest of a hill, saw for the first time the spectacle of a great battle in progress. He wrote that "the smoke and dust filled the air a great deal - and a constant rattle of cannon and muskets, and now and then came a ball whistling by me so near that I would sometimes bow my head down without hardly knowing it myself".

John Johnson Thoe from Worth County, IA, born in Telemark in 1837, and now with Company K, wrote often to Levor Levorsen Rueslaaten. After Perryville he wrote "Cannon began to roar and bullets zinged over our heads".

The Confederate army dug in to winter at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. General Rosencrans of the Union forces had other ideas. He pressed on to the location along the Stones River where the great Confederate army lie waiting.


Murfreesboro (Stones River) Tennessee

On December 29, 1862 began the great battle of Stones River. Colonel Heg distinguished himself and had a horse shot out from under him. During the fighting, Colonel Heg dashed forward on his horse and the 15th followed with bayonets at a charge, driving the enemy, and capturing a heavy gun. Hans wrote to Gunhild that "We have lost a great many men in this battle, perhaps six or eight thousand killed and wounded". "OurStone River Battlefieldmen suffered tremendously, as we had very little to eat, and were not permitted to have fires, and for two days and nights the rain poured down upon us, making the mud almost knee deep. You have no idea up in Wisconsin what we have to go through".

The regiment was hit hard at Stones River. Captain Ingmundson was killed on the 30th. For five days Col. Heg's regiment fought almost continuously. Lieutenant McKee was killed. Ole C. Johnson replaced him. Johnson was born in Skipsnes, Upper Telemark, in 1838. Later, he commanded the regiment as Heg commanded the brigade. In the end, the casualties were 25 killed, 69 wounded, 31 missing, mostly prisoners.

Peder Torgiersen Såheimsmogen (Peter Thompson) did not participate in this battle, he became sick at Bowling Green, KY on November 17, 1862. The regiment moved on to Stones River without him. He did not recover quickly, did not return to the regiment, and was soon listed as a deserter. After the war, some of the records were updated to remove the deserter status. The reason, he had died for his new country at Bowling Green on January 8, 1863. This son of Telemark is buried at Nashville National Cemetery, grave 453.

The regiment wintered near Murphysboro, a battle hardened regiment. They were a long ways from home and it was to be the last winter for Hans Christian Heg. The regiment would soon be shattered in Georgia in the attempt to secure Atlanta.


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