11th Wisconsin Demographics

As some of you are aware, I have been researching the 11th Wisconsin Civil War regiment for some time now. I have spent a significant amount of time of late going through muster and descriptive rolls to come up with a breakdown for occupation, age, county, and re-enlistment data and percentages. Here is what I have so far:

Farmers Skilled Workers Laborers White collar/Student Undeclared
66% 14% 3% 5% 12%

Though most Civil War regiments, especially those from rural areas, were dominated by farmers and laborers, the 11th Wisconsin seems to be an especially agricultural based unit. By comparison, the 12th Wisconsin regiment made up from a similar combination or rural and urban districts, had only 52% of its initial members from agricultural communities. Company D of the 11th Wisconsin, known as the “Ploughboys”, had the highest percentage of farmers and laborers making up 99% of the group. The single non-farmer listed no job at all. As the data stands now, 66% of the regiment listed their occupations as “farmer.”

All of the information is self-reported so accuracy is an issue. Additionally, should I combine farmers and laborers from rural communities? They are most likely one in the same. James McPherson in his study, “For Cause and Comrades”, grouped laborers and farmers together. However, John Robertson in his examination of “Re-enlistment Patters of Civil War Soldiers” in the Summer 2001 Journal of Interdisciplinary History argues that they should be kept separated as laborers were not “land owners.” (Robertson took 14 Western Pennsylvania companies and broke them down into very detailed groupings for his study.) For me they are one in the same culturally, a farm laborer and a farmer will be a different person than a city industrial laborer. For an interesting look at agriculture and warfare see Victor Davis Hanson’s “Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece.”

So if I combined both laborer and farmer the percentage of members from agricultural communities jumps to 80% for the 11th Wisconsin, and that makes sense. For Robertson’s study 67% of the enlistments were from rural areas, whereas the 11th Wisconsin was significantly higher coming in at over 80%. Conversely, the soldiers from the Western Pennsylvania sample were made up of only 58% farmers and laborers.

Another issue is the high percentage of “undeclared.” Two companies, C and E, account for 79% of these. Looking at the actual descriptive rolls there appears to be a discrepancy (meaning this information was not collected from a specific group of recruits) and there are several different handwriting styles suggesting several people worked on it and I wonder about accuracy. However, in comparison to the 12th Wisconsin, the 11th regiment has nearly the exact same percentage (12%) of undeclared, suggesting that this may not be an error and that these were areas of high unemployment. Company C and E came from generally rural areas. So I have another aspect to look into. Did those two companies come from communities where unemployment was high?

Though I have not collected this data yet, Robertson in his study noted that rural soldiers re-enlisted at higher rates than soldiers from urban districts by 13%. They also died from disease at a higher rate than their urban counterparts. This is interesting as it suggests that farmers, isolated by some distance, simply were not exposed to some diseases.

It will be interesting to see how the 11th Wisconsin breaks down in terms of re-enlistment, death from combat and disease, and age.

Copyright © 2006 Chris Wehner

About Chris

Christopher Wehner is a Civil War historian with his M.A. in United States history emphasis the American Civil War. He is a published author with two books, numerous journal and digital media media publications to his credit. To contact chris, cwehner -at- soldierstudies .org
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