The Twenty-first Wisconsin Infantry Regiment was organized at Camp Bragg, Oshkosh, WI, and mustered into the service of the United States September 5, 1862. It left the state September 11, and proceeded to Covington, KY and thence to Louisville. Where it was assigned to the brigade in which was the First Wisconsin Infantry, and served in the division or corps with the First and the Tenth Wisconsin Infantry in that organization of the Union forces known as the Army of the Cumberland until the conclusion of the Atlanta Campaign.
In October 1864 the time of enlistment of the First Wisconsin and Tenth Wisconsin having expired, the members of each of those organizations whose terms had not expired were transferred to the Twenty-first Infantry. Until after the Atlanta Campaign the Twenty-first served in the various campaigns in middle Kentucky and Tennessee and northern Alabama, participating in many battles including the battles of Chaplin Hills or Perryville, October 8, 1862; Stone's River or Murfreesboro, December 30-31, January 1863; the Tullahoma Campaign, June 23 to July 7, 1863; advance on Chattanooga, Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863, and Missionary Ridge November 25, 1863. On the 3 of May, 1864, having joined Sherman's Army, the Twenty-first participated in the movements to Ringgold, GA and Buzzard Roost. It was engaged at the battles of Resaca May 15; Kenesaw Mountain June 10-July 3; Peachtree Creek July 20; Atlanta July 21-22; Jonesborough September 11, 1864.
On November 15 rejoined Sherman's Army and participated in the "March to Sea," and in the operations around Savannah, GA, until the surrender of that place December 21, 1864. On the 20 of January 1865 with the Fourteenth Army Corps the Twenty-first left Savannah and participated in the campaign of the Carolinas, January 1-April 26, 1865. After the surrender of the Confederates under Johnston, April 26, 1865, the Twenty-first marched to Washington, taking part in the Grand Review and going into camp near there until the 8th of June, when the regiment was mustered out of service. It returned to Milwaukee and was disbanded June 17, 1865.
On the evening of February 9, 1864, 109 Union officers made their way down to the basement of Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. As they went, they cautiously stripped off their boots making sure to remain extremely quiet. From nightfall until three in the morning, they crawled to freedom, one by one, through a tunnel under the prison. Colonel Harrison C. Hobart of the 21st Wisconsin Infantry was one of these men.
Born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts in 1815, Harrison C. Hobart graduated from Dartmouth College in 1842 and later studied law. Hobart moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1846 and served as a member of the Territorial Legislature and the first State Senate. When the Civil War broke out, Hobart first served as captain in the 4th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry before receiving a commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the 21st Wisconsin Infantry.
During a retreat at the Battle of Chickamauga in September, 1863, Confederates captured Hobart and seventy of his men; all were sent to Libby Prison. The prison was overcrowded and the conditions were grim. Food was scarce, rats and other vermin plentiful, and disease spread rapidly amongst the prisoners. A group of Union officers spent many months planning an escape from the prison, finally deciding on an abandoned area of the basement to tunnel from. Using only a few kitchen utensils, they spent seventeen nights digging a fifty-foot tunnel under the prison that opened behind an adjacent warehouse. Confederate guards did not realize the men were missing until morning roll call. Of the 109 men who escaped, Confederate soldiers recaptured 48 men and two men drowned.
Returning to the 21st Wisconsin, Hobart was promoted to Colonel in September 1864 and led his men on General William T. Sherman's march to the sea. In January 1865, he mustered out as a Brevet Brigadier General. After the war, Hobart resumed practicing law in Milwaukee and ran an unsuccessful campaign as the democratic candidate for Governor in 1865.
Hobart's heroic escape from Libby Prison and his brave return to lead the 21st Wisconsin so impressed his men that they presented him with a sword. The presentation sword, made by Tiffany and Company, has a silver-plated spiral grip, gold-plated pommel with an eagle, gold-plated knuckle bow and guard, and a lionís head on the quillon. The blade itself is etched with vines, coats of arms, and is inlayed with gold.
What makes this sword especially unique are the engravings on the scabbard. The first inscription, near the hilt reads:
Presented to Col. Harrison C. Hobart
Of the 21st Regít Wisconsin Vol. Infnty
By the Enlisted men of his Regiment
The second inscription, in the middle of the scabbard reads:
As Aristomenes from the Ceada, so Colonel Hobart from Libby
This inscription refers to the legend of Aristomenes, the hero of the Second Messenian War (650 BC). An excellent warrior, Aristomenes led his men on a raid against the Spartans near Mt. Taygetyus, but they were captured. The Spartans threw Aristomenesí men one by one down a pit called the Ceadas, holding Aristomenes for last; so that he was forced to watch his men die. Aristomenes survived the fall into the Ceadas but expected to starve to death in the pit. On the third day, a fox came out of the darkness, and Aristomenes followed him to a hidden tunnel and made his way out. Aristomenes returned to the Messenian compound, ready to lead his men back into battle.
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is extremely fortunate to have this sword in its collection. It is a testament to Harrison Hobart's courage and his dedication to his men and country.
—Jennifer Kaye, Curatorial Assistant