After visiting friends in St. Petersburgh, Fla., we decided to tour Chickamauga, the Civil War battlefield in north Georgia, 14 cannonballs south of Shorty’s Bar and Grill, Chattanooga, Tenn. So we stopped at the Georgia visitor center where I asked the nice lady if she had information on Chickamauga.
She gave me a folder that had a map of the battlefield. It included a reference to a Heg Memorial.
“I wonder if that’s our Col. Heg,” I wondered although actually assuming it was. Col. Hans Christian Heg was a Norwegian immigrant living in the Wind Lake area who died in the Civil War.
So when we arrived at the Chickamauga visitor center, I asked the nice ranger behind the desk if the Heg memorial was for Col. Heg from Wisconsin. He said it is and I announced I lived in the same county in Wisconsin where the good colonel lived and that there is a county park in his honor.
The Georgia Ranger said a group from Heg’s hometown in Norway visited the battlefield a few springs ago. He didn’t remember the long name of the town but thought it started with the letter “L.” That would have been Lierbyen in Lier, Buskerud. Who wouldn’t remember that?
It was a cold, rainy morning so we didn’t traipse around the battlefield but, using a map the nice man gave us, drove around looking at memorials and monuments from several states. When we reached the south end, we saw the Heg memorial. I was a bit disappointed at first, expecting a huge monument. Instead, it was a low pyramid of cannonballs and concrete and a plaque noting it was the spot the 33-year-old colonel fell on Sept. 19, 1863. Heg died the following day. Identical memorials are placed where other commanding officers fell. The park includes, I think, four monuments erected by Wisconsinites to mark places Wisconsin units fought. Confederate forces won the battle but Wisconsin units fought well.
After we returned home and I mentioned the visit to the Heg Memorial, some people said they never heard of the good colonel. I was surprised. I bet everybody in western Racine County — especially northwestern Racine County, knows who Col. Heg was.
Maybe it’s time for some home schooling.
Hans Christian Heg (I know, that makes you think of Hans Christian Anderson but he was Danish) was 10 when his family moved from Norway to the Muskego area of Wisconsin. At age 20, lured by the discovery of gold in the Sacramento area, went to California to prospect for gold. I don’t know if he found any but two years later, upon the death of his father, he returned to the Muskego area and married Gunhild Einong, daughter of a Norwegian immigrant. He became politically active and, abhorrent of slavery, joined the Free Soil Party. He was a major in the Wisconsin Militia and served as Wisconsin State Prison commissioner, the first Norwegian-born candidate elected statewide in Wisconsin. He was a Republican then.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Gov. Alexander Randall appointed Heg colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment. It was known as the Scandinavian Regiment because nearly all its members were Norwegian immigrants with some from Denmark and Sweden.
The unit had 115 men whose first name was Ole. (Hold it. If you are one of those people who tell Ole and Tina jokes, don’t contaminate this column by asking how many Oles had wives or girl friends named Tina.)
Heg led the regiment during the Union’s victory in the Battle of Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tenn., after which Major Gen. William Rosecrans placed him in command of the First Brigade of the 1st Division, XX Corps, Army of the Cumberland on May 1, 1863.
On Sept. 19, Heg led the brigade at the Battle of Chickamauga where he was mortally wounded. He died the next day. Heg was one of three Wisconsin colonels killed in combat in that war. Upon hearing of Heg’s death, Rosecrans expressed regret, saying he had intended to promote Heg to brigadier general.
He is buried at the Norway Lutheran Church near Wind Lake.
The park I mentioned before was established in 1928 as Racine’s first county park. Among its features is a statue of the colonel. It’s one of three Heg statues. Another is on the capitol grounds in Madison and the third is in Norway in that town that starts with the letter “L.”