Youngsters at Milton Junction Drilled in ’61

The following appeared in the May 30, 1927 issue of the Milwaukee Sunday Journal.

A troop of 30 boys, ranging in age from seven to 13, provided Milton Junction with a "home guard" during the greater part of the Civil War.

With wooden guns the boys drilled regularly every morning and evening, paraded on special occasions and fired salutes with a little cannon every time the northern troops won an important battle. The banner on their flagpole was one of the first here to be lowered to half-mast when news came of the assassination of President Lincoln.

"Our first guns were made of three-cornered wooden blocks with a lath nail across," says Dennis Hayes, now 72 and only local survivor of the troop. "Later some carpenters took an interest in us and sawed out and carved some wooden guns that looked like real rifles."

The troop was known as the "George Mathes' company," and was drilled by young Mathes, then a year or two older than any of the youngsters in the group. Mr. Mathes, who died more than three years ago, was, for many years, a Milwaukee newspaper man.

"We drilled like real soldiers, too," declares Mr. Hayes, who for 50 years was the village drayman*here and who now spends his time tending his six-acre tobacco and potato farm on the edge of town.

"Our company could to the lockstep, the most difficult squad movements and double time just as good as anybody. We often did exhibition drills on the station platform when troop trains stopped here. Sometimes the officers would take great interest in us and real captains would get out on the platform and put us through our drills."

"We were very anxious to have real soldier uniforms, particularly caps, and these we finally obtained in a rather questionable way. Most of the troop trains from the north had to pass through the junction here. A few of us would go up to the tracks a half mile or more when we heard some troops were coming, and wait."

"Nearly always the train would slow down for the station, and as it do so some of the soldiers would put their heads out the car windows. We were armed with sticks and would slip up under the windows and poke the caps off the soldiers' heads, grab them up and run into the fields along the right-of-way."

"Finally we were all fitted out with caps. A few of us were lucky enough to get other parts of uniform that were left about the community by an occasional deserter."

News of the battles was given the boys by the telegrapher at the depot, and it was often their cannon salute that conveyed the tidings to most of the residents here. When announcement of an important victory came during the day, permission was obtained from the school principal for the troop to be excused to go and fire a salute and march up the main street.

The boys had no fife, but Ike Wood, one of their number, was drummer and provided the rhythm for their parades. Special exhibition drills were executed by the boys on the Fourth of July and other important occasions, and the citizens here were proud of the troop.

 

*A Drayman was historically the driver of a dray, a low, flat-bed wagon without sides, that was used for delivery of all kinds of goods.

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