A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 25 August 1864

The year 1864– 150 years ago– was a pivotal year of the Civil War.

On this day, 150 years ago, Jens Dahle, a Norwegian immigrant, was captured at the Battle of Reams Station.

We know what lies ahead– Petersburg campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea, Lincoln’s reelection (not a forgone conclusion), the fall of Richmond, the surrender at Appomattox and the assassination of Lincoln. Let’s watch these events through one soldier’s eyes– those of Jens Dahle of the 2nd Minnesota.

To the extent known by me, I will post the activity of Jens on the date of the 150th anniversary of key and known activities. The activities are obviously not regular and thus the postings will be irregular as well.

The last posting in the series will be 30 April 2015.

But, who is Jens Dahle?

Jens Dahle  was born on 25 March 1839 to the unmarried couple Torkel Torkelson and Unni Olsdotter in Leikanger parish, Sogn und Fjordane district. Torkel and Unni married, but not to each other, within the following three years. [1]

As the stepson of the husband of his mother, Jens would not inherit the farm which instead would go to the eldest biological son. Jens could look forward to a life in Norway as a day laborer or a small tenant farmer without rights of inheritance for his own future family members. [2] Others from his parish emigrated to the Midwest including his biological father. The mass migration from Norway to the United States was just beginning and ultimately would send 11% of its population, the largest as a percentage of any country except Ireland, to the United States. [3]

Jens left the parish for “Nord Amerika” on 14 April 1858 for Minnesota. [4]

After four years in Minnesota and with still few prospects but with a reasonable command of the English language, Jens enlisted in the Union Army on 20 January 1862 and was assigned to the Minnesota Sharpshooters. [5] Doris Gilpin Faust described “sharpshooters” as “killing machines”  in her book, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War because they were the ones selected for their accuracy with a gun and who served as snipers.

The next few years saw Jens in and out of the hospital system with dysentery, one of the diseases that caused over 2/3s of the deaths associated with the War. [6] This weakened him for regular duty and placed him in Provost Guard, ostensibly “light duty,” where he served until 21 June 1864.  This could hardly be considered light duty as he was still involved with four of the ten bloodiest battles of the War and traveled New York City to quell the riots in that city responding to the draft. [7]

reams stationWhere was Jens 150 years ago today?

25 August 1864:  Jens captured at the Battle of Ream’s Station, Virginia. [8]

This was a minor battle characterized by strategic blunders by the generals of the Union Army in their positioning of troops on the hill.  Jens was under the command of Brigadier General John Gibbon and positioned on the south side of the hill which was attacked by Confederates units under Hampton’s command. Jens was not alone–over 1000 Union soldiers were captured at this time.

As you can see from the map, the blue lines indicate the Union forces and the red were the attacking Confederates.  You do not need to be a General Patton to figure out that if the Confederates shot at you and missed they had a second chance at hitting a Union compatriot in the back on the other side of this tight “V-shaped” formation.  Jens was stationed with his regiment on the lower right hand side of the V-shaped formation. [9]

Over the next two or three days, he and the others captured travel to Richmond, Virginia.

Our thoughts are with you, Jens and all the POWs who have sacrificed for this country.  I respect and honor the courage it took to face the long odds you endured.


Next installment: 27 August 2014, Richmond, Virginia.

[1]  Leikanger parish, Sogn of Fjordane County, Norway, Jens Torkelson birth entry (25 March 1837); original parish records online  Digitalarkivit (http://arkiverket.no : accessed 23 October 2011) entry 44, 11.
[2] Theodore Christian Belgen, Norwegian Migration to America (1825-1860), (North Stratford, New Hampshire : Ayer Company Publishers, In., 1969) 5.[3] Belgen, 22.
[4] Leikanger parish, Sogn og Fjordane County, Norway, Jens Torkelson Tjon moving out record (14 April 1858); original parish records online Digiatarkivet (http://www.arkiverket.no: accessed 23 October 2011) 248.
[5] Compiled Military Service Records (CMRS) of Volunteer Union Soldiers, National Archives and Record Administration (NARA); Jens T. Dahle (private, 2nd Company, Minnesota Sharpshooters). Copy of record in the possession of Mary Swenson [address for private use.]
[6] CMRS, Jens Dahle.
[7] CMRS, Jens Dahle.
[8] CMRS, Jens Dahle.
[9] “Maps of Reams Station, the Second Battle of Reams Station,” Civil War Home (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/reamsstation/maps/reamsstationmap.html : accessed 19 November 2011).


2 comments on “A Day in the Life of Jens Dahle: 25 August 1864

  1. Mary Swenson says:

    Fascinating to learn once again about my great-grandfather and his courage!

  2. Dana says:

    How interesting! I am doing something similar, though I’m not following an ancestor 150 years later. I recently received a document where the brother of my great, great grandfather listed 8 battles he was in. So, I’m researching those battles both to learn more about the Civil War and more about this uncle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s