Col. James Alban

Col. James Alban led the Pinery boys in Battle
taken from the May 19, 1992 Stevens Point Journal
By JUSTIN ISHERWOOD

Turn in the gate of the GAR cemetery at Yellow Banks and the white obelisk on the left marks the mortal earth of James Alban. Of figures in this county’s history none equal the turbulence, the spirit and the submission to rogue fate than this man.

Born in Jefferson County, Ohio, April 7, 1810, to a well-to-do pioneer family of that region, he read the law as was the habit of the time to one of the partisan lawyers of the area. At the age of 23 he married Amanda Barris, daughter of another land-wealthy settler. Their first child Lucinda was born in 1834, followed by a second two years later.

As a child of a pioneering family, Alban recognized the golden principle of advancement, that the advantage belongs, and the eventual wealth, to those who get in on the ground floor. In 1830 Alban and his family moved west to Chicago looking for an opportunity. As a lawyer Alban was aware through legal circles of the problem of native dislocation, including the ongoing federal negotiations with the Winnebago. With the extinguishments of the native title the area “north” of the Wisconsin River would open to settlement, choicest parcels to those who knew when to express a legal claim.

During the winter of 1838 the Albans moved into the Sauk Prairie though it was still technically Indian land. In l843 Amanda died; James took their five children back to Ohio to be raised in more “settled circumstances.”

Alban married Clarissa in 1844 and returned to Wisconsin, this time settling in Plover, Portage County, where he opened the first law office. In 1847 he became the county’s first district attorney. In 1848 he hung a shingle with Luther Hanchette who would eventually marry his daughter. As a land owner, Alban held a key parcel to the ferry service between Plover and Mill Creek and served numerous government poets as county treasurer, Judge and state senator. Three years after the Stevens Point Pinery began publishing he started his own newspaper to advocate his own strong views on the slavery question. The Plover Herald was an unabashed emancipation Journal. His editorials, though never tentative, took on ever increasing moral ascendancy, the paper crusading like one of literally hundreds of others in the north.

After some masked negotiations in Washington, D.C., Alban was rewarded with appointment as colonel of the 18th Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers. His local influence would make the difference in the number and popularity of local companies. For this Alban was ideal. Late in 1861 Company E was formed out of Plover and Stockton volunteers who had been steeped in the Republican, Union Forever/Slavery Never ideals of the Plover Herald.

In February 1862, the 18th was barracked in Milwaukee where they learned the various drills. On March 30 they left for St. Louis, or so they thought. At Cairo, Ill., the steamboats turned up the Ohio, suggesting their attachment to the Army of the Potomac and McClellan, the greatest field marshal in the western hemisphere. At Paducah the steamers turned south on the Tennessee River meaning they were deployed to General Grant. On April 5 the Plover and Stockton boys arrived at Pittsburg Landing, their mood was jovial under the knowledge of superior Union forces counting 80,000 strong.

The green troops of the 18th chose an open area to make camp. Alban, the lawyer-editor, had no thought but for the comfort of his men. The 18th Regiment, positioned on the extreme left flank of the Union Army, was protected by a convoluted terrain, enough as said one observer “...to lose a steamboat in.” That it also concealed the movements of a 40,000 Confederate force bent on surprise was, alas, also true.

Throughout the night scattered gunfire was heard but thought to be pot-shooters. The green regiments of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois had no war experience in establishing a forward post. Why the weight of the Confederates struck at Union left suggests a strategy to separate the Union from a retreat to the river, or to cut off reinforcements twice the size of the Rebel force. A large part of the Union Army was as green as the Wisconsin 18th, for them the attack that Sunday morning the 6th of April was a nightmare. Gunfire came from every tangle of that Tennessee woods. Nothing had prepared the Pinery boys for the ferocity of the reb onslaught and the lack of “determined self-preservation” on the part of these south men. Within the first hours of battle most of the 18th was already lost, 200 taken prisoner, many dead, many more dying.

Not until noon of that Easter Sunday did the remnants of the 18th find a defensive position with remnants of Ohio and Illinois regiments. A spilt rail fence with a slight ditch behind it afforded the opportunity to face the Confederates. Known as the Hornet’s Nest, it stands out with those other singular moments of the Civil War where an opportunity was lost or a disaster averted. The slight protection of the fencerow permitted the green troops to mow down successive attacks with cruel impartiality.

Alban, astride his horse as a brave colonel ought to be, was struck by a minnieball from a sharp shooter and knocked from saddle. The following morning, with a total of seven hours of war experience, this pinery lawyer and newspaper editor died. The officer who assumed command was killed shortly after, as were the next two also.

Starting out with 900 members, the 18th Regiment was by Sunday evening reduced to half, the 200 taken prisoner held for the duration at Andersonville. By summer, less than 300 remained fit for duty.

April 30, 1862, from the Pinery “...The remains of Colonel James S. Alban of the 18th Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteers, who fell with his face to the foe gloriously fighting the battle of constitutional liberty at Pittsburg Landing, arrived at Plover on the 10th and was consigned to that journey from which no traveler returns...With full Masonic honors he was buried in the Plover Cemetery.”

Some say there is mingled in the spring breath something of lilacs at the Plover Cemetery. A hint, some caution, of Tennessee leeks and black powder from a terrible Sunday service.

James Shane Alban, dressed in his Union uniform, presents a sober appearance. Full bearded, like many of his contemporaries, apparently a man of average size, his eyes have a cold, uncompromising stare, consistent with a time of fanaticism and unbending principle. What now the old editor would say if his dust had one last column to speak its mind? To stand at his grave and listen is to hear no opinion, only the wind in the pines. The high keening octave a white pine utters, an eery note but appropriate to the memorial of Col. James Alban.

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