Thursday, October 18, 2012

Solving the Case of the Missing Civil War Soldier: Thor Paulsen Sloan

Only one branch of my mother's Norwegian-American family arrived in the United States early enough to be involved in the Civil War.  Thor Paulsen Sloan (Slaaen) gave his life fighting in the Union Army.  He died on June 27, 1864, as a result of wounds acquired during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia.  Sloan left the Gudbrandsdalen Valley, Oppland, Norway in 1856, along with his parents, Poul Torgeresen and Kari (Svensdatter) Slaaen, and his older brother, Torger Paulsen Slaaen.  The Slaaen Family settled in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, and owned 160 acres on Section 36, Town of Washington.  Thor, who farmed alongside his parents, was born in Nord-Fron, Oppland, Norway on May 20, 1834.  Described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, with blue eyes, dark hair, and a light complexion, he was known to be an intelligent and "quiet, honest, and conscientious man" who had beautiful handwriting. [Buslett, Fifteenth Wisconsin, p.361]

Sergeant Thor P. Sloan, ca. January 1862.
The beginning of the Civil War prompted Sloan to volunteer for military service.  Like many other Norwegian immigrants, he was prepared to give not just allegiance to his newly chosen country, but his life.  When Thor P. Slaaen enlisted for a three-year term in the Union Army on December 11, 1861, he began using an Americanized version of his name:  "Sloan."  At age 28, he was appointed to the rank of Sergeant in Company E of the 15th Wisconsin Regiment, known as the "Scandinavian Regiment."  The men of Company E referred to themselves as "Odin's Rifles."  Sloan spent three months in basic training at Camp Randall, leaving there in March 1862, to join the war with his regiment.  Until July 1863, military records list him as "present" with the 15th Wisconsin, participating in the siege of Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in Tennessee,  the raid on Union City, Tennessee during the spring of 1862, the 400 mile retreat with General Buell to Louisville, Kentucky, and the Battle of Chaplin Hills at Perryville, Kentucky, and other events.

Thor P. Sloan in civilian clothing, ca. 1860.

The Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee, from December 1862 to January 1863--also called the battle of Stone River--brought the first serious casualties for the 15th Regiment. Sloan was taken prisoner during the battle, but he managed to escape soon after.  In a letter dated January 12, 1863, he wrote to his friend, Osten Rulland.  (Note: I have seen several translation versions of this letter from Norwegian to English; this version is printed in Waldemar Ager's Colonel Heg and His Boys.)

Dear Friend,

It is a long time now since I heard from you or sent you a letter.  First I must tell you that I am, thank God, hale and hearty as of this date.  Quite some time ago I heard that you had returned home and that you are in poor shape as to health.  This is very deplorable; but you can thank your lucky stars for having escaped the situation we are in.  What a life--what an existence!  And what miserable times and fierce struggles we have had to endure in storms and rough weather, both night and day.  And on top of this, the rations and supplies have generally been poor.  I can honestly say that I would care for neither gain nor anything else if I could only be out of the service, free and unfettered.  But there is no use talking.  a man must do his duty.

Briefly I also want to tell you that we have had a rather miserable Christmas, even though I, thank goodness, am in good health and ought to be satisfied.  But we have again endured much and seen many a human being mangled and in misery--all merely because of the politicians.

During the period from December 26 until January 4, I can say that we were lying with rifle in hand without any fire and at times with poor rations.  We took part in the battle at Knob Gap near Nolensville and later at Murfreesboro.  At Knob Gap we were very lucky as we did not lose a single man dead or wounded. But what a fix we were in at Murfreesboro where the enemy rushed at us by the thousands and showered us with bullets like a hailstorm.  It is a God's wonder that not everyone of us was shot down or taken prisoner, because we generally--when either the rebels or our force attacked--were bullheaded enough to stay to the very end.  On the last day of the fighting General Rosecrans said to our Brigadier General Carlin:  "If the troops in front of your brigade should fall back, then you must post your men and hold the enemy in check."  Carlin answered:  "I have only 800 men left of 2,000 and I fear that my men have lost courage and will do little now since they have always been in the front ranks."  To which Rosencrans replied:  "For the sake of the country, and for our own sake, you must do your best because your toops are now the only ones we can depend on."

At the time it did not matter because the rebels made no more attempts to pierce our line.  Our captain was killed and our lieutenant wounded.  Eleven men of my company were wounded.  Captain [Mons] Grinager was wounded, as was Captain Gustafson.  Lieutenant Fandberg and Captain Wilson were also wounded and Lieutenant Colonel McKee was killed.  All told we lost fifteen men killed, seventy wounded, and thirty-four missing--a total of 119 men.  Some of the wounded have later died.  There is fear of a renewed attack.

A sincere greeting to you and your parents as well as all my other acquaintances.  Best wishes to you.  If you are able to write, I hope you will send me a few words in return.

Thor P. Sloan

Sloan was appointed to the rank of 1st Sergeant of Company E on May 1, 1863, and in July, he was assigned as a clerk in the headquarters of Colonel Hans C. Heg's brigade.  On August 17, 1863, the brigade left Winchester, Tennessee to fight in the Chickamauga campaign, in which over half of the brigade's soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.  Sloan survived and was detached from his regiment on November 18, 1863, to go on recruiting duty back in his home state of Wisconsin.  The break from battlefield action must have brought him a sense of relief beyond measure, but it was only temporary.

In March or April 1864, Sloan returned to his regiment and was commissioned as the First Lieutenant of Company E.  He then served with the 15th on Major General Sherman's effort to capture Atlanta, Georgia.  On June 21, during the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, he was making coffee in camp along with Captain Gustafson and Lieutenant Simonsen.  An enemy grenade fell directly into the campfire and a fragment struck Sloan in the head.  He died in a nearby Army hospital in the town of Big Shanty a week later, on June 27, 1864.

Lt. Thor P. Sloan, like other casualties during the Civil War, was initially buried on his last battlefield--in this case, Kennesaw Mountain.  Following legislation enacted by Abraham Lincoln, the U. S. Government began to purchase land to create a system of National Cemeteries, in which to bury those who served in the military.  You can read more about it in this document:  History and Development of the National Cemetery Administration

It took some time to determine where Thor P. Sloan lies buried now.  In fact, it had been one of the biggest genealogy brick walls I had yet encountered.  Logic told me that Sloan was probably interred in a National Cemetery during the decades following the Civil War.  The likely location was Marietta National Cemetery in Georgia, which is closest to Kennesaw Mountain (Big Shanty, Georgia), and contains many burials of fatalities that occurred during the June 1864 battle.  But, no burial records anywhere revealed the ultimate resting place of Thor P. Sloan.  I was puzzled; it was unlikely that he was one of the many unidentified Civil War dead, since he died of his wounds while being treated in a hospital.

It was only recently that I tried yet another search on  This time, a search for variations of Sloan's name, including "T. P. Sloan" brought up a U. S. National interment document for "E. P. Sloan," who died on June 27, 1864, during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.  Aside from the first initial of the name, all of the facts were correct except for one glaring difference:  the document indicated that E. P. Sloan was from Company E of the 15th Ohio Regiment, whereas Thor P. Sloan served in the 15th Wisconsin Regiment.  When I checked the roster for the 15th Ohio Regiment, there was no "E. P. Sloan" listed.  I determined that the reason "Not Found" is written in red ink near the top of the document is because the name of the deceased could not be connected with the listed regiment.  But, allowing for the inevitable and frequent human errors that occur in record keeping, I suddenly knew who "E. P. Sloan" was.  He was most likely my ancestor, Thor Paulsen (T. P.) Sloan.  My brick wall had crumbled!

By consulting, I was able to locate a photograph of "E. P. Sloan's" headstone at the Marietta National Cemetery in Cobb County, Georgia.  The headstone for Grave C2311 appears to be an exercise in cautious simplicity.  The interment record keepers could not verify "E. P. Sloan's" regiment, so they must have decided to leave everything off the marker but the name.  The marker looks decidedly stark and incomplete... lonely, in fact.

Thor P. Sloan's contributions to the Union Army's efforts are well documented in various Civil War records, as well as in books about the history of the 15th Wisconsin Regiment.  However, I find it ironic that, in death, Sloan's final resting place became somewhat of an enigma.  It leaves me wondering if any relative before me discovered the record-keeping error made during interment to Marietta National Cemetery.  I doubt that Sloan's immediate family would have been any wiser, because his father, mother, and brother only lived long enough to know Thor to be resting alongside the battlefield where he met his demise.  The interment of Sloan's remains in a National Cemetery seems to have occurred well after the deaths of the immediate family members.  In any case, it is unlikely that these early Coon Valley, Wisconsin farmers would have been able to make a trip to far-away Georgia to assess things for themselves.

Even more ironic than the confusion surrounding Sloan's final resting place, is that a man in determined service of his new host country could have endured so much and met such an unexpected demise.  After several years of constant horrors in primitive battle, suffering imprisonment and daily cold, hunger, and other discomforts, he died of wounds received while sitting over a coffee pot, just a few months shy of the completion of his tour of duty.

Such are the lessons of history, and of the unfairness of life.

The Family of Thor Paulsen Sloan:

Thor P. Sloan was a younger half-brother to my great great grandfather, Hans Thorsen Sloan (Slaaen).  Thor had one full sibling--also a brother:  Torger Paulsen Slaaen was born in Nord-Fron, Oppland, Norway on October 13, 1831.  Like his brother, Torger also served in the Civil War, which he survived.  He married Kari Engebretsen and had two children, Mari and Peter.  His wife, Kari, died in 1859, and Torger was married for a second time in 1863 to Sophia Pedersen Stroemstad.  They had four children:  Caroline, Karen, Theodor, and Julius.  When Torger died in 1890, he was buried in the Upper Coon Valley Cemetery in Wisconsin.

Thor P. Sloan's father, Poul (Paul) Torgersen Slaaen--the son of Torger Hougen--was born in Nord-Fron, Oppland, Norway on January 14, 1806. He died on January 22, 1882.   His wife, Kari (Svensdatter), was born on November 6, 1800 in Oppland, Norway and died on October 29, 1890.  Both husband and wife are buried in the Upper Coon Valley Cemetery (Wisconsin), some 800 miles apart from their fallen son, Thor.  Kari's headstone is pictured here (photos courtesy of Kevin Sloane of the Coon Valley area).

Sources: (U. S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962)
--15th (http:www/, accessed on March 31, 2008.
--Buslett, Ole Amundson.  Fifteenth Wisconsin (translation by Barbara G. Scott).  Ripon, Wis.:  B.G.Scott, 1999. (Norway, Baptisms, 1634-1927) (Grave of E. P. Sloan, Marietta National Cemetery, Cobb County, Georgia)
--Holand, Hjalmar R.  Coon Valley: An Historical Account of the Norwegian Congregations in Coon Valley.  Minneapolis, Minn.:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1928.
--Slaeen, Kari Svensdatter, photograph of headstone at Coon Valley Cemetery, Wisconsin, courtesy of Kevin Sloane of Viroqua, Wisconsin, October 2012.
--Sloan, Thor Paulsen, photograph:  courtesy of Dale and Lois Finch of Brainerd, Minnesota, July 2005.
--U. S. National Archives & Records Administration, Military Service Records, Union Civil War (1861-1865), Thor Paulsen Sloan.
--Waldemar Ager.  Colonel Heg and His Boys: A Norwegian Regiment in the American Civil War.  Northfield, Minnesota:  The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 2000.


Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

Chery Kinnick said...

Thank you very much, Gerald! One thing I love about genealogy research is solving mysteries such as this one.

Anonymous said...

As I am reading this blog, I cannot help to believe we are related. My father's name is Thor J. Slaaen. Born in Modum, Norway in 1921. Much of his family lived in Gulbransdalen. His father's name was Anton Slaaen and I know he had an Uncle named Johan Slaaen as well. When my parents came to the United States, they kept the spelling Slaaen. Since it is such an uncommon name, and as I read the blog, I cannot help to think there is definitely a relationship. How proud I am to learn that a relative from so long ago served this country. Best to you, Heidi Slaaen Reilly, Roxbury, New Jersey, USA.