"Badger Boys in Blue" Letters | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Badger Boys in Blue: A Soldier's Letters 1862–1865

Wisconsin and the Civil War: Camp Randall

"Badger Boys in Blue" Letters | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

EnlargeFull-length studio portrait of a civil war soldier with an american flag, cannon and tent in the background.

Civil War Soldier

A tinted tintype of a Civil War soldier. The soldier is possibly Stanley Lathrop from Montello, Wisconsin, who served in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. View the original source document: WHI 60857

This collection is a series of letters written by Chauncey E. Cooke, a 16-year-old Civil War soldier from Dover, Wisconsin, in Buffalo County. After traveling to La Crosse and lying about his age in September 1862, Cooke was mustered into Company G of the 25th Wisconsin Infantry regiment. The enthusiasm and determination with which Cooke volunteered probably resulted from his father's ardent abolitionist beliefs.

Cooke's letters allow us to glimpse into the life of a Civil War soldier and obtain rich details about Camp Randall and the town of Madison. Before the original letters were lost or given away, the "Mondovi Herald" (Cooke resided in Mondovi after the war) reprinted them in a small booklet entitled "Soldier Boy's Letters to His Father and Mother, 1862–1865."

A microfilm copy of this booklet can be found in the Wisconsin Historical Society's Library.


Students will:

  • Analyze primary source documents, including letters and newspaper articles
  • Understand Wisconsin's role in the Civil War


When news that Ft. Sumter had surrendered to South Carolina reached Wisconsin on April 14, 1861, emotionally-charged citizens rallied around the Union flag and called for an end to the secessionist movement. President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 men to stop the insurrection, and Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randall immediately began asking for volunteers to organize into companies and report for duty. The response was immediate and plentiful, with more volunteers coming forward than could initially be used. Despite Governor Randall's lobbying, the U.S. War Department would accept no more than a single regiment of 10 companies from Wisconsin with 78 men in each. Sensing the urgency and predicting a longer war, Governor Randall set up a training ground for troops in Madison.

The training ground was located on land used by the State Agricultural Society for fairgrounds. It consisted of 53 1/2 acres and extended from University Avenue to Monroe Street in Madison. More than 70,000 men traveled from around the state to train there. While at camp they spent their time drilling, composing letters, reading, singing songs, complaining about the food, and trying to remain healthy. All the while they were trying to escape the boredom of waiting to see some "real" action in the South. Some soldiers took the opportunity to visit the many Madison taverns. The citizens of Madison had mixed feelings about the training camp and its occupants. Although at first citizens welcomed recruits with home-baked goodies, and admired them as they performed drills, the ruckus and damage caused by some of the rowdy, drunk soldiers strained the pleasant relationship.

The corporal commander of the 2nd Wisconsin regiment named this Civil War training camp to honor Governor Randall and reciprocate the favor for his appointment. After the Civil War, the land was used once again as fairgrounds. Later, when the state fair moved to Milwaukee and the land was in danger of being subdivided and sold, the state purchased the land, and the University of Wisconsin used it as a park and athletic facilities. During World War I the camp was reopened briefly to accommodate troops for drilling. In 1912 a ceremonial arch was built on Randall Street to commemorate the camp's existence. Currently, the University of Wisconsin–Madison maintains the ceremonial park on which the university recreation center now stands. Standing on the west side of the training grounds is Camp Randall stadium, home to the Badgers football team.

Resource Materials


  1. Analyzing the Document

    Divide the class into four groups. Have each group read one of the letters and answer the guided questions. When each group is finished, discuss the letters and responses out loud. Additional information about Camp Randall can be found in the Background section.

  2. Additional Exploration and Clarification of Primary Resources

    To reinforce the concept of primary and secondary sources along with the topic of historical editing, have students compare and contrast the previous series of letters with a letter written by 16th Wisconsin regiment soldier John Cronk. After reading Cronk's, letter students can begin to identify the similarities and differences by answering the following questions:

    • What additional details does this document provide about Camp Randall?
    • Do any of the details conflict with one another? Do the details support each other?
    • Which document is more enjoyable to read? Why?
    • Is one document a better source than the other? Explain.
  3. If the U.S. history textbook used presents details about training camps, ask students to read this as a third document, using the questions above as a guide. After students have examined both letters and answered questions, reintroduce the concept of primary and secondary sources using the previous two letters as examples. The Smithsonian website provides a simple yet clear definition and presents several examples and various strengths and weaknesses of each. The Cronk letter is obviously a primary source, yet Cooke's letters are also a primary source. They simply have been edited; therefore spelling and grammar changes may have occurred.

  4. Historical Research and Creative Writing

    A. Have students take on the persona of Chauncey Cooke and create a series of letters to send home to his parents, describing in first person his experiences after he left Camp Randall as a member of Company G of the 25th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. Students should work towards capturing the style and voice of Cooke while also creating historically accurate letters through research on the 25th Infantry. The following resources will be of assistance:

    • Klement, Frank L. "Wisconsin in the Civil War ." Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997, pp. 69, 111.
    • Current, Richard N. "The History of Wisconsin Volume II. The Civil War Era, 1848–1873" Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976, pp. 343, 352, 357.
    • The Wisconsin Civil War regimental histories can be found on the Wisconsin Veterans Museum website.

    B. Discover which regiment had the most soldiers from the student's town or area by searching the Library Catalog, the Society's online catalog for both library and archival resources, or examining the Society's online Civil War resources for each roster and town and share their findings with other students.

    Each student should select the name of a soldier and seek information about this soldier's experience during the Civil War. This may involve reading about the history of his regiment, looking for his name in old local newspapers, or contacting the local historical society in the student's district for possible resources, such as journals, letters, or photographs. If students discover additional data on the soldier they have chosen, have them write a brief biography about him based on the resources found.

    If students do not discover information, have them create a series of letters from the selected soldier to his family back home. To formulate ideas, students should review the December 25 and January 29 Cooke letters, in which Cooke speaks of activities at home. Students should also use the local newspaper or the local historical society in your area to structure an accurate hometown setting for this time period.

  5. Historical Research and Half-Time Shows

    Utilizing Cooke's letters, the Cronk letter, and the newspaper articles, have students complete additional research on Camp Randall in order to write a 10- to 20- minute active entertainment piece that could "hypothetically" be performed at half-time during a Badger football game. The entertainment piece should be engaging and designed for a half-time show, but it should also present an accurate history of Camp Randall. Show examples of traditional football half-time shows and perhaps the opening ceremonies from the Olympics to refresh student's memories. Examples of the Big Top Chautauqua show can help with the process of translating history.


Several primary source documents with suggested activities that relate to Camp Randall include:

  • "Arrival of Secession Prisoners." Wisconsin State Journal, 4/21/1862.
  • Cooke, Chauncey H. Soldier Boy's Letters to His Father and Mother, 1862-1865. Mondovi: The Mondovi Herald, c. 1919.
  • Cronk, John. Civil War letter to Charles Palmer. Madison, 1862. In the manuscript collection. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Favill, John. Certificates indicating reasons for medical deferments. Dane County, 1862. In Civil War Draft Records. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Letters written by doctors and acquaintances to help men called obtain exemption. Dane County, 1862. In Medical Correspondence. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • "Matters at Camp Randall." Wisconsin Weekly Patriot, 4/26/1862.
  • Pomeroy, Marcus "Brick." "Abraham Lincoln." The La Crosse Daily Democrat, 8/15/1864.
  • Pomeroy, Marcus "Brick." "Look At It." The La Crosse Daily Democrat, 8/24/1864.
  • Salomon, Edward. Letters. Madison, 1862. In Volume 5- Series 33 of Governors Correspondence General 1838-1926. State Historical Society of Wisconsin
  • United States Office of the Provost Marshal General Board of Enrollment. Broadside listing the names of draft dodgers for the First District of Wisconsin. In the Historic Pamphlet Collection. State Historical Society Library.
  • Van Slyke, N.B. Detailed Drawing of Camp Randall, 1865. In Visual Archives WHi(X3)33886. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Vilas, Levi. Lists of men eligible for the 1862 militia draft. Dane County, 1862. In Civil War Draft Records. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • "Visits to Camp Randall Discontinued." Wisconsin State Journal, 4/29/1862.

Other sources include:

  • "Camp Randall in the Civil War." Wisconsin Electronic Reader. (1998).
  • "Camp Randall Sent 70,000 Soldiers to Fight for the North." Wisconsin Then and Now. (1972): 6-7.
  • Cooke, Chauncey H. "Letters of a Badger Boy in Blue: Life at Old Camp Randall." Wisconsin Magazine of History. 4 (1920): 75-77.
  • Current, Richard N. The History of Wisconsin Volume II. The Civil War Era, 1848- 1873. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976.
  • Heberling, James R. The Boys at Forest Hill. Madison: J.R. Beberling, 1992.
  • Historic Madison, Inc., Forest Hill Cemetery Committee. A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin: The Ordinary and the Famous Women and Men Who Shaped Madison and the World. Madison: 1996.
  • Holzhueter, John. Madison during the Civil War Era: A Portfolio of Rare Photographs. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Klement, Frank. "'Brick' Pomeroy: Copperhead and Curmudgeon," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 35 Winter 1961, 106-113, 156-157.
  • Klement, Frank L. Wisconsin in the Civil War. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997.
  • Larsen, Lawrence H. "Draft Riot in Wisconsin, 1862," Civil War History, 7 December 1961: 421-423.
  • Malone, Bobbie. Back to the Beginnings: The Early Days of Dane County. Madison: Litho Productions, 1998.
  • Mattern, Carolyn J. Soldiers When They Go: The Story of Camp Randall, 1861-1865. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1981.
  • Mollenhoff, David. Madison: A History of the Formative Years. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Nesbit, Robert. Wisconsin: A History. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
  • Piersma, Matthew. "Confederate Prisoners Arrive at Camp Randall." The Bugle- Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation. 7:2, 1, 14.
  • Stevens, Michael E. and Steven B. Burg. Editing Historical Documents: A Handbook of Practice, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1997.
  • White, Richard Grant. Poetry of the Civil War. New York: The American News Company, 1866.


This lesson plan was developed by the Office of School Services at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Please adapt to fit your students needs.

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