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Interpreting the Promise of America

Book CoverColonel Heg and His Boys: A Norwegian Regiment in the American Civil War
Waldemar Ager

ISBN 0-87732-091-8
262 pp. Copyright © 2000, The Norwegian-American Historical Association

The author, Waldemar Ager, wrote this book in Norwegian in 1916. Colonel Heg and His Boys contains first-hand accounts by men and boys who fought in the Fifteenth Wisconsin Regiment. The preface and introduction provide you with background for the interesting first-hand accounts of battle and living conditions experienced by these Norwegian American soldiers. These men also learned to adjust to many new ideas. In countless ways the Civil War changed the country and these Norwegian Americans.

The Association is pleased to publish in translation Colonel Heg and His Boys: A Norwegian Regiment in the American Civil War by Waldemar Ager as volume 13 in its Travel and Description Series. The many personal accounts from the battlefields by

I'm but a lowly Private in this fine regiment.
We use the rifle boldly, ourselves to represent.
Among the other Nations, we'll surely gain a name
We'll never make excuses, but storm ahead to fame.

- From A Poem About The "Fifteenth"
the soldiers of the Fifteenth Wisconsin Regiment, penned in letters to family and friends, remain the most evocative and moving contributions. Their value is enhanced as primary source material to a wrenching national experience. These intimate narratives relate both the horrors of the conflict and the loyalty of the young men, many of them recent arrivals from Norway, to what they consistently refer to as "our new fatherland."

Ager wished to convey to a generation of Norwegian Americans rapidly distancing itself from its roots that it was at the same time when the Norwegian impulse was strong and fresh that they had made the most significant contributions to America. In 1916 when the original Norwegian version appeared it was precisely the patriotism of foreign-born Americans that was in question as the xenophobic hysteria during the World War I era generated heated anti-hyphen campaigns to eradicate anything that seemed foreign to the dominant Anglo-American culture. Ager admonishes his readers through the voices and actions of the Civil War soldiers to honor their heritage, and not reject it as the propagandists for "100 percent Americanism" advocated—only by doing so would they become good and patriotic citizens.

The translation begins with Ager's own "foreword" in the 1916 edition; in editing the body of the work some parts of the original have been deleted. None of the numerous portraits collected by Ager could be reproduced. The book's organization—which in Ager's somewhat random procedure in collecting information occasionally assumes the irregularity of a scrapbook—has been retained out of loyalty to the original Norwegian version. To modern readers the work itself may indeed seem like an artifact of the past; they might even experience some confusion in following Ager's eclectic narrative. It is, however, not published as an authoritative history of the Civil War or even of the Fifteenth Wisconsin Regiment, though a few of Ager's most obvious errors of fact and interpretation are noted. The first-hand accounts found in the letters of the soldiers, even though not always entirely accurate, possess great value in themselves as personal documents and should be of interest to a broad readership. The Civil War period is a dramatic watershed event in the adjustment of Norwegian Americans to the challenges they encountered in America and moved them toward integration with the new society. The heroic roles played by the men of the Fifteenth Wisconsin Regiment remain lasting and treasured images in the iconography of the Norwegian-American experience.


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