A Norwegian immigrant’s Civil War Death (part 2)

Martha and Sivert SiversonIn Part 1 of this post, I introduced the story of Sever Severson, the Norwegian immigrant, husband, and father of five daughters, who was drafted for military service in the Civil War and apparently died in the war, never to come home.

In a recent post, I shared news about an exciting development that’s come to light in my research into Sever Severson’s death—knowledge that Sever kept a daily diary from January 1, 1864, until September 26, 1864, just four days before he died, and that at least a copy of that diary has survived.

In this, the second post in this series, I’ll assess what I don’t know in regards to the emerging story of the life and death of Sever Severson, and I’ll formulate questions that I’ll need to answer in order to shed light on these unknowns. I’ll do what I can to answer as many of the questions as possible, and then I’ll chart a course for finding answers to the remaining questions.

I currently know precious little about Sever Severson. What little I know comes primarily from the 1860 census and from Civil War draft records. The things that I don’t know about Sever Severson are legion, and until the revelation about his diary, much appeared to be unknowable, given that died a century and a half ago in relative obscurity. The information contained in his diary will certainly change this prognosis. Even though I’ve only seen the last three pages of his diary so far (I hope to see much more in the coming weeks), I’m already gaining new insight into who Sever Severson was, and what he was like.

While the diary will doubtless be a major leap forward in my understanding of Sever Severson, it shouldn’t stop my other research into his life and death. I’ve probably got at least a couple of weeks before I can dive into his diary, so in the meantime, I’ll carry on with my original plan.

I’ll be able to better focus on the research at hand if I pretend that his diary doesn’t even exist, at least until I’ve had a chance to see it and read it. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing my research on those topics that I might be able to answer with documentary evidence, including the following subjects:

  • Sever Severson’s immigration to the U.S.
  • His marriage to Marthaj Arnesdatter Field
  • His profession as wagon maker
  • His military experiences
  • The circumstances of his death

I’ve already put ordinary amounts of effort into illuminating these areas of his life and death, but have found only minimal evidence for each of these. To organize my research, I’ve phrased some of the more conspicuous unknowns as questions. To help me make progress towards answering these questions, I’ll formulate more specific questions whose answers will guide further research.


  • When and how did Sever Severson immigrate to the U.S.?
    • What’s the latest documented date that he was in Norway?
    • What’s the earliest documented date that he was in the U.S.?
    • Where there any patterns to Norwegian immigration to the U.S. during this period?
  • When and where did he meet and marry Marthaj Arnesdatter Field?
    • What’s the latest documented date that he appears as a single man?
    • What’s the earliest documented date that they were together?
    • What religion was he likely to be?
    • What churches of that religion existed in the area during this period?
  • What more can be learned about his career as a wagon maker?
    • Where did he conduct his business?
    • What references exist that he was a wagon maker?
    • What can I learn about the work that wagon makers did during this period?
  • Did he serve in the military?  If so, what unit(s) did he serve in, where did he travel, and what battles was he in?
    • How many Sever Seversons from Wisconsin served in the Civil War?
    • Are they all accounted for?
    • Are there military records that cannot be excluded as being his?
    • What regiments and companies did other men from Black Earth serve in?
    • Do any of the rosters of these units have references to him?
    • Does his being a wagon maker give any clues to his military service?
  • Where and how did he die? Was his death due to injury or to illness?
    • Are there any other documents regarding the man buried under the S. Severson headstone?
    • Is the dead S. Severson necessarily from Wisconsin?
    • Are there any general records of skirmishes, deaths or sicknesses from this location at this time?

I’ll start with the last two areas of inquiry (his military service and death). Sorting out his military service records will be the topic of my next post, Will the real Sever Severson please stand up? The details of Sever’s burial will be the topic of a post entitled The not-so-final resting place of Sever Severson. I’ll include links the the posts here as soon as they’re finished.


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