A Norwegian immigrant’s Civil War Death (part 1)

Martha and Sivert SiversonI’d like to introduce the tragic story of a Norwegian immigrant, Sever Severson, dying far from home in the service of his adopted country. Despite his death while serving his country, his service to his adopted country was apparently all but unnoticed by the very government he was fighting for. If not for his death, burial, later disinterment and subsequent reburial in a military cemetery, his country and his descendants may not have even known he died, far from home, fighting for the survival of the country that we call home.

I do not know this story first-hand, of course, because Sever is my great-great-great-grandfather, and he died a century and a half ago. Even his daughter, my great-great-grandmother Carrie Severson Bailey, was only 4 years old when he went to war, and whatever memories she may have had of her father did not make it down through the family to me.

In Part 1 of this series, I’ll present what I currently [think I] know about Sever Severson—his life, his family, his military service, and his death. In subsequent posts in this series , I’ll chart a research strategy, undertake the necessary research, present the results of this research, and will hopefully be able to draw some conclusions about the life and death of Sever Severson.

[Note: Factual information about Sever’s birthplace and emigration date has been corrected in this version.  New information is shown in red]

Summary of what I currently know (or think I know)

Sever Severson was born in Norway, but he emigrated from Sør-Aurdal in April, 1850, and was in Wisconsin by summer, 1850. In about 1854, he married a fellow Norwegian, Marthaj Arnesdatter Field, nine years his junior, in Wisconsin. Both Sever and Martha had been passengers on the Freya in 1850. Sever and Marthaj made their home in Black Earth, Wisconsin, and had five daughters together.  Three of their daughters (Anne Mary, Julia, and Ellen Caroline “Carrie”) were born before the war broke out, and their fourth daughter, Selina, was born a year and a half into the war.

Nine months after the birth of Selina, Sever was enrolled for the Congressionally mandated military draft. He apparently didn’t get drafted until September of 1863. He was back home before the end of 1863 and remained in Black Earth until mid-August, 1864, when he decided to travel south to join the Union army. On September 30, 1864, only six weeks into his service in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, Sever died (apparently of dysentery) in Atlanta, Georgia, and was buried in that city. Sever’s fifth daughter, Cecilia M. (“Celia”), was born six weeks after her father’s death.

In 1938, Sever’s remains were exhumed and reinterred in Marietta National Cemetery.

The slightly more detailed version

If the records I currently have are correct, Sever Severson (literally “Sever, son of Sever” in Norwegan), was born in Sør-Aurdal, Norway, on February 9, 1828, to Syver Knudsen Berg and Guri Maria Madsdatter. Sør-Aurdal, located in southern Norway in the county of Oppland.

The image below is a contemporary view of a Sør-Aurdal:

In April, 1850, Sever emigrated from Norway to the United States, settling in Dane County, Wisconsin. Sever knew Martha from their voyage on the Freya, if not before then in Norway. The both were raised in the mountainous county of Oppland, specifically the small village of Aurdal.

In 1855, a Sever and Marthaj Severson were enumerated on the 1855 Wisconsin state census. They were living in Dane County, in the township of Blue Mounds.

On August 22, 1860, Sivert Sivertson, his wife Marthaj, and their three daughters (Anne M., Julia, and Caroline) were enumerated on the U.S. federal census of the village of Black Earth, Dane County, Wisconsin (see below). Sever is listed as being a wagonmaker by profession, owning real estate worth $1300 and with personal property valued at $200.

1860 census for Sivert Sivertson

In June, 1863, after the military draft was reinstated by Congress, a 34-year-old married man from Norway, named Sever Severson, was listed on the draft rolls for the second congressional district of Wisconsin (below). Sever was listed as being a “Waggon Maker” residing in Black Earth, Dane County, Wisconsin. (NB: there are two 34-year-old, married, Norwegian immigrants named Sever Severson on the page below, the one I refer to is on line 8, and the other is on line 17.)

1863 draft registration for Sever Severson

In the September 5th, 1863, edition of the Wisconsin Daily Patriot (volume 9, issue 209, page 2), the first class enrolled soldiers of Dane County are listed. Sever is listed among the Black Earth men going to war (below).

WI daily patriot v9, issue 209, p2

(Note that the Deerfield Siver Siverson is also listed. In a similar list published two days earlier, in the September 3rd, 1863, edition of the Wisconsin Daily Patriot, yet another Sever Severson was listed among the second class enrollment list for Blue Mounds, Dane County, WI.)

One week later, on September 12th, 1863, the Wisconsin Daily Patriot published (volume 10, issue 26, page 6) what appears to be the complete, compiled list of all Dane County enrollees (see below). Sever is listed among the Black Earth men apparently drafted for military service.

Weekly Wisconsin Patriot v10, issue 26, p6_Page_1 Weekly Wisconsin Patriot v10, issue 26, p6_Page_2 Weekly Wisconsin Patriot v10, issue 26, p6_Page_3

Several men named Sever (or Siver) Severson (or Siverson, Sivertson, or Severtson) from Dane County have Civil War service records, and all mustered out alive. None of these Sever Seversons came from, or went back to, Black Earth, Wisconsin. The Sever Severson who was my ancestor appears to have gone off to war (presumably returning home on leave in the winter of 1863/1864, as his daughter Celia was conceived around February 16, 1864), and then returning to the war, never to be heard from again.

A man named “S. Severson” died on September 30, 1864, in Atlanta, Georgia. He was originally buried in a grave in Atlanta. In 1938, his remains were exhumed and reburied in Marietta National Cemetery, to rest alongside legions of fellow fallen Union soldiers. Below is the U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Form I found for this man:

1938 cemetery interment card for S Severson

And this is his headstone in the Marietta National Cemetery:

S Severson headstone

As further evidence that Sever never returned from the war, at the time of the 1870 census of Black Earth, enumerated on July 30, 1870 (see below), Martha Siverson (33 years old) is listed as the head of household, along with her five daughters: Mary A. (14 yrs), Julia (12 yrs), Ellen C. (11 yrs), Salina (9 yrs), and Cecilia M. (5 yrs). She is not listed as a widow, but there is nowhere on the 1870 census to indicate that someone is a widow. Martha’s profession is listed as “Keeping house,” but she owned real estate worth $2700 and had personal property valued at $500. All of her daughters are listed as having attended school within the year, but Martha is noted as not being able to read or write (at least not in English).

1870 census for Martha Siverson

So far, I’ve only been able to find a single photo of Sever, quite possibly his wedding photo:

Sever and Marthaj Severson

To be continued in Part 2….

You’ll also want to read about the exciting development in the case here.

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