Olof Hanson, From Sweden to the Civil War


by Terry Hogan


Olof Hanson's story is not unique, particularly for this part of the country. Because it is a common story for many of our Swedish ancestors who came to Illinois in the 1850's, it may be of interest to others who will find a common story line with their own ancestors.   Many Swedes left the homeland to try for a better life in the mid-1850s.  Many came to Illinois as land was cheap and letters from other Swedes, many associated with Bishop Hill, talked about the rich soil, cheap food and clothes, and the possibility for success not found for farmers in Sweden.  They, like Olof, came by sailing vessel across the stormy Atlantic, looking for something better.   Many, perhaps most, did find something better.  But also they found a Civil War in which many volunteered to serve.  In the Galesburg area, many of the local volunteers joined the 102nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry.  This is what Olof did.  Thus his war tales are the war tales of many ancestors from the Galesburg area who fought in the Civil War.  And if those ancestors were Swedish, his story is all the more closely related to theirs.


Galesburg and the Civil War are in many ways a small story with various themes. Many of Galesburg's Civil War veterans can be accounted for in a listing of a relatively few units.  This is because volunteer units in the Civil War were raised locally. Thus a single company or regiment would likely contain a large number of friends, neighbors, and relatives.  This was both good and bad.  On the good side, it gave camaraderie, allegiance, and moral support to have friends and relatives around when facing the uncertainty of battle. And if the worst came to pass, there was the possibility that your remains, or at least your personal possessions and story would be taken back home to the loved ones. Of course, the bad side was if the unit fell on hard times and suffered a high mortality rate, that burden fell upon a single or a few neighboring communities.  For better or for worse, that is how many of the units, including the 102nd, were structured.  For example my wife and I are both from the Galesburg area and we each have ancestors who served in the 102nd. They were in different companies and we can only speculate whether they knew one another.


Olof was born in Amots Bruk, Sweden on August 6, 1835. Olof's father was Hans Ericson.  Hans was a farmer. Hans died in 1856, leaving behind four sons and four daughters. Olof was the youngest son.  His mother died when he was only 8 and she had been sick for 7 years prior to her death.  On August 6, 1855, Olof and three of his sisters left Sweden for America, landing at an unspecified "eastern seaport".  Olof arrived in Knox County Illinois on October 20, 1855. He worked at various jobs including farmer, coal miner, and brick maker.


On March 18, 1861, Olof married another Swede who recently came to America.  She was Elizabeth Anderson.  They were married in Knoxville, Illinois. Her father, Andrew Olson died in Sweden in 1852.  Her mother, with a son and two daughters, traveled to America in 1857. They settled near Wataga in Sparta Township.  The son died in the army near Little Rock, Arkansas in 1863.


Like so many able-bodied men of the time, Olof Hanson volunteered to fight for the North, even though he had been in America only a few years.  He enlisted in Company I of the 102nd Illinois Infantry on August 6, 1862 in Oneida, Illinois. His recruiter was John Burnell.  According to his Civil War records, on file at the National Archives in Washington D.C., Olof was a tall man for the time, being 5 feet 11 1/2 inches tall, with light complexion, light hair, and blue eyes.   


According to Olof's military records, he was mustered into service in Knoxville on September 2, 1862 and was mustered out on May 27, 1865 from the General Hospital at Camp Butler.  During his service during the Civil War, he was injured twice and he contracted "erysipelas" from which he suffered for the rest of his life.  On May 15, 1864 he was wounded in the arm.  During the period of June 15-16, 1864, he was injured while preparing fortifications at or near Kennesaw Mountain (Tennessee).  A log fell on his leg causing serious injury below the knee.  While in the hospital for his knee injury, he contracted erysipelas on the face and upper body.  Erysipelas is a spreading inflammation of the skin and tissue just under the skin.  It is caused by a bacterium. Olof was stationed in Savannah, Georgia in December, 1864. For those who are interested in more information on the 102nd Illinois, Infantry, I recommend the reading of "Jottings from Dixie" as well as the Illinois Adjutant General's report for the 102nd.


After the war, Olof returned to Illinois.  Olof and Elizabeth had 6 children.  The first was a girl, named Anna Christine Hanson.  She was born on March 3, 1863, about 7 months after Olof mustered into service.  Anna Christine Hanson grew up and married another Swede, John Edwin Williamson.  They, unwittingly, became my great grandparents. They lived in Wataga, Illinois. Anna Hanson's brothers and sisters were Emma, Joseph, Abner, Andrew (Ander) and Mary Adalia. They were all born in Knox County.


Olof Hanson died on April 5, 1906 and is buried in the Galva (Illinois) Cemetery.  His wife, Elizabeth Anderson Hanson died on June 15, 1907 and is also buried in the Galva Cemetery.  But their children lived on to marry and have children of their own. Often their choices of spouses were also Swedish, but in time the Swedish blood mixed with Irish, German, English, and ultimately just became American - that mixture that grew from the melting pot.



Verda French. Undated. Williamson Genealogy (copy in Galesburg Public Library).


P. Reyburn and T. Wilson. 1999.  Jottings from Dixie, The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, U.S.A. Published by Louisiana State University Press


Portrait and Biographical Album of Knox County, Illinois (1886). Page 682


National Archives.  Civil War Records and Pension Record for Olof Hanson. (1995 site visit).

Illinois Adjutant General's Report.102nd Illinois Infantry.


Dyer's Regimental History.  102nd Regiment Infantry (Internet), from A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. III Regimental Histories. By Frederick H. Dyer (1908).