John M. Thayer (1820-1906), Nebraska plainsman, soldier, legislator, and chief executive, was interviewed in old age by the Omaha World-Herald about his Civil War experiences with the First Nebraska Regiment. In his account, published by the World-Herald on May 19, 1901, Thayer said, “The First Nebraska was organized in the spring of 1861, right after Abraham Lincoln had issued his call for 300,000 men. Prior to that time I had been on the territorial frontier in command of the militia. . . . I wrote to Secretary of War Cameron, asking that one regiment be assigned to Nebraska. The request was granted, and I went voluntarily to work organizing the regiment, which, when mustered in at Omaha in June, 1861, consisted of ten companies and approximately 1,000 men. I was commissioned colonel by [Territorial] Governor Alvin Saunders, who had just been appointed from Mount Pleasant, Ia., by President Lincoln.”
Thayer briefly related the history of the regiment and “a little strategy [used] in getting the regiment out of the state. Business men and traders at Omaha, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City, and up along the Elkhorn, wanted us detained in Nebraska to defend the frontier. . . . but we had no idea of going on the Plains to stay if we could avoid it. We were tired of fighting Indians, and since it had to be, we wanted a try at fighting white men. And so, as I said, I used a little strategy.
“I telegraphed General Fremont, who, in St. Louis, was in command of the department of the west, for permission to take five of my ten companies and proceed to Fort Leavenworth to get arms for the regiment. Of course, there was no necessity for taking five companies along, but I got the permission just the same and started on the errand. My plan was to induce Fremont to order the other five companies to join us at St. Louis, and he did it. There was lots of swearing in Nebraska over the way Thayer had stolen the regiment out of the state, but it was too late to do anything but swear, so we went joyously on our way.
“Nebraska, by the way, then went to work and raised another regiment for the defense of the frontier of which Robert W. Furnas was made colonel. That was the original Second Nebraska.”