Abram R. Dodge: Another of history’s mysteries

On or about May 14, 1846, Abram R. Dodge and 32 Kendall County men, several from Oswego, climbed on board wagons whose use, along with the teams to pull them were donated by local residents, and left to fight in the newly declared war with Mexico.

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A mounted U.S. Dragoon and an infantry lieutenant pause while marching off to fight in the Mexican War of 1846. Company E, 2nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, would have worn uniforms similar to the lieutenant’s. Image courtesy of On Point: The On-Line Journal of Army History.”

Called “Captain Dodge’s Company,” the men were transported to Alton on the Mississippi River, and there they were taken into federal service. Dodge’s company was filled out to its standard compliment of about 50 men and was then officially designated Company E and assigned to the 2nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Abram Dodge was an interesting fellow, once prominent and well-known but his fame was fleeting, so fleeting that for decades it was forgotten that he was the “Captain Dodge” who led a company of local residents off to war. Instead, the grave of his younger brother, Alexander, was decorated with a U.S. Flag on Memorial Day.

We know a little about Dodge, and we’ve found out more during the past few weeks, prompted by his mention in a letter recently acquired by Oswego’s Little White School Museum, written by Henry J. Moore back to a cousin in New York State.

Thanks to a copy of another letter in the museum’s collections, donated by Dodge family historian Karen Hale, along with a few mentions in histories of Kendall County written in 1877 and 1914, we’ve been slowly piecing together Dodge’s life in the Kendall County area.

He arrived in the Fox Valley about 1835, first apparently living in Aurora. When his father, Ashael Dodge, and the rest of his family arrived in 1837, he moved in with his father in the area of today’s hamlet of Little Rock in Kendall County. At that time, Little Rock Township was still part of Kane County; Kendall County wouldn’t be formed until 1841. Shortly after, Dodge moved south of the Kane-LaSalle County line, ran for office, and was elected on the Democratic Party ticket to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.

Henry Moore, in the May 14, 1846 letter recently acquired by the museum, noted that not only was Dodge a lawyer, but he was also a Democrat and “a stanch loco,” meaning he was a member of the liberal faction of the Democratic Party called the Locofocos. The Locofocos, in general, opposed state banks, paper money, tariffs, monopolies, and any financial policy they deemed anti-democratic. They officially called themselves the “Equal Rights Party,” but later adopted the derisive nickname they were given when party regulars turned off the gaslights during a Tammany Hall nominating meeting and the radicals lit candles with the then-new self-striking matches, known as locofocos, and nominated their own list of candidates.

As befitted a radical, Dodge was apparently a hotheaded fellow, and was involved in a near duel during his term of office in the General Assembly, according to an account by Elihu Washburne. For good measure, he also opposed the formation of Kendall County while a member of the General Assembly. When area residents proposed taking three townships from Kane County—Little Rock, Bristol, and Oswego—and six townships from LaSalle County—Big Grove, Kendall, NaAuSay, Fox, Lisbon, and Seward—to form the new nine-township Kendall County, Dodge helped the forces militating against the new county’s formation. But it was in vain, and Kendall County was established in February 1841.

Whether he favored its formation or not, Dodge apparently came back to Kendall County after his single term in Springfield.

By 1846, he was a fairly well-known attorney apparently living in Oswego, and when President James K. Polk appealed for 50,000 volunteers to serve for one year to fight the Mexicans, Dodge, along with another local attorney, Alonzo B. Smith, spoke at a rally held at Oswego’s first one-room school, located on Madison Street, urging local men to enlist in the fight. Dodge was elected captain of the locally-raised company, and left with them on their trip to Alton. But while his company went off to war, fighting under Gen. Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Palo Alto, Dodge apparently did not. An 1874 report by the Illinois Adjutant General’s office affirmed that Dodge indeed had been commissioned a captain in the 2nd Illinois in June 1846 at Alton, but a later, more complete report issued by the adjutant general’s office omitted any mention of him. Further official records indicated that sometime in July 1846, Dodge’s Company E of the 2nd Illinois Volunteers was given a new captain. What happened to his service, we do not know, but it was apparently exceedingly brief.

Dodge then drops out of the historical record until we find him in 1850, living in what is today Lisle Township (then called DuPage Township) of DuPage County. According to the U.S. Census that year, Dodge, then 40 years of age, was living with his wife, Susannah, and his younger brother, Deloss, whose occupation was listed as “Student.” After that, Dodge drops out of sight altogether. By at least one report, he died in DuPage County in 1850, but the historical jury’s still out on that conclusion. He certainly is not included in any further Censuses.

For the time being at least, Abram Dodge is just one more of those local personages who drift in and out of history, this time a life given a little more illumination thanks to the serendipitous acquisition of Henry J. Moore’s only-known letter by the Little White School Museum.

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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Military History, Oswego, People in History

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