Monthly Archives: April 2015

Rushing to the gold fields in 1849

The word spread remarkably fast after gold was discovered in California near Sutter’s Mill in 1848. When the news finally made it back to the East Coast of the U.S., the nation’s first real gold rush was on, and miners by the thousands began heading west. Some “49’ers” made the trek overland by wagon train, and others by ship, either around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, or braving the not infrequently fatal journey across the Isthmus of Panama.

Three young Massachusetts residents—Henry C. Cutter, age 19, his elder brother James, and a brother-in-law, James Porter—caught a serious case of gold fever after hearing about the riches to be had in the California gold fields. In October 1849 they left their home near Boston to try their luck.

Combination sail and side-wheel steamers were the height of modern seagoing transport in 1849. The SS California, shown here, was operated by the same company that owned the SS Falcon on which the Cutter party traveled from Havana, Cuba to Panama in the fall of 1849.

Combination sail and side-wheel steamers were the height of modern seagoing transport in 1849. The SS California, shown here, was operated by Pacific division of the same company that owned the SS Falcon on which the Cutter party traveled from Havana, Cuba to Panama in the fall of 1849. (U.S. National Postal Museum)

As noted above, the Cutter party was not traveling in a vacuum. An estimated 80,000 gold seekers—mostly men, but some with women and children in tow—headed for California in 1849, each determined to strike it rich. Some, including a surprising number of Kendall County residents, established formal, well-organized traveling parties and took the long route overland. Others decided one of the faster water routes, either around Cape Horn on sailing ships or aboard combination side-wheel steam and sailing ships through the Caribbean, across the disease-plagued Isthmus of Panama, and up the Pacific Coast to California, was either safer, quicker, or both.

No matter which route they chose, the investment of time and treasure in such a journey in 1849 was substantial.

After some study, the Cutter party decided on the Caribbean route as the lesser of all evils. Traveling by rail to New York, they boarded a steam and sailing ship for the first leg of the trip, to Havana, Cuba. After two days’ rest, the group boarded the U.S. Mail Steamship Company’s steam and sail ship Falcon bound for the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama.

In 1849 the Panama Canal did not yet exist—in fact, Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t even a gleam in his father’s (let alone his mother’s) eye. So the arduous journey had to be made across the Isthmus to the Pacific coast. The party boarded canoes and were paddled 60 miles up the Chagres River by hardy Panamanians. The trip up the jungle river took three steaming, insect-plagued days, during which the travelers endured heavy tropical rains and severe flooding. Leaving the river behind, the Forty-niners rode burros and hiked the rest of the way over the remote mountains of central Panama, finally arriving at Panama City on the Pacific.

There, they were given the frustrating news that the coastal steamer for San Francisco would not arrive for another month. A month was too long to wait—the travelers gathering at Panama City were interested in gold not in consorting with hordes of insects, and reptiles, not to mention a better than even chance of contracting Yellow Fever. So the Cutters and about 80 other impatient Americans pooled their resources and bought an old sailing ship, determined to sail themselves to California.

After loading water and provisions aboard, the party set sail, aiming the bow of the leaky old ship north. Unfortunately, the usually dependable trade winds were unusually undependable that year. After creeping along for two weeks, the miners found their water supply had leaked out of poorly made casks. Suffering from thirst under the hot Pacific sun for several days, they finally made their way to a port on the Nicaraguan coast, where supplies were replenished. Then, a few days later, they were forced to put ashore yet again, this time on the Guatemalan coast.

That was the last straw for many of the would-be mariners. About half the ship’s company decided to walk to Acapulco, Mexico, while the rest decided to sail on. Ironically, the two parties arrived at Acapulco at the same time.

There, they rested and had a very good time indeed. In fact, they had such a good time that, in high spirits, they decided to fire a salute with the ship’s canon on their way out of port. When Henry Cutter’s brother-in- law, James Porter, touched off the old, overloaded cannon, it blew up, killing Porter. The now-subdued group returned to Acapulco, buried the unfortunate Porter, and set sail once again for California. A few days later, they ran into a severe gale that damaged their old ship so badly it began to sink.

Henry C. Cutter, in a portrait taken long after he gave up one last trip to the California gold fields to settle on a farm just south of Oswego.  The Cutter House is today preserved in the grounds of the historic Lyon Farm and Village near Yorkville. (Little White School Museum photo)

Henry C. Cutter, in a portrait taken long after he gave up one last trip to the California gold fields to settle on a farm just south of Oswego. The Cutter House he built is today preserved on the grounds of the Kendall County Historical Society’s Lyon Farm and Village near Yorkville. (Little White School Museum photo)

Putting into Mazatlan, Mexico for repairs, dockyard workers confirmed what everyone suspected—the ship was an unrepairable wreck. This time, the party split up for good. James Cutter decided to wait for the coastal steamer to arrive. Brother Henry, disillusioned with his run of bad luck at sea, bought a dependable-looking horse and with several of his weary and leery compatriots, started overland for San Diego. After reaching the southern California village, he and his friends sold their mounts and booked passage on a steamer bound for San Francisco. Cutter’s brother, James, who had decided to wait at Mazatlan for the coastal steamer, had arrived at San Francisco several weeks ahead of his brother. Patience, it seems, actually does occasionally pay off.

The brothers were reunited in a mining camp called Soldier’s Gulch, located several miles east of San Francisco in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, modern Tuolumne County. During the next year, by admirable thrift, hard work, and a large helping of luck, they managed to earn $10,000, which they split 50-50.

After an uneventful trip home, the pair reached Boston in April of 1852. Apparently Massachusetts proved too tame for the brothers after their adventures heading west because in August of that same year, the brothers decided to try their luck again. This time, though, they figured they had had enough maritime adventures to last a lifetime, and so this time they headed west overland.

But when they reached Illinois on their way to the gold fields, they were so impressed with the rich farmland in the Fox Valley they decided to settle here and let others look for gold in California. They prospected along the Fox River and finally decided on land near Oswego, then the seat of Kendall County. They bought land from Levi Arnold, one of the village’s founders, divided the parcel in half, and began to farm. James eventually returned to Massachusetts, but Henry’s family stayed and prospered in farming and business in the area along the Fox River where their descendants live to this day.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Farming, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, People in History, Transportation

The Silent Generation not so silent around these parts…

I learned a new term the other day: The Silent Generation.

According to Wikipedia—and we know everything on Wikipedia is true, right?—the Silent Generation consists of those born from the mid-1920s through the early 1940s. The name was given to that group of folks in a 1952 Time magazine article, and apparently it stuck, although it apparently didn’t stick with me.

Says the Wiki article: “…the ‘Silents’ are called that because many focused on their careers rather than on activism, and people in it were largely encouraged to conform with social norms.” Okay, so we’re talking “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” type of folks.

Then, however, they go on to list some of the Silents, a group that includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy and writers and artists like Gloria Steinem, Andy Warhol, Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Ray Charles, and Jimi Hendrix, a group that doesn’t seem very “silent” to me.

Granted, it was a relatively smaller generation than the Baby Boomers who followed, mostly due to the economic disaster that was the Great Depression, which led to a drop-off in birth rates. But it included many of those who fought World War II, and all of those who marched off to war again in Korea, plus a good number of those who fought during the early days in Vietnam.

Around these parts, the Silents were the young, vigorous guys who came back from World War II and Korea and proceeded to lay the foundations for modern Oswego and Kendall County.

The Silents were members of local governmental bodies, and, in fact, helped establish some of the most important—and popular—of our modern governmental agencies. They also laid the groundwork to prepare the area for the growth that many of them foresaw coming and the stresses that growth would cause.

They didn’t bat .1000, of course. But the foundations they laid are still benefiting the larger community today.

Ford Lippold, newspaper publisher, historian, poet, and governmental innovator, taking a break at Oswego's Little White School Museum in the summer of 1984. (Little White School Museum photo)

Ford Lippold, newspaper publisher, historian, poet, governmental innovator and member of the “Silent Generation,” taking a break at Oswego’s Little White School Museum in the summer of 1984. (Little White School Museum photo)

Ford Lippold was a local Silent who established Oswego’s first modern, successful weekly newspaper. The Oswego Ledger was a free-distribution paper that Lippold and his wife and kids mimeographed in his basement every week and which, starting in 1949, appeared in every Oswego mailbox come Thursday. The Ledger was the direct ancestor of today’s award-winning Ledger-Sentinel that, although the days of mimeographing it in someone’s basement are long gone, still arrives in mailboxes all over the area every Thursday.

Lippold was always a proponent of finding activities for young people to engage in, so he encouraged establishing a private recreational association in conjunction with the Oswego Lions Club to provide summer activities for local kids. That, within a few years, led to the formation of the Oswego Park District, later renamed the Oswegoland Park District, one of our area’s most popular local governmental agencies. From offering a few summer activities for a few dozen kids, the park district has grown to an agency that owns swimming pools, recreational centers, athletic fields, neighborhood parks, and extensive natural areas. In most community surveys, Lippold’s brainchild is praised as one of the area’s jewels.

And then there is the Oswego Plan Commission. Oswego was one of the first in Illinois and the smallest communities in the nation to establish a plan commission back in the mid-1950s. Lippold—again—was among the first to detect a need for community planning as he contemplated the likely effects of population growth that was beginning in the area.

On June 30, 1955, Lippold reported in the Ledger that: “Wayne Fosgett, supervisor of Oswego Township, is a member of the newly formed supervisor’s committee to develop a new zoning and building code for Oswego Township. With all the proposed new building being planned for the county and particularly Oswego Township, the county board of supervisors is greatly concerned with the zoning and building code, which at the present time is outmoded.”

Fosgett and Lippold proceeded to encourage establishing a special village commission to plan for future growth in the community. In a July Ledger comment, noting the proposed development of a number of subdivisions in and around Oswego, Lippold remarked in passing that there seemed to be a new realization among Oswego’s elected officials that some sort of formal planning was needed. “The fact that the village board is becoming cognizant of the need of planning for future expansion is heartening indeed. Oswego is a community with a future and now is the time to keep moving forward. Every new home, every improvement is a step in the right direction,” he observed.

Nothing focused the minds of local governmental officials like Don L. Dise's development of Boulder Hill on more than 600 acres of the old Boulder Hill Stock Farm. In fact, the sprawling subdivision's development led to the creation of the area's first comprehensive plan. (Little White School Museum photo by Bev Skaggs.)

Nothing focused the minds of local governmental officials like Don L. Dise’s development of Boulder Hill on more than 600 acres of the old Boulder Hill Stock Farm. In fact, the sprawling subdivision’s development led to the creation of the area’s first comprehensive plan. (Little White School Museum photo by Bev Skaggs)

Then came the news that a newcomer from suburban Chicago, a Pennsylvania native named Don L. Dise, was interested in developing a huge subdivision on the Bereman family’s 712 acre Boulder Hill Stock Farm. Located just north of Oswego along Ill. Route 25, the development’s initial plans were similar to the Levittown developments in New York and Dise’s native Pennsylvania. That meant it would be virtually a new town, including shopping, schools, and churches as well as more than 1,300 homes, dwarfing every municipality in Kendall County.

Dise’s Boulder Hill announcement was a shock to the area, and after digesting the implications, Lippold editorialized in the Aug. 6 Ledger under the headline “Village Planning Commission Needed?” that starkly laid out what he saw was vital for the Oswego area’s future: “It is time to wake up and recognize the fact that Oswego and adjoining territory is growing and at an accelerated pace…Many communities faced with like problems have formed a planning committee to prepare for a systematic and orderly growth…Now is the time! Oswego is growing! Let’s keep it growing! Tomorrow may be too late!”

At the time, the concept of plan commissions for small villages like Oswego (1950 population, 1,220) and small rural townships like Oswego (1950 population, 2,433) was a new one. Big cities had engaged in planning for years, but small communities avoided the whole idea—telling someone what they could or could not do with their own property was not popular. But with a lot of persuasion, not to mention the fear of the existing community being submerged by a flood of newcomers, eventually created an atmosphere where planning was considered the lesser of many other evils.

The formal genesis of the plan commission idea was the result of an August 1955 gathering called to discuss several Oswego Township developments then in the planning stages. As Lippold reported in the Aug. 18 Ledger: “A public meeting in the community room at Oswego High School was attended by area civic group leaders and representatives of the school, park, and fire district boards plus Oswego Village Board and Oswego Township Board members to discuss the incoming Western Electric Company plant and projected new subdivisions and their impact on the community. A committee consisting of John Carr, Dr. M.R. Saxon, Mrs. Homer Brown, Charles Lippincott, and Jerome Nelson was appointed to talk with Western Electric personnel officers concerning the likely needs of workers at the new plant. It was also recommended that this same committee talk with representatives of the building contractors who are to develop the subdivision of the Bereman property of some 600 to 700 homes in order that preliminary planning on schools, parks, fire protection, etc. can be discussed.”

This was pretty new territory for all of these folks, the majority of whom were Silents. And it wasn’t just these few motivated folks, either. At the Oswego Village Board’s September meeting, Lippold reported, “…the Oswego Village Board accepted a petition signed by 220 Oswego registered voters requesting the formation of a plan commission ‘To prepare and recommend to the corporate authorities a comprehensive plan of public improvement looking forward to the present and future development of the municipality.’”

When the commission was formally established in January 1956, the majority of its members were “Silents,” most either World War II vets or their wives—because the commission included, interestingly enough, two women, not exactly a common occurrence for the era.

Eventually, the planning process was combined with Oswego Township’s, thanks to Wayne Fosgett’s initiative. When the commission finally produced their comprehensive plan in February 1957, drawn by Everett Kincaid and Associates of Chicago, it was hailed as a remarkable achievement for a rural community. And not only did the process result in Oswego’s first comprehensive plan, but it also resulted in the village’s first zoning ordinance, which, in turn led to hiring their first zoning and building inspector (another Silent named Dick Young), and which also prodded Kendall County to establish their own building and zoning department.

“Planning is a sign that a community is growing up. It is a sign that a community is up on its toes and ready to go forward,” Lippold told his readers in a Ledger editorial.

Those once-young men and women who gave so much thought to what their community ought to become have largely passed away today. Most would probably be astonished at what their community has become. Oswego, then a village of 1,200 souls, is now home to more than 30,000 suburbanites. Oswego Township, once an overwhelmingly rural area, is now home to more than 50,000 people, and still growing.

But thanks to those Silents, we enjoy a vigorous park district, an effective and popular library district, a forest preserve district that does its best to save the county’s remaining natural areas from being paved over, and a host of other amenities that make it such a nice area in which to raise families. So, no, I don’t think I’d necessarily call those folks Silents. They seem to have made their voices heard 50 years ago and, in fact, are still being heard today.

1 Comment

Filed under Kendall County, Local History, Newspapers, Nostalgia, Oswego, People in History, Semi-Current Events, Technology

Local historians’ popular ‘What if?’ game

A favorite mind game played by a lot of historians is wondering how things might have been, if only…

For instance, what would have happened had Lee won at Gettysburg? How would North America have fared had George Washington been killed during Braddock’s Defeat in the French and Indian War? What if the Nazis had been first to invent the atom bomb? How would Abraham Lincoln’s life been changed had his mother not died of the “milk sick” when he was a child?

Those kinds of historical speculations are in the cosmic realm—things that might or might not have changed our whole world. But there are thousands of historical micro-events at the local level that have had huge impacts on the ways in which the Fox River Valley grew and developed. Many of those incidents seem minor, but had they turned out differently, our communities would have been profoundly changed.

In the first half of the 19th Century, Montgomery was on the move as the U.S. Government’s official 1842 survey map of Aurora Township illustrates. The road from Naper’s Settlement is shown as a dotted line heading west by southwest, crossing the Fox River on “Gray’s Bridge” marked with the red arrow. (Illinois State Archives Federal Township Plats of Illinois collection)

In the first half of the 19th Century, Montgomery was on the move as the U.S. Government’s official 1842 survey map of Aurora Township illustrates. The road from Naper’s Settlement is shown as a dotted line heading west by southwest, crossing the Fox River on “Gray’s Bridge” marked with the red arrow. (Illinois State Archives Federal Township Plats of Illinois collection)

For instance, what if Daniel Gray, the energetic founder of Montgomery, had not succumbed to illness and died during the winter of 1854? Gray was the founder and the soul of Montgomery. He was reportedly an indomitable force for development and business activities. Upon his death, Montgomery failed to live up to the potential Gray had mapped for it. Had Gray lived, the town could well have grown to rival its neighbor to the north, Aurora, in terms of its industrial base. Gray had, at the time of his death, a number of manufacturing operations going on, including a foundry and a large factory manufacturing farm equipment. At the time of his death he was working on a steam engine factory, something that would have added greatly to the village’s industrial base, not to mention that of the entire Fox Valley.

An even bigger question is what might have happened had the CB&Q Railroad crossed the river at Oswego instead of Aurora when it was extending its tracks west of Chicago in the 1850s?

That the railroad favored the crossing at Oswego was mentioned in several early histories and in at least one newspaper account from the 1850s. Whether the railroad was serious about the whole thing was somewhat questionable—after the fact stories like that are a dime a historical dozen. At least they were until I ran across a map in the Library of Congress’s collections. The map, published in 1854— “Rail road and county map of Illinois showing its internal improvements”—was designed to show the existing and proposed public improvements, including roads, canals, and railroads, in the state. The map illustrates a number of rail lines radiating west from Chicago, including the main line from Chicago to Galena, which included the Aurora Branch line.

Today, that line crosses the river at Aurora before trending generally west southwest through Kendall County on its way to the Mississippi River.

The blue line on the Rail Road and County Map of Illinois Showing Its Internal Improvements, 1854 by Ensign, Bridgeman & Fanning, New York marks the proposed route of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad as it was supposed to cross the Fox River at Oswego. After Oswego turned the railroad’s backers down, the line crossed at Aurora instead. (Library of Congress American Memories Collection)

The blue line on the Rail Road and County Map of Illinois Showing Its Internal Improvements, 1854 by Ensign, Bridgeman & Fanning, New York marks the proposed route of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad as it was supposed to cross the Fox River at Oswego. After Oswego turned the railroad’s backers down, the line crossed at Aurora instead. (Library of Congress American Memories Collection)

But that’s not what the plans were in 1853 when the information for the map was gathered. Instead, the railroad wanted to cross at Oswego, and that’s exactly what the map shows. The map shows Aurora Branch line extending west from Turner’s Junction, now West Chicago, southwesterly to Batavia before heading south to Aurora. From Aurora, the line continues south along the Fox River to Oswego, where it is shown crossing the river where it is at its narrowest point, before heading southwesterly once again.

According to a newspaper account from an 1857 edition of the Kendall County Courier published in Oswego, the village fathers were enamored with plank roads, not railroads. In fact, the Chicago, Naperville and Oswego Plank Road company was busy extending a plank road west from Chicago on what would one day become Ogden Avenue—U.S. Route 34. Oswego was to be the terminus of the new road, something that would have greatly enhanced its economic standing. In addition, the Oswego and Indiana Plank Road Company was busy selling shares in their road, which was to connect Oswego with an undesignated place in Indiana. So with the chance to become a plank road hub, Oswego apparently told the railroad company to take a flying leap, which they did, deciding to cross the Fox River at Aurora instead of Oswego. And as a result of that decision, Aurora got the CB&Q shops, the roundhouse, and all the other accouterments of railroading that turned it into one of Illinois’ largest cities.

A sketch of the Oswego & Indiana Plank Road toll gate that was located about a mile and a half southeast of Plainfield on what is today U.S. Route 30 at Lily Cache Creek in Plainfield. Despite its grand name, the plank road reached neither Oswego nor Indiana. (Illinois Digital Archives and Plainfield Historical Society collections)

A sketch of the Oswego & Indiana Plank Road toll gate that was located about a mile and a half southeast of Plainfield on what is today U.S. Route 30 at Lily Cache Creek in Plainfield. Despite its grand name, the plank road reached neither Oswego nor Indiana. (Illinois Digital Archives and Plainfield Historical Society collections)

Oswego, meanwhile, lost out all the way around. The Chicago, Naperville & Oswego Plank Road Company went broke after extending the route to Naperville; the section to Oswego was never built. In addition, the only stretch of the Oswego & Indiana Plank Road built connected Joliet with Plainfield on the modern route of U.S. Route 30, plus an extremely short stretch west from Plainfield. It never reached Oswego, either.

It turned out that plank roads were expensive to maintain, and the tolls never covered the construction expenses, much less necessary maintenance. And they were being built just as timber was becoming scarce in northern Illinois thanks to the building boom the area was experiencing.

But the railroad did prove successful. Crossing as it did at Aurora, the line passed two miles west of Oswego, and about that far from Bristol—then the north side of Yorkville. Both towns established stations on the main line, but not until 1870 did the two towns get their own rail line, and then it was a branch line and not a main line.

What would have happened to Kendall County had Oswego accepted the rail crossing in 1853? The county seat might well have stayed in Oswego instead of being moved to Yorkville in 1864, and economic growth would likely have been significant for the whole county.

It’s an entertaining game, historical speculation is. What would have happened had the government followed through with their 1867 survey of the Fox River and made the river navigable from Ottawa to Oswego? What if a con man hadn’t sapped the economic strength of the Illinois and Midland Railroad from Newark to Millington? It’s a great game; anyone can play, and it’s free!

Leave a comment

Filed under Fox River, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Oswego, Transportation

The tale of the high private in the rear rank…

I’ve been working on a news feature for the Record Newspapers commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, and its effect on Kendall County. In fact, I’ll use that as an excuse for not blogging for a while (even though it was more due to a combination of laziness, lack of inspiration, and fixation on finishing the Oswegoland Heritage Association newsletter).

When I started looking back at 1865 in Kendall County, I was reminded of stories I’d run across before, but piecemeal, not as a coherent whole. For instance, there was the county’s series of long-standing connections with Abraham Lincoln, albeit somewhat peripheral ones, from Henry Sherrill’s carriage to Lorenzo Rank’s adventure during the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Ottawa. You’ll have to wait until the Record folks publish the article for those stories.

There were hundreds of stories that revolved around the end of the Civil War around these parts, and one of the most interesting is that of Alfred Lincoln Browne. When the war ended, ALB, as he signed his many letters and other articles that appeared in the Kendall County Record back in the day, was serving in the 146th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, one of the regiments recruited near the end of the war to serve inside Illinois, freeing veteran combat troops for other duties.

ALB was a native of Kendall County who joined up at age 19, following his three brothers into the service. His family was fairly remarkable. One of those brothers serving during the Civil War was a doctor, and his sister was the redoubtable Anna Brown Lester.

He volunteered with a group of his young Big Grove Township neighbors and was mustered in at Springfield. ALB’s Company D was assigned to guard and other duties at Quincy, then a hotbed of Copperhead sentiment in Illinois.

From the young man’s standpoint, his military service was a lark, a lot like an extended trip to Boy Scout camp with his neighborhood buddies. Shortly after he arrived at Company D’s camp at Quincy, he sat down and penned a letter back to Henry C. Cutter, a fairly prominent resident of Oswego Township.

We have no idea what the connection between ALB and Cutter was, but from the tone of the letter, they were good friends. Cutter and his brother, James, had a rousing adventure of their own when they left their native Massachusetts in 1849 to head for the California gold fields. One of these days, I’ll get around telling their remarkable story.

Downtown Quincy, Ill., close to the location of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, as it looked the year of the debate. Quincy became a hotbed of Copperhead sentiment during the Civil War.

Downtown Quincy, Ill., close to the location of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, as it looked the year of the debate. Quincy became a hotbed of Copperhead sentiment during the Civil War.

But today, we’ll stick with ALB, and his letter back to his friend Cutter in Kendall County. It’s a great letter, written in two parts, the original of which is in the collections of the Little White School Museum here in Oswego. In it, he reveals his generally high spirits, and a sense of self-deprecating humor that makes a historian wish (for the umpteenth time) for access to a time warp to make a conversation with ALB possible). And so, for your edification and enjoyment, here it is:

Camp Dean, Quincy, Ills
October 11 th AD. 1864

Friend Cutter

You have doubtless heard before this, that I have volunteered for one year, in the 146th Regiment. Ills Infty. which was authorized by the War Department to do duty only within the state

On the 4th of September I bade farewell to home and started for Springfield. About half past seven oclock PM we arrived in Joliet and having taken supper at the Auburn House got aboard the cars, and next morning at 7 o’clock found ourselves in the renouned capitol of the State. I remained in the city all that day (Monday) and next day about noon Sept. 6th I was sworn into the service and sent immediately to Camp Butler about 7 miles northeast of the city.

After being there a few days we had an election of officers. Our capt is an Englishman and he is troubled with a disease which it is impossible to cure— I mean the Big Head. He does not like the idea of associating with us boys, and therefore we have all turned against him.

The first page of Alfred Lincoln Browne's October 1864 letter to Henry C. Cutter. Browne, then just 19, went on to live a full and interesting life. (Little White School Museum collection)

The first page of Alfred Lincoln Browne’s October 1864 letter to Henry C. Cutter. Browne, then just 19, went on to live a full and interesting life. (Little White School Museum collection)

Well, to go on with my story, on Sunday the 18th Sept we received our uniform, and $33.33 1/3 (being a part of out $100 Government bounty.) On the 19th we received our knapsacks haversacks Arms and soforth; and on Wednesday the 21st, Sept about 3 oclock P.M. we received marching orders. Got on board the cars and next morning about 3 oclock we landed in Quincy, and after remaining on the Public Square several hours, we were marched to our present camp about a mile south of the city. We remained here till late in the evening without anything to eat. But now we get plenty rations and there is a good spring of water in camp We have fine times here. Today for dinner we had a good kettle of boiled cabbage, potatoes, beef, beans, bread &c Now dont you think we live pretty well on this kind of fodder? We dont receive from government all the things which I mention such as cabbage potatoes &c. We get them on our own hook. For instance, we very often have a surplus of soap, pork &c on a hand and we go out to some of the neighbors and trade them off for something that we are more in need of. The company consists of 101 men.

Two of our boys were let sick in the hospital at Camp Butler. About six or seven & more have gone to the Quincy Hospital. But I keep well right along. The tents in which we are quartered are about 10 feet square, about large enough for eight men. A pole is suspended overhead on which we hang our equipment. A Box is in one corner in which we keep our provissions, and we use our knapsacks for pillows. This may seem a hard way to live, but when I consider all the hardships which brother John has to endure down in the front near Atlanta, I can not complain.. I think myself at home so long as we remain in Illinois.

We expect to remain here till after the election: we may be then be sent away, we dont know where, probably to Rock Island or Chicago

Well I have filled one sheet of paper but I must write a a few lines more. I presume you have heard about the rebel raids in Missouri. They have caused considerable excitement in this camp. About ten days ago, a train on the Hanibal and St Joseph R.R, was attacked & captured by eight or ten Guerrilla bushwackers. They also robbed the train of $10,000 in greenbacks and then went about their business. We thought at one time that we would be taken across the River to persue them. The city of Quincy is filled with rebel spies, but I tell you they are watched pretty close. A man was arrested a short time ago, attempting to smuggle a large box filled with guns across the River. Two or three other spies have been lodged in jail. Our Regiment is divided up and stationed in different sections of the state. Some in Chicago, some in Jacksonville, others in Alton & two Companies here.

Our camp,, has been named in honor of our little Colonel H. Dean. He is about as high as my shoulder, but every inch a man.

Last night about midnight we were aroused from sleep, and ordered into line. The officers heard the report of three guns a little way outside of the camp and it was supposed that the rebels had crossed over from Mo to attack us,

We were all up and ready for the fight in less than three minutes and after having marched a short distance scouts were thrown out but nothing could be found so we marched back to our tents and slept soundly during the remainder of the night. You see Mr. Cutter that I have been in the army just long enough to become initiated into all the joys and glories of a military life. I enjoy the camp very well—have not yet become homesick.

We load our guns every evening, in fear that we need might have to use them during the night. We always get up in the morning about 6 oclock and after sweeping around our tent and hanging out our blankets we cook our breakfast. Then comes drill, and so forth. We have plenty time to spend in reading & writing I received a letter from Anna today. She tells me all about her visit at Oswego. A few days ago I sent her my likeness in the blue uniform. Today I received a letter from father and Mother. They are all right and intend before long to send me a box of things. I have to go on guard duty this evening at 8 oclock.. The duty of the guard is to keep all soldiers within the limits of the camp and if they see any suspisious person hanging around to shoot him down. When in camp Butler I tried to find Frank, but could get no not find him out. Where is he at present I would be glad to hear from you soon. Let one know all the news from Oswego. Remember me to Mr Fox’s folks. Good night to all

Alf. Browne
High private in the rear rank

***********************************

Wednesday Oct. 12th 1864

Every Sunday we have preaching here in camp. But many of boys get passes and go to church in the city. Last Sunday our chaplin preached us a good sermon from Romans 14th chapter, 12th verse “So every one of us shall give account of himself to God”

All kinds of persons may be found here in camp. Soldiering always exposes the true character of an individual This is a good place to study Human Nature—to apply the science of Phrenology.

Our wages are now $16 pr month We are to be paid off every two months and expect soon to receive some money Many of the boys glory in spending their money but I send mine home and expect that by the time my term expires I shall have $500.

A short time ago I was in Quincy and had the pleasure of hearing speeches from Gen Oglesby, candidate for Gov., Senator Doolittle of Wis. and other distinguished gentlemen Last Friday a Copperhead meeting was held in the city. The candidate for Gov., Jas. C. Robinson made a speech.

The great Northwestern Sanitary fair commenced yesterday in, the city. It will last all the week. I will try to get a pass today if possible and go to the fair— admittance 25 cts.

It is now Wednesday morning, 12th, Last night I filled two sheets of paper with my interesting harangue and this morning thought I would scribble off a few lines more I never become tired of the pen. But as I have soon to go out on drill. I close. Write soon. Write everything to.

Alfred S. Browne
Co D. 146th Ill Vols
Camp Dean
Quincy
Illinois

Alfred Lincoln Brown continued his adventures after his stint as a soldier, earning a degree from Oberlin College, teaching in freedmen’s schools in the South, teaching in Kendall County schools, farming, and teaching himself to read and write Norwegian so he could better communicate with his Scandinavian neighbors. He never married. He died died July 27, 1920, and was buried in the Millington-Newark Cemetery after a full, well-lived life.

Leave a comment

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