Category Archives: Military History

Lock, stock, and barrel: Matchlocks, wheellocks, and flintlocks oh my!

Saw a thought-provoding television commercial the other day produced by States United to Prevent Gun Violence. In it, a grim middle-aged fellow stalks into an office carrying a long gun, strides back to where he sees a person (presumably his boss), snaps the gun up to his shoulder and pulls the trigger.

The twist is that the gun is a flintlock musket—it looked to me like the same reproduction of the venerable Brown Bess produced by the thousands for the British Army in the 18th and 19th centuries that I have here in my office.

Anyway, the guy pulls the trigger, misses (not hard with a Brown Bess), and then begins the laborious process of reloading while everyone in the office beats feet out of there, quickly emptying the office as the commercial catch phrase pops up: “Guns have changed. Shouldn’t our gun laws?”

With all the violence in the news these days, especially gun violence, the commercial makes a good point. In 2016 more than 15,000 people were shot and killed in the U.S., compared, say, to the 66 people who were killed by domestic terrorists, including the 50 people killed in an Orlando, Florida nightclub by a person armed with a semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic pistol.

The unfortunate fact seems to be that the United States has an overabundance of firearms, many in the hands of people that should not have them, due to the Founders’ imprecise language concerning well-regulated militias.

Firearms of all kinds have been such a tradition in America that numerous gun-related terms have entered everyday language. When someone says they’re selling out lock, stock, and barrel, they probably don’t realize they’re referring to the three major components of a flintlock rifle or musket. Hair trigger, misfire, quick on the trigger, ramrod straight, keep your powder dry, keep your sights set, and other such terms all hark back to the days when, we are told, everyone kept a loaded rifle or musket behind the door in the cabin to guard against marauding Indians.


Matchlock muskets were undependable, but were widely used in the 1500s.

The very first European settlers in North America brought firearms with them, but they were crude matchlocks. To fire them, the weaponeer actually had to light a slow-burning length of fuse—called a slow match—and keep it smoldering. After pouring gunpowder down the matchlock’s barrel and filling the priming pan with more powder, the trigger was pulled to press the lighted end of the match into the gunpowder in the pan causing the weapon to fire. Needless to say, a bit of rain pretty much eliminated any gunplay.


Wheellock firearms were complicated and expensive. The wheellock was wound up like a clock. Pulling the trigger made the wheel spin, creating sparks like a cigarette lighter.

Matchlocks were replaced by wheellocks, which used a spring-driven wheel to create sparks to set off a musket or pistol. It was better than a matchlock, but much more complicated and so prone to malfunctions.

The wheellock led to the first flintlock, the earliest version of which was called the snaphaunce. The snaphaunce lock’s hammer held a piece of flint in its jaws. When the trigger was pulled, the hammer snapped the flint against the steel frizzen to create the sparks that set off a weapon’s gunpowder. They were replaced fairly quickly by true flintlocks.

“Flintlock” actually refers to the mechanism that caused the ignition of a weapon’s gunpowder. The lock included a hammer with jaws that held a piece of flint, a priming pan, and a frizzen against which the flint struck causing sparks. The hammer was spring driven, and when the trigger was pulled, the hammer snapped forward. The flint in the hammer jaws struck hard against the frizzen, creating sparks. At the same time, the hammer pushed the frizzen forward, uncovering the priming pan, in which a pinch of very fine gunpowder had been placed. The sparks from the flint were directed into the pan, setting off the priming powder. Part of the resulting flame went through a tiny hole drilled into the weapon’s barrel, where it set off the main powder charge.

Brown Bess

The sturdy, dependable Brown Bess flintlock musket armed British armies until the early 19th Century. Many Americans also used the Brown Bess during the Revolutionary War. Unlike rifles of the era, musket barrels could accept bayonets.

At least that was the plan.

With such a complicated chain of events, misfires were fairly common. If it was raining, wet priming powder wouldn’t set off the weapon, and if it was particularly windy, the wind might blow the powder out of the pan before it could ignite. And a musket or rifle had to be loaded in the correct order to fire, too. The powder had to be measured and poured into the barrel, and then if it was a musket (smooth barreled), the musket ball was simply dropped down the barrel, followed by a bit of wadding to hold the ball in place. After loading the priming pan received its bit of gunpowder, and frizzen was closed, the hammer cocked, aim was taken, and the trigger pulled. If all went well, the gun fired.

Smooth-bored muskets were the favored arm of the military of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and the first half of the 19th centuries. They were easy to load and could be fired relatively rapidly—trained soldiers were expected to get off four shots a minute.

Pennsylvania rifle

A classic Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle with powder horn and bullet bag. Long rifles were extremely accurate, but were slower to load and fire. In the hands of such skilled marksmen as Morgan’s Riflemen, the weapon gained an out-sized reputation during the Revolutionary War.

Rifled arms were made popular by the German Jaegers (hunters) who accompanied Continental armies as scouts. Over here in the New World, Pennsylvania German gunsmiths modified the jaeger rifle, which was short and usually of large caliber (.69 was popular), into what today is misnamed the Kentucky rifle. These slim, graceful rifles built one at a time by craftsmen with last names like Meylin, Dickert, Haymaker, and Klette were long, about five feet, had relatively small bores of .36 to .45 caliber, and were very accurate. They were made famous during the Revolutionary War by small corps of riflemen who earned reputations far bigger than their numbers and achievements  justified.

The military was slow to adopt the rifle because of two major drawbacks. It took about three minutes to load a rifle, compared to 15 seconds for a smoothbore musket and in addition early rifles had octagon shaped barrels that prevented bayonets from being fitted. Bayonets were vital accessories in the days of massed armies firing single shot weapons.

Finally, in 1803, the U.S. Army did adopt, for limited use, the Harper’s Ferry rifle, which had a relatively large bore (.54 cal.). The 1803 Harper’s Ferry rifle barrel featured an octagonal breech that transitioned to a round barrel, which allowed a bayonet to be fitted, a first for a rifle. Although the U.S. Army continued to favor smoothbore muskets for the next five decades, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery was outfitted with Harper’s Ferry prototype rifles on their history-making journey to the Pacific Ocean and back.

When the first settlers arrived here in Kendall County, not all of them were armed. For instance, early settler Bailey Hobson bragged he traveled by horseback all the way from Ohio scouting for good land armed only with a jackknife. The ones who did come armed often brought surplus smoothbore flintlock muskets of War of 1812 vintage. Flintlocks had the advantage of being able to double as fire-starters—they could just as easily set fire to a wad of tow or shredded grass as priming powder.

Experienced frontiersmen were continually surprised that so few early settlers were armed. As the Black Hawk War of 1832 was getting underway, U.S. Army Gen. Edmund Gaines wrote of his surprise at how unprepared for violence settlers of northern Illinois were in a letter to the Secretary of War. “These settlements are even more sparse and feebler than I had anticipated,” Gaines complained. “Few of the inhabitants are supplied, as our border men used to be, with good rifles, or other means of defense.”

As an illustration of Gains’ point, when more than 120 settlers from Will and Kendall counties fled to Plainfield for mutual safety in May 1832 to escape Indian depredations, they found they only had four weapons among them for defense. And, according to one of the folks forted up there, ‘some’ of the guns didn’t work.

In the end, the frontier period in Kendall County lasted less than 10 years during which a relatively small number of residents owned firearms. The vast majority of the pioneers who came were either farmers or business people, not the well-armed “border people” with which Gaines was so familiar.

Although it seems a bit strange to say, once Black Hawk and his people had been vanquished, the frontier in northern Illinois wasn’t a very violent place. In fact, while it may seem odd to those of us raised on TV and movie Westerns and historical fiction, it’s safe to say that county residents, on a per capita basis, are probably better armed today than they were in 1832.





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Filed under Firearms, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Law, Local History, Military History, People in History, Semi-Current Events, Technology

Lewis, Clark, Boone, Earp, Wayne: Illinois’ entertaining historical coincidences…

Random coincidences are some of the things that make the study of history so interesting.

Daniel Boone House

The sturdy Daniel Boone home in Defiance, Missouri may come as a surprise to those who think he lived in log cabins all his life. A talented blacksmith, he handcrafted the home’s locks, hinges, and other hardware.

For instance, in May 1804, Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark and their Corps of Discovery pushed off into the Mississippi River from Wood River, Illinois and headed up the Missouri River. The expedition’s goal was to explore the huge Louisiana Territory President Thomas Jefferson had bought from Spain and determine if there was a practical trade route to the Pacific Ocean.

Although just under way, Lewis and Clark decided to make a brief stop just a bit upstream from St. Louis. They had been told the old explorer, soldier, and settler Daniel Boone was living just a few miles away, and so they decided to stop by to see what the old pathfinder might be able to tell them.

So, the story goes, the pair visited Boone to ask about the techniques they might use and dangers they should be on the lookout for while exploring the West. The picture of the two eager young explorers conferring with the grand old man of frontier adventure is a fascinating one. But then Boone was a fascinating fellow in his own right, something you find right away when you visit his imposing three-storey Pennsylvania-style stone house (and you thought he lived in a log cabin!), which is still standing and lovingly maintained in the hamlet of Defiance, Missouri, just west of St. Charles. And thus did three of the three greatest explorers the U.S. has produced get together to chat.

Illinois history is sprinkled with such coincidences, and they are often the things that make reading about it so much fun.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was a legendary lawman in the Old West. His father, Nicholas, a town constable in Monmouth, Illinois, didn’t get along with a faction in town led by Presbyterian Marion Morrison.

For instance, a 1997 issue of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society had an interesting article about Wyatt Earp’s father, Nicholas P. Earp. We all know the story about Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil and Doc Holiday at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz. But few of us know their introduction to law enforcement came from their father, Nicholas, who was the town constable of Monmouth, Illinois, located on U.S. Route 34 in western Illinois’ Warren County.

Just like his sons, Nicholas didn’t get along with the local power structure. He had continual run-ins with a band of local ministers, lawyers, newspaper editors, and officials from Monmouth College, at that time a strictly religious school. Nicholas not only had strong personal views, but was also distrustful of reformers of any stripe. His problems stemmed from his relative unconcern with enforcing Monmouth’s temperance ordinance, which was favored by local Republicans (the temperance party) and influential Presbyterian congregations. Liquor was supposed to be sold only by druggists for medicinal purposes, but Nicholas and his brother Walter Earp were in favor of a liberal interpretation of the law (including what “medicinal” really meant) and came down on the side of their friends, the drug store owners. One of the Earps’ antagonists was a fellow named Marion Morrison, a staunch Presbyterian and temperance man.

John Wayne.jpg

John Wayne, whose real name was Marion Mitchell Morrison, was the namesake of Wyatt Earp’s father’s political enemy. It is too bad Wayne never played Earp in one of his films or a historical circle might have been completed.

And that’s where the historical coincidence comes in. Marion Morrison, the political enemy of Wyatt Earp’s father, it turns out, was the great-uncle of actor John Wayne who made his name in western movies. In fact, the Earps’ enemy, Morrison, was the actor’s namesake. John “Duke” Wayne’s real name was, of course, Marion Mitchell Morrison. John Wayne never played Wyatt Earp in the movies, but if he had it would have made for some nicely symmetrical history.

The Illinois historical event that arguably had the most historical coincidences was the Black Hawk War of 1832. The unequal conflict was fought between a rag-tag band of Sauk, Fox, and Potawatomi Indians led by the influential Sauk warrior Black Hawk on one side and the Illinois militia and U.S. Army on the other. The coincidences abound in the roster of those fighting against the Indians, which appears to be a veritable Who’s Who of Civil War personages.

For instance, not only did Abraham Lincoln, future U.S. President during the Civil War, participate in the Black Hawk War, but so did U.S. Army Lt. Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy. Lincoln, a young Illinois storekeeper at the time, served in the militia, where he was elected captain of his militia

Abraham Lincoln

A young Abraham Lincoln served in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War, along with several men who would be his allies and enemies during the Civil War.

company. Davis served near the end of the war doing various administrative tasks. To add to the interest, both Lincoln and Davis were born in Kentucky, Davis to a moderately wealthy family and Lincoln to a very poor one.

In the aftermath of the Black Hawk War, one of the tasks Davis was ordered to undertake was to escort the Sauk and Fox prisoners, including Black Hawk, to prison. He was under the orders of another U.S. Army lieutenant named Robert Anderson. Almost 30 years later, Anderson, then a major, would be in command of Ft. Sumter when it was fired upon by South Carolina secessionist forces loyal to his one-time brother-in-arms, Jefferson Davis.

The aide-de-camp of Gen. Henry Atkinson, the U.S. Army commander on the scene during virtually the entire Black Hawk War was another young U.S. Army lieutenant named Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston later served in the army of the Republic of Texas from 1834-37, and was named the Republic’s secretary of war in 1838. Later, he moved back to the U.S., rejoined the U.S. Army, and served on the western frontier with the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment until the

Jefferson Davis

Lt. Jefferson Davis was one of the U.S. Army officers who served during the Black Hawk War, and who eventually turned their coats during the Civil War. Davis served as the Confederate States of America’s only president.

Civil War broke out. He resigned his commission, went home and was appointed a Confederate major general to fight against his old comrades. A friend and favorite of President Jefferson Davis (with whom he had served during the Black Hawk War), Johnston was killed in action at Shiloh in 1862.

The other major Civil War personage to serve in the Black Hawk War was Gen. Winfield Scott. Scott led the U.S. Army reinforcements who arrived (carrying the dreaded Asiatic cholera disease with them) in Chicago in the summer of 1832, and he helped mop up after the Black Hawk War. When the Civil War broke out, Scott was the U.S. Army’s commander. And while’s Scott’s “Anaconda Plan” to squeeze the Confederacy into submission by dividing the Confederacy by controlling the Mississippi River and attacking it all around the periphery came in for derisive criticism at the time. In the end, the basic points of Scott’s strategy were adopted piecemeal and became the eventual strategy Abraham Lincoln adopted to defeat the South.

Historical coincidences can sometimes offer important insights into the motivations driving historical events. Mostly, though, they’re just plain fun.


Filed under Architecture, History, Illinois History, Military History, People in History

William Walker: Miner, merchant, soldier, politician

When the Civil War broke out, one of the earliest volunteer military units formed in the Fox Valley was the 36th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, comprised of men from communities up and down the Fox River.

Although some of the companies raised by well-known citizens originally carried such martial names as the Elgin Guards and the Wayne Rifles, when they were mustered into federal service in the summer of 1861 the companies were renamed with letter designations.

Here in Kendall County, Company D, originally named the Wayne Rifles, was raised in Lisbon by Dr. William P. Pierce; Company E in Little Rock and Bristol, by Charles D. Fish and Albert M. Hobbs; Company F in Newark, by Porter C. Oleson; and Company I, the Oswego Rifles, in Oswego, by Samuel C. Camp and William Walker.

Greusel, Col Nicholas

Col. Nicholas Greusel, commanding officer of the 36th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, was not impressed with William Walker’s military qualifications.

Oswego was the county seat at the time, and Camp and Walker were two of the community’s solidest citizens.

Camp, a Connecticut native, was a prominent lawyer. Walker, a harness maker by trade and an auctioneer by avocation, was the kind of colorful character who knew everyone. According to the regimental history of the 36th, his persuasive gift of gab was primarily responsible for filling out Company I’s roster.

But after the companies arrived at Camp Hammond in Montgomery for training, arming, and equipping, the commanding officer of the 36th, 44 year-old Nicholas Greusel, decided neither Camp nor Walker—who was the company’s 1st lieutenant—were the people he wanted in command of Company I. He engineered Walker’s resignation in February 1862 and Camp’s in March.

Greusel, a native of Bavaria who immigrated to the U.S. as a youngster in 1834, and who went on to serve as an officer in the Mexican War of 1846, was apparently looking for officers with military experience, and neither Camp nor Walker, while popular with the troops, had any. And by all accounts, Walker didn’t get along with Greusel, either.

Born in Tompkins County, N.Y. in 1833, Walker came with his parents to Illinois when he was a child.

At the relatively young age of 16, Walker joined a party of 24 Illinois Forty-Niners and headed to the California gold fields. Things went fine until the group got to the North Platte River where Indians stole all of their horses, horse stealing being the national sport of the plains tribes. Losing their means of transport demoralized the party and they all turned back except for Walker and his friend Thatcher, who decided to continue west on foot.

After an arduous journey, they arrived at the new Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City, where they were lucky enough to find work to build up their cash reserves before heading to California. But when the good Mormon folks of Salt Lake City found out the two were non-Mormons from Illinois (where the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith, had been murdered by a lynch mob in the Carthage jail), they immediately forced the pair to leave.

The two eventually found temporary refuge with a band of Maidu Indians (called Diggers by American settlers), where they were able to at least survive if not prosper on a diet of snakes, roots, and berries. But they kept their goal to get to the gold fields firmly in mind and after a grueling trip afoot, during which they met the famed frontiersman Jim Bridger, they miraculously managed to reach San Francisco.Vigilante justice in San Francisco

William Walker was one of the first to join the San Francisco Committee on Vigilance, which aimed to clean up the raucous city in the near-complete absence of organized law enforcement.


Walker took up mining at first, but then decided he could make as much, if not more, money selling miners the things they needed, and so went into the mercantile business. San Francisco was a lawless frontier town at the time, infested with the sorts of miscreants who turn up in boomtowns all over the world. Deciding to help put an end to the violence, he helped found the San Francisco Committee on Vigilance, which cleaned up the town without paying too much attention to legal niceties.

By then, Walker had also managed to make a fortune, but all of it was wiped out by a bank failure. And that was apparently the last straw for Walker because he left California, never to return. Sailing back around the Horn to the East Coast, Walker then headed overland back west to Illinois one more time, this time settling in Oswego. There, on Nov. 23, 1859, he married Philetta, the 19 year-old daughter of prosperous Bristol Township farmer Ansel Kimball.

In Oswego, the couple had two sons while Walker pursued his trade of harness-making and also become a popular auctioneer. Whether it was Walker or Samuel Camp who got the idea to recruit an Oswego company for the new 36th Illinois, with his connections through his own businesses and his wife’s prominent family, it was no surprise he was able to quickly recruit Company I to full strength.

1862 Murdock & Pooley

Alfred X. Murdock (left) and William Pooley were both young Oswego men who served under Capt. William Walker in Company A, 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Both were killed in action after Walker relinquished command  during the Battle of Ezra Church. (Little White School Museum collection)

After Greusel orchestrated his removal from the 36th, Walker bided his time until, later in 1862, it was announced a new regiment—the 127th—was being formed in Chicago, with recruitment taking place up and down the Fox Valley. Joining this time with Oswego businessman William Fowler, Walker helped recruit Company A to full strength before it was mustered in at Camp Douglas in Chicago. Company A was one of three recruited in Kendall County, the others being Companies F and K, both raised in Little Rock and Bristol townships. In all, about 240 Kendall County men enlisted in the 127th.

As had been the case in the 36th’s Company I, Walker was elected 1st lieutenant of Company A in the 127th. And when Fowler resigned in December 1862 due to medical problems that would plague him the rest of his life, Walker was promoted to captain and command of Company A. He led Company A until Dec. 1864, seeing hard fighting with the 127th. During his service, he was wounded twice, once in the head by a shell fragment and again in the leg during hand-to-hand combat with a Confederate officer.

Walker transferred to the 23rd Reserve Corps in February 1864, and went on to serve for two years after the war in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to oversee the ordinance stores at St. Louis.

After he resigned his commission, William and Philetta moved west from Illinois to West Liberty, Iowa, and then on to Beloit, Kansas and finally to Scandia, Kansas where, in 1881, he built that community’s first grain elevator and got involved in Democratic politics. He served two terms as Scandia’s mayor, oversaw building the Scandia City Hall, and served as postmaster, but was never able to repeat the financial success he enjoyed during the Gold Rush.

Walker died on Aug. 20, 1906 in Scandia. In an Oct. 6, 1906 obituary written by one-time friend and Kendall County Record Oswego correspondent Lorenzo Rank, Walker was described as “positive in his opinions and erratic in the methods of their support, strongly Democratic and prominent in the councils of his party; always found plenty of opposition and thrived upon it. Enjoying life to the full, he liked to see others happy and many were gladdened by his unobtrusive acts of kindness; was incorruptibly honest, it is not believed that a tainted dollar ever passed through his hands.

“Intensely religious by nature, he studied the scriptures with ardor and persistency, but looked not for the light in them; passed the beauties of the Ecclesiastes and dwelt upon Solomon’s Song, made a mountain of David’s sins but missed the Sermon on the Mount. A free-thinker by profession, he strove to maintain his position by arguments with others.

“His heart was big and open and intensely warm, especially toward little children and these will miss him most. He was steadfast in his friendships but bitter in his enmity toward those who had offended,” his obituary concluded.

William Walker was one more of those fascinating, anonymous characters who stroll in and fade out of the stories of every community, playing parts in events great and mundane. They are the stories that make learning about local history so much shear fun.


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Filed under History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Military History, Montgomery, Oswego, People in History, Uncategorized

Hunters’ Moon welcomes in full autumn…

Don’t know if you have been watching the moon lately, but it’s been pretty spectacular, even though it’s not even full yet. We’ll see the full Hunters’ Moon rise on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

The guys (and sometimes gals) in the 42nd Regiment of Foot—the Black Watch—reenactment are annual participants down at Fort Ouiatinon State Park near Lafayette, Ind. for each year's Feast of the Hunters Moon festival.

The guys (and sometimes gals) in the 42nd Regiment of Foot—the Black Watch—reenactment are annual participants down at Fort Ouiatenon State Park near West Lafayette, Ind. for each year’s Feast of the Hunters Moon festival.

Got to thinking about the Feast of the Hunters Moon along the banks of the Wabash down near West Lafayette, Ind. the other day, and then last evening the full Hunter’s Moon rose, and it took me back a good many years when we used to head down to the feast every year. But then it became so crowded, it was no longer the fun event for some of us French and Indian War, Revolutionary War and fur trade reenactors it had been back in the mid-1970s. Even so, West Lafayette welcomes in some 40,000 visitors to each year’s Feast.

But back to the full moon. Officially, the Hunter’s Moon is the first full moon after the Harvest Moon, which, in turn, is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

Ancient Europeans, Native Americans, and many other peoples had their own names for the full moons that rose roughly once each month in the night sky. The Native American names, especially those given by the Algonquian peoples living east of the Mississippi River, were not only descriptive, but also are good clues about what local tribes were doing during each month of the year.

The year began in January with the full Wolf Moon. Even here on the prairie, wolves were familiar animals (even if the local prairie and red wolves were smaller than their timber wolf cousins), and their howls marked many a winter eve. The mere name “Wolf Moon” evokes snowy, cold nights with prairie wolves howling while families huddled around small but cheery fires in their lodges.

February’s full moon was called the Snow Moon, and, especially here in northern Illinois, for good reason. While February is felt by many to be a spring month, Native People out here on the Illinois prairies knew that it was the time of heaviest. The settlers, like their Indian neighbors, found the month of the full Snow Moon one of the most desolate during the year. As their food supplies dwindled, they saw more and more snow fall, forcing more than one family to leave their pioneer claims to search for food in settlements near and far, illustrating the truth behind the alternate name for February’s food moon: the Hunger Moon.

January's Full Wolf Moon probably got its name from the howls the Native People heard on winter evenings as they gathered in their lodges.

January’s Full Wolf Moon probably got its name from the howls the Native People heard on winter evenings as they gathered in their lodges.

March finally marks the first beginnings of spring on the prairie. The Native Peoples called it the Worm Moon, or sometimes the Crow Moon. Many also called it the full Sugar Moon. Each of those is descriptive of an important part of Native American life. The Worm Moon denotes thawing ground and occasional warm nights that persuade nightcrawlers out of their burrows for the first time. Also in March, crows forage among the unlucky animals that failed to live through the long winter. And the Sugar Moon denotes the rising of sap that was boiled down during maple sugaring that provided an important part of Native Americans’ diets, not to mention a tradable commodity, both before and after Europeans arrived.

April brought the full Pink Moon or Grass Moon. The Pink Moon got its name because it sometimes looks pink through the rising amount of humidity at moonrise. The Grass Moon is self-explanatory—April is when grass starts to green up on the prairie. Before 1800, that meant the movement of buffalo on the prairie and the Native Peoples’ return from their winter hunting camps back to their permanent village sites throughout the region.

May brought the Full Flower Moon, sometimes called the Planting Corn Moon. On the prairies, April showers really did bring May flowers, thus the derivation of the first of the names. And corn—maize—was so important to the Native American diet that it was the basis for the moon names of three months, with May being the first.

June was the Full Strawberry Moon, marking the time when the tiny, wonderfully sweet, wild berries were picked by the bark bucketful to be eaten fresh or dried for use later on.

July’s full moon was called the Buck Moon or sometimes the Thunder Moon. Male deer are very active during July, and anyone who has lived in Illinois for very long knows the month is punctuated by swift-moving thunderstorms.

August marks the Corn Moon, the second full moon named in honor of this most important crop of the Native People. In late August, the corn harvest began for Native Americans, the small golden ears picked and hung on frames to dry before shelling and storage.

In September, the Harvest Moon shown down on the Fox Valley, marking the season when corn, beans, and squash were harvested and preserved for use during the coming winter months. Some tribes called September’s full moon the Corn Moon, too.

October's Hunter's Moon has been spectacular during the past few evenings. It will be considered full on Oct. 27, before beginning to wax once again.

October’s Hunter’s Moon has been spectacular during the past few evenings. It will be considered full on Oct. 27, before beginning to wax once again.

October, as noted above, brought the Hunter’s Moon when deer and other animals were hunted so the meat could be property dried for storage and use during the winter. Some tribes called it the Drying Grass Moon, while others called it the Travel Moon—October was often the month when tribes broke into small family groups that traveled to their winter hunting camps. Oswego was reportedly Chief Waubonsee’s favorite winter hunting campsite.

November marked the full Beaver Moon, the time when beavers wearing their full, lush winter coats could be trapped. “Prime Winter Beaver” pelts represented the principal currency of the fur trade.

December, with its cold weather and short days, not only brought the end of the year, but also brought the Cold Moon. Sometimes the December full moon was called the Long Nights Moon as the yearly cycle ended ready only begin again with January’s full Wolf Moon.

Just as the Fox Valley’s Native American residents once hurried to gather in the harvest each October, so too do area farmers still work hard to get their corn and soy beans harvested before the snow starts to fall. This year, just as it has for thousands of years, the full Hunters Moon is keeping watch over the Fox Valley’s farmers wrap up their harvest from its high vantage point.


Filed under Fox River, Fur Trade, Illinois History, Local History, Military History, People in History, Science stuff

A terrible, honorable sacrifice finally memorialized

It’s been hot and humid here around and about the Matile Manse, and when that happens, I tend to hunker down and find things to do to procrastinate so I don’t have to leave my cool dehumidified confines and at the same time don’t have to get involved in difficult research.

What that means, in practice, is mining for family info to fill in the gaps (which are many and wide) in my family genealogy. One way to waste a LOT of time is to delve, once again, into my Minnich clan. My great-great grandmother, Mary Ann Wolf, married Johan Minnich in 1846 back in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Wolf and Minnich are both extremely common names in that place and time, so there are dozens of blind alleys to go down, trips that waste loads of time, so perfect for procrastinating.

So the other day, I fired up my family database once again, and started looking through the Wolf side of Mary Ann’s family and I noted that not only was her father named Michael, but so was one of her brothers, which struck me as interesting. Brother Michael’s information was pretty thin on the ground—birth date but no death date—so I started digging to see if I could at least put Michael to rest.

And that’s when an interesting, tragic story began to unfold. Michael was born in 1840 in Schuylkill County, the fourth son and fifth child of Michael and Becky Shaefer Wolf. They mined lots of coal in Schuylkill, and the Wolf boys went into the mines. That’s what they were doing the Civil War broke out. Brother Isaac signed up right away, enlisting in Company A, 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, enlisting in August, 1861, and marching off to war with the regiment’s 1,000 or so newly recruited soldiers in September.

The monument to the men of the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment on the Antietam battlefield.

The monument to the men of the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment on the Antietam battlefield. (National Park Service)

As it turned out, the 50th Pennsylvania saw an awful lot of hard campaigning, from its very first commitment to action. Loaded aboard the sailing transport Winfield Scott, the regiment was shipped south to participate in the Union attempt to seize Charleston, S.C. On the way, a huge storm blew up and the entire regiment was nearly lost at sea off Cape Hatteras. From the inconclusive South Carolina campaign, the 50th moved back north to fight at Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg before being sent west to Kentucky and then to Mississippi, where they fought under U.S. Grant in the Vicksburg campaign. From there, they marched back east to Kentucky, through the Cumberland Gap to Knoxville, Tennessee where it mustered just 80 soldiers fit for duty, although even some of those were still suffering from the effects of malaria contracted in the swamps around Vicksburg.

Gradually, the sick and wounded returned to duty during the stay at Knoxville, which was fortunate because the regiment was hurried northeast to throw back a Confederate advance into East Tennessee, which the American army did at the Battle of Blue Springs. Back in Knoxville thanks to the advance of Confederates under James Longstreet, the 50th was heavily engages at the Battle of Fort Sanders during the siege of the city until Longstreet was finally forced to retreat.

It was at Knoxville on Jan. 1, 1864 that the three-year enlistments of the 50th’s men ran out. Nearly the entire regiment reenlisted for another term, after which they took an extremely arduous march east and then on to Harrisburg in their home state. There they were granted veterans’ furloughs and they headed home with orders to return in early spring. It’s likely Isaac went home and talked with his younger brother, Michael, about serving in the 50th. Whatever his motivation, Michael enlisted as a private in his brother’s Company A on April 6, 1864. He was officially mustered in the next day, April 7 at Pottsville in Schuylkill County.

On March 20, the 50th, veterans and new recruits alike, rendezvoused at Annapolis, Maryland where it was organized, the troops drilled, and then assigned to 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, IX Corps. With their corps, the 50th marched south to join Gen. U.S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac. Their route took them through Washington, D.C. where they were personally reviewed by President Lincoln and on farther south across the old Bull Run battlefield where they’d fought so hard three years before.

The Battle of the Wilderness was not only bloody, it was extremely confusing for both the Confederate and the American armies as they tried to fight in thick woods and underbrush. (Library of Congress)

The Battle of the Wilderness was not only bloody, it was extremely confusing for both the Confederate and the American armies as they tried to fight in thick woods and underbrush. (Library of Congress)

Grant was aiming directly for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and was hoping to prevent him from reaching the fortifications around Richmond. As Grant attempted to force his IX Corps through a dense patch of woods and brush called The Wilderness, Lee struck in yet another of his ill-conceived offensives. Because the strategic fact was that while Grant’s American army could afford to lose men, Lee’s rebels could not afford to lose a single soldier.

The Battle of the Wilderness was a harbinger of bloody fights to come as Grant continually attempted to slip around Lee’s rebels to cut them off from Richmond. Grant had cold-bloodedly decided on a strategy of attrition after coming to the conclusion that the rebel armies simply could not withstand sustained combat due to lack of personnel. The close-quarters combat cost the Union 17,666 casualties, including 2,246 killed in action, which could be replaced. It cost Lee 11,033 irreplaceable, trained soldiers—1,477 of them killed. Although no one really understood yet, it was the beginning of the end for the South and slavery.

Not among the casualties were the Wolf brothers, even though the 50th Pennsylvania was heavily engaged. It must have been a sobering baptism of fire for Michael, but pretty much business as usual for Isaac.

Tactically, the battle was inconclusive, but strategically, it was one more disaster for Lee as he lost more than a division’s worth of priceless troops. Even more sobering for Lee was Grant’s tenacity. He was used to other American generals who, after a similar bloody fight, would have spent time reorganizing and licking their wounds. Not Grant.

After Michael Wolf was greviously wounded, he was taken to Carver General Hospital where he was treated before he was mustered out in July 1864. One of it's wards is pictured above during the Civil War. (National Archives)

After Michael Wolf was greviously wounded, he was taken to Carver General Hospital where he was treated before he was mustered out in July 1864. One of it’s wards is pictured above during the Civil War. (National Archives)

After disengaging at The Wilderness, Grant immediately tried out-marching Lee, a futile hope—the Confederates were known for rapid marching. The rebels ended up beating the Union to the crossroads at Spotsylvania Courthouse. The 50th, along with the rest of Burnside’s IX Corps, moved southwest along the Fredericksburg Pike, encountering Cadmus Wilcox’s rebel division northeast of Spotsylvania at the Ni River on May 9. The 50th’s regimental history recounts what happened next: “With fixed bayonets, the Fiftieth, led by Lieutenant Colonel [Edward] Overton, charged up the up the steep ascent, and routed a force of the enemy greatly superior in number; but the success was gained at a fearful cost, losing in killed, wounded and missing, one hundred and twenty men.”

Among those who fell during that bloody assault was Michael Wolf, a soldier for just a month and two days. A Confederate Minié ball struck Wolf’s left arm just below the shoulder, shattering the humerus, knocking him out of the fight and the war. Brother Isaac again escaped without a scratch, and went on to serve for several more months before being mustered out on Sept. 29, 1864.

Michael was carried to a Union field hospital where surgeons, working as quickly as possible under grim conditions, amputated the arm at the shoulder since there was no sound bone left to form a stump. He was evacuated to Carver General Hospital at Washington, D.C., arriving there May 14. Not until July was he strong enough to travel. On July 6 he was discharged and sent home to Schuylkill County.

His sister, my great-great grandmother, Mary Ann, went to visit as soon as he arrived home and was shocked at the appearance of this once-hearty former coal miner. “I found him propped up in bed, his heart beating very hard and fast,” she recalled years afterward. Because of the way the amputation was done, there were problems with property routing blood vessels, creating heart problems. “From the time of his discharge to his death he was troubled all the time with heart disease and often had severe attacks of it so that he was confined to his bed,” Mary Ann recalled.

In 1868, my great-great grandparents decided try their luck in Illinois, first settling out on the Wheatland Township prairie where they farmed for a few years before moving to a place just north of Oswego in the old Village of Troy where Mary Ann maintained a boarding house and wove rag rugs on a loom Johann made for her while he found work on the railroad.

Michael, hearing reports of how nice it was in Illinois—and there being no market for one-armed coal miners—decided to move west, too. He settled with his sister and her family for a while, and then even found someone to marry. Elizabeth Orr was divorced with two growing children, but the couple apparently made a go of it on Michael’s slim $24 a month soldier’s disability pension. Elizabeth’s children married into local families and Michael dealt with the unnumbered health problems resulting from his short, disastrous, military career. He died in Oswego in 1884.

The Sept. 10, 1884 Kendall County Record carried his short, poignant obituary: “Michael Wolf, the one armed soldier who has been almost in continual distress—his arm was taken off at the shoulder joint, leaving no stump, which caused certain disarrangements in the arterial system and affected the heart—and who has been on the failing order for some time died the latter part of the week. The funeral took place Sunday afternoon from the house.”

He was buried with so many of his Civil War comrades in the Oswego Township Cemetery.

Michael Wolf's new headstone as it looked immediately after it was installed by the Sons of Union Veterans this summer and before it was cleaned. (Stephenie Todd photo)

Michael Wolf’s new headstone as it looked immediately after it was installed by the Sons of Union Veterans this summer and before it was cleaned. (Stephenie Todd photo)

The family was too poor to provide a tombstone for Michael’s grave, so it remained unmarked. Until this year. The local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War decided to make a project of obtaining stones for the unmarked graves of Union soldiers in the Oswego Township Cemetery. My friend Stephenie Todd worked to find living relatives of the fallen soldiers—blood relatives must sign off on the efforts to mark soldiers’ unmarked graves in order to receive a U.S. Government-supplied tombstone. Earlier this summer, volunteers set the veterans’ stones, including one for Michael Wolf obtained thanks to my distant relatives Ron Moses and Ted Clauser.

As readers of this blog and my column in the Kendall County Record newspapers know, I am no fan of the Civil War. It was fought over the most depraved of causes—the enslavement of human beings—which was so essential to the world view of a large fraction of the nation’s population that they were willing to commit treason and attempt to destroy their country in order to perpetuate it. For uncounted thousands of soldiers who fought against slavery and for national union, the war never ended. Like Michael Wolf, they lived lives of unending and perpetual pain, both physical and mental. The very least we can and should do is provide the small recognition of a grave marker for those who gave so much of themselves to keep our nation united and free from such a terrible stain. Now, thanks to some who’ve never forgotten their sacrifices, at least a few more of those unremembered veterans can rest a bit easier.



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

That forgotten, pointless Russian intervention

These days, we sort of take for granted that the U.S. military will intervene just about anywhere in the world on just about any pretext politicians can dream up. But that wasn’t always the case. And, in fact, Midwesterners especially were extremely leery of getting involved in foreign entanglements to which they couldn’t see a direct benefit for the country.

The May issue of Military History magazine carried a fine example of that: The U.S. intervention in Russia at the end of World War I. In an unsuccessful effort to keep pressure on Germany from the East, the Allies sent an expeditionary force into Russia. President Woodrow Wilson’s grudging agreement to participate ended up pitting U.S. doughboys and British tommies against both sides in the vicious and bloody Russian civil war.

Doughboys from the 339th U.S. Infantry Regiment take ship for Archangle in 1918 during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.

Doughboys from the 339th U.S. Infantry Regiment take ship for Arkhangelsk in 1918 during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. They were withdrawn before their brothers-in-arms serving in Siberia were finally brought home in 1920. (photo courtesy of Charles G. Thomas, Army Sustainment, March-April 2012)

The first U.S. troops arrived at Murmansk in the late summer of 1918 and were welcomed by the Murmansk Soviet and the local Communist leader, Leon Trotsky, plus the Allied British and French troops already there. The troops’ mission was to secure the main rail line in the area in order to allow the orphan Czechoslovak Legion to open a new Eastern Front against the Germans and Finns. It didn’t take long for the wheels to come off the effort and political infighting to break out among the allies. And then with Armistice Day come and gone, first a British unit refused to fight, pointing out that by that time—February 1919—World War I was over. A French battalion followed their lead, as did a U.S. Army company in mid-March. The U.S. troops complained that the war was over, the Germans had been defeated, and the actions they were being ordered to undertake were in contravention of their own government’s stated policies. By June, President Wilson had decided it really was a bad idea, and U.S. troops were ordered withdrawn from Arkhangelsk after suffering 235 dead in the police action.

Seated in the center is Maj. Gen. William S. Graves, commanding general of the Allied Expeditionary Force - Siberia, surrounded by his staff. The photo was snapped at Vladivostok, Siberia on Nov. 23, 1918. (Courtesy National Archives)

Seated in the center is Maj. Gen. William S. Graves, commanding general of the Allied Expeditionary Force – Siberia, surrounded by his staff. The photo was snapped at Vladivostok, Siberia on Nov. 23, 1918. (Courtesy National Archives)

Meanwhile, 8,000 additional U.S. troops had been shipped to Vladivostok, Siberia during the summer and fall of 1918 with the mission of a) not taking sides in the increasingly violent civil war and b) aiding the well-traveled Czechoslovak Legion by protecting railroads leading east from the port. Not only did the doughboys have to contend with White Russian and Red Army fighters, but also with their putative allies, including 70,000 Imperial Japanese troops who were out for plunder and conquest. The U.S. troops came to despise the Japanese troops as much as their Red and White Russian antagonists.

The author of the Military History piece, Anthony Brandt, noted that the intervention failed on multiple levels, and further managed to leave behind lasting antagonism between the U.S. and the brand new Soviet government. Letter-writers in the most recent issue of the magazine criticized Brandt’s take, suggesting that if the U.S. had simply committed more troops it would have been possible to have kept the Bolsheviks from consolidating power.

Japanese Imperial Marines stand at attention (left) as U.S. Army troops march through Vladastok during the nation's intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918. The Japanese proved a continual thorn in the side of U.S. troops. All U.S. troops were withdrawn two years later after the inconclusive and unpopular intervention ended. (National Archives photo)

Japanese Imperial Marines stand at attention (left) as U.S. Army troops march through Vladivostok in 1918 during the nation’s intervention in the Russian Civil War. The Japanese proved a continual thorn in the side of U.S. troops. All U.S. troops were withdrawn two years later after the inconclusive and unpopular intervention ended. (National Archives photo)

However, that completely ignores the mood of the U.S. electorate in the summer of 1919—intervention simply did not have any constituency. People wanted the troops home, and wanted them home immediately. The Midwest wasn’t 100-percent sold on fighting Germany in the first place; the whole idea of fighting Russians after the war was over was considered pointless, not to mention absurd.

Here in the Fox Valley, that feeling was evidenced in spades. Hugh R. Marshall, the editor of the Kendall County Record, complained in a short editorial in the paper’s July 2, 1919 edition that: “The hope that our soldiers will all be out of Europe soon must be abandoned. Secretary of War [Newton] Baker has issued a special appeal to young men to enlist in the army for service in Europe and bleak Siberia. How long, oh Lord! how long, will it be until our ‘democratic’ president steps out of the role of Czar long enough to let his ‘subjects’ know why he is keeping our soldiers in Siberia. Do we owe that country anything?”

By late August, parents of Illinois soldiers serving in Siberia had had enough. They wanted their sons home and back on the farms and behind business counters where they belonged, and they took their case right to the source.

As Marshall reported in the Record’s Aug. 27, 1919 edition: “Having no hope that President Wilson will act favorably upon their appeal to bring their boys home from Siberia, Illinois mothers and fathers have taken their case direct to the House foreign affairs committee. Chairman of the committee Porter says ‘there is absolutely no justification in law’ for sending our troops to Siberia, and that ‘the time has come to challenge this extraordinary use of the army.’

Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, depending on your viewpoint—Wilson never saw fit to lay out his reasoning for sending troops to Siberia before he was felled by a massive stroke in October 1919. It seems he didn’t even bother to tell his own political allies what his goal was supposed to be.

Without Wilson to support the mission, U.S. withdrawal from Siberia began in early 1920, with the last troops leaving Vladivostok on April 1. With the mission wrapped up, Baker apparently finally felt free to comment, calling the intervention “nonsense from the beginning.” Gen. Peyton C. March, Army Chief of Staff, agreed, dubbing it “a complete failure.”

You’ve got to give Baker and March credit, though. Unlike today’s political and military leaders, they weren’t afraid to call a failure a failure. Compare their comments with the mealy-mouthed rationalizations of the spectacular military and political failures the U.S. engineered in Iraq and Afghanistan we get from our leaders these days, and it almost makes one long for the good old days of 1920.

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

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

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.

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