Tag Archives: Civil War

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

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

African American History Month…

February is African American History Month. I’ve always wondered why January wasn’t selected as the month to honor the history of the nation’s black residents since, to me, at least, January seems to make a lot more sense. After all, it’s the month of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. But February it is.

Every year about this time, I hear folks wondering how come we need a African American History Month at all. After all, blacks are citizens like everyone else and other ethnic groups don’t have their own history months. Except they do. For instance, May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month, September is National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month, October is National Italian American Heritage Month. And November honors American Indians.

And there’s one major historical difference between African Americans and all the nation’s other ethnic groups: blacks are the only ones who were brought here involuntarily.

Black slaves were first imported into Illinois during the French colonial era. The first 500 blacks were brought from Haiti in 1720 to work mines and when that didn’t pan out, to grow crops in and around the colonial towns of Cahokia and Kaskaskia that were exported downriver to New Orleans. Slavery continued in Illinois throughout the colonial era and after the Revolutionary War secured Illinois for the new United States. When the Northwest Ordinance was passed in 1787 establishing the Northwest Territory (which included the eventual states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana), slavery was prohibited, with the major loophole that slaves owned by the territory’s French residents were permitted. Illinois was first settled by Southerners coming up from Tennessee and Kentucky. Because of the pro-slavery stance of so many of Illinois’ earliest residents, turning it into a slave state was narrowly avoided during a contentious political campaign in 1824, thanks to the strong anti-slavery views of the growing number of settlers from northern states and England.

Kendall County’s black history began a decade later. Among those arriving in the county in 1834 was a party of South Carolinians, the families of Robert W. Carnes, James S. Murray, and Elias Dial. The group decided to settle around Hollenback’s Grove, now the Millbrook area in Fox Township.

The group was notable for a couple of reasons. First, they hadn’t moved west in gradual stages via the Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, southern Illinois route most Southerner settlers took. Instead, like the flood of pioneers from Ohio, New England, and, especially New York, they came directly from the South. But unlike those other settlers, they brought the county’s first two black residents with them.

In his 1877 history of Kendall County, the Rev. Edmund Warne Hicks noted the South Carolinians “brought two colored women, former slaves, who had been a long time in their families—Dinah in Mr. Carns’ and Silvie in Mr. Murray’s. They were the first colored people in the county and both died here.”

It is highly unlikely, however, that either Silvie or Dinah were “former slaves” when the Carns and Murrays brought them to Kendall County. De facto slavery was winked at by state government as long as the fiction could be maintained that the people in question were indentured servants. With state government still heavily in the hands of slavery sympathizers, state law was friendly towards those who insisted on owning their fellow humans.

The student body of the Grove School, a one-room country school that served the neighborhood where many of Kendall County's black farming families lived. The Lucas kids, children of Edmund Lucas who married Nathan Hughes' daughter, are in the front row of this 1894 photo apparently taken on a dress-up day.  (Little White School Museum collection)

The student body of the Grove School, a one-room country school that served the neighborhood where many of Kendall County’s black farming families lived. The Lucas kids, children of Edmund Lucas who married Nathan Hughes’ daughter, are in the front row of this 1894 photo apparently taken on a dress-up day. (Little White School Museum collection)

During the next 35 years, few other blacks lived in Kendall County, at least according to the dectennial censuses. But after the Civil War, the county saw a flood of former slaves arrive and settle on farms. Others moved to the county’s small towns where they established businesses or worked for white residents.

The heyday of the county’s black farming community was in the 1880s, after which many of the families left the land to work in factories in the Kendall County community of Plano and in nearby Aurora, whose industrial base was booming. The descendants of those families still live in and around Aurora, while others who grew up in and around Oswego have moved on and up, parlaying their small town roots into a wide range of careers including service as educators from public schools through university. (For a more in-depth look at the African American community in Kendall County, follow the link to one of my recent Ledger-Sentinel columns.)

Ferdinand Smith, Nathan Hughes' grandson and a member of the Oswego High School Class of 1903, was the first African American to graduate from high school in Kendall County. His sister, Mary, who graduated in 1904 was the first female African American high school graduate in the county. (Little White School Museum collection)

Ferdinand Smith, Nathan Hughes’ grandson and a member of the Oswego High School Class of 1903, was the first African American to graduate from high school in Kendall County. His sister, Mary, who graduated in 1904 was the first female African American high school graduate in the county. (Little White School Museum collection)

Interestingly enough, these new residents to this small corner of northern Illinois seemed to fit in pretty well. Their kids went to local schools, and out in rural areas they participated in the farming culture. In town, some of them became integrated into community life. The big question, for me and for their descendants who are now working on their family histories, is why did they choose to move to Kendall County? What was the lure? No one living apparently knows. It seems an odd choice. Yes, the county had a rail line running through it’s northern tier, but most of the black families that came in the wake of the Civil War settled several miles away from that line.

There was no existing African American community here in Kendall County, and those families who had left the old slave states could not be at all sure what their reception would be. And for many reasons, those receptions turned out to be reasonably affable. It didn’t hurt that some of tho African American men who came after the war were veterans of the conflict like so many of their white neighbors. The Grand Army of the Republic, the politically powerful Union veterans’ organization, normally did not welcome black members. But here in Kendall County they did. Private Nathan Hughes, badly wounded in the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Va., was not only welcomed into the Yorkville GAR post, but also served as an officer. His grandchildren became the first black people to graduate from high school in the county, and his great-great-great grandchildren went on to become college professors.

Interestingly enough, during those early years,it was often impossible to tell from the local weekly newspaper whether the subjects of local news articles were black or white. It wasn’t until the post World War I xenophobia kicked in that widespread racism and ethnic bigotry gained a foothold in Kendall County. The slide was so complete that the once-color blind local press joined in and in the 1920s the KKK even had some affiliate groups in the county.

Today, in the early years of the 21st Century, in terms of racism and ethnic bigotry, Kendall County has largely gotten back to where it was a century ago. Whether progress or regression, that seems like a good thing.

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

The Civil War: A fascinating factoid

(See update below)

As I have mentioned before, I’m really not a Civil War fan. I’ve thought for years that the war was a colossal, criminal, waste of time, treasure, and the lives of far too many young men.

Here in Kendall County, nearly 10 percent of the total population served in the war and around 2 percent of the total 1860 population died or was killed during the war. Hundreds of those who returned home were disabled , both mentally and physically, to a greater or lesser extent.

In addition, the war apparently created a sense of wanderlust in those who served. Kendall County’s population in 1860 stood at 13,074. After the war, it underwent a steady decline over almost the next entire century. The county’s population did not rise above it’s 1860 level until 1960 when vigorous post-World War II economic and population growth accelerated.

So the war had a substantial, and long-lasting, effect on us here in the North. The effect on the South appears to have been even worse.

Historian David Oshinsky has a fascinating piece in the Washington Post looking, in part, at the impact of the Civil War on the State of Mississippi. As pointed out by Eric Loomis at one of my favorite blogs, Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Oshinsky writes:

More than a third of Mississippi’s 78,000 soldiers were killed in battle or died from disease. And more than half of the survivors brought home a lasting disability of war. Visitors to the state were astonished by the broken bodies they saw at every gathering, in every town square. Mississippi resembled a giant hospital ward, a land of missing arms and legs. In 1866, one-fifth of the state budget went for the purchase of artificial limbs.

Did you get that? A third of Mississippi’s soldiers who marched off to fight for slavery and slave owners died. But even more astonishing, 20 percent of the state’s entire budget in 1866, the year after the war ended, was spent on artificial arms, legs, hands, and feet.

The Civil War was an abomination. That no one was prosecuted for starting it and sticking with it until an estimated 620,000 soldiers were either killed or died of disease or other reasons was a horrible miscarriage of justice.

UPDATE: Was doing my usual early morning cruise about the Net today and came across this great column by the War Nerd about Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” which stepped off from Atlanta just 150 years ago this month.

One thing for which you’ve got to give the instigators of the War of Southern Sedition credit is their remarkably successful post-war effort to spin this absolutely horrible conflict as entirely the North’s fault that was undertaken to somehow take the South’s freedom away.

I remember while growing up that movies and TV shows continually glorified the “Lost Cause.” The rebels were not only glorified, but, in the case of Robert E. Lee, almost sanctified. The causes of the war were obscured so that most came to believe the “states’ rights” canard. Sherman and Grant had no illusions about what was going on, nor did those who fought in Union blue. As Grant put it, the South’s decision to fight a war to uphold slavery was “the worst cause for which men ever fought.” And as Sherman warned his Southern friends before their effort to subvert the Constitution got fully underway: “It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization!”

It truly was. Read the War Nerd’s blog post.

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Trying to make the world a safer, better place…

For the past few weeks, we’ve been working up our annual “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit down at the Little White School Museum here in Oswego.

My compatriot Bob Stekl has been putting together most of the main exhibits, including the Wall of Honor and the exhibit of uniforms and equipment that make the annual event so interesting.

During World War II, this sign kept track of the men and women serving their country. I twas located on Main Street right next to the Oswego Village Hall. (Little White School Museum collection)

During World War II, this sign kept track of the men and women serving their country. I twas located on Main Street right next to the Oswego Village Hall. (Little White School Museum collection)

The Wall of Honor consists of photos of veterans and serving military personnel, from World War I to the present day. This year, we’re including a number of vets and serving personnel from our most recent spate of wars, including one youngster, a Marine, who graduated from Oswego High School in 2010, joined the Corps, and then encountered an IED in Afghanistan in 2011 that blew off both his legs and part of his hand.

My job in putting the exhibit together was to do a poster on each of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed in action from Oswego, from the Civil War through Vietnam. Fortunately, we’ve had no more KIAs in the wars of the 21st Century, although that seems more due to the incredible advances in medical technology than a lack of our people finding themselves in harm’s way—see the story about the Marine above for verification of that.

From the information we’ve been able to gather (there may be more, and if there are, hopefully someone will point them out to us), three Oswegoland residents were killed in action during the Civil War, one during World War I, five during World War II, and three during Vietnam.

These were young men for the most part, with an average age of 22.4. They ranged from Frank Clauser, 31, (a distant cousin of mine) an engineer-dorsal turret gunner in a B-26 shot down over the Mediterranean during World War II, to 19 year-old Alfred X. Murdock, killed at the Battle of Ezra Church during the Civil War.

William "Billy" Pooley was a 24 year-old private when he was killed in action at the Battle of Ezra Church outside Atlanta in 1864. (Little White School Museum collection)

William “Billy” Pooley was a 25 year-old private when he was killed in action at the Battle of Ezra Church outside Atlanta in 1864. (Little White School Museum collection)

In fact, two of our KIAs were killed during at Ezra Church, Murdock (his friends called him Ax), 19, and William “Billy” Pooley, 25. During that same, desperate battle, as Hood’s Confederates tried to break the American line near Atlanta, young Robinson B. Murphy won the Medal of Honor. Just 15 at the time, he guided reinforcements to the far end of the American line held by Company A, 127th Illinois Volunteers, comprised mostly of Oswegoans. Murphy grew up in Oswego with the soldiers in the company and had enlisted as a drummer boy with them. The sights and sounds horror of that day stayed with him the rest of his life.

As Murphy put it in a letter published in the Sept. 7, 1898 Kendall County Record:

“As you all know, the most of the time my position was such that I could look on and see what was being done and oh! how I always turned towards my own regiment, and how it grieved me to see them stricken down either from disease or the rebel bullet. I shall never forget that 28th day of July in front of Atlanta, when “Billy” Lawton came running out of the woods and said “Bob, for God’s sake get us some reinforcements; they are cutting us all to pieces,” and a little later as I rode up near the line with the reinforcements, there I found our comrades, Ax. Murdoch [sic] and “Billy” Pooley, both shot dead; they were our Oswego boys. Do you wonder I was deeply touched and the tears rolled down my face?”

Two of our Civil War dead weren’t even citizens. Billy Pooley was born and raised in England before coming to the U.S. with his family, while William Shoger was born Johann Wilhelm Schoger in Germany. He immigrated with two brothers and three cousins at the age of 13 to help scout for good land for the rest of his family, which came from Germany a couple years later, settling just outside Oswego west of the Fox River. William was killed in action at the Battle of Raymond in 1863, as Gen. Grant tightened the noose around Vicksburg.

During World War I, 21 year-old Archie Lake was killed in action fighting the Germans in France with the U.S. Marines.

Kay Fugate was killed Dec. 7, 1941 at Pear Harbor aboard the USS Nevada. (Little White School Museum collection)

Kay Fugate was killed Dec. 7, 1941 at Pear Harbor aboard the USS Nevada. (Little White School Museum collection)

We lost five area residents during World War II, three of them in the Air Corps, one in the Navy, and one in the Army. Kay Fugate, 24, a Seaman Second Class, didn’t make it past the first day of the war, dying aboard the USS Nevada during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. As noted above, Frank Clauser was shot down along with the rest of his crewmates in fighting over the Mediterranean. Donald A. Johnson, 20, died when his C-87 Liberator Express transport flew into a mountainside while flying over the “Hump.” Paul Ellsworth Zwoyer, 22, was killed near the end of the war when his B-29 Superfortress was shot down during a night raid on Tokyo near the end of the war. None of the three bodies of our three Air Corps dead were ever recovered.

Stuart Parkhurst was killed during his first experience with combat, and just two months to the day after he left New York Harbor in some of the fighting just before the Battle of the Bulge. He and his best friend, Stan Young, had pledged they’d volunteer for the paratroops when they were drafted, but Stuart decided not to. Stan persevered, making several combat jumps in the Pacific Theatre and being on one of the first, if not the first, U.S. planes to land in Japan to take the surrender of the Imperial Japanese Army. Stuart was a sergeant in the headquarters company of the Second Battalion, 345th Infantry Regiment—normally not one of the most dangerous places to be, but on Dec. 17, 1943, the headquarters of 2nd Battalion was raked by tank and machine gun fire, badly wounding several officers and killing Stuart.

E4 Hans Brunner, a German national fighting in the U.S. Army, was killed in action at Pleiku, Vietnam on March 29, 1968. (Little White School Museum collection)

E4 Hans Brunner, a German national fighting in the U.S. Army, was killed in action at Pleiku, Vietnam on March 29, 1968. (Little White School Museum collection)

In Vietnam, we had three Army casualties. Fred Heriaud, 21, was Kendall County’s first Vietnam casualty, getting killed in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley Dec. 17, 1965, a battle immortalized by Mel Gibson’s movie, “We Were Young.” Hans Brunner, like William Shoger, another German national who had immigrated to the U.S. shortly before he joined the Army, was killed in action at the age of 24 on March 29, 1968 defending the airfield at Pleiku. And Bobby Rogers, who went to school with me (he was two years younger) was serving in the Army during Operation Iron Mountain when he was killed on March 19, 1968. He was just 21

It’s hard not to wonder what these young men would have accomplished had they not died in the service of their country—in three cases, their adopted country. If you happen to be in the Oswego area this coming weekend, come on over to the Little White School Museum. The exhibit opens Saturday, Nov. 8, at 9 a.m. Hours are Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. It’s free and it honors those who tried their best to make the nation and the world a better place.



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

We dodged an authoritarian bullet in the 1860s…

Reading about the Civil War always makes me extremely glad the Union won, not to mention extremely angry that the war happened at all.

If a large portion of the officer corps of the U.S. military had not decided to surrender their honor and become traitors, it’s likely the estimated 620,000 soldiers on both sides (and that figure doesn’t include war-related civilian deaths) who lost their lives during the conflict and the millions of dollars of destruction could have been avoided.

Unfortunately for us future generations, by the time U.S. Grant and William Sherman had beaten the South into submission the nation was so tired of war they decided to give those military traitors a free pass, other than brief imprisonments for some. And thus was born the “Lost Cause” fable that ushered in decades of monstrous Jim Crow subjugation of anyone with African-American blood in their veins–no matter how little flowed there.

It’s not too strong a statement to say that the Confederate government had a lot in common with the authoritarian governments of the early 20th Century, and seems to have pioneered some of the same techniques fascist and communist governments used to subjugate their own people.

The Civil War is often described as the first modern war since it made extensive use of railroads, mobilization of heavy industry, and proto-modern military tactics such as elaborate entrenchments and rifled firearms. It can also be considered a modern war in that it really didn’t settle much, other than eliminating slavery. Which, granted, was quite a major achievement. Southern attitudes took a breather for a few years but then began once again to eat away at the fabric of the nation right up to the present, to the point that the America envisioned by the Founders is in real danger of disappearing under a mound of hatred and lies.

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