Millard Filmore Bowker, Private, Company H, Age 13

No one under the age of 18 was to enlist in the Federal army without the written consent of parent or guardian. There were quite a few soldiers in the Fifty-First Illinois, however, who were less than 18. Some of them lied about their age, like Edward Hull, who enlisted under the alias of "Henry Davis". Some of them had the consent of their parents; Bowker was one of them. He was 13 when he enlisted, and his parents consented, moved by fervor for the Union cause and convinced that the war would be brief and without horrific bloodshed.

When many men of the regiment signed reenlistment papers in December 1863 while shivering in East Tennessee, Millard reenlisted also. His parents were not consulted and were unaware of their son's reenrollment. In late February, the regiment returned to Illinois on its thirty-day reenlistment furlough. When Millard returned to his family in Port Byron, a small drama unfolded. Now Millard's father and his mother Parthenia tried to get Millard's reenlistment invalidated. Why would the Bowkers, who had consented to their son's enlistment when he was 13, now try to prevent his reenlistment when he was 16?

We can speculate. The short war of 1861 had become the long war of 1864. The intoxicating energy of the first months of the war was countered by the succeeding many months of marching, camping, and fighting both illness and the Confederate army. Casualties among local families of regimental soldiers were at first, through most of 1862, limited in number—Jeremiah Miller killed at Stones River, Captain John Whitson dead of disease at a Chicago hospital, his brother Lieutenant Charles Whitson wounded and half disabled, James Sheppard brought home from a Nashville hospital for burial in Old Port Byron Cemetery, George Dunn buried somewhere down in Mississippi. But with the Battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge casualties multiplied. And in November and December 1863 and January 1864 those casualties began to walk, and hobble, the streets of Port Byron and Cordova and roads of Coe and Zuma as the wounded were furloughed home to recover. Simon Trent came home to his wife and kids with his left leg shot horribly askew. There were wounded others who like Trent had lain on the battlefield as Confederate captives for ten days before being sent back through the lines—too wounded and too lame for transport to Confederate prison camps: David Reed, Robert Rowland, and Alexander Jack, all three with left-leg wounds, all three paroled "on the field"—actually from the field hospitals, now back in Coe and Port Byron. There were free men among the wounded who returned to Port Byron, men who had escaped the Chickamauga battlefield when the hospitals loaded up and sought the receding rear: Calvin Bunnel, Josiah Day, and John Ratliff. Others were missing altogether: Orson Cole, the Port Byron lieutenant, commanding Company H at Chickamauga, who was shot in the face and taken captive on the second day of the battle, William Mee, a musician from Port Byron. The deposition of the Bowkers was taken by Port Byron resident Samuel Allen whose own son Stephen was underage at enlistment, was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga, and now was transitioning from Confederate prison in Danville, Virginia to Andersonville, Georgia.

For a town of less than 2000 inhabitants, there was a high proportion of limping, bandaged, suffering wounded—and these were only the men of one company of one regiment. There were other wounded and furloughed men at home. The Bowkers might well think that the front was not the place for a sixteen-year-old. And, Millard himself had been wounded at Chickamauga. It was a relatively light wound, gunshot to the hand, necessitating no amputation, but certainly a portent of what might come in further fighting. Levi and Parthenia determined to pull Millard out of the regiment. They grounded their attempt on the fact that Millard was underage and they had not given their consent for his reenlistment.

First and last pages of the Bowker, father and son, affidavits.
Millard's signature appears on the last page.
The Bowker Affidavits

State of Illinois, County of Rock Island

On the Seventh day of March AD 1864 before me, Samuel R. Allen, a Notary Public in and for said County, personally appeared Levi G. Bowker, age 48 years, a resident of Port Byron in the County of Rock Island and State of Illinois, who, being first duly sworn, doth depose and say that ---he is the father and guardian of Millard F. Bopwker who is a private of Co "H" commanded by Captain Greenwood (late Whitson) of the (51st) Fifty-first Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers in the service of the United States - that said Millard F. Bowker enlisted at Port Byron in the county afroesaid on the 11th day of December AD 1861 for three years in said company and Regiment to which enrollment afroesaid of his said son with said Regiment for the space of three years affiant gave his written consent - that same Millard F. Bowker was born in the Town of Lunenburg in the State of Vermont on the sixth (6) day of May AD 1848 and was at the time of his said enlistment of the age of thirteen (13) years - that affiant is informed and believes that said Millard F. Bowker on the 31st day of December AD1863 at Blains Crossroad, Tennessee did reenlist as a veteran volunteer in the said Companyh "H" of the sad 51st Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers. Affiant further says that said reenlistment was contrary to the wishes of affiant - that said Millard F. Bowker was at the time of his said reenlistment of the age of sixteen years on the sixth day of May AD 1864 and reenlisted as aforesaid without the written consent and against the wishes of affiant. And affiant demands that the said minor be released from the United States service and delivered into his custody - and further says not
Subscribed and sworn
to before me.
[signed] Levi G. Bowker

On the Seventh day of March AD 1864 ... appeared Parthnia Bowker... doth depose and say... that said Millard F. Bowker enlisted at Port BNyron on or about the 11th day of December AD 1861 for three years to which said enlistment she gave together with her husband Levi G. Bowker her written consent, that she is informed and believes that said Millard F. Bowker on the 31st Dec 1863 or 1st day of january AD 1864 reenlisted in said company and regiment aforesaid at Blains Crossroads, Tennessee as a veteran volunteer, that said Millard F. Bowker at the time of his reenlistment was a minor of the age of sixteen years.... that her said husband Levi G. Bowker is the guardian of said Millard F. Bowker and with whom previous to his said enlistment the said Millard F. Bowker always resided and was maintained and supported and educated...
[signed] Parthenia Bowker

On the Seventh day of March AD 1864 before me, the subscriber, a Notary Public in and for said County personally appeared Millard F. Bowker, aged 16, a private of Company "H" commanded by Capt. Greenwood (late comd. by Capt Whitson) of the Fifty-first Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers who being first duly sworn doth depose and say that at the time of his reenlistment as stated in the foregoing affidavit of Levi G. Bowker, he did not nor did he at any time before or since make oath that his age was more than is stated in the said affidavit foregoing of Levi G. Bowker.

Subscribed and sworn before me this 7th day of March AD 1864
Samuel R. Allen
[signed] Millard F. Bowker

An Exercise in Futility. But these and other affidavits to the same effect failed utterly to secure Millard's release from Company H of the Fifty-First Illinois. The adjutant general's office responded from Washington on May 10, 1864—by then Millard was already back at war in Georgia—"I am directed to state, that it is ascertained from the report of the proper officer to the Dept. that the enlistment papers of Private Bowker show that he declared himself to be nineteen years of age, and as the oath of a recruit is, by law, conclusive as to his age, the application for his discharge cannot be granted upon the plea presented."

Biographical Sketch. Millard Fillmore Bowker was born in 1848 in Lunenburg, Essex County, Vermont. His father Levi Goodell Bowker was also born in Vermont—on January 2, 1816. Millard's mother Parthenia (Hartshorn) Bowker was born in Quebec, Canada, circa 1921. Levi was a carpenter. Millard had a large family of brothers and sisters; Millard was one of the younger ones. In the 1850s Levi and Parthenia moved their family to Rock Island County, Illinois and settled in Port Byron on the Mississippi River.

Millard enlisted in the Fifty-First Illinois in December 1861 and was with the regiment, in Company H, until it was mustered out in September 1865. He was wounded in the hand at the Battle of Chickamauga. After that battle, the Fifty-First Illinois and the rest of the Army of the Cumberland holed up in Chattanooga and were besieged by Bragg's Confederate army. In 1885, Marcellus Metzgar a company-mate, enlisted from Port Byron like Millard, returned to Chattanooga and shortly after wrote an account of those 1863 times entitled, "Familiar Camping Ground". Metzgar wrote in part:

"While standing on the hill looking around I could almost locate the very spot occupied by some of the tents, and well remember about where the Commissary had his tent, and in that connection it was brought vividly to my memory how short we were of hard tack, sowbelly and money. All the boys will never forget how carefully we watched the measuring out of our sugar with a spoon and counting out hardtack on a rubber blanket, so that all would share alike. Some of you no doubt remember that one of Company H watched the commissary tent one night to draw extra rations when the company’s sergeant was out, and got very cold feet. I think his name is Bowker."

The siege was lifted by the Federal army's defeat of Bragg at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in late November, 1863. The regiment then moved quickly to Strawberry Plains in East Tennessee to help Burnside defend his Federal army against Longstreet's Confederate one. There, in December, 1863, most of the men of the Fifty-First Illinois reenlisted, and Millard Bowker was among them. He returned home in February-March 1864, the time during which the debate over Millard's reenlistment transpired. The Federal army triumphed in the fight with the Bowker family, and Millard returned to the Georgia front. The regiment fought in many skirmishes, engagements, actions, and pitched battles, up through the Battle of Nashville on December 15 and 16, 1864. The regiment's fighting, but not its vigilance, was over. We have one more glimpse of Millard before he mustered out along with the rest of the regiment on September 25, 1865 in Texas:

After the war Millard lived in Illinois. He married two or three times. The 1880 Washington County, Illinois census shows him earning his living as a cooper and living with (probably) his second wife Minerva (Higgins) Bowker, whom he married in Washington County on July 19, 1875. They had a son, Walter Fillmore Bowker, born in 1880 (who died in St. Louis on June 20, 1957).

In the 1880s or 1890s, Millard resettled to St. Louis. The 1900 census lists him as a stencil cutter, and he is living with his third wife Anna (Thomas) Bowker (they married on December 16, 1898).

Millard had a short life. He died in St. Louis on August 9, 1908.

Millard F. Bowker, Compiled Service Record, 51st Illinois Infantry, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Bowker Correspondence, 51st Illinois Infantry, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Some of the genealogical information on this page is drawn from a Selvage-Peterson Family site at