Documenting the 51st Illinois
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William Gardner was a private in Company D of the Fifty-First Illinois. He was born in London, England and settled in Tazewell County, Illinois where he was a farmer. He joined the regiment in early 1862. He was wounded at Stones River, Tennessee and Pine Ridge, Georgia. He survived the war and lived in Illinois. He published this decorative synopsis of the regiment's course in 1862-63-64. Between its ornate lines lie a number of factual gems.
Decoration: Some Footprints of the Army of the Cumberland, from the Privates' Standpoint
Surviving Camp Douglas: David White English. The Fifty-First Illinois Infantry formally began its existence, by order of the adjutant general of Illinois, on September 20, 1861. Already, in early October, the men of the regiment began to assemble at Camp Douglas in Chicago. The camp was still under construction. The months of October, November, December, and January were marked by continued efforts to fill out the regiment, to bring it to the required strength to constitute a regiment and move to one of the theaters of war. This activity suffered several setbacks. One of the original ten companies was a company of artillery gunners, a second was a company of cavalry troopers. The adjutant general's office reassigned both of these companies, leaving the Fifty-First with only eight companies - not even that, for two of the companies that were at first part of the regiment dropped off, leaving the regiment's field officers scrambling to fill up the regiment again - to the extent possible. There was ferment altogether at Camp Douglas. It was still under construction, though it had five thousand inhabitants, and those inhabitants were drilling and feeding and sleeping amidst the building materials. It was under construction by a special regiment of "Mechanics Fusiliers", an engineers' regiment, a regiment of sappers and miners. But that regiment was in mutiny, as the State of Illinois gave signs of sending them to the field rather than leaving them sapping and mining as they thought they'd been promised. Mulligan's Twenty-Third Illinois, "the Irish Brigade", was back at Camp Douglas, reforming after being released from capture. Out of all that, David White English, a private in McWilliams' Company E, wrote this
February 8, 1862 letter from Camp Douglas: "If it was to do over again, they would not enlist."
See also, on these webpages, regarding the formation of the regiment and Camp Douglas:
The early history of the regiment at the beginning of the regimental history page; and
More of the goings-on at Camp Douglas during the formative period of the Fifty-First Illinois on the William H. Greenwood page. Greenwood helped build Company H, and his squad of recruits came close to being swallowed up by another regiment on its arrival at the camp.
In December 1861, Levi and Parthenia Bowker of Port Byron, Illinois, moved by fervor for the cause, gave consent for their son, Millard Fillmore Bowker, to enlist at the age of 13. In 1864, the war having come home to Port Byron with wounds and deaths, they changed their minds and tried to rescue him from the war, as shown in their affidavits reproduced on these pages.
An 1862 "Journal" of the Regiment. This journal, now archived in the regimental books of the Fifty-First Illinois at the National Archives, was maintained by then Lt. Col. Luther Bradley of the Fifty-First. It traces the regiment's movements, with vastly more detail, and more interesting detail, than the Adjutant General's regimental history. It begins with the regiment's departure from Chicago, records the regiment's work at New Madrid and Island No. 10, the deaths of Tapp and Woods, and the riverboat trip to Fort Pillow and back and down to Hamburg Landing. From there, it moves to Farmington and Corinth and then along the railroad into Alabama, scrapping with Roddy and Forrest, and then to the hurried march, without rations but high tension, to Nashville.
Bradley's 1862 Regimental Journal
Private Edward Burns of Company K of the Fifty-First Illinois kept a diary from April 1862 to October 1863, the month of his death at the Battle of Chickamauga. The diary gives account of the movements of the regiment, the rhythms and boredoms of regimental life in the field, and the clashes of arms, especially at Stones River in December, 1862. Privates Burns and Tabler were friends. Burns' diary appears here in a transcription made by William Edward Henry. The transcription is made from a copy of the diary held at the Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Military Park.
Soon after the Fifty-First Illinois moved to the field on February 14, 1862, it was assigned to General John Pope's army, which set about besieging New Madrid, Missouri and soon thereafter nearby Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River. While performing grand guard duty near New Madrid, Burns fell asleep, with this result (Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General, Records of the Proceedings of the U. S. Army General Courts-Martial, 1809-1890, Case NN3819, 16 June 1862 to 20 June 1862, Record Group 94, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.):
Court Martial of Pvt. Edward Burns, June 17, 1862
Death by Disease (The Great Ad Infinitum of the Great Civil War) & Rufus Lyon. The Fifty-First Illinois lost over 130 men to the grim reaper in the guise of ordinary and exotic medical conditions. These dead men shuffle off the pages of memory without the small posthumous gift of attention. They died sick in bed or impaled by accidents that attend upon the march of hundred-thousand-man armies. There is no "notation" affixed to their record saying, killed in action, or mortally wounded, or died - wounds.
Rufus Lyon, in September 1861 in Iroquois County enrolled in the infantry company of Nathaniel Petts. Lyon went to Camp Douglas with the company and started military life when Petts' company became Company C of the Fifty-First Illinois. But soon, even before he was formally mustered into service, began his grinding struggle with his life's enemy—typhoid fever. When the regiment left Camp Douglas on Valentine's Day 1862, Lyon was still fighting for his life.
He died on March 11. In the Annual Return of the Regiment for 1862 Rufus Lyon's death is "certified" by Lt. Col. L. P. Bradley. And so, he was gone—all that intention, frivolous or earnest, mistaken or edifying, phantom under the typhoid fevers, still—the shadows of death flickering on the barracks wall. His body was hauled out into the March air.
It was a kind of sacrifice; certainly not a selfish act.
Then we come to Rufus Lyon's "notation"—in the last column of his compiled service record: "The evidence is not sufficient to justify his recognition as having been in the U. S. service."
A private act, then, in a Federal facility, a dying under one's own auspices, a demise without U. S. recognition.
Rose Hill Cemetery. The April 21, 1862 Chicago Tribune carried an article titled "Burials in the Soldiers' Lot at Rose Hill Cemetery". The article said that the Board of Managers of Rosehill Cemetery had tendered to the Union Defense Committee "a lot at Rosehill for the burial of all volunteers who might die or be killed while in the service of their country, together with the services of the Superintendent of the Cemetery to take charge of any bodies to be buried, and see that they were properly interred without charge." The lot, The Tribune said, was "one of the best in the Cemetery and located near the main entrance. As interments are made, a correct record is kept so that the grave of any one can at any future time be pointed out to the friends of the deceased." The paper listed 30 names and among the 30 were the names of seven members of the Fifty-First Illinois:
- J. H. Lindsay, Co. B
- Rufus Lyon, Co. C
- Nath'l Harris, Co. C
- William Clark, Co. C
- Philip Meyer, Co. G
- William Bishop, Co. H
- C. W. Miller, Co. C
These dead were given place, with each death, on a special funerary street car and carried from Camp Douglas to the Chicago-Northwestern railroad station in downtown Chicago, then transported to the brand-new Rosehill Cemetery. There, they were borne down stone stairs (pictured here), built for this purpose only, to the soldiers plot just inside the main cemetery gate.
NOTE: For this website, we corrected some of The Tribune’s misspellings (“Beehoys” for “Bishop”). Neither the Company C roster nor the rosters for the whole regiment list a William Clark who died prior to The Tribune’s issue of April 21, 1862. He enjoys therefore even less recognition than Rufus Lyon. Listed at No. 7 above, C. W. Miller died before the regiment left Camp Douglas. Benjamin Smith wrote in his journal of January 18, 1862, "My chum Charley Miller, who was sent to the Post Hospital a few days ago, having caught a severe cold, which developed into a raging fever died last night unexpectedly, which caused me much sorrow, as we had become very much attached to each other. The funeral took place this afternoon, he was buried with military honors, a salute being fired over his grave, and the regimental band playing a dead march. He is the first member from our company to cross the line over into the great beyond" (Private Smith's Journal, Chicago, 1961, p. 17).
Rosehill Graves of Members of 51st Illinois Who Died at Camp Douglas
Losing Robert Tilton. Robert Antis Tilton was seventeen when he enlisted. He'd left his family and his hometown of Moscow, New York just a year before, to join his older brother Albert in Middleport, Illinois, working on the railroad. He was the apple of his mother's eye; there was sort of an everlasting little-brother quality to Robert—no matter how old he got. Not long after he enlisted, illness started to wash him downstream and out to sea. The family tried to hang on to him, to graduate him beyond merely being everyone's favorite, to lend him helping hands, to fight him out of the army, to brace themselves in his behalf on the steep slopes of the valley when the shadows started to loom. These three documents tell part of the story:
- The Short Life and Military Career of Corporal Robert A. Tilton.
- Robert Tilton's Last Letter from the Field.
- Albert Tilton's Last Letter to Robert.
Cairo to New Madrid, March 1862.
Sergeant Thomas Ames wrote to the editor of The Waukegan Weekly Gazette to give an account of the regiment's movements for the friends of Lake County's Company G. He traced the course of the Fifty-First Illinois from Cairo through the fall of New Madrid. The Mississippi River fortress at New Madrid was the first place the Fifty-First Illinois Infantry, as part of John Pope's army, engaged their Confederate enemies.
Thomas Ames' Letter, March 18, 1862
Major Samuel B. Raymond wrote an account of his activities at the New Madrid forts in a letter to his wife. Raymond landed himself in hot water for his decisions at New Madrid. He left the lower fort with part of his detail to go to the upper fort to see if it had been evacuated. It had, but there were already Federal troops and officers with assignments at the upper fort. A territorial spat among officers occurred and Raymond was court martialed on five different counts. Most of them were frivolous and four charges were dismissed. But the charge of leaving one's post (Raymond's assigned post was at the lower fort) was taken seriously. Pope intervened to express his extreme ire toward Raymond in writing, and then the matter was silently and officially dropped.
Samuel Raymond Letter, March 14, 1862
From Island No. 10 to Hamburg Landing, Tennessee: April 1862.
Up & Down the Mississippi. The Mississippi River Island No. 10 and the Confederate forces there were taken on April 7, 1862. Major General John Pope's Army of the Mississippi, of which the Fifty-First Illinois was a part, quickly boarded riverboats and headed down the Mississippi River on another Mississippi task—to lay siege to Fort Pillow in Tennessee and thus bring more of the Mississippi under Federal control. The boat-bound army reached Fort Pillow a week later, but the Army of the Mississippi turned around and steamed back up the river, entered the Ohio River and from it the Tennessee River on the way to reinforce the army wings of U. S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell which were yet in the vicinity of the Shiloh battlefield. Henry Halleck took command of Grant, Buell, and Pope's armies, demoted Grant to supernumerary second-in-command (under General George Thomas), and prepared to continue the campaign against Confederate General Beauregard.
Quartermaster Henry Howland wrote to his family from the river after the flotilla turned around and headed back upstream. The original of this transcribed letter is held by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, Manuscript Collections, Ms91-016. Letter used with permission. The letter is written by Henry Howland, the first quartermaster of the Fifty-First Illinois, and dated April 17, 1862, written from the Steamboat D. G. Taylor in the Mississippi River. The Fifty-First, along with the rest of General John Pope's army, was returning from the aborted mission against Fort Pillow, so as to come to the support of Halleck's re-building army at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The "Eliza" of the letter was Howland's wife; "Allie" was Howland's oldest child, his son Allin. Link between the Henry of the letter and the quartermaster of the regiment established by William Edward Henry. Henry Buck wrote to his family after the Fifty-First completed its riverboat odyssey and debarked at Hamburg Landing.
Henry Howland Letter, April 1862
Henry Buck Letter, April 1862
Original Essay on the Fort Pillow Mission on Regimental History Page, 1862 Tab
The Move Against Corinth: April 22 - May 30, 1862.
After the Fifty-First Illinois, along with the rest of John Pope's Army of the Mississippi landed at Hamburg, Tennessee, the regiment participated in the move against Corinth, Mississippi with Henry Halleck's three-army (Thomas, Buell, Pope) army. There were major engagements at Farmington, Mississippi and many skirmishes and picket-line battles.
Farmington & Regimental Flags. The Fifty-First Illinois, along with the rest of the Federal Army of the Mississippi, first saw Farmington on May 3, 1862. On May 3, two brigades of Pope's army drove the Confederate outpost at Farmington out of town and back toward Corinth. On May 9, Confederate forces attacked two Federal brigades as the two brigades sought to establish a camp on the level ground around Farmington. The two brigades were driven back across the swamp. On May 17, the entire Federal line advanced and built a miles-long line of heavy entrenchments, some of which are visible in Farmington today. While the regiment was in camp to the east of Farmington, F. Munson traveled from Chicago to present a set of colors to the Fifty-First; it was the regiment's first set of colors.
21st Century Trees at Farmington
The correspondent of The Chicago Tribune was domiciled in the Federal camps as were the correspondents of other Chicago papers, various New York papers, and Cincinnati, Detroit and St. Louis papers. The Chicago Tribune man wrote this
lengthy article about the presentation ceremony.
The Confederate army under Beauregard evacuated Corinth at the end of May and pulled back to Tupelo. Henry Buck of Company K wrote this letter summarizing those events.
Booneville, MS, June 3, 1862: "A battery of artillery was planted in the adjacent burying ground."
Railroad Guard (July-August 1862): Letters of Chaplain Raymond and Henry Buck, Lieutenant, Co. K. These three letters were written in mid-1862 as the Fifty-First Illinois disentangled from the Siege of Corinth and the desultory southward pursuit of the Confederate army thereafter. The regiment was assigned the nasty duty, along with sister regiments, of guarding the Memphis & Charleston Railroad through Mississippi and Alabama - always on the alert against cavalry raids and guerilla attacks.
Raymond: Courtland, AL, July 27, 1862: "Our sleepless enemy will not long wait."
Buck: Mallard Creek, AL, August 17, 1862: "Bombast and most remarkable luck have given Pope his reputation."
Buck: Decatur, AL, August 24, 1862: "White stone piers rise like ghosts from the stream."
Railroad Guard: The Regiment's First Wounds-Disabled Man. In early August 1862, duty along the Memphis & Charleston RR on Mallard Creek (Alabama), erupted in a six-man battle against Confederate cavalry. William Holbert was severely wounded and became the first man of the regiment to be discharged for disability-due-wounds.
Holbert's Career & the Affray on Mallard Creek in Brief
Trying to Build the Tenth Company. As discussed on the Regimental History Page (Formation of the Regiment Tab), the Fifty-First Illinois left Camp Douglas for the front with only eight of the usual full regimental complement of ten companies. In July 1862, George Bellows' company joined the regiment in Mississippi as Company F. The regiment then sought a tenth company, and Lieutenant Thomas Lester of Company E returned to Illinois in the summer of 1862 to recruit men for this planned Company I. Lester had marked success as his August 19 letter indicates; however, in the upshot the men he recruited were distributed among the nine existing companies. The search for a Company I continued. When a Company I finally joined the regiment in February 1865, the regiment was done with its hostile contests, though it still had months of service ahead of it.
Lester to Adjutant General of Illinois, Aug 19 1862: "Lt. Col. Bradley was very anxious for me to raise a company."
The Old Colonel and the New. Colonel Gilbert Cumming was in command of and present with the regiment from its formation, through the New Madrid and Island No. 10 campaign, and then through its arrival at Hamburg Landing on the Tennessee River at the beginning of the advance upon Corinth. Cumming was not a young man, and the exposures of the Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi waters and swamps compromised his health. Cumming never commanded the regiment during its assignments around Farmington and Corinth in May 1862. In that month he returned to Chicago to recover his health, failed to do so, and never returned to the regiment. In September 1862, Cumming submitted his resignation to Governor Richard Yates.
Cumming's Letter of Resignation, September 12, 1862: "I wish these appointments could be delayed."
Cumming, though resigning, was, as the letter makes clear, still trying to control the regiment's officer corps and keep it aligned with his sensitivities. Eventually, Lieutenant Colonel Luther Bradley, in the field with the regiment, got wind from the Illinois Adjutant General's Office of Cumming's effort to influence regimental commissions. Bradley wrote to the Adjutant General to object to Cumming's effort in this
Letter of November 13, 1862: "The principle of it is unfair."
Something More Than Decimation: Strength of the Regiment in Late 1862. On October 9, 1862, the federal War Department issued General Order No. 154, which authorized regular army regiments and batteries to recruit up to ten men from each company of volunteer regiments in the field. Recruiting officers of the regular army began recruiting efforts. Governors, state adjutant generals, state military organizations, and volunteer regimental officers were incensed.
Lieutenant Colonel Luther P. Bradley of the Fifty-First Illinois wrote this
letter of protest dated November 29, 1862 to Allen C. Fuller the Illinois Adjutant General (Regimental Letters and Orders, Fifty-First Illinois, National Archives, Record Group 94).
The governor of Pennsylvania protested to Abraham Lincoln. The governor of Indiana protested to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ("I feel a deep interest in the prosperity, welfare, and success of Indiana regiments, and do not desire to see them unnecessarily embarrassed and deprived of men to whose services they are justly entitled by every right of justice and law. Many men are dissatisfied with the service, and if you attempt to compel them to do their duty they threaten to re-enlist in the Regular Army"). The governor of Massachusetts protested to Lincoln. The adjutant general of Iowa protested to Lincoln. Nothing happened. Lincoln told the governor of Pennsylvania that the order was McClellan's idea, that Halleck had drafted it, and Stanton signed it. Lincoln passed the complaints he received on to the War Department. Nothing happened. But, when Governor Samuel Kirkwood of Iowa learned that regular army recruiting officers had actually started appearing in the camps of his volunteer regiments (and had begun recruiting for the regular army among Iowans newly recruited for the state's old regiments), he wrote to Stanton on November 20 in a language that Stanton grasped: "Officers here recruiting for the Regular Army are enlisting men recruited by me for the old regiments. If this is not stopped I will
cease all efforts. I protest, too, most earnestly against enlisting men from our regiments into the regular service. I will not endeavor to fill up vacancies thus created" (Official Records, Series 3, Volume 2, p. 845). Two days later the War Department countermanded the order and recruiting among Iowa volunteers stopped. Aggressive federal recruiting dried up, and, on February 10, 1863, the War Department by General Order No. 38 formally rescinded General Order No. 154 of 1862, which had started the mess (Official Records, Series 3, Volume 3, p. 38).
Numbers, December 3, 1862: 403 Austrian Rifles in Use. On December 3, 1862, when Bradley responded to the War Department's General Order No. 167 requesting an inventory of guns held and in use by a regiment (Official Records Series 3, Volume 2, p. 685), he wrote that the regiment held 457 "new Austrian Rifles"; 403 were "in use". This gives a practical count of regimental strength in late 1862 - 403 using guns, ten months after leaving Chicago with 672 enlisted men, six months after gaining a Company F, and after suffering the "accidents of service" at Island No. 10, Farmington, along the railroad into Alabama, and on the hurried march to Nashville.
An epitaph for an unknown soldier appeared in the April 15, 1864 Chicago Tribune. It read, sadly:
"Inquest. - The body of a soldier was found yesterday morning in the basin adjoining the Illinois Central freight house. From its appearance the corpse had been in the water for several days, for decomposition had set in to such a degree that identity was impossible. An inquest was held in the afternoon, before acting Coroner Diehl..." The Chicago Evening Journal, reporting the same incident, said the dead man was "dressed in the uniform of a private in the army." The Chicago Times remarked that there were "no marks of violence". A day later The Evening Journal reported that the coroner's jury returned a verdit of "accidental drowning".
Eventually, the body of the dead soldier was identified. It was the remains of Thomas Hayes of Company G of the Fifty-First Illinois. An 1865 letter from a Chicago lawyer seeking pension relief for Hayes' crippled and destitute mother Margaret reads in part, "The 51st Ills Vols to which Thos Hayes belonged was furloughed in the Spring of 1864 [30-day furlough began on February 17]. Hayes resided in Chicago and having a great deal of money got in a spree, and fell into Chicago River - and was drowned. Before the remains were found the Regt. reorganized and went to the front. Hayes body was found about the 14th of April, identified by intimate personal friends and the family and buried. No member of his Regiment knew of his whereabouts and he was finally reported a deserter." Margaret Hayes was seeking to have the charge of desertion removed.
Hayes survived Farmington and the Siege of Corinth, Stones River (but not unscathed), Tullahoma, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and a hundred nights on picket duty and railroad guard, to die in his hometown, while home on reenlistment furlough, visiting his family.
The regiment reported to Camp Fry, Chicago, for reassembly on March 18 and started for the front on March 28. The lawyer argued that, since "from the appearance of the body it had remained in the water a long time", the charge of desertion should be removed - at the time Hayes would have rejoined the regiment to return to the front, he was floating dead in the Chicago River and neither his family nor his Company G knew it. In the upshot this was "deemed insufficient" to remove the charge of desertion, and to this day Thomas Hayes is listed as a deserter by the U.S. Adjutant General's Office.
Thomas Hayes and his younger brother John Hayes (who would also be wounded at Stones River), serving with the Nineteenth Illinois Infantry, wrote three letters to their mother in 1862 that have been preserved. Those three letters appear here, graciously made available from family papers of Hayes family descendents who still live in the Chicago area.
Hayes Letter of June 1862 from Big Springs, Mississippi - "We thought as soon as Corinth was taken we could go home."
Hayes Letter of Aug 4 1862 as the Fifty-First Illinois guards the Memphis & Charleston Railroad in Alabama.
Thomas & John Hayes Aug 25 1862 letter. Brothers Thomas Hayes and John Hayes find each other as their two regiments guard the same railroad. They look out for their mother.
Stones River, December 31, 1862. The Fifty-First Illinois was in the Third Brigade of Sheridan's Division, which held the center when the right gave back at Stones River. Here is Lt. Col. Bradley's brief description: "We remained in this point of woods for three hours exposed to a most destructive fire. We remained until the enemy were upon three sides of us with their artillery until our battery (Houghtaling's) was silenced for want of ammunition and his horses all killed - until everything has left us (of our forces) upon either side - then Col Roberts being killed and the next senior col (Col Harrington) being mortally wounded, Col Bradley took command of the Brigade and we moved through the thicket coming out upon the Murfreesboro Pike a mile in the rear of our first position. Here the 51st and 27th were formed in line again and the work given us to do was to dislodge a force of the enemy who had got possession of a cedar thicket adjoining the road. We are told that everything depends upon regaining and holding this position. We move forward but upon the brow of the hill are met with a murderous fire. We protect ourselves as best we can behind rocks, etc., but the fire is more than the men can stand. We present an admirable target to the Enemy while he is not exposed. We retire behind the brow of the hill, face about - this time determined to charge them from their position. The men are now reckless mad - infuriated - this time we accomplish our work. We drive five Tennessee regiments from among the rocks across the cotton field through a cornfield taking about one hundred prisoners and retaking two pieces of artillery one a 12 lb. Howitzer and the other a 20 lb parrot."
John Lucien McBride of Company D gave his longer treatment of the battle in a letter to his mother. George W. Hoel of Company C wrote to his sister and her husband, mentioning the capture of a company of Confederate soldiers on the second day of the battle. Luther Bradley's letter gave a colonel's view of the battle. Otis Moody's account began with the events of December 26, 1862, which led up to the Battle of Stones River.
Lucien McBride to his mother, January 1863.
George W. Hoel to Isaac and Amy Anderson, January 12, 1863.
Col. Luther Bradley's January 2, 1863 Letter.
Otis Moody, "Account of the Battle of Stones River."
Inscribing the Battle on the Flag. On May 4, 1863, regimental Adjutant Henry Hall wrote to the assistant adjutant general of the Army of the Cumberland, "I respectfully request permission to visit Nashville, to be absent 48 hours; and for the following reasons:—It is very much desired by the regiment that our flag should have inscribed upon it the words 'Stone River' and I have been selected by the Colonel to have it done."
Burns' diary, referred to above under the 1862 section of this page, provides a good context for understanding regimental events in the first three quarters of 1863.
Two Letters upon the Occasion of the Emancipation Proclamation. Among the men of the regiment the views regarding emancipation and race spanned the whole 1860 spectrum from heated abolitionism to dismay that the Union cause should become allied with emancipation. There were those like Henry Hall and George Waterman who opposed slavery adamantly prior to the war. There were, nearing the other end of the spectrum, those like George Sylvester (at the time he wrote) who felt "it goes hard to fight to turn the black race free."
The original of this transcribed letter of George Sylvester is held in the
Miscellaneous Civil War Collection of the United States Army Military
History Institute at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Letter used with permission. Sylvester was a member of
Company B of the Fifty-First Illinois. Sylvester was killed at the
Battle of Franklin (Tennessee) on November 30, 1864.
Sylvester Letter, February 1863: "too much abolition in old Abe's proclamation"
This March 1863 letter is transcribed from the Edward Leroy Tabler papers held by William Edward Henry of these pages.
Tabler Letter, March 1863
By the end of the war, Tabler's views had become much more ecumenical; in November, 1863, when there was a religious revival in the Chattanooga camps, Tabler wrote, "Shoulder straps and all are engaged in the work. Catholic as well as Protestant, Negro and White man." Visit the Private Tabler page for this and another letter and many diary entries of Tabler.
Asking Governor Yates' Help for a Promotion.
William H. Greenwood,
a civil engineer with ambition, was the first First Lieutenant of Company H. The second lieutenant of the company was promoted over his head upon the death of the company's first captain (John Whitson). When the captaincy was vacated for the second time, Greenwood wrote this letter to Governor Richard Yates of Illinois. Greenwood was promoted. Interestingly enough, due to Greenwood's duties with General David Stanley of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, Greenwood never commanded Company H in the field.
Greenwood Letter, May 17, 1863
Chickamauga comprised two horrific days for the Fifty-First Illinois. There was the desperate stand in Viniard's east field on September 19, where the regiment held despite 90 casualties in less than half an hour. On the second day the Federal generals on the right wing of the army lost their bearings, forgot their competencies, and threw their units here and there against the enemy. The right wing crumbled.
Tell Lucien's Sisters. After the Battle of Chickamauga, regimental chaplain, Lewis Raymond, had the sad task of informing nineteen or twenty families of the deaths of sons. One of those letters went to Clarissa McBride, the mother of John Lucien McBride of Company D.
Chaplain Louis Raymond's Letter to Clarissa McBride
Buying Better Guns. Sergeant John Ekstrand of Company C of the Fifty-First wrote the letter which follows in November, 1863. It was published in the 1865 Winchester Gun Catalog. Ekstrand was born in Sweden in 1828 and was living in Middleport, Illinois when the Civil War began. Pvt. Benjamin Smith, who also enlisted in Middleport, wrote in his journal for October 22, 1861, "I with a few others are learning the broad sword exercise, using ash sticks with basket hilts, and are taught by Sergt. Exstrand, who has served seven years in the Swedish Army" (Benjamin Smith, Private Smith's Journal, Chicago, 1963, p. 14).
Ekstrand Letter, November 1863: "so we could get something to eat"
Numbers, October 3, 1863: 160 Fighting Men Present. Twelve days after the Battle of Chickamauga with its great losses in the Fifty-First Illinois, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond gave these refreshed counts of regimental strength:
Besieged in Chattanooga. After the Battle of Chickamauga, the Fifty-First Illinois, along with Bradley's Brigade, Sheridan's Division, McCook's Corps, and the rest of the Army of the Cumberland, was under siege in Chattanooga in October and November, 1863. More than twenty years later, an unnamed member of Company H from Port Byron, Illinois visited Chattanooga and sent this letter of Chattanooga-siege reminiscences.
||The regiment has a full corps of field, staff and line officers, notwithstanding its reduced numbers.
Edward Tabler, Nov 12 1863, wrote from Chattanooga during the siege, "The Rebels are in front of us, fortified to the teeth."
A Somber Detail: Finding Otis Moody. There were hundreds, friend and foe, who fell along the Lafayette Road on the Federal right/Confederate left during the first day's fighting at Chickamauga on September 19, 1863. Badly wounded A.A.A.G. Otis Moody, Lieutenant Albert Simons, and Sergeant Major Timothy Casey were taken to a small cabin cum hospital behind the Federal lines, west and south of the east Viniard field. They shared the cabin with a number of other wounded men, Colonel Luther Bradley of the Fifty-First among them. Moody and Simons died before dawn on the 20th, Casey a few days later. They were buried near the cabin. From the afternoon of September 20, the wounded, the dying, the dead, the hospitals, and the fresh graves were in Confederate hands, but friends carved names on wooden boards and marked the graves.
Almost five months later a detail of men under an Ohio captain returned to the battlefield at Chickamauga. Their somber mission was to locate graves of men killed where Rosecrans' right wing fought. The Chicago Tribune of February 28, 1864 gave this account:
And so, Otis Moody was rescued, by friends, from his grave in that deathly, violent terrain; his remains were reinterred in the then-new Chattanooga National Cemetery.
|Some two weeks ago, Capt. Barber, of the 1st Battalion Ohio Sharpshooters, proceeded with his command to the field of Chickamauga, for the purpose of giving interment to the remains of soldiers who fell in that context and were left unburied by the enemy. The publication of the following memoranda collected by the Captain, will prove of interest to Illinoians who had friends in that memorable contest: ....
By little frame house near Widow Glenn's — Capt. M. A. French, 22d Ill.; Sida A. C. S. [Albert C. Simons], C, 51st Ill.; Lieut. O. Moody, 51st Ill.; Sergeant Major Casey, 51st Ill.
On flat right of road leading to Crawfish Springs, one-quarter of a mile from it — B. D. Perkins, E, 100th Ill.
Grave east of Sharpshooter's camp, under oak tree, left of road, marked W. W. W. [William W. Whiting], C, 84th Ill.
Unburied soldier found enclosed by a rail fence, on second hill west of Widow Glenn's house, on west side of girdling, and an envelope by his side, marked "James A. Andrews, 21st (or 27th) Illinois."
Moody and Comrades at Final Rest
There is more about Otis Moody on these pages: a biographical sketch and the end sections of the working page on Chickamauga.
We was two weeks a-marchin. In late 1863/early 1864 over three-fourths of the men of the Fifty-First Illinois reenlisted. They were granted a 30-day furlough back home in Illinois. The Federal government transported them home by railroad, but, when the regiment returned to the front in March, the trains were busy carrying materiel toward Georgia for the spring campaign. The Fifty-First and other regiments had to march to the front on foot. George Hoel of Company C wrote to his sister about the march.
George Hoel to his sister, March 20, 1864
An account of the whole reenlistment interlude
Equal in hardship to their entire experience. So James Boyd and Cyrus Anthony wrote of the 1864 Georgia Campaign in their chronicle of the regiment's life. The last part of that chronicle provides a diary and itinerary for the regiment in the autumn and end-time of its existence.
Historical Memoranda of the 51st Illinois Volunteer Infantry, March 28, 1864 to August 5, 1865
Pieces on Franklin.
The Fifty-First had more than once paid the price of bonehead command decisions by its hierarchy of generals—most Civil War regiments had been the fodder for inept commanders. The Ninth Indiana and Hazen's Brigade of which it was a part had its Waterloo of this kind in Georgia in 1864. Ambrose Bierce was not minded to let this slip into the past without memorial. In the "Crime at Pickett's Mill", Bierce spoke and rescued his dead friends from oblivion: "Down in Georgia is a little forest where the blood of six hundred of my fifteen hundred battlemates utters a mute demand for recognition... It took them only twenty minutes to fall, but it has taken General Howard thirty years to ignore their hopeless heroism, and he has not finished." [From Bierce's column "Prattle" in the October 7, 1894 San Francisco Examiner; General Howard was O. O. Howard, known sometimes as Uh-Oh Howard]. For the Fifty-First Illinois, not even the command decisions of the second day at Chickamauga or the assault at Kennesaw Mountain could equal the searing ineptitude of November 30, 1864 at Franklin, Tennessee where the Fifty-First saw its penultimate battlefield fighting against the men of Confederate General John Bell Hood. Shortly before the Battle of Franklin, the Fifty-First had augmented its decimated ranks with 200 recruits and conscripts—mostly drafted men and substitutes for drafted men. In November, their training had only just begun. And so, veteran and neophyte, the regiment went into battle. The Fifty-First and eleven other regiments were left out 500 yards in front of the main entrenchments and were ground over by the Confederate advance. Wagner, Stanley, Schofield, and Cox pointed fingers at each other for the blunder. Some of the deaths and wounds in the regiment were among new conscripts who had no experience defending themselves against the incompetence of their own commanders in the chaos of battle. Others were among veterans who had come alive through Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and all of Georgia to die, in stupid circumstances, at Franklin, three months shy of muster-out. Now the loss is stilled, but there were voices raised in their honor and memory, well-researched and well-told if not with the precision of biercian irony. John Shellenberger of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio (co-participant with the Fifty-First that day) wrote this account, The Battle of Franklin, a thirty-page Google Book.
The Beginning of our Account of the Fifty-First in the Campaign Against Hood. This will be a story long in the telling, but here we provide a beginning.
The 51st on the Retreat from Pulaski to Nashville: Part I (Pulaski, Spring Hill, Franklin)
Atwater's Account of the Campaign Against Hood. Merritt B. Atwater, Captain of Company G, was in command of the Fifty-First at Franklin after Captain Albert M. Tilton was wounded in the fighting. He gave this account of the campaign against Hood.
Spring Hill & Franklin, M. B. Atwater's Account
Alfred Kiser Lansdown at Franklin.
The Illinois town of Port Byron in the County of Rock Island provided men and boys to Company H of the Fifty-First Illinois. This appreciation for one of Port Byron's men was printed in the Port Byron Globe on February 20, 1891. It gives a tiny picture of the Fifty-First at the Battle of Franklin. The narrative revolves around hanging on to the regiment's flags. There are hundreds of dramatic Civil War tales of saving or losing or capturing regimental flags. There were endless post-war arguments about who actually captured what flag and, on the other hand, the justifications for losing certain regimental colors - and there were good and overwhelming reasons to lose regimental colors. There were even a few voices that demurred, ignoring the whole culture of colors: colonels who forbade their men to go chasing after flags and thus run the risk of diminishing regimental strength - and men who refused to risk themselves for colors but manifested their courage in behalf of things not so sheerly symbolic. The Fifty-First tried to keep its flags... and its symbols intact.
Genung's Flag, Nathaniel Bailie's Lost Race.
Louis Genung, friend of Kiser Lansdown from Port Byron, Illinois, carried the other of the regiment's flags. He was bayonetted in the abdomen in the flight from the forward to the entrenched main line. Genung survived. In that same race Nathaniel Bailie was lost and J. J. Johnson told how:
J. J. Johnson Tells How Nathaniel Bailie Was Lost
In a Persimmon Tree: Men of the Regiment in Confederate Prisons. Most of the members of the regiment who were confined in Confederate prison camps were captured either in the melee of the collapse of the Federal right on September 20, 1863 at Chickamauga or at Franklin on November 30, 1864 when the brigade was stupidly positioned forward of the Federal entrenchments.
Most of the Chickamauga prisoners, except for the two officers captured in the fighting on the 20th, Captain John McWilliams of Company E and Lieutenant Osman Cole of Company H, eventually found their way to the stockade at Andersonville, Georgia, once it opened its arms to them in February 1864. Nine members of the regiment died at Andersonville. Others were confined there but were released. Almost none of them returned to the regiment before it fought its last fight at Nashville in mid-December, 1864. Nathaniel Bailie, captured with the hospital corps on the 20th, fell ill shortly after arriving in Richmond. He was paroled in November. After a number of months and a number of stays in Federal military hospitals in Maryland and St. Louis, he returned to the regiment. He fell at Franklin on November 30, 1864 and was never heard of again. His records state that he was presumed killed at Franklin.
We can piece together a composite experience, from multiple sources, for men of the Fifty-First who were taken captive at Chickamauga. On the 21st or 22nd of September, captives who could walk were escorted, on foot, the twenty-three or so miles to Dalton, Georgia, where they were put in box cars for a trip by rail to Atlanta. They stayed overnight one night in Atlanta in what they called "the slave pen" and then boarded box cars again for a seven-day trip to Richmond. In Richmond, they were processed through Libby Prison, and, after one night there, they were incarcerated in the "Pemberton Building", an old brick tobacco warehouse. They stayed here for two months. Then, because of the crowding of prisoners in the Confederate capital and complaints of the citizenry, prison arrangements were made in Danville, Virginia, starting first in mid-November 1863, where six brick warehouses came to constitute the Danville prison. Most of the prisoner-of-war records for the Fifty-First show that they were moved to the Danville prison on December 12, 1863. They whiled here for only three months, when most of them were moved to the new Andersonville.
When Calvin Edwards of Company K was shipped by rail from Richmond to Danville, he and others uncoupled the box car they were in as the train climbed a hill. It coasted back down the incline, and the men in the car ran for the woods, guards shooting at them as they ran for their lives. Edwards and Charles Wheeler of the Second Illinois Cavalry escaped capture for three days. Then, pursued, they hid in a persimmon tree. Local citizens espied them there. The foliage of the persimmon tree is dense and lush, but not enough. Edwards died at Andersonville. Wheeler survived.
There is a a partial list of men confined in Confederate prisons on these pages, as well as a pictures of the Andersonville graves of Lindy and Mee.
Surviving Danville & Andersonville (or Not). Archibald Cook of Company K died at the Danville, Virginia prison. Ami Reed (Co F) died in the prison hospital at Danville. Joseph Lyman (Co C), Thomas Robertson (Co K), and William Densmore (Co D) died in the smallpox outbreak at Danville prison. We have no letters or diaries from men of the Fifty-First in the Danville prison buildings. However, Lyman H. Needham of the Forty-Second Illinois, a sister regiment of the Illinois Brigade, was wounded on September 20 and taken captive at the Chickamauga battlefield a hundred and fifty yards to the south of the Fifty-First. Like his comrades of the Fifty-First, he was moved from Richmond imprisonment to Danville, Virginia on December 12, 1863. Two of Needham's letters from Danville have been preserved. In March 1864, he was still full of hope. But hope dwindled, and Needham died of scurvy in the Andersonville hospital on September 1, 1864.
Henry Stonestreet of Company E was captured at Kennesaw Mountain, imprisoned at Andersonville; then when Andersonville prisoners were being moved from place to place, he died at Camp Lawton, Millen, GA. Eight soldiers of the Fifty-First Illinois died at Andersonville; they were: Calvin Edwards of Company K, William Mee and William Lindy of Company H, Charles Tower of Company G, Charles Farnham and Peter Goffinet of Company D, George Gravel and Henry Jackson of Company C. Elon Clark of Company K, who was reported to have died at Andersonville and is recorded as buried in Grave No. 7760, did not die there and is not buried there. He survived the war - though not very well, for twenty years and died in Iowa.
Martin V. Riley of Company K survived and wrote this memoir of his ordeal.
Private Riley at Andersonville, Danville, Richmond, and Florence
Over thirty men of the regiment were captured at Chickamauga, many of them as wounded men or hospital attendants when the division hospital at Crawfish Springs was captured on September 20. Besides Martin V. Riley's account, we have also the account of Lewis Rose of the Forty-Second Illinois; Rose was captured at about the time that Lyman H. Needham, mentioned immediately above, was captured. The course of his imprisonment paralleled that of members of the Fifty-First and others of the brigade. Rose survived and left this account:
Rose: Anecdotes of Pemberton, Danville, and Andersonville
Theodore Eads was captured at Franklin on November 30, 1864. He was one of the very last to leave Andersonville - and he left Andersonville twice. Eads left this account of his last days at Andersonville.
Private Eads, Departing Andersonville
Besides the members of the regiment that were imprisoned in Confederate prisons in the East, Louis Genung and William Wadkins, both of Company H, were imprisoned in Cahawba in Alabama. Wadkins died shortly after being released on parole in the Spring of 1865. James Sedgwick of Company B was jailed at Camp Ford at Tyler, Texas.
After the War
Scattering. The regiment started to scatter homeward long before its final muster-out on September 25, 1865. Many wounded men—and some who were not wounded—had not reenlisted, and their terms of service expired in February, 1865. Company F, which joined the regiment too late to be eligible for reenlistment and high bounties in December 1863, was mustered out in June, 1865. Soldiers paroled from Andersonville and other prison camps at the end of 1864 and beginning of 1865 never returned to the regiment, with one or two exceptions. The regiment shed men as it moved into Texas. Adam Hetfield of Company C, however, along with others, was with the regiment from its first day to the last. He wrote this brief note, with its glimpse of connection between the men, in January 1866.
Hetfield Letter, January 29, 1866
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