Up Close & Personal
James O’Rorke, 92nd
Honored With First Grave Marker
After One Hundred Fifty Years
A graveside dedication
service was held recently in honor of one 92nd
Illinois Mounted Infantry was currently embroiled in a brutal campaign
These captives, O’Rorke included, soon found themselves confined to notorious Andersonville Prison. For months, they endured horrific squalor, heat, disease and starvation. Thousands died.
Finally, five months
later, O’Rorke was paroled and placed aboard the steamship General Lyon.
Sadly, this vessel, burdened with hundreds of paroled Union soldiers, burned
at sea off
Now, let’s fast-forward one hundred fifty years, to September 2014.
Saint Patrick Catholic Cemetery,
The event: James O’Rorke’s graveside dedication service. Thanks to some diligent detective work by descendants of Private O’Rorke, James’ heroic story came to light, resulting in the first-ever grave marker placed in his memory. At last, James was about to gain recognition for his supreme sacrifice.
The attendees: a large gathering of family and friends, all eager to witness something very special.
It was a nearly perfect
autumn morning. A gentle breeze wafted over the burial grounds. The sun
shone brightly, warming the hearts of all who attended. The descendants who
had contributed so much to making this day possible offered some appropriate
remarks. Then, a fully-costumed Sons of Union Veterans group from nearby
A memorial service such as this honoring a Civil War soldier’s first gravestone is so rarely witnessed in the twenty-first century. Surely everyone in attendance recognized and cherished its significance. There we all stood with heads bowed, four generations and a century and a half removed. Yet, for one brief moment, we were transported back to an earlier time in American history, a time in which our Boys in Blue received and so richly deserved reverence and deep respect.
Indeed, James O’Rorke richly deserved this day. His life was tragically cut short, depriving him any chance of enjoying accolades of family and friends upon returning home. Yet, even after all these years, his family still cared enough to acknowledge his contribution to the Union cause.
From this day forward, anyone who visits Saint Patrick Catholic Cemetery and gazes upon James’ beautiful new grave marker will read the following inscription:
In Memory Of
Born October 1842 in
Member of 92nd
perished at sea
aboard steamer General Lyon
on or about
from andersonville prison.
And in an even larger
sense, we honored not only Private James O’Rorke’s life, but also that of
each and every Union soldier who perished at sea on that fateful day in
March 1865. So very much was sacrificed for the sake of Rochelle, for the
On a personal note, I would like to thank James O’Rorke’s descendants for researching his military career, installing the headstone, and inviting everyone to share in this dedication service. Hopefully their marvelous efforts will provide inspiration to others curious about their own family’s Civil War heritage.
While Private George Lawver was
The foragers ran from the house and fired several shots at the major, but to no avail. However, the major ran directly into Federal lines and was captured. When the foraging party returned to the house, Pvt. Lawver found the sash hanging upon a chair and tied it around his waist. Upon returning to camp, he met up with Company G’s Captain John Schermerhorn, who asked Mr. Lawver for the sash. The sash was relinquished by Lawver to the captain.
Finally, years later, in 1909, when Lawver and Schermerhorn met to discuss their war experiences, the sash came up for discussion. The captain returned the ten foot long silk sash to Mr. Lawver, some forty years after it had been captured. The sash was still in good shape, and Mr. Lawver proudly accepted the keepsake.
Finally Receives First Grave Stone After 108 Years
In May, 2009, I traveled to Iowa Falls, Iowa’s Union Cemetery, where I attended Memorial Day services.
It was a special ceremony. Among the honored dead was the 92nd Illinois Infantry’s very own Matthew Van Buskirk. He was originally mustered in as Captain of Company E. Within months, he demonstrated extraordinary leadership skill and was promoted to the lofty rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
What made this event so very special? After lying in an unmarked grave for 108 years, Van Buskirk finally received his very first grave marker – and what a grand marker it is! It was only through the perseverance of his great grandson, Mike McVicker, and his wife, Mona, that this historic event became possible.
Here’s our story, from the beginning:
As noted on the Main Page of this website, I have an ancestor in the 92nd Illinois. Attached to his discharge document is a statement listing the battles in which the 92nd Illinois was engaged. This statement is signed by Lt. Col. Matthew Van Buskirk. Because of this personal connection, I have frequently visited the site of Van Buskirk’s burial in Union Cemetery, nestled within the rich, black soil of north-central Iowa. Standing over his unmarked grave, I often lamented the fact that this fine soldier was not receiving the eternal recognition he richly deserves.
Then, quite unexpectedly, one cold winter day, I received an astonishing email. Mike McVicker and his wife, Mona, shared the exciting news that they were in the process of requesting a grave marker for Mike’s great grandfather, who happened to be a soldier in the 92nd Illinois. And who was that great grandfather? None other than Lt. Col. Matthew Van Buskirk!
I had never met Mike and Mona. But after exchanging emails, we soon discovered that although we lived a thousand miles apart, we shared a common bond through his ancestor. In the ensuing months, they kept me posted as their grave marker application was being processed. Then came the exciting news - their application was accepted and a marker was on its way! It was to arrive in Iowa Falls in time for Memorial Day. Furthermore, Van Buskirk would be honored during the community’s Memorial Day festivities.
Mike and Mona informed me of their intention to travel to Iowa to attend this ceremony. I knew I must attend, also.
Never before had it entered my mind that some day I would actually have the privilege of attending the dedication of a grave marker for a 92nd Illinois soldier. As an added bonus, I would enjoy the company of one of Van Buskirk’s descendants.
Memorial Day finally arrived. The McVickers and I sought each other out at the cemetery. Accompanying them were other descendants of Van Buskirk, including great grandson Darrell, his wife Martha, and their son, Jeff, a great-great-grandson of the Lieutenant Colonel. We had a delightful conversation. We stood together as the dedication was read. It was a truly moving and satisfying experience. Mike and Mona, two wonderful people who recognize and appreciate the incredible sacrifice of the 92nd Illinois, deserve recognition for initiating the process of requesting a headstone and seeing it through to fruition.
Now, whenever I visit Matthew’s grave, I catch the sun’s rays glistening upon the newly-installed marble stone and proudly read the glorious message imprinted upon its face:
MATTHEW VAN BUSKIRK
92 ILL INF
JAN 1 1835
JAN 10 1901
Thank you, Mike and Mona, for a job well-done! I will cherish these memories for a long, long time…---Rob
Letters from brothers Ephraim and William Werkheiser
Thank you, John S. Dudkiewicz, for sharing the following letters written by brothers Ephraim and William Werkheiser, both of whom were soldiers in the 92nd. [John is a descendant within the Werkheiser family. You can find biographies of both soldiers on the “Find Your Ancestor” page elsewhere on this website.]
This first set of correspondence was written by older brother Ephraim to his family back home. In this first letter to his parents, Ephraim took time out to share his keen observations:
Franklin, Tenn., March 10, 1863
I have had the camp sickness for nearly three weeks, but I feel quite well at present yet they would not allow me to go with the Regiment yesterday morning…they are now at Collumbia twenty five miles from here the rebels are going on ahead of our army as fast as they can we have to large a force for them and they are trying to get out of the way as fast as they can…
It is reported that the armies are moving on to Richmond, and al through the south, I suppose the people of the north are sick of this war, but let them come and see the condition of the south and then see wether they would not say, that the people of the South should do all that is in their power to put down this unholy rebellion….the men have nearly all been taken into the southern army and the fences are nearly all burnt to ashes even the board fences The farms are growing full of weeds instead of grain, to support the wives and children…
The following reveals the tender side of Ephraim. While admonishing his brother, John, to obey his parents and willingly share in the duties of farm work, Ephraim demonstrates genuine concern for the well-being of his brother and his family back home.
Franklin, Tenn., March 13, 1863
John be contented where you are mind your father and mother, do your duty. Cut plenty of wood take care of the horses, sheep, and cattle, and when spring comes, go into the field with a cheerful heart, never mind about having your pockets filled with tobacco and an old rusty pipe, be a farmers boy. I tell you John I would like to have a bowl of mush and milk most precious well When you are young, try to learn and be wise. I know more than I used to. I used to grumble but I reckon I wouldent grumble much now when everything dident just suit me. I tell you such children cause their parents much trouble it is the duty of parents to teach their children right from rong, and the duty of children to obey mind that.
Ephraim humorously discussed how the boys rejected their hard tack rations for a much-improved home-made biscuit in a letter home to his parents:
Camp near Franklin, Tenn., March 22, 1863
Well I must tell you now how we live what kind of grub we have…we draw flour and bake our own biscuits and bake them right too…I tell it makes much better living than hard tack…the boys begin to feel better than they did when they had no bread but hard crackers with BC on the back of them as the boys say they were baked before Christ...I am not discouraged yet, when the 6 or 8 hundred thousand Conscript men come I think we will drive out the Rebellion in short notice…
Here he discusses conditions inside a Union hospital:
Gen. Hospital No. 15, Ward 2, Nashville, TN June 27, 1863
I have the Chronic Diarhoea for 4 months. Sometimes I was better a few days and then worse again…if our Capt. Had not had me transferred from hos. No. 9 to this one I should probably be in my grave…(he tells of the diet of dried bread with water poured on it and boiled beef, “fresh enough to kill any sick person”, which he could not eat)…whenever I got a chance I would send and have a chicken brought and prepared…paid very high for it but that was all I could eat and the chickens were very small but one would make soup enough for a day…I must do it, or die…
The combination of illness and homesickness made for some difficult days in camp.
New Albany, Ind., July 15, 1863
My Diarhoea is better now, but far from being well, the Dock sayd I am no more fit for a soldier for I never could stand marching poor water and soldiers grub...you must not make yourself uneasy about us while there is life there is hope, and we all must die some young some old, the one thing needful is to be prepared the time will yet come, I hope, when Wm and I will be at home much wiser than we were before we left home…I wish I could help father and John and Mand make hay and harvest their grain, but if I was to come home, which it is no way likely that I will, you wouldent think I looked much like working for I only weigh 100 lbs, when we first marched through Kentuck I weighed 155 and 188…I don’t think the Cap can send me home nor no one else but the Doctors could but they most of them will see a soldier die first…I can get all the apples here at one of the citizens houses and milk I want for nothing, they wont take a cent from me. I bake the apples, I fry my own fish, they furnish me lard, salt…
It is speculated that the following message was his final letter home.
Aug. 4, 1863, Hospital, New Albany, Ind.
I am not able to set up 5 minutes but I must write a line to you. Last Thursday they took my name for a discharge and in a few days it will be ready. Now if you possibly can come and help me home by the time you come here I will be some stronger if not better…try anyhow…the doc says if you come I can stand it easy enough. If I do not get home this time when I get better my chance is gone…so you had better come and help me home. If I can ever pay for it I will certainly do it. The times are busy now but the boys, my brothers, will do all they can to see me safe at home...I can not write much more.
From your son Ephraim Werkheiser
Ephraim died five weeks later.
William, two years younger than brother, Ephraim, also wrote home occasionally. He was a bit rougher around the edges.
Campt near Danville, Ky., Desember the 1 1862
I now sit Down to let you know that I am well at present…I am in the reble state …I have seen a few rebles soldiers but they ware taken prisoners…they looked very hard…Our boys all look well and harty…Eaphriam is as fat as a hog and I stand it first trate I way as much as I ever did and we have good times hear we have good times A marching I marched from mount sturling hear and stood it first trate I have seen some nice farms or plantations and some afful ruff ground we have bad water we git it out of mud holes…
As did Ephraim, William advised younger brother John:
Camped at Adairsville, Georgia May 23, 1864
…I never see as maney men in my life be fore as I have this spring the rods are lind with soldiers everywhere…if dad told John that if he would stay at home he would give him A Span of horses and harnis and wagon if he would stay at home till he was 20 and he don’t stay at home he is A biger fool then I was for I think there are anough soldiers in the field to kill all the rebs…I think that John had better stay at home.
William died four-and-one-half months later after skirmishing with the enemy at Powder Springs, Georgia. His family learned of the tragic event in the official military correspondence below:
Nov. 2, 1864
I am sorry to inform you that your Son William died in Hospital at this place…from the effects of a wound in the bowels received in Charging a Barricade of the Enemy…He is mourned by his Captain and Co. as a Good and Brave Soldier ever willing to do His duty….We have the Consolations of knowing He fell in a good cause and while Bravely doing his duty as a Soldier…Be so Kind as to pardon us for not Sooner acquainting you of these facts for we have been on the move all the time since and in active duty and no opportunity of doing so. Any information you may ask will be freely given.
Commanding Officer, H. G. Fowler
Note: We tend to concentrate on the sufferings and sacrifice of soldiers, themselves, during the Civil War. The tragic deaths of both Werkheiser brothers sadly remind us of the extreme suffering and sense of loss felt by those family members back home. Thank you, John, for sharing these letters with us.
A leading Civil War magazine recently published an essay regarding Lieutenant Colonel Marcellus Pointer, an officer on Confederate General Joseph Wheeler’s staff.
The essay’s headline proclaimed Pointer as “A Proud Confederate to His Dying Day”. I don’t dispute the claim Pointer was a proud Confederate to his dying day. I’m sure he was. But curiously, the essay’s author omitted a disgraceful episode in Pointer’s military career. According to the reference works I provide below, it appears Pointer was also a scoundrel who didn’t play, or in this case, fight by the rules.*
The 92nd Illinois’ regimental history, Ninety-Second Illinois Volunteers, (Freeport Journal Steam Publishing House and Bookbindery, Freeport, Illinois, 1875, A Committee), describes a scene in which Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry ambushed picketing soldiers of the 92nd Illinois at Nickojack Gap, Georgia on April 23, 1864:
“…the horrible part of the transaction was the brutal treatment our men received, after their capture, at the hands of the cowardly fiends! Our wounded men were picked up by us, and lived long enough to tell the story of their cowardly murder by Lieutenant Pointer, of Wheeler’s staff, and his cutthroat crew. It was demonstrated to a mathematical certainty that many of our men were cruelly, brutally, inhumanely, unsoldierly and cowardly murdered, after they were disarmed and wholly powerless to defend themselves. Lieutenant Pointer himself shot William Catnach, of Company B, after he was disarmed and a prisoner; and Catnach, not falling at the first fire, and while Catnach was pleading for his life, the cowardly villain shot him again, the last shot passing through his lungs, and being a mortal wound. Catnach was brought back to the hospital, and told his story under oath.” [p. 136]
The narrative goes on to say that Willie Hills, Co. K, 92nd Illinois, met a similar fate:
“A soldier writes in his diary under this date [April 23, 1864]: ‘When overpowered, Willie delivered up his gun, as ordered. A Rebel then stepped up to him, after he was disarmed, cursed him and then placed his gun to Willie’s breast and fired. Willie fell dead. This statement is made by a woman living, near, and who saw it.’” [p. 136]
Though the above soldier does not positively identify “A Rebel” as Marcellus Pointer in his diary, he doubtless is referring to him.
The same regimental history elaborates even further on the callousness of Pointer and his “cutthroat crew”. It provides a transcription of Major Albert Woodcock’s address to his fellow 92nd Illinois soldiers at an 1873 reunion in Mt. Carroll, Illinois. A portion of Woodcock’s address reads as follows:
“Our boys, on foot, were ordered to keep up with them [rebel captors] as they trotted their horses. In rear of the boys rode the Rebel Lieutenant Pointer, cursing them with every breath, threatening to shoot the first man that failed to keep up. So overtaxed, nature began to fail; as a boy’s breath grew short and thick, his form to stagger, and his speed to diminish, Pointer, that fiend incarnate, would shoot him through the heart. Several had thus been cruelly murdered, when Willie Cattanach, [sic] of Company B, began to totter and h is strength to fail. Pointer threatened; Willie pleaded, “Don’t shoot me, I’ll keep up.” Regardless of his entreaty, Pointer fired; the ball struck the noble boy, but he did not fall, and continued his exertion to keep up. The black-hearted villain fired again, the ball passing through Willie’s lungs, inflicting a terrible wound. Willie fell, mortally wounded, but lived long enough to tell the heartrending story. Oh! What a terrible crime! Can such a wretch go unpunished? … If he is not already suffering for his crime, a terrible retribution will overtake him.” [pp. 377,378]
The author of the magazine essay I referred to in my first paragraph explains Pointer “spent an undetermined amount of time in exile in either Mexico or South America, for an unspecified reason”? Do you suppose the reason for this exile was Pointer’s cowardly acts upon the 92nd?
The essay further informs us that Pointer died nearly penniless in a Bowery hotel.
Perhaps Marcellus Pointer finally got his come-uppance! Might his humiliating and humbling demise in a Bowery hotel be poetic fulfillment of Major Woodcock’s prophecy of “terrible retribution”?
*The magazine essay refers to our subject as “Marcellus Pointer . . . Wheeler’s aide-de-camp from 1862 – 1864”, while my source refers to him only as “Lieutenant Pointer, of Wheeler’s staff” in 1864. Granted, I cannot say positively that these references are of the same man; however, evidence strongly suggests that this is, indeed, the same man.
The following letter was written by J. R. Potter of the 92nd to his friend John. Sadly to say, Potter was killed in action just six weeks later, on February 11, 1865, at Aiken, South Carolina.
This is an exceptionally well-written Civil War letter, complete with detailed description of troop movements and battle sequences.
Thank you to D. M. and S. M. for transcribing this letter. Transcription included some corrections to spelling and punctuation.
Thank you to S. M. for submitting this letter and for granting permission to post it on this website.
Camp 92nd Ills. Vol Near Savannah, Ga.
Dec. 30th 1864
Dear Friend John,
We left Marietta on the morning of the 14 of Nov. cutting loose from all that was near and dear to us . . . not knowing where or when we should come out of the scrap. We marched out on that bright sunny morning five thousand strong. That is our division the Inft. I could not say how many there were in the four Corps. We marched unmolested till we got to Lovejoy Station on the Atlanta and Macon R.R. There we come upon the Rebel Gen. Wheeler. We had a sharp fight with him. There capturing two pieces of artillery from him and some few prisoners. No loss on our side. The next fight was at Bear Creek Station loosing a few men but driving the enemy. Then we had no more trouble with them till we got within eight miles of Macon where we struck the pickets of the fourth Georgia Regt. driving them pell-mell and The Regt. had to leave their camp in hot haste. They went on the run to Macon. The 92 Ills. And 10th Ohio was in the advance that day. We made the attack on the works of Macon about four P.M. The 92nd on foot and the 10th Ohio mounted. The Rebs hurling shot, shell and grape and canister into us. They were too strong for us. To enter the city but we accomplished our object namely cutting the R.R. the 1st Brig. Burnt about five miles that night. Our Reg. fell back about five miles that evening. The next morning, the Rebs made an attack on Co D of our Regt driving them in on the Reserve The rest of us lay behind barricades of rail. When the Rebs came in range of our Spencer Rifles we opened such a fire on them that they soon got out of that. We had quiet the rest of the day. We had good times then till the night of the 27th. Rebs made an attack under Wheeler on the first brigade about 3 AM but were repulsed. At daylight we broke camp and our Brig. Was in the rear end, the 92nd Was rear guard as soon as we got on the road. The Rebs came on us with a yell once. We fought them steadily all day. They charged us continuely from daylight till dark, but they could not break us or drive us an inch more than we wanted to go. Those death dealing Spencer Rifles were too much for them. Whenever we made a stand some of the time they would come up within ten or fifteen rods of us before we would open fire on them. They were maddened To desperation by our stubbornness but they could not help themselves in the least. We went when we pleased and stopped. When we got ready the next morning we were in the saddle by four o’clock the 1st Brigade in the rear. The Rebs Pitched into them soon after daylight. They fought them steadily until we came to Buckhead Creek. The Rebs crouched very hard then to rush us into the creek, probably with a view of capturing some of our train. We crossed the bridges and built a long barricade of rails. The first brigade held them by planting a couple of howitzers at the bridge when the first brigade all got across the stream. They passed us and fell back to Reynolds plantation. Then Kilpatrick said he would give them battle if they wanted to fight so he had built a long line of barricade with rails and planted eight pieces of artillery and dismounted. The 92nd Ills and 9 Michigan Behind the works the Rebs soon made their appearance and drove in the skirmish line, slowly they massed their forces for a charge and they came like a thunderbolt yelling like so many demons when they came within about one hundred fifty yards of us. We opened on them with our rifles and the artillery was all double shotted with grape. It was a fearful sight for they were brave men though enemy to us to see them cut to the ground with such slaughter. –they lost so say Kilpatrick over six hundred men in his report. That awfull yell rung in my ears for days afterward. We did not loose more than fifty men that day and not a man when the Rebs made the charge on us. We marched about eight miles that night to get where there was plenty of forage for man and horse. We had no more trouble with Wheeler for some days. We started in the morning for Millen to release our prisoners that were there but learned soon that they had been removed two days before. So we went to Louisville and took a rest for a couple of days, the first we had since we left Marietta. There Gen. Kilpatrick called all the officers together and told them that he was going to advance against Wheeler in the morning. We broke camp about ten o’clock Dec. 1st. Marched about ten mile the first Brig. Being in front. They had some skirmishing the 5 Ky loosing a few men.
The next day our brigade was in front and the 92nd thrown out as skirmishers. With one Battalion of the 10 Ohio we skirmished with them all day driving them steadily before us loosing a few men killed and wounded. The next day we turned off and struck for the Augusta and Millen R.R. which we struck at Thompsons Station. Our regt was sent out in the direction of Wainsboro as soon as we came in with orders to got their if we could. But we did not go far before we come upon Wheelers pickets, which we drove in on the run till we came in sight of their barricades. We concluded it was best not to run our heads in a trap. Six companies of our regt were sent out on picket. Ours among the rest, we built barricades, got our suppers fed. Our horses put out Skirmishes and the rest of us lay down to get what sleep we could. It rained some and was quite disagreeable but like all soldiers we made the best of it. There was considerable firing on the out posts for sometime. Finely most of us got to sleep about midnight. Slam bang come a shell, then another and another from the Rebs. I tell you John it brought us to our feet in double quick time. They killed two Of Co. A with shell and wounded one of Co E with a musket ball. then all was quiet again till Sunday morning.
Dec. 4th as beautiful a morning as ever dawned on man at sunrise. The rebels were in full view round their works and on the skirmish line soon firing between the skirmish then Gen. Kilpatrick came out where we were and very soon the order for battle was given. The second Brigade in the front the 92nd on foot in the center and the rest of the brigade was divided on the right and left flanks. The 10 Wisconsin Battery was run up and opened fire on the Rebels. We advanced steadily against them till we came in sight of their barricades which were very strong. When our Regt was ordered to charge them out of their works, we went for Them with a yell they started to the works, till we got within ten or fifteen rods of them. Then they broke and ran for their lives. We broke over and through the works after them. They made a stubborn resistance to us but if was of no earthly use, they had to run. To tell the truth, John, our Regt had not had a mouthful to eat that morning and were pretty mad and the boys fought like tigers. Soon after that we were relieved by the first Brigade and they drove them through the town of Wainsboro pell mell. In all we drove them about eight miles. Gen Kilpatrick said in his report that Wheeler had under his command, three divisions and two independent Brigades and I know that we whipt him that Sunday morning with less that one Brigade of our men. Sometime in the afternoon, we struck out for Savannah. About 25 miles from Savannah Wheeler came up to us again and made an attack on the rear guard, which I believe was the 9 Mich. But they could not make any thing out of them We drew up in line of battle near a swamp and skirmished with them all the afternoon. The 92 out on the right. We did not get a shot at them as they could not get through the swamp to us and our Generals did not see fit to go to them for it would not Do to fill up our ambulances with wounded men and we had no hospitals near. Suppose that is all that saved from fighting as much or more than anything else could. We finely got to within six miles of the city of Savannah where we lay for a couple or three days with nothing for man or beast to eat. Then the order came to march to the right of the army. We crosed the Ogeechee River and went to Midway where there was plenty for us all. Horses and men rejoiced at the change. We lay there a couple of days then were ordered back to King’s Bridge on the Ogeechee. We left camp about dark and marched most all night.
To get ten miles then had to camp till morning on account of bad roads and made the Okes ? five miles in the morning. We had been camp but one day when two battalions of each Regt in the divisions were ordered to march with two Div of Infantry to burn the bridge on the Altamaha River 55 miles from Savannah. It is where the Gull RR crosses that runs from Savannah to the Capital of Florida. That Inft burned all the RR and we had the job assigned us to burn the bridge, but we got more than we bargained for. The Rebs were too strongly posted for us. There was a deep swamp between them and us and the only road that led to them was the RR and then had artillery and that. So that we could not get to them. The boys tried to burn some of the trestle work that ran through the swamp, but I guess they did not make much of it. I was with the horses that day and could not see what was going on but they said it was a failure and I think as far as our cavalry was concerned we might better have stayed in camp. We left the bridge about the middle of the afternoon and took the back track for home again. We marched through one of the worst swamps that night that I ever saw in my life or that is the way it seemed.
Fight that was at Griswoldvile and they killed and wounded 1500 one afternoon. Take it all in all it has been one of the grandest moves of the war for a general to cut himself loose from the rest of the army as Sherman has and march over three hundred miles through the heart of the Rebel ??? is no small undertaking, burning thousands and thousands of bails of cotton and hundred of Cotton Gins and burning their capital and destroying more than two hundred miles of RR for them driving all their cattle, taking their horses and mules, killing their hogs, chickens, taking their corn and fodder for our horses and mules and sweet potatoes meal and To me it was as dirty as tar The water was so that it would swim. Some of the horses and a number of them were drowned…. We got to camp at one o’clock tired wet and hungry as ever I was since I was a soldier boy. The next morning we were in the saddle at day light again, marched all that day through a country heavily timbered with pine. Saw but two houses on the road. Camped that night at Jansonville a country town. Plenty to eat for man and horse. Plenty of sweet potatoes chickens hog…. The next morning at daylight found us in the saddle again and night found us in our old camp at King’s Bridge. With any adventures worthy of note take it all in all John we had a fine time since we left Marietta, although this division has done an s immense Sight of hard work since we left there in riding and fighting. We were in the saddle thirty six days all most without intermission. General Kilpatrick says in his report that this division burned 271 cotton gins and presses and burned 14000 bails of cotton, killed and wounded 1500 of Wheeler’s men and captured 500 all with the loss of less two hundred on our side. The infantry had but one plow for the men to live on for we lived almost wholly on the products of the land where we passed through. All this comes out of the Rebs and where we had been. I will assure you that they will not raise much next year for our division has done but a small part of the desolating of this country. The country was one grand fire as far as the eye could reach. Savannah fell on the 22nd I believe, leaving 30,000 bails of cotton, 100 engines and the rolling Stock and about 100 pieces of artillery in the hands of Gen. Sherman, the greatest of American generals. Where such men lead there is no failure. The army is in splendid spirits and as soon as they get clothed up and get some supplies Ahead they are ready for Charlston, Wilmington, Richmond and any other Place that our leader sees fit to strike for. I do not expect that we shall lay still for long. We must keep the car in motion till the rebels give up the contest and that can’t be for hence if they are pushed to the wall for the next eight months as they have been for eight months Past. The news is glorious From all parts of the army. I see that Pap Thomas has flogged Hood’s army soundly and that he is in full retreat before a victorious army. I was in Marietta the day that the ? 15th was captured. It was only six Miles where they were, our men could see the whole thing from Kennesaw Mountain.
Well John it is eleven o’clock at night and I must stop this scribbling although my thoughts would run away with my pen. But tomorrow will come with its duties that a soldier has to do. I shall have less than eight months to stay when you get this letter and if God in his mercy sees fit to spare my life I shall come home and let some one else try their hand at the wheel for a spell.
I give my love and warm wishes to all inquiring friends And close this letter hoping you will excuse all mistakes.
This from your friend
To J.C. Thompson
P.S. Direct—Co K 92nd Ill
3rd Division Cavalry
Via Savannah Ga.
The 92nd occupied an area in and around the fort at Franklin, Tennessee on April 10, 1863. The following incident took place:
“About noon the rebels came towards town and got within range of our siege guns in the fort, which opened up on them with terrific effect, shelling them for about 3 hours. Here we staid till about 4 oclock when we started in pursuit of the now flying rebels. Skirmishing was going on all around us. I saw a good many dead and wounded men and horses. Dead rebels were laying all over around town. Also a few of our Union soldiers were to be seen dead and dying. The rebs as usual were a long-haired, dirty, savage, hard-looking set of fellows. They paid dearly for their raid into this place, as they had 150 men killed, wounded and taken prisoners.”
Private William Boddy
“On the twenty-second of April, the Regiment was received and inspected by Brigadier General Elliott, in company with Major General Thomas, and General Elliott was pleased to boast considerably to General Thomas, in the presence of the members of the Regiment, claiming that the Ninety-Second had the cleanest and handsomest camp of any regiment, infantry or cavalry, in the Army of the Cumberland; and General Thomas admitted that no regiment in his Department had a cleaner or handsomer camp. The men of the Regiment appreciated the compliment. During the whole service, the Ninety-Second always stood among the first for cleanliness of camps, care of equipments, and soldierly discipline.”
Regimental History, page 135
April 23, 1864, was probably the most tragic day of the war for the 92nd Illinois. The regiment was ambushed at Nickojack Gap, Georgia, by General [Fightin’] Joseph Wheeler’s men. The great loss suffered this day warrants multiple quotes. Below are two quotes – one from a Union soldier and the other from a Confederate soldier who participated in the ambush.
This first quote details the attack from a Union soldier’s perspective. He was not an eye-witness, but was nearby in the camp of the 92nd Illinois. He describes what he learned that day:
“Great excitement in camp in consequence of an attack made on the pickets from our regt. just before daylight. The detail from our regt. (62 men) were about 8 miles from camp and posted on different roads, from 6 to 15 in a squad. They were attacked by two regiments of rebels, one regt. on foot and the other on horseback. The posts were surrounded and all attacked at the same time to prevent them from assisting each other. 33 out of the 62 were killed, wounded and captured. Several were brutally murdered after they had surrendered, more being so badly wounded that they could not keep up to the dastardly cowards, so they were shot down by the rebel officers. Eight of our boys are so badly wounded that they can not recover and have already died. This demonstrates the fact that we have got the same kind of an enemy in our front that so recently committed the horrible massacre of the garrison at Fort Pillow, Tenn.
“The wildest excitement prevails all through the camps in consequence of the butchering of our boys on picket after they had surrendered. Our regt. has sworn not to take Wheeler’s men prisoners. All these things are testified to not only by the survivors but by the men that are now lying wounded, some of them shot three or four times. It remains to be seen whether the rebel government sanctions such outrageous proceedings as this or not. If they do, the sooner the Black Flag is raised the better.”
William Boddy, Co. A, 92nd Illinois
Here below we are enlightened by a Confederate point-of-view. A Tennessee soldier who participated in the ambush on the 92nd at Nickojack provided his own account:
“General Wheeler decided to retaliate by capturing the picket post of the Federals that stood opposite our post west of the creek. It was 9 or 10 o’clock in the night. We had two Georgians with us that was well-acquainted with the country and they piloted us through between the Federal picket post in Nickojack Gap in Taylor’s Ridge .We struck the big road. We took rails off fences and built a fence across the big road as high as we could reach. This was all done before day light.
“Just when we could see that it was beginning to get light, Captain Swiringer charged the Yankee picket post in the Gap. When they got the Yankees started, they pressed them hard. Captain Turner give us orders to fire when he fired his pistol. The company was run down against the fence and Turner fired his pistol and the balance of the company fired their guns and crossed the fence right in among the Yankees. My recollection is that there was 17 of the Yankees shot, killed and wounded and all the rest was captured. About this time we got this company dismounted and disarmed, we discovered a company of Yankees drawn up in line in the field just behind us. Captured 40 or 50 of the company that was run into the ambush.”
Andrew Jackson Williams, 2nd Tennessee CavalrySource: Civil War Times Illustrated, Kushlan, James P., Ed., , June 2003, Primedia Publication, Cowles History Group, Leesburg, Va., Vol. XLII, Number 2, “Stuck Between the Lines, Part 2”, pp. 12, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62.
In late April, 1863, the regiment exchanged their bell tents for new shelters - “dog tents” as they were sarcastically called. They were received with mixed emotion.
“They were simply strips of tent-cloth, about six and a half feet long by three feet wide, with button-holes on one edge, and buttons on the other, one issued to each man to be carried by him on the march, and two buttoned together formed the tent of two soldiers. The men regarded them with extreme aversion, and there were serious threatenings of mutiny when they were issued."
A soldier of the Ninety-Second [name omitted by the Committee], writing from Franklin in a letter home, says:
“The ‘dog-kennels’ have been introduced into our regiment. Shelter tent is a misnomer. There is no shelter about it, but precisely the opposite. Have you ever seen one? No. Well, I can introduce you to the modus operandi of making one. Rob your bed of a sheet, if you have one (and if you have, it is more than I have had for some time, if not longer) and now, while speaking of sheets, it is enough to put a soldier to feeling bad not to have any, for there is a charm in that word sheets; yes, there is. But to go on and tell you how to make one of these dog kennels. Go out into the yard, if you have one; pin down two sides of the sheet by a little pegging, and then run a pole, if you have one, through the center, lengthwise; elevate it upon big stones or stakes at the corners, and you have a dog kennel such as we have, except that yours will be larger than ours. Ours are about five feet wide by six feet long and are intended for two persons by splicing. In order to get into them, the hands and knees are brought into requisition. In turning over through the night, you must remember that it is safest to back out, turn over, and then crawl in again. Unless you do so, you are extremely liable to injure your pole, and down comes your dog kennel. If [General] Gordon Granger comes riding through the camp, certain as you live, out comes the entire command on hands and knees from the dog kennels, and such unearthly barking, like dogs, never was heard; and thousands take it up, and way over and beyond the fort, and all through the corps it is bark, bark, and growl, growl.”
Regimental History, pages 80, 81
Corporal James Allison Colehour, Company I, had seen enough of war, having been with the regiment since its inception in August 1862. He had suffered the death of his brother and fellow soldier David. He had been deathly ill, himself, from typhoid fever. He was wounded twice on the battlefield.
Finally, nearly three long years later, the war ended, yet, the U.S. government refused to allow James and everyone else in the regiment to return to their families. Homesickness set in. Colehour spoke of his regiment’s frustration this week in history one hundred forty-two years ago:
On May 12th made our last march on horseback as a regiment to Concord, NC. Here we lay until the last of June and did nothing but grumble to be mustered out. Beautiful camp in the pines but we wanted to go home very bad.”
He went on to say, (exact date unknown):
“I was sent from here with Lieutenant Sutton and thirty men on a scout to Yorkville and Spartanburg to catch Governor McGraw of South Carolina. We did not find him but saw the Cowpen’s battle ground of colonial times and had a grand ride of 300 miles to kill time. Passed ourselves as rebels (they had seen no yanks) and we had the best in the kitchen. This trip finished my soldiering.”
Source: Carroll County Illinois Military
Within the past week the 92nd Illinois had become part of Sherman’s formidable army. As they headed south toward Atlanta, they became embroiled in a skirmish near Resaca, Georgia. Private William Boddy, Company A, described the confrontation with the rebels:
“Firing commenced along the lines at daylight. We had some sharpshooting with the rebels in their works on the opposite side of the stream. This was kept up to some extent all day. All one had to do was to show his head and bang would go a rifle and a ball would zip by him, some times coming about as close as it is agreeable to have them come. The fighting along the lines today was steadily increased all day. In the afternoon it was awful and lasted till after night, both with artillery and musketry, especially with artillery, as our men drove the rebels from their outer line of fortifications and got the town and the r.road bridge within the range of our cannon. Good news continues to come from Grant on the Potomac, which greatly encourages our army. The firing this afternoon made me think of bloody Chicamauga.”
“This morning our sharpshooting brother on the other side did not forget to let us know that they were alive yet and we did the same thing when we got a chance. Today is Sunday but there has been considerable fighting along the lines, the rebels all the time getting the worst of it.”
Corporal Charles L. Holbrook, Company B, 92nd Illinois, related a close encounter by two members of his regiment near Adairsville, Georgia on May 25, 1864:
“We remained on picket until morning then returned to camp today. George Gotechell [possibly Gotshall?] and E.O. went out foraging today and got captured while eating dinner. A girl who lived there was a sister of the Rebel Sergeant and through her influence they were liberated and brought their horses and blankets, also the bridles.”
Source: M539 Roll 42, Civil War Diary, [additional source details unknown]
In the summer of 1863, the 92nd Illinois was situated in central Tennessee, mobilizing for what would be an eventful late summer/early fall campaign through southern Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Though military life was stressful, the Civil War soldier was allowed time to enjoy leisurely activities. This free time helped relieve some of that stress.
On June 3, 1863 Private William Boddy took advantage of his free time and toured the private grounds of a Southern citizen:
“We are now camped on the farm of a rich old planter. He has about 2000 acres of beautiful well-watered and well-timbered land and a great many slaves, though a good many of the latter have bid the kind old rebel good bye since the war broke out. He lives in one of the largest and finest houses I ever saw. Close by the house is a beautiful flower garden. I was in it and picked a bunch of beautiful flowers and ate some strawberries. The man is said to be a rabid secessionist but has taken the Oath of Allegiance.
“There is a rebel Major buried in his garden who was mortally wounded and has since died at the battle of Stone River. He is said to be a relative of this man who lives here, but how true any of this is I cannot say. The farm bears strong marks of war. Everything in the line of fences is destroyed.”
In contrast to the serenity of the previous week’s featured quote, [see quote for week of May 29 – June 4 elsewhere on this page], the 92nd Illinois returned to the reality of war. Instead of enjoying flowers and strawberries, Private William Boddy found himself embroiled in the midst of a gun battle on June 11, 1863:
“As soon as we got back to camp and had swallowed a trifle of breakfast (“hardtack and coffee”), we were ordered to fall into line as the rebels were advancing and we could then hear heavy firing and our scouts and pickets were driven in. They formed a line of battle about one mile off, but our artillery which was posted close to our regiment soon drove them back in disorder into the woods.
“They then brought a section of artillery and threw shells, shot, and canister but most of it went harmlessly over our heads. It was directed principally at the artillery, but did us no harm here. But some shots struck very close to us. Some went directly over our heads. We laid down flat on the ground. Some shots struck very close and it was fun to see some of the officers on horseback dodge as the balls would whistle by. The cannon roared for about two hours, loud enough to suit my taste.
“As soon as they commenced to fall back, our cavalry went out after them and pursued them about 5 miles, but could not make them stand. A few were killed and wounded in this running fight belonging to the cavalry. A few prisoners were taken from the enemy.
“To sum it all up, the rebels got a good cleaning out, which will perhaps be a good thing for their health.”
The 92nd Illinois was busy cutting down strips of timber along the Shelbyville and Murfreesboro Pikes in Tennessee in hopes of deterring a rebel charge. Meanwhile, in little more than two weeks, a great battle would transpire in the southern Pennsylvania village of Gettysburg. Even though the 92nd was in the western theater of the war, General Robert E. Lee’s maneuverings in northern Virginia and southern Pennsylvania did not go unnoticed by members of the 92nd.
William Boddy, in one of his more astute observations of his entire four hundred-page journal, reflects upon the significance and potential far-reaching effects of Lee’s activities. On June 18, 1863, he shares his concerns. [The underlinings in the quote below are Private Boddy’s.] He then concludes with a sentimental offering to his family as he closes this part of his journal and sends it home for safe-keeping:
“The news from the Eastern Armies has a tendency to excite the camp but most of the soldiers appear to feel calm and if anything regard the rebel raids and demonstrations in Pa. and Maryland as a good omen and consider that it is the only thing which will bring the people out of the awful state of apathy into which they have fallen and perhaps it will have a tendency to cure them of some of their Copperheadism, a disease which is very wide spread among the Peace-loving, Stay-at-home population of Pennsylvania and Maryland and Ohio.
“ But I will close this stuff and send it home. Now Brother Robert, Mother and all the Family, I want you to take good care of this, for if I ever live to get home, I think it will be interesting for me to look over and see how I spent my time while I was “a-soldiering”. There is some awful scribbling, but some of the time my circumstances would not allow me to do anything else.”
[signed] Wm. Boddy
Still in central Tennessee, the 92nd was spending much of its time marching on the Shelbyville Pike. Unbeknownst to this regiment, they would soon be transformed into mounted infantry as members of Col. John T. Wilder’s famed Lightning Brigade cavalry.
Coincidentally, on page 88, the regimental history briefly recorded one of this brigade’s most famous accomplishments. It took place on June 24, 1863. lt would solidify the Lightning Brigade’s place in history:
“Wilder’s Brigade took Hoover’s Gap from the Rebels, and marched all the afternoon to the music of heavy cannonading. The rain was continuous night and day. The next day, the twenty-fifth, marched but a mile, standing in line all day, listening to the continuous roar of artillery in the distance.”
The men continued marching south along the Shelbyville Pike. Corporal Charles L. Holbrook, Co. B, writes:
“Remained in camp until 2 oclock when the bugle sounded forward. We marched until 1 a.m. of July 1st. and went into camp in an orchard. It took us about 1 minute to get asleep – we were weary and tired. Orders were issued today forbidding foraging here on penalty of death. Many of the citizens here display the Stars and Stripes. It is a loyal town.”
Source: Holbrook journal, M539, roll 42 (any other reference information unavailable)
So how did the regiment spend its Independence Day celebration? The regimental history tells us on page 90.
“July fourth was
celebrated by a cessation of all ordinary duties, and most of the men went
black-berrying, and found the most luscious blackberries in the greatest
abundance in the “old fields” about Wartrace. The Colonel of the Ninety-Second
dined with Captain Hicks, of the 96th Illinois. Many patriotic
speeches were made.”
Corporal Charles Holbrook, Co. B, further details their enjoyment – but notice, he said nothing about listening to any speeches!
“I arose early and went into the country and gathered a quart of blackberries which I sweetened with sugar to eat with my ‘hard-tack” About noon I went to town which is not quite as extensive as Old Town. All the little urchins were busy peddling peanuts which were good. I went into an establishment and got some roast pig and short cake for fifty cents, also corn didges, coffee and milk. The best meal I’ve had for a good while.”
Source: Hobrook journal, see elsewhere on this page
Private Harvey B. Knox, Company A, 92nd Ill., has the honor of being our first “featured soldier’. He was from West Point, Illinois. He enlisted on August 11, 1862, was mustered into the Union army the following month, and was mustered out June 21, 1865.
Paraphrased from the Lena Star, November, 1892:
Tragically, after surviving the Civil War, Harvey Knox’s life ended recently. A long-time resident of the Lena, Illinois area, he was well-known for delivering political speeches for the “People’s Party”.
Upon returning home after a grueling three-week’s stumping tour through Wisconsin, he hopped off the train two miles from Lena and consumed a heavy dose of firewater. He then followed the tracks home to Lena on foot. About one mile from home, exhausted and sleepy, he fell asleep on the tracks.
Yup, you guessed it. A train came from the west and struck him, killing him instantly. [As was typical with nineteenth-century journalism, the Lena Star described the accident in graphic detail. I’d rather not, out of respect for poor Harvey.]
Mr. Knox had been a fine soldier who survived many battlefield encounters. He was a member of the local GAR post. All thought well of him. But, sadly, many friends could only say, “Harvey was his own worst enemy.”
He lies in Rock Lily Cemetery, Winslow, Illinois.
Major Harvey M. Timms was born on the family homestead in Kent Township. Believed to be the first white male child born in Stephenson County, he was born on the first homestead pre-empted in that county. This homestead was located within a few rods of the historic Blackhawk monument.
An impassioned abolitionist, he accompanied John Brown at Ossawatomie, Kansas, and took part in this violent anti-slavery rebellion.
Timms served in the 92nd Illinois initially as First Lieutenant, then was promoted to Captain in December 1862. He served in this capacity for the remainder of the war. After the 92nd was mustered out, Timms was reassigned to the 65th Illinois volunteers, as were a number of other former 92nd soldiers. He was then promoted to the rank of Major.
He farmed for a number of years in Kent Township, then moved to Pearl City, where he engaged in the banking business, eventually attaining the title of bank president. Finally in 1898, he retired to Portland, Oregon, where he became involved in the fruit farming business. He succumbed to Bright’s Disease and Diabetes at the age of 73.
Portions of this biography were obtained from the Lena Star, August 29, 1910
Private Don R. Fraser’s refusal to concede defeat while in the grips of enemy hands has earned him the honor of being this week’s featured soldier. His wartime experience was more harrowing than those of many other soldiers. He was captured near Atlanta, kept in numerous prisons, escaped twice, only to be recaptured each time, and survived three stints in Andersonville. Here is his story:
He enlisted with the 92nd Illinois on August 9, 1862, and was mustered into the Union army September 4. On October 19, 1864, while assisting in the shipment of ammunition from Atlanta to General Judson Kilpatrick’s division, the Confederate cavalry captured the train he was on.
He spent the next few days in Castle Morgan Prison, near Cahawba, Alabama, where, he explained later, his stay was tolerable - his captors were more humane than those he confronted later at other prisons. Unfortunately, his stay was short-lived. Soon he was on the rail cars to confinement elsewhere. He spent time in various jails. While being transferred one day, he escaped by hiding inside a smokestack lying on a platform near the railroad tracks.
Miserable conditions “on the outside” offered little relief. He spent the next few days mired in swamps during daylight, running by moonlight, joining forces with a couple escaped slaves, and subsisting off any meager assistance he could muster from the locals. Fraser didn’t get far. He was recaptured by two Confederate officers and shipped to Andersonville for one night. This would be his induction into what eventually became three separate stays inside that infamous prison. The next day, he was transferred to Millen, where he spent the next three weeks.
Again, his firm resolve to taste freedom allowed him to escape. He concealed himself by lying on the railroad tracks beneath the rail cars. And again, he spent the next week in the Georgia swamps, only to be recaptured. He expressed years later that these captors were surprisingly considerate. They gave him food, water, clothing, and even Confederate money.
But once again he realized the harsh reality of prison life. While being shipped back to Andersonville, he was packed inside a rail car with ninety other Union prisoners. It became so crowded and smothering one night that twenty soldiers died before morning. He spent the next couple months in Andersonville, his second stint there, where he confronted the daily horror of filth, sickness, starvation and death.
For reasons unknown to him, he was released from Andersonville and transported with other prisoners toward Florida to be released to the Federals in an exchange program. To their horror, the Union army refused to accept them in trade. Upon learning of this refusal, many soldiers became so distraught that they gave up the struggle to remain among the living and died on the way back to prison. Fraser refused to give up. He and those few that remained found themselves once again in the quagmire that was Andersonville. This was Fraser’s third episode inside the stockade.
He remained inside that prison until the seventeenth of April, when he was finally transferred to Ocean Pond. It was there that he learned of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s army and of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He doubted these words, having been deceived by his Confederate guardians so many times previously.
But it was true! The war was finally over. His Confederate captors released him. He walked with other freed soldiers the distance of twenty-seven miles, where, on April twenty-eighth, he caught sight of the Stars and Stripes flying over Jacksonville, Florida.
“The sun grew brighter, and the air fresher. Oh, how good the old Flag looked to us as we marched on! How happy we were when we marched under its bright folds, with uncovered heads! We were, at last, at home!”-- Regimental History, 321 - 327
Welcome to the website dedicated to the memory of the 92nd Illinois
Volunteer Mounted Infantry in America's Civil War.