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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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A heroic horse's tale

By Barry Schrader.................................March 16, 2010

This is a true account of the life of a heroic war horse, one that was injured twice in battle and left for dead on the battlefield, but survived to fight the rest of the Civil War and be brought home to DeKalb County by its rider, a Union soldier named Silas Dexter “Deck” Wesson.
The story deserves additional space, so will be told in two weekly installments. This first column is mainly about the horse.
Most of the facts come from the personal Civil War diary of Sgt. Wesson, who enlisted in September 1861 and was finally discharged in July 1865. Others helping with this story are Civil War historian Laurinda Kidd of Leland and a great-grandson of Deck, Kent Wesson, who still lives on one of the family farms between Waterman and Leland on Wesson Road.
Deck Wesson was in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, Company K. The regiment had an aggregate of 2,412 during the entire war and a regimental strength of 1,200 men most of the time. Of the original 1,200 horses that carried these cavalrymen, only 12 were reported still alive at the end of the war. It is said more horses died in the Civil War than men.
It wasn’t until September 1864 when Deck got “Old Charley” the war horse as his own. Deck had been wounded in June 1863 and a previous mount died in that battle. The first DeKalb County man to be issued the horse known as Charley was Charles Greenville, a Prussian immigrant who rode Charley until Greenville was injured. Greenville died as a result of the wounds. Next to ride Charley was Simon Suydam, also from Victor Township. When his enlistment was up he went back home and at that time Wesson got the horse, riding him to the end of the war.

(Black and white) photo shows Deck Wesson with his Civil War horse "Old Charley" on the family farm many years after the Civil War. Inset is Wesson as a Union soldier.

Deck's great grandson Kent Wesson looking at the faded plaque honoring the memory of the horse at the family's original homestead on Leland Road.

According to entries in Wesson’s diary, the horse had first been shot in the knee and then later shot through the nose, left on the battlefield for dead. But he regained his feet and followed after his rider, Suydam, and was eventually healed and returned to service.
Once Wesson acquired the horse he wrote that “I shall keep him as long as he lives.”
He kept that promise to himself and made arrangements to purchase Charley from the government when he mustered out. Bringing the horse back to the family home known as Victor Centre Farm, he trained him as a work horse that plowed the fields along with his owner.
Then in 1872, he decided to move to Kansas and try farming there, so “Old Charley” was taken along. After eight years he learned that his father was gravely ill, so he headed back to the family farm, but not before his father passed away. So Deck decided to stay and operate the 160-acre farm, using the horse once again as a farm animal. When the horse finally died in 1885, the family buried him on the farm and later a plaque was mounted on the barn with his name “Old Charley” and approximate dates of birth and death. Ms. Kidd explained that his date of birth was unknown but he could have been around 30 years old. She believes the plaque may not have been added until the farm’s centennial in 1949. There may have been a marker on the grave earlier but no one alive today now remembers where it is located.
As a side note, it should be reported that Deck Wesson married Maggie Suydam, the sister of the horse’s previous rider, Simon Suydam, in 1866, so she must have known the history of the horse as well.
The original copy of the wartime diary is being kept in a family member’s safe and much of its contents copied and typed for inclusion in a two volume loose-leaf family history. A photo provided by Darrick Wesson from that family history shows Deck Wesson and Old Charley in front of the barn much later in life. Both man and horse “look a lot worse for the wear.” An inset in the upper left of the photo shows Sgt. Wesson during his Civil War service. Next week the life story of Silas Dexter “Deck” Wesson will be told.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115