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.
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.
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 wasnt 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 Wessons 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
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 farms centennial
in 1949. There may have been a marker on the grave earlier but
no one alive today now remembers where it is located.
a side note, it should be reported that Deck Wesson married Maggie
Suydam, the sister of the horses previous rider, Simon
Suydam, in 1866, so she must have known the history of the horse
The original copy of the wartime diary
is being kept in a family members 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