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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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The life of a Civil War soldier

By Barry Schrader.................................March 23, 2010

In the first installment last Tuesday, this column detailed the life of the war horse known as “Old Charley” that spent its remaining years after the war on the Wesson family farm on Leland Road south of Waterman.
Today’s column will dwell on its owner, a Civil War soldier named Silas Dexter Wesson, also known as “S.D.” or more often called “Deck.”
Deck was born in 1839 in Jamestown, N.Y., and was one of four children. His father James decided to come west to Illinois and loaded up an ox-drawn covered wagon in 1845, later purchasing 160 acres of a Mexican soldier’s land grant between Waterman and Leland, which the family eventually called the Victor Centre Farm. The barn has the date 1849 painted on it, so it became a centennial farm in 1949. According to Leland Civil War historian Laurenda Kidd, that is probably also the time when the memorial plaque for the heroic horse was placed there. Deck died in 1909, and his wife Maggie in 1925.
Deck went with some 25 other Victor Township men to join the Union Army and was sworn in August 1861. He was assigned to Company K of the 8th Illinois Cavalry. He kept a diary with almost daily entries throughout the war, and the Wesson family still has it in a safe. Much of the diary is reprinted in the family history. His girlfriend was another Victor township resident, Magdalen “Maggie” Suydam, who he referred to as his “Doxie girl.” The Suydam Church bears her family name today.

Mug shot of Sgt. Deck Wesson as a soldier

Tombstone in Victor Cemetery of S.D. Wesson and family

An entry in his diary tells about the unit arriving in Baltimore where they camped for several weeks. On Oct. 29, 1861, he writes that they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House. They halted momentarily and gave three cheers. “Someone came to the door – swung his long arm at us, made a bow. It was Old Abe. Oh dear! He is so homely,” Deck wrote. On Oct. 2, 1862, Deck saw President Lincoln again when he reviewed the troops in camp. “Poor man. He looks tired and worn out and he is homely as a mud fence,” the soldier wrote in his diary that night.
Company K saw its first action in the battle of Williamsburg, Va., on May 5, 1862, and then a string of major engagements for the next four years, including Richmond, Gettysburg and Appomattox. He escaped the battle at Gettysburg, having been wounded at Beverly Run, shot through the right thigh, and his horse at that time was killed. He recuperated in Lincoln Hospital and then rejoined his company. About that time he was promoted to sergeant.
Some of the entries show his mindset as the war progressed: One on Nov. 1, 1864, states: “The country is desolate. War is a terrible thing. I pity the people who are trying to live here. They are robbed by friend and foe.” Another one: “Have got a lot of prisoners, poor devils, they look sorry. Our orders were to burn every barn in the Shenandoah Valley, destroy all the grain, take all men prisoners, drive off all the stock and leave the women and children to starve, I suppose. We would not do it. It is the first time I saw the reg’t refuse to obey orders.” A rather humorous entry on Nov. 23, 1864: “I said ‘dam it’ to the chaplain. He took me down and punched me with his fist. He is a good Methodist and won’t let the boys swear.”
Deck also reported that another company in their regiment was involved in the search for Lincoln’s assassin. He told of them finding a boot that belonged to John Wilkes Booth at the home of Dr. Mudd and taking the doctor into custody.
After the war ended, his regiment was sent to the Bull Run battlefields “to dedicate the monuments our men have built. Gen. Hancock is with us. He has a fine whickey nose. We buried 2400 skulls under the monuments.”
He returned with his comrades to Chicago, where they mustered out in July 1865. He went home to rejoin his father on the farm. He married his Doxie girl Maggie in October 1866, and they had 11 children. He took time out to attend Jennings Seminary in Aurora for two terms, becoming qualified to teach and preach, but remained a farmer all his life.
His obituary in the Sandwich Free Press on Feb. 11, 1909, stated in part: “Politically Mr. Wesson was a stanch Republican. He was town clerk for a long time and supervisor at different periods for nine years, was assessor for three years. His official service was characterized by the utmost fidelity to duty. He was a member of the Masonic order and connected with the Farmers Elevator Company of Leland, and for several years was secretary of the Victor Township Mutual Fire Insurance Company.” Ms. Kidd adds that he was active in the Grand Army of the Republic veterans organization and took part in several of their gatherings.
He is buried at Victor Cemetery and his monument can be seen near the front, left of the main gate. The cemetery is a half-mile south of Wesson Road on Leland Road.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115