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Looking for the site of Wesson's 1st battle
By Barry Schrader.................................April
Then he reported a skirmish with the rebels on May
4 when two of their men were wounded. On the night of May 5 he
penned, My first battle. It is not pleasant work. The weather
is hot. They are burning the woods to burn the dead. The men
cannot bury anymore on account of the stench.
Remembering that S.D. Deck Wesson fought his first
battle of the Civil War at Williamsburg, Va., in May 1862, I
decided to search for the battlefield last week while we were
visiting our son in Virginia.
Wesson, a Union
soldier from Victor Township, had been encamped near Washington,
D.C., and Alexandria, Va., as he began his four-year stint with
Company K of the 8th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. They made some
excursions into the Confederacy in early 1862, but their first
real fight was when Union forces pursued the retreating Southern
army after the battle of Yorktown in Virginia. Decks regiment
was put on a ship headed for Yorktown, but arrived after the
battle there. Next, he wrote, We are camped near an oyster
bed. The oysters taste better than any I ever tried at home.
It is fine sport to watch the big siege guns throw shells at
Portrait of Deck Wesson and his wife Maggie in later
battle involved more than 72,000 men from both sides. Union forces
totaled 40,768 and Confederates 31,823. The estimated casualties,
according to National Park Service Web site on Civil War battle
summaries, were 3,843 total 2,283 for the North and 1,560
for the South. Even though Deck could not know those figures
at the time, he experienced the horror of death in large numbers
by seeing and smelling it, as his diary indicated. The Northern
commander in charge was Maj. Gen. George McClellan, and for the
South Major Gen. James Longstreet. After a long day of attacks
and counterattacks, the Confederates withdrew during the night.
Then on May 9, Deck wrote, Had to march all
night to join Gen. Stoneman. There are more fireflies and whipporwills
in Virginia than in all the rest of the world. So he had
seen the worst and then took time to enjoy the little pleasures
of his new surroundings. But the next day he was sent back into
the fighting with the Battle of West Point.
little leather-covered journal is full of the back and
forth between the opposing forces and what else he noted
around him. I hope someday the family will have it published
as a book.
My journey to Williamsburg was not
successful in finding the battlefield marker, but we did enjoy
a stop in Colonial Williamsburg, where we toured the fairly new
Decorative Arts Museum and adjoining Abby Rockefeller Folk Art
Museum. You just cant escape Illinois politics, though,
as one of the furniture exhibits boasted the name Blagojevich
Gallery. The docent was quick to explain that this name is a
common one and in no way related to the deposed Illinois governor.
Back in Washington, it is worth the effort to visit
the domed Capitol and see all the statuary in the rotunda and
hallways. I imagine few of us know which two statues Illinois
has on display there. Ever hear of Frances Willard or James Shields?
Willard was chosen by the state in 1905 for a statue
because of her pioneering efforts for social reform and the womens
Christian temperance movement. She founded the Prohibition Party
in 1882 and served as president of the Evanston College for Women,
later to merge with Northwesten University.
was best known for being elected a U.S. senator from three states
Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri as well as being
governor of the Oregon Territory. He served in the Mexican War
and the Civil War, where he attained the rank of Union brigadier
general. Since he neither was born nor died in Illinois, I wonder
why he was chosen in 1893 for this high honor.
states have opted to change statues from time to time. For example,
Illinois native son Ronald Reagans statue replaced
another from the State of California in recent years. There are
several prominent Illinois names I can think of Carl Sandburg,
Adlai E. Stevenson, Chief Shabbona who are well worth
considering for statues in the Capitol. It would make a good
project for a high school history class. Conduct a poll statewide
with a list of prominent Illinoisans to choose from. Then let
a civics class follow this by getting someone to carry the bill
through the legislative process and have it signed by the governor.
Of course, a business class would also be needed to raise the
$20,000 or more to have it sculpted. Just a thought.
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