I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb
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each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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Civil War horse was a survivor
By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................May 22, 2012
Civil War historian Laurinda Kidd of Leland can bring history
to life, and she proved it Saturday when she told the story of
a Civil War horse named Old Charley at the dedication of a plaque
in his honor.
She spoke at the ceremony on the Wesson homestead farm between
Leland and Waterman, where the horse was buried 127 years ago.
Nearly 100 people, half of them descendants of the horses
owner, Silas Dexter Deck Wesson, witnessed the plaque
unveiling by the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society,
the first to honor a horse.
Kidd brought along a 1983 article from the Leland Journal that
quoted an 1883 story about Old Charley when the horse was still
alive on the Wesson farm. It mentioned a notice in the Sept.
10, 1861, issue of the Sycamore True Republican seeking horses
for the Union Army.
Taking part in the Old Charley plaque unveiling May 19
were from left, DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society
president Sue Breese, Leland historian Laurinda Kidd, Kent Wesson,
and Wilda Peggy (Wesson) Gilbertson, 89-year-old
granddaughter of Deck Wesson.
(Barry Schrader photo)
Some 1,200 were needed to serve as mounts for the 8th Illinois
Cavalry regiment. It is assumed this horse was one of those sold
to the Army and trained at St. Charles for six weeks before being
shipped by rail car to the East Coast. The horses had to be trained
to follow commands, to stand still while a cavalryman was taking
aim to shoot, to not bolt when a cannon was fired nearby, and
to recognize the bugle call for Charge.
This horse was ridden by several men, including three from Victor
Township in DeKalb County. The first was Charles Greenville,
a Prussian immigrant who was wounded while riding the horse and
died soon thereafter; then Simon Suydam, a neighbor of the Wessons
who finished his enlistment and returned home; and Deck
Wesson, who had re-enlisted and kept Charley as his mount to
the end of the war.
The horse was wounded twice and once left for dead on the battlefield,
but he managed to regain his footing and follow his rider
Suydam at the time back to camp. One of his wounds was
a bullet (ball) in the foreleg that remained embedded for three
months until a Union veterinarian who coincidentally was
from Somonauk removed it.
Wesson was seriously wounded at Beverly Run prior to the Battle
of Gettysburg, so he was home recovering when another solider
used Charley in that battle. Upon recovery, Wesson went back
to the war and regained possession of his horse, which he then
vowed to keep forever after the war ended. Wesson soon married
his Doxie girl (a pet name for Maggie Suydam), and
they had 11 children.
I found it amazing that Old Charley was one of only 12 horses
out of the original 1,200 in that Illinois unit to survive the
war. Much of this history comes from a diary kept by Wesson,
which the family has copied and shared over the years. He left
a great legacy for his descendants, many of whom were there at
the Saturday ceremony. Among them was 89-year-old Wilda Peggy
Wesson Gilbertson, granddaughter of Deck.
Afterward, members of the General E. F. Dutton Sons of the Union
Veterans Camp No. 49 visited the grave of Deck Wesson in nearby
Victor Township cemetery. And I was surprised to learn Kidd herself
had mowed the lawn at that cemetery the day before to make it
presentable for those who visit.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115