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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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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 horse’s 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.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115