Captain Left Loving Legacy to His Family

Article excerpt

At the age of 35, Capt. Joseph Lemuel Dodds, U.S. Army quartermaster, died in St. Louis in 1862 from typhoid fever contracted in Corinth, Miss.

The Dodds clan was large. Like his father, Lemuel (as he was called) was one of nine brothers and sisters. Surviving him were his wife, Theodosia ("Theo"), and a 2-year-old son, Willie.

Theo was a widow with a daughter when she married Lemuel in 1855. Never remarrying after his death, she lived another 40 years.

After the war, Theo took Willie to Wisconsin to live near her daughter, by then married. Willie later moved to Pennsylvania and bought a big house that my grandfather (Willie's son) moved into after Willie's death. Willie had kept everything from his father's war experience. Prominently hung on a living-room wall was a photograph of Lemuel in uniform.

Among the "treasures" I found as a child exploring in the house were the uniform, sword and sash; two Navy Colts; Lemuel's commissioning certificates (one signed by Abraham Lincoln); a short note written by Lincoln; a two-volume set of U.S. Infantry and Rifle Tactics; letters; and Confederate money.

Lemuel and his small family lived in Lacon, Ill., then a port town on the Illinois River. The river is dammed now, but then steamships plied their trade on it. The March 28, 1855, edition of the Illinois Weekly Gazette that Theo kept all her years contained not only their wedding announcement ("The usual compliments of the wedded pair were received and are duly acknowledged by wishing them unbounded prosperity and happiness through many future years"), but also an advertisement for Lemuel's business: He was a "Manufacturer of and Dealer in All Kinds of Furniture."

Like so many other men after Fort Sumter, Lemuel answered his country's call. He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Illinois State Militia - Company B, 17th Regiment of Volunteers. In August 1861, he was promoted to captain and made an assistant quartermaster. The details of Lemuel's service are not in official Army records; moreover, the limited information in them is sometimes wrong. For example, his service record in the National Archives shows that he was mustered out of the Army in 1864, two years after his death. (Researchers beware!)

What we know about his service is in letters that a friend wrote to support a widow's pension for Theo and correspondence from the same friend to Willie some 20 years after that. These letters, Lemuel's letters to his family, and some general historical research give a good picture of his service.

He was initially assigned as post quartermaster at Camp Benton, near St. Louis, and served there until about March 1862. From December 1861 until February 1862, Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman commanded the post. Lemuel impressed Sherman, as we shall see.

In January 1862, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee advanced up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers from Cairo, Ill. This roughly split the Confederate line extending from Columbus, Ky., on the Mississippi River, to Bowling Green, Ky. Victories at two Tennessee forts followed: Fort Henry on Feb. 6 and Fort Donelson on Feb. 16.

Four days after the victory at Fort Donelson, Lemuel wrote to his parents from Camp Benton: "I will probably go to Tennessee soon."

Tens of thousands of troops were being sent to Tennessee. With them was Sherman, who had assumed command of a division at Paducah, Ky., within now-Maj. Gen. Grant's army.

About a month later, on March 16, Sherman disembarked his division at Pittsburg Landing. Several days later he telegraphed Grant: "I will push the loading and unloading of boats, but suggest that you send at once (Captain Dodds, if possible) the best quartermaster you can, that he may control and organize this whole matter."

Lemuel, however, did not join Sherman's division, nor did he go to Tennessee as he had expected. …