Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"But What Should We Say:" the Story of a Fallen Patriot

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"But What Should We Say:" the Story of a Fallen Patriot

Article excerpt

On Sunday evening, April 6, 1862, a cannon ball with no particular name attached to it struck and killed Capt. Irving W. Carson on the bluff above Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. Ebenezer Hannaford and the soldiers in Acting Brig. Gen. Jacob Ammens's 10th Brigade never forgot the ghastly event that became part of the history of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Those men believed that under the leadership of Brig. Gen. William "Bull" Nelson, they had saved Grant's army from destruction, and that led Hannaford to produce a related article just before the April 6 and 7, 1881, meeting of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland in Cincinnati. The embarrassment of Shiloh had always been a sore point with William Tecumseh Sherman, and he expressed great displeasure with an account that called attention to the failure of Ulysses S. Grant to say anything about the tragic death of his chief scout. Every member who commanded troops at the battle was asked to provide statements that ensured they would "be protected against such untruthful assaults"in the future.1

Defensive posturing would not resolve a debate that was still going on when Charles B. Kimbell published a history of Battery A, Chicago Light Artillery at the turn of the nineteenth century. Kimbell incorrectly stated "a Captain on his [Grant's] staff, Kit Carson, was killed within ten feet of the General." He was apparently unaware of Irving W. Carson's Chicago connections and seemed more concerned with those who "have written that the General was not under fire this day. We of the battery know better." Albert D. Richardson was of a similar mindset, and as a former correspondent for the New York Tribune, he wanted the public to know that Grant was "just behind the batteries, and conversing with an officer, when. ..a shot knocked off the scout's head, bespattering the clothing of the serene General with blood." Kimbell, Richardson, and others worried about the reputation of a revered general officer, but the importance of the event lay in fact that Grant had nearly been killed. It was the seeming disregard for Carson that led Hannaford to ask: "But what shall we say of this case, where a brave man met the most tragic of deaths, and his name - nay, even his fate - was not so much hinted?2

There are no memoirs or personal letters that would help us gain an intimate understanding of Irving W. Carson. Likewise, there is a dearth of information about his family and friends. Census records indicate he was born in Connecticut about 1838 but that conflicts with the sketches that indicate he was born in Scotland. Those accounts also say Carson migrated to Chicago in 1853. That would have made him about fourteen years old when he took up life in the 4th Ward of Chicago, a hard-edged section on the south side of the river that was filled with pickpockets and muggers, who frequented the nearby saloons, gaming houses, and brothels. At Randolph Street between Wells and Franklin, thirty-two-year old William Carson operated a substantial wagon-making business that was within walking distance of the Illinois Central Railroad where Irving was employed building and repairing engines. William might have been a cousin or uncle who provided him with room and board. There is nothing to support that premise, and Irving may have truly been alone.3

At the time of his arrival in the "Garden City," Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas envisioned having a first rate university in Chicago. His role in securing the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May 1854 ended support for the dream until the Baptists boldly agreed to take on the task in 1856-57. The doctrine of popular sovereignty gave everyone the opportunity to see where Abraham Lincoln stood on an issue, and at the Republican state convention in June 1858, he was nominated to run for senator against Douglas. On July 9, Douglas made the opening speech of the campaign. Lincoln preferred to trail after Douglas, and as they moved around the state this country lawyer challenged the powerful Democrat to a series of debates. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.