Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Thirty-Seventh Illinois at Prairie Grove

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Thirty-Seventh Illinois at Prairie Grove

Article excerpt

The Thirty-seventh Infantry Regiment was formed as the Fremont Rifle Regiment in August 1861 in Chicago, Illinois, in response to the call for an additional 300,000 troops after the Union defeat at First Bull Run. The regiment saw service in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, and was mustered out on May 15, 1866, at Houston, Texas. Of these almost five years of service, two were spent in southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas, where, on December 7 and 8, 1862, the unit took a prominent part in the battle of Prairie Grove.

The major part of the research for this article was done with original source material, principally a massive manuscript collection of correspondence of the Black-Fithian family held in the Manuscript Division at the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield. Letters of Gen. John Charles Black, his brother Capt. William P. Black, and their stepfather, William Fithian, are a part of this collection. The letters of Lt. David Ash are from the manuscript collections at the United States Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. The Eugene B. Payne correspondence is in the author's collection.

Of these correspondents, John Charles Black practiced law after the war and served as an Illinois congressman, United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and United States commissioner of pensions. He was commander of the Grand Army of the Republic at the height of its political power in 1905 and died ten years later, in 1915. William P. Black was a corporate attorney in postwar years and ruined his career by serving as lead defense counsel to the anarchists charged in the Haymarket bombing incident in Chicago in 1886. He died in Chicago in 1916. David Ash was discharged in 1864 and died in 1 865 of chronic dysentery and malarial fever contracted in the army. Eugene Payne resigned from the army at the end of his three-year term of service in 1864, and practiced law with a specialty in soldier's pensions and bounty claims, served in the Illinois legislature, was postmaster for a time at South Evanston, Illinois, and retired as a pension claims examiner for the United States Bureau of Pensions. He died in Washington in 1910. Gen. Henry N. Frisbie left the Thirty-seventh in 1863 to command the Ninety-second United States Colored Volunteers, and was discharged in 1 865. He was a businessman and practiced law after the war. Henry Frisbie died in New Orleans in 1896.

The end of November 1862 found the Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry in camp near McCullough's Springs, Missouri, about fourteen miles west of Springfield. They had been there since November 19 resting, according to Eugene Payne, captain of the Waukegan Company, "to allow our Generals to go to St. Louis to purchase a new supply of liquors." Payne went on:

Since we have been here we have had a considerable deal of sport. There are plenty of game here, such as deers, wild turkeys, and smaller game of all kinds. Each day a half dozen or more large fine deer are brought to our regt, shot by our boys, and turkeys without number. On Thanksgiving day, we had a dinner fit for a king, venison and wild turkeys cooked in a variety of ways.1

Such periods of rest created opportunities for all kinds of mischief, and also afforded time for discipline. Quartermaster John Peck charged Pvt. Jacob Hawkins with beating a horse "in a cruel manner with a large club." Sgt. John Brown and Cpl. Vernon Hendee were reduced to private for "conduct unbecoming," etc. Pvt. Charles Porter was charged with stealing a quilt and acquitted. Lt. Col. Black charged assistant surgeon Elijah Clark for remaining on hospital detail in Springfield.2

In the midst of all this, Capt. Will Black wrote home about his time in camp:

We are in camp at the same place as before with the same valley, the same hills, and rocks, and thickets of scrub-oak surrounding us. Nothing to break the monotony of the scene, and nothing to stir up the sluggish waters of our every day life, which wears on from dawn to dark, from dark to dawn, in the same routine of camp duties, recreations, and pursuits of interest or pleasure. …

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