Asiel Z. Blodgett, print from a glass negative taken in Waukegan, circa 1875. (LCDM 2011.0.86)
While at Wartrace, Tennessee in the summer of 1863, he was given a challenge. An officer from another company asked, "Captain Blodgett, I am curious to know whether or not you have memorized your roster."
Blodgett replied, "I am of the opinion that I have memorized it."
The officer bet Blodgett that he could not "call it correctly."
That day, Captain Blodgett was sitting in front of his tent, using the drummer boy's drum as a writing surface to make out his reports. He had set the drum on top of a camp stool, and with the challenge made, brushed aside his reports.
He wrote directly on the drum head from left to right, carefully listing every man's name from memory. All 98 men of Company D, plus the eight men who had died in the company's first year of service. Blodgett won the bet.
At the request of Lake County Historian, Bess Bower Dunn, Blodgett's son sent a copy of the "drum head roster." (above)
Shortly after making the roster, the 96th Illinois fought in the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18 - 20, 1863. The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the Civil War, and had the second highest number of casualties in the war following the Battle of Gettysburg two months earlier.
The 96th's Company D lost five men (killed) and 18 wounded. Among the injured was Blodgett, who was shot in the shoulder on September 18, and though the wound hurt him greatly, he remained with the command.
Hill Two from the Vittetoe Road. Chickamauga after the battle. (Signal Corps U. S. Army)
In the confusion of battle, the drum was lost, and eventually turned over to the Quartermaster.
Blodgett recovered partially from his injuries, but reluctantly had to resign his position in August 1864. Years later, he received an official package from the U.S. War Department, and opening it found the drum head on which he had written the names of his men.
In 1939, Lake County Historian, Bess Bower Dunn, contacted one of Blodgett's sons about the story. John H. Blodgett replied with a copy of the "drum head roster" and the full account.
Blodgett's son wrote: "It occurred to me that possibly some of the relatives of the men who were with Dad are still around and if so might be interested in looking it over. If Frank Justice [sic] cares to say anything about it in his paper I would like to have you send me a copy."
Indeed, Frank Just, the editor of the Waukegan Daily Sun was very interested and ran a long article on Blodgett and the 96th Illinois.
Excerpt of article written by Athlyn Deshais on Blodgett and the 96th Illinois, Waukegan Daily Sun, 1939.
As Ms. Deshais wrote for the Daily Sun: "They are gone now, those gallant soldiers who marched and fought beneath the banner on which was inscribed the magic figures, 96.... The day of the eye-witness reminiscences belongs to the past."
For more on the life of Asiel Z. Blodgett read my April 29, 2011 post, and the 96th Illinois at the Battle of Chickamauga read my September 19, 2013 post.
"History of the 96th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry," Charles A. Partridge, editor, 1887.
Letters of John H. Blodgett to Bess Bower Dunn, 1939. Bess Dunn Collection, LCDM.
"Capt. Blodgett Honored by His Brave Soldiers," by Athlyn Deshais, Waukegan Daily Sun, 1939.