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Friday, July 9, 2010

The Civil War and a Tale of Two Henrys

This weekend the Civil War will be recreated at Lakewood Forest Preserve. The annual event brings hundreds of re-enactors, sutlers, and entertainers, and thousands of visitors who delight in a chance to immerse themselves in those times.

In the spirit of remembering the War Between the States, I thought I'd share the tales of two Lake County men. Henry Fiddler and Henry Kern never met, but they share a name, settled in Lake County in the same year, and both had a desire to fight for their country.

Henry Fiddler (1844-1864), was a German immigrant to Avon Township, arriving in 1854. He settled with his parents along Grand Avenue on the north side of Sand Lake, and farmed the land. Henry was too young to enlist when war broke out in 1861. The enlistment age was 18 (though younger men often did enlist).

By 1863, a desperate call for new recruits rang out, and on January 25, 1864, Henry went to Waukegan and enlisted with the 39th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The 39th was called “Yates’ Phalanx” in honor of Governor Yates of Illinois.

Fiddler headed to Chicago where the regiment was in the process of recruiting 300 men. Members of the regiment appeared at Bryan Hall, a public auditorium on Clark Street in Chicago, where citizens enthusiastically applauded them. Henry officially mustered into the ranks of the 39th on January 31.

Interior of Bryan Hall during Douglas's funeral from the pages of "Harper's Weekly" June 22, 1861.

Bryan Hall became a rallying point for many Civil War events, including a memorial service for Colonel Ellsworth held on June 2, 1861, and where Stephen A. Douglas lay in state just days later.

On leaving Chicago, Henry marched with the 39th Illinois to Washington, D.C. From there they sailed to Georgetown, Virginia and were assigned to General Butler.

On August 16, 1864 the 39th charged the enemy at Deep Run, Virginia, fighting hand to hand. The regiment broke the enemy’s lines, capturing many. In this battle, the 39th suffered 104 casualties. Henry Fiddler was among them. He died of his wounds, and was buried near the battlefield.

Henry Kern, (1833-1918), was an American-born farmer who came to Fremont Township from Pennsylvania in 1854. On August 15, 1862, Kern enlisted with the 96th Regiment Illinois Volunteers. Fortunate for Kern, his military service was cut short.

The end of Kern's military service is documented in The History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment Illinois Volunteers: "While the steamer which conveyed the command from Louisville to Nashville was being loaded he was in the hold, assisting to stow away the goods, when the corner of a mess-chest struck him in the groin, injuring him so that he was forced to go to hospital at Nashville. He was discharged from service on May 11, 1863."

After returning home, Henry and his wife Mary, farmed in Fremont Township from 1865 to 1881. They then moved into “town,” to Libertyville and purchased a hotel, naming it the Kern Hotel. The hotel was very accessible to the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad depot. In its day, the hotel had quite the reputation for hospitality.

Among the Kern’s many guests were Charles Nestel and his sister Eliza Nestel of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Nestels were little people, and known respectively by their stage names of Commodore Foote and the Fairy Queen. They toured the world in Vaudeville shows, gaining notoriety among Europe’s royalty, and even visiting President Lincoln in the White House. They became friends of Henry and Mary Kern and spent many summers at the Kern Hotel, enjoying the water from Libertyville's mineral spring.

Commodore Foote as photographed for his 87th birthday from the news site

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