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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Civil War Ghost of the 19th Illinois Regiment


Every so often a story comes along that makes you believe in ghosts. The tale of Private James A. Davis of the 19th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment is one of them.

(right) Portrait of James Alfred Davis (1843-1862) from "Tales of Old Barrington" book by Cynthia Baker Sharp, 1976.

First a little background on the Davis family...

James Alfred's parents were James Sullivan Davis and Parintha Lawrence Davis. The couple were married in Massachusetts in 1828, and by 1830 moved to New York State and then to Pennsylvania. By 1841, the family had settled in Wauconda Township, Lake County, Illinois.

The extended Davis family had also come to Illinois with them, and included the Sumner Davis family (James S. Davis's brother), and their parents David and Sarah Davis.


The James S. Davis farm (highlighted) was located north of Fiddle Lake in Wauconda Township. James Alfred was born there in October 1843. (L. Gast Bro. & Co. Lith. St. Louis, 1861). By 1856, the family owned both the Wauconda Township farm, and property in Barrington on Franklin Street.

According to family lore, when the Civil War broke out in 1861 and President Lincoln called for troops, the Davis's second youngest son, James Alfred, and a neighbor boy, ran away to join the army.

I researched the 19th Illinois in hopes of identifying the neighborhood friend. The Regiment's records show only one other soldier in Company C from Barrington, who enlisted at the same time as Davis, and that young man was Franklin Applebee. The Applebee home was just down the block on Main Street from the Davis home.


Barrington in 1861 showing the J.S. Davis property at the west end of Franklin Street, and G.A. Applebee home on the far left on County Line/Main Street. (L. Gast Bro. & Co. Lith. St. Louis, 1861)

James Alfred Davis and Franklin Applebee mustered in with the 19th Illinois at Camp Douglas, Chicago on June 17, 1861. James Alfred was not quite 18, but was described on his enlistment papers as being 18. His enlistment papers also describe him as 5' 8 1/2" tall, brown hair and brown eyes, single, and a farmer.

Running away to enlist was indeed a bold venture for the young men, made ever more exciting by the fact that the 19th Illinois was a Zouave Regiment.


Several officers and sergeants of the 19th Illinois had belonged to the original company of Ellsworth Zouaves. Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of Illinois is shown 2nd from right (above). Ellsworth's militia had spawned a national Zouave craze, so it's not surprising that some of the first regiments formed adopted the Zouave dress and drilling style. (See my post on Ellsworth's Zouave Cadets).

Family lore states that on April 17, 1862, James Alfred's mother, Parintha, had gone to bed in her room on the first floor. The room had a view of the front porch, and as she lay in bed she saw James Alfred come onto the porch, wearing his uniform. What great joy to have her son home from the war! Her husband, James, came into the bedroom, and she declared their son's return, but James said it wasn't so. Parintha got up and they searched the house and porch, but couldn't find James Alfred anywhere.


The Davis family home where James Alfred appeared on the porch on April 17, 1862. Image courtesy of Davis family descendant.

Parintha Davis was convinced she had seen her son. Several weeks later she discovered why.

The family received a letter from Captain J.W. Guthrie of Company C of the 19th Illinois, in which he stated: "I regret to inform you that on April 17 your son, Private James Alfred Davis, was shot and killed by a Confederate scout while on picket duty just east of Tuscumbia, Alabama." U.S. Army records note that James Alfred died at the regimental hospital the same day he was shot.

Depending on the source, later that summer or after the war, a friend and comrade of Alfred's (probably Frank Applebee) visited the Davis's and recounted those last days. He said that he and Alfred were on picket duty and when retreat was sounded at dusk he called to his friend, and Alfred replied, "I can't, I am shot."

It was the same day and time that Parintha Davis had seen her son come onto the porch of the family home. The family has always believed it was James Alfred's spirit visiting them at the moment of his death.

In all, five of James and Parintha's sons fought in the Civil War: James Alfred (19th Illinois), George L. Davis (15th Illinois Cavalry), Anson C. Davis (15th Illinois Cavalry), Luther W. Davis (52nd Illinois Infantry), and Charles B. Davis (32nd Illinois Infantry).

Just six weeks after James Alfred's death, the Davis's next oldest son, Anson, died at Monterey, Tennessee.

The Davis home where James Alfred's ghost came to visit is no longer standing. The site on Franklin Street between Hough Street and Cook Street is now a car dealership.

3 comments:

Robert Torres said...

My GG Grandfather is Frank Applebee. I found your post very interesting! thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Great article! I have a letter to Mrs. James Davis noting that two of her sons were recently seen healthy and well by a fellow soldier. Sadly she lost two sons in separate battles just days after receiving this letter. I am from Wauconda so this article was especially interesting and made this letter just that much more special. Thank you!

Diana Dretske said...

Very poignant that Mrs. Davis received the letter just before her boys were killed in the war. I would love to see the letter sometime.
Thank you.