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Friday, April 29, 2011

Captain Asiel Z. Blodgett, 96th Illinois Infantry, Company D

Photo of Captain A.Z. Blodgett from the History of the 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, 1887.

Asiel Z. Blodgett was born at Fort Dearborn (Chicago) in 1832. As a young man he became an employee of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company, and in 1858 was made the station agent at Waukegan. His older brother was the abolitionist and judge, Henry Blodgett, mentioned in several previous posts.

Asiel served as station agent until July 1862, when he received a recruiting commission from Governor Yates, and according to the regimental history: "with the cooperation of leading citizens and business men, undertook the work of enrolling a sufficient number of men to form a Company." He was promoted to Captain of Company D of the 96th Illinois on August 9. (Above - Civil War era photo of Captain A.Z. Blodgett from the "History of the 96th Regiment Illinois Volunteers" 1887).

Postcard of McFarland's Gap, Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. Curt Teich Co. RC411.

During one of the initial skirmishes of the Battle of Chickamauga, on September 18, 1863, Blodgett received a severe gunshot wound in the right shoulder near McAfee Church, while advancing the skirmish line. He did not leave command, and fought with the regiment until Sunday, September 20, when he was disabled by a heavy tree limb which was torn off by artillery fire and fell on him, injuring his back. 

According to his biographical sketch of 1891, Blodgett participated in all engagements of the Atlanta campaign and was with General Sherman until the capture of Atlanta. He was also present at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge.

Blodgett from a glass negative, circa 1878. Dunn Museum 2011.0.86

On returning to Waukegan after the war, Blodgett resumed his place as station agent where he worked until his retirement in 1900. He was recognized as the oldest employee for the railroad at Waukegan, having been with the company for 42 years, except for his term of service in the Civil War. He was considered, "prompt, correct and reliable and by his uniform courtesy and fairness has won the respect and good will of all with whom he has had business relations." 

In addition to this full-time position, in 1875, he began dealing in fine horses and cattle, being a proprietor of a stock farm situated several miles outside of the city where he bred Clydesdale horses and Galloway cattle. He served two terms as the Mayor of Waukegan (1883 and 1884).

Asiel died in 1916.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Goodson-Bales Family Photo Album

I have worked in the museum's archives for 21 years and am still making discoveries. Of course, there is always something new to be learned, but there are also mysteries that need solving. The mysteries often lie in the fact that when some items were donated, insufficient information was collected from the donor.

One such mystery came to my attention several weeks ago in the shape of a small photo album donated in 1964 by Mrs. Arthur Bales (nee Lucy Jane Crosby) of Zion. Though most of the photos are identified, there is no information in the donor file to ascertain if these individuals lived in Lake County. Much research would need to be done to assess the connection to the county. (The Goodson-Bales photo album appears to have been heavily used by the family as evidenced by the wear on the cover and the effort to mend it with a hand-stitched seam along the spine. Dunn Museum 64.23.8).

Archives volunteer, Al Westerman, took on the task of researching the stories of the individuals in the photo album. Since the donor had long since passed away, census records and genealogy sites would be a great source.

After hours of research, Westerman determined that the Bales family lived in Davis County, Iowa, and only one family member lived in Lake County, the owner of the album, Arthur Bales. Arthur moved to Zion, Illinois, circa 1900, probably to join John Alexander Dowie's Christian Catholic Church.

Being so far away from his family would have made the photo album a precious possession to Arthur. Arthur Bales (1870-1959), photographed as a child, circa 1872. Dunn Museum 64.23.8

Of the twenty-seven photographs in the album, three are unidentified. One of the unidentified images is of a handsome young couple. It is very possible that they are Arthur's parents, Martin and Juliet Bales (nee Goodson).

There are several reasons to think this is a tintype of Martin Bales (1847-1927) and Juliet Goodson Bales (1841-1899), circa 1868: 1) The man holds a strong likeness to photos of Andrew and Albert Bales (Martin's brothers), 2) the woman holds a likeness to photos of Polina Goodson Miller, Juliet's sister, and 3) the opening in the album for Martin and Juliet's photo is empty, while this photo was placed in an opening without identification, possibly having been removed for viewing and put back in the wrong page. Sadly, we can never be 100% certain.

Album page for Martin & Juliet's photo. The page is empty though it is apparent that a photo of Arthur Bales' parents was once held within.

In addition to the striking tintype of the couple, the album holds other image treasures.

 Tintype (above) of Martin Bale's older brother, Andrew,
with his woodworking tools, circa 1880. Andrew moved his family
from Davis County, Iowa to Harper, Kansas about 1880.
Carte-de-visite photo of Juliet's sister,
Polina Goodson Miller (1837-1900).

This lovely tintype of a young man was simply identified in the album as "Juliet's half brother killed in the Civil War." Without a name it was especially difficult to research him. He is probably Samuel R. Payne, Juliet Goodson Bales' step brother. In 1856, he was a member of the Iowa State Militia. No record of his Civil War service has yet been located.

The open album shows the page at left missing a photo, and at right a photo of
Reverend Jacob Peck Goodson (1822-1895), Juliet Bales' uncle.
Goodson was a minister with the Methodist Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
As part of the care of materials in the museum's collections, it is important to properly identify and research them. With more information and understanding, items can be more fully utilized in exhibitions and by researchers.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lake County's Entry into the Civil War

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.

The first military action of the war was the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina on April 12-13, 1861. The fort dominated the entrance to Charleston Harbor and was thought to be one of the strongest fortresses in the world.

Throughout March 1861 the Confederates sought to drive out the Union occupants peacefully. Once it became clear that the fort would not surrender, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, took action. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, and 34 hours later the fort surrendered.

The news of the fort's fall reached Lake County, Illinois on April 15, and the next day a war meeting was held at the courthouse in Waukegan. Hundreds gathered, and men signed up to fight amid pro-Union cheers, and the sounds of a fife and drum band.

On the day of the pro-Union rally, the steps of the courthouse (shown above at right) were crowded with men eager to enlist.

From 1861 to 1865, over 1,900 Lake County men (from a total population of approximately 18,000) joined the cause voluntarily, mustering into 75 different infantry and cavalry regiments throughout the State of Illinois. Many mustered into the Thirty-Seventh Illinois Infantry known as the “Fremont Rifles,” which organized at Chicago in September 1861.

Andrew Bensinger, (above) a Bavarian immigrant who settled in Avon Township, mustered into the 37th Illinois on August 19, 1861. He died of dysentery at Booneville, Missouri less than two months later. Disease killed twice as many men as bullet wounds during the war. The poor hygiene of camp life and lack of adequate sanitation facilities killed Bensinger. LCDM 2007.7

During the summer of 1861, Illinois' Governor Yates ordered all companies be disbanded and return home because there were more companies organized than could be accepted and supplied. The order caused men to find other regiments in which to enlist, although the 37th Illinois continued to train and was soon sent to Missouri.

When recruiting began in earnest again in Lake County, during the summer of 1862, enough men enlisted to organize four companies. With six additional companies from Jo Daviess County, the two counties united into a single regiment known as the Ninety-Sixth Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

Soldiers of the 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry mustering at Waukegan, circa 1865.

Union forces tried for nearly four years to take Fort Sumter back. Finally, on April 14, 1865, the flag that the garrison commander, Major General Robert Anderson, had taken with him was raised over the fort once again.

That night, President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, went to see a play at Ford’s Theater.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Northwestern Military Academy, Highland Park

In 1888, when the Northwestern Military Academy opened in Highland Park, locals thought a boys' military academy would cause problems in town. Just the previous year, the U.S. Army post at Fort Sheridan had opened on the town's doorstep with fears of drunken brawls (which never were a problem).

The animosity for the academy was reflected in the children's taunts as they called the new cadets "Dead Cats."

The academy was founded by Harlan Page Davidson (1838-1913), a graduate of Norwich University, a military college in Vermont. Harlan purchased Highland Hall in Highland Park and renovated it for his academy in which he strove to provide a good education, military discipline and structure, and moral training. The cost to attend was $400 in 1888, and by 1908 had risen to $600 with enrollment averaging about 50 cadets per year.

The first Northwestern Military Academy building (above) was built as the Highland Park House hotel in 1873 at St. Johns Avenue and Ravine Drive. In 1876, it began to be used as an educational institution for young women during the summer and was known as Highland Hall. Harlan P. Davidson purchased the building in May 1888 for his military academy.

When the academy was destroyed by fire only a few months after opening, on November 1, 1888, the people of Highland Park set aside any misgivings and made meals for the cadets and opened up their homes to the displaced boys. Rebuilding of the academy progressed rapidly and not one day of classes was missed.

The academy's second building (above) was designed by William W. Boyington and completed in 1889. It was made of brick and able to accommodate 75 cadets. This real photo postcard by C.R. Childs was produced in 1910. Dunn Museum 97.3.2.

By the 1890s, the academy's reputation had made it possible for many cadets to be offered direct admission to colleges and universities.

Perhaps the academy's most notable accomplishments were the brainstorms of Davidson's son, Royal Page Davidson (1870-1943). About 1895, Royal developed a military bicycle corps, thinking that the bicycle would speed up the movement of troops. In June of 1897, he staged a cross-country, 1,000-mile expedition to Washington, D.C., operating as a military foray into enemy territory, and as a "test of bicycles as an accoutrement of war." The bicycle corps had a membership of 28 students, averaging 19 years of age. The trip took 15 days and was widely covered by newspapers along their route.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Royal offered the U.S. government the services of the corps, but was politely declined.

Around this time, Royal was at work on another military invention, his Automobile Battery, the forerunner to armored vehicles. His original design was a light frame, three-wheeled machine, operated by gasoline and armed with a Colt automatic gun and a shield to protect the driver. This was the first of a series of military vehicles constructed by Royal for the use by the Northwestern Military Academy.

Royal then had the military gun carriage vehicle built by the Peoria Rubber and Manufacturing Company using patents of Charles Duryea, a well known automobile manufacturer. Duryea put the vehicle into an automobile style patent which he filed for on May 16, 1898, and was approved as Patent No. 653,224 on July 10, 1900. The vehicle was built on a Duryea Automobile Company standard production automobile chassis that was converted for military purposes, and cost $1,500.

Image of the Davidson Automobile Battery armored car. Northwestern Military Academy Archives.

In 1900, the vehicle was modified into a sturdier four-wheeler (above) which became known as the Davidson Automobile Battery armored car. This photo was taken at the academy in Highland Park. 

Royal's bicycle corps and the automobile corps were created at a time when the cavalry was still popular with military commanders. Although he was the inventor of the first armored military vehicle in the United States, Royal Davidson received little credit from the Army for his efforts.

By 1908, the academy offered naval encampments in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and in 1911 officially became a military and naval academy. After another fire in the academy's main building in 1915, the school moved permanently to Lake Geneva.

In 1996, the academy merged with St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, and together are known as St. John's Northwestern Military Academy.