Moore is a descendant of John Howard Wells. In attempting to find out more about his family's Galesburg past, he contacted Knox College. His letter ended up with the Seymour Library archives staff. From there it came to my attention. The happenstance is that one of John's brothers served in a Civil War regiment that I had worked with for a number of years. Searching my files, I copied and forwarded material to Moore. He, in turn, sent me transcriptions of Civil War letters written by the Wells family. This correspondence provided the core of my article on the Wells brothers and their Civil War experiences.
While reading the letters, I took more than an active interest in the Wells family. Soon I found myself locating and copying material to assist Moore in his genealogical enterprise. While doing this, it dawned on me that I was uncovering a story that needed to be told.
To piece the story together, I consulted a number of sources. County histories and biographical albums from Illinois and Colorado provided background and résumés of the brothers' careers. Further information was gathered from obituaries in Galesburg, Peoria. and Denver newspapers. Military and pension records were obtained from the National Archives. Military details were taken from the ''The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.'' Other sources too numerous to mention, but in my possession, were also used.
The result, it seems to me, is an interesting bit of Galesburg history. -- Phil Reyburn
Little over three years had passed since Julia Ward Wells hastily wrote her youngest son about his enlistment. A pious woman, Mrs. Wells questioned the young man's decision. ''If you are needed to defend your country, then go, but John, my dear boy, pause and think how often you have been called to enlist in the service of the great Captain of your salvation and yet you have refused. Your country calls and you rush on; your Savior calls and what is the response?'' Though no longer a child, Mrs. Wells feared for John's character as he prepared to leave for camp. Expressing her worries, she told him: ''When you were here I felt very badly to think of your joining the Army until you were really needed. Now I am distressed more than I can tell you at the thought of the temptations and dangers that beset your pathway in the different forms of low company intemperance, licentiousness, and gambling.''
After finishing the letter to John, Julia wrote her eldest son, Henry Ward Wells. She counseled: ''If your country needs you, you certainly have my blessing when you go. But until you are needed, stay where you are, Henry, and take care of your business and your family.'' She further cautioned: ''. . . don't be in haste. The excitement is so great, one can hardly be reasonable.'' She asked about her second son: ''Is Tracy [Ebenezer Tracy Wells] going?'' For now, the two older boys heeded their mother's advice and stayed home with their wives and tended their law practices.
John Howard's mind was made up, however. Leaving his printer's job, he joined several former schoolmates from his Knox College Academy days in Company E of the 17th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The regiment had been in camp at Peoria a month when John mustered in on June 15th. Two days later the regiment entrained for Alton, Illinois ''for the purpose of more fully completing its organization and arming.''
Accepting her younger son's decision to enter the conflict, Julia wrote at the end of May: ''I am willing, John, that you should serve your day and generation, your country too, but don't forget to serve God first and serve him with a cheerful heart.'' She continued: ''I pray you may be shielded in the day of battle.'' Still worried about the effect army life would have on John, she lectured: ''Do not forget, my dear son, he that walketh with the wise man is wise but the companion of fools shall be destroyed. If you have not courage to resist the temptations, of drunkards, gamblers, and other vicious associates, you will lament when it is too late.''
Julia Ward Wells was born on September 17, 1797, in Middletown, Connecticut to Ebenezer Tracy, a physician, and Mariah Ward. A lifelong member of the Congregationalist Church, Julia's Calvinistic roots went back to the earliest Puritans who set foot in America, with the clergymen Increase and Cotton Mather being distant relatives. Her maternal grandfather was Artemus Ward, a Revolutionary War general and the first commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. In April 1775, he was appointed to lead the Massachusetts troops besieging Boston and was nominally in charge of the New England troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill. When the Continental Congress selected George Washington as commander-in-chief of the army, Ward was made second-in-command.
Julia's husband, John Howard Wells, Sr., was born in England on November 7, 1784. He was the ninth child of the Reverend William Wells, a Unitarian minister who immigrated with his family to America in 1793, settling in Brattleboro, Connecticut. By 1827, John, now 33, settled in Oswego County, New York, and opened a general-merchandise store in Richland. John was known locally as Colonel Wells. Other than a family a history which states that John was a captain in the Connecticut militia in 1804, nothing else is known of his military career.
Living three miles from Lake Ontario, John soon owned and operated two Great Lakes vessels, the ''Martha Freme'' and the ''Eliza Ward.'' Sometime after locating in New York, John began corresponding with Julia. On March 12, 1828, he proposed marriage, writing: ''But I find myself particularly in want of a Companion whose views of social and domestic Life would assimilate with my own. Feeling assured that it would add all I could wish to my happiness should you Honor me with your Confidence in that capacity.'' The 31-year-old physician's daughter and the 44-year-old minister's son married on May 20, 1829.
Four years passed before John and Julia's first child, Henry Ward Wells, was born on June 20, 1833. Two years later, Ebenezer Tracy Wells came along on May 15, 1835. While the couple lived in Richland, Franklin was born on December 24, 1836.
In July 1837, John wrote his brother of financial problems. Creditors were pressuring him and his vessels were not paying expenses. He spoke of the migration of area folks to Illinois and Wisconsin where they were prospering. The financial reverses of the Panic of 1837 forced John to join those leaving New York and heading West. In October 1838, he arrived in what would eventually be Henry County, Illinois.
John Howard Wells, Sr. was one of the earliest settlers in this part of Illinois. He purchased stock in an association called the Whethersfield Colony. The company organized in the fall of 1835 in the Congregational Church at Whethersfield, Connecticut, thus its name. The members' objective was to ensure the Protestant faith was planted in the Mississippi Valley.
One hundred shares were sold, giving the company $25,000 to purchase land in the West for a Christian colony. Early in 1836 and again in 1837, a committee for the company came to Illinois, located, and purchased land for the association. The first settlers arrived during the spring and summer of 1837. By purchasing one share, pioneers like John were entitled ''to one hundred and sixty acres of prairie land, twenty acres of timber, and a town lot.''
Julia's life in Connecticut and New York had been one of wealth, refinement and respectability. Her father was Connecticut's first registered physician. When Lafayette returned to the United States in 1824, Julia's family status warranted their attending one of the many receptions for the Marquis as he toured the country. A highlight of Julia's life was the honor of dancing with the great French noble and revolutionary.
When John left for the West in the fall of 1838, Julia was again pregnant and unable to make the journey. She, therefore, went with the three boys to her family home in Middletown, Connecticut. On January 6, 1839, she gave birth to a daughter, Caroline Martha. In the autumn of 1839, Julia made her way West with the four small children, reuniting the family on the farmstead John had carved from the Illinois prairie. The gentile life of a merchant's wife was exchanged for the harsh existence of a pioneer woman. But even in her new environment, Julia and John kept their faith. In November 1838, the Connecticut Home Missionary Society had sent a minister to the new colony, but no church was established yet. When Julia arrived, she offered their home for regular Sunday service. Soon the group numbered fifteen members and they organized the first church in Henry County.
On March 28, 1842, a fifth child and fourth boy, John Howard Wells II, was born. With a family ranging from an infant to a nine-year-old, John and Julia were concerned about the education of their children and others in the colony. John and eight other men set down the articles of organization for an institution called the Whethersfield Seminary. But before the school was constructed, John, who had suffered from repeated illnesses after coming West, died on May 20, 1844, the couple's fifteenth wedding anniversary.
Widowed, with five children now in ages from two to eleven, Julia leased the farm in October 1845 and moved to Galesburg, a community 38 miles southwest of Whethersfield. The children were told the family was leaving their home of the past six years so that they could ''take advantage of the excellent schools of that city.''
The college and its associated academy, both of which the Wells children attended, was the inspiration of a Presbyterian minister from upstate New York, George Washington Gale. Galesburg had been founded in 1836, and like Whethersfield, it was a religious-based stock company. The difference between the communities is that the Congregationalist and Presbyterians who followed Gale to Illinois centered their community about a college that combined manual labor and education and accepted both men and women. This unique school was founded and incorporated on February 15, 1837 as the Knox Manual Labor College.
The Galesburg colonists brought with them two other New England ideals, temperance and abolitionism. The manufacture and sale of alcohol was forbidden in the village, and the colony established an anti-slavery society on July 4, 1837, beginning a period where its leaders were involved in both the state and national abolitionist movement.
The colonists matched their words with deeds, as the village became a principal station on the Underground Railroad. Runaway slaves from Missouri found Galesburg a safe haven. Those with sympathy for slavery took to calling Galesburg an ''abolitionist hole,'' ''the nigger stealing town,'' and ''a nest of nigger thieves.''
Like her fellow townsfolk, Julia ''had strong and earnest convictions on moral questions.'' Throughout her life she was an advocate for the temperance cause. On the slavery issue ''she took a strong stand against human bondage.'' She ''belonged to a noted group of reformers'' and ''was allied in principles with such men as Dr. Jonathan Blanchard [nationally prominent abolitionist and President of Knox College], John West, [one of the founders of Galesburg and hater of slavery], and George Davis [Underground Railroad conductor and Knox College treasurer] . . .''
In May 1849, Julia Tracy Wells joined The First Church of Christ -- known locally as Old First Church. A condition of membership was the opposition to slavery, and members of the congregation actively hid fugitive slaves in the church gallery.
Family history holds that on one occasion a fugitive slave was hidden in the garret of the Wells' home. Julia was approached by friends in the Underground Railroad ''to keep a Negro for a day or two, until arrangements could be made to send him on toward Canada.'' Frank told his mother ''it would be useless to try and hide the fellow if there were those about bent on search.'' So they came up with an idea to hide the fugitive that was both novel and simple. The runaway was dressed in clothing cast off by Frank and John and with a wide-brimmed straw hat pulled down low on his head; he was then set to work hoeing corn and potatoes in the far corner of the garden. He was instructed to keep his back to the street at all times. ''He was in plain sight, and if those seeking him passed, they failed to recognize their prey.'' Sent on to the next stop, the man eventually made it to freedom.
The children's education was Julia's rationale for leaving the Henry Country farm and settling in Galesburg. She was good to her word with all five receiving some form of higher education. Two of the boys, Ebenezer Tracy and Frank, graduated from Knox College -- the former in the class of 1855 and the latter in 1858. Caroline attended the college between 1853 and 1857 and is listed as a non-graduate in the class of 1858. Henry Ward, the eldest, attended the college's academy from 1846 to 1851, and John Howard, her youngest, was enrolled there from 1853 to 1857. Mrs. Wells' contact with the college, however, did not end with her own children.
Julia Wells usually had a Knox student boarding in her home, which was east of the campus on the southeast corner of Tompkins and Prairie Streets.
As the younger Wells children completed their studies, the slavery question continued to have a hold on the nation's political pulse. Stephen A. Douglas, Illinois' senior Democratic senator and undisputed leader of the northern wing of the party, stood at the center of the national discussion. A proponent of ''popular sovereignty,'' Douglas had authored the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which left the issue of slavery up to the people in each territory. The Senator was up for reelection in 1858 and was positioning himself for the presidency in 1860.
On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln and the new Republican Party opposed the extension of slavery. A former Whig, Lincoln had served in the Illinois legislature and in the U.S. Congress for one term. Making speeches arguing against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln emerged as the Republican candidate for the Illinois senatorial seat. His campaign opened with what became known as the ''House Divided'' speech. He followed by boldly challenging Douglas to a series of debates. As the two men took their joint discussion around the state, the nation's newspapers reported their words to every section of the country. They met for the fifth time on the campus of Knox College on October 7th, 1858.
The citizens of Galesburg woke to the boom of cannon announcing the opening of the big day, and as the skies lightened ''people began to pour in from every direction in wagons, on horseback and on foot.'' Others came on excursion trains. Those gathering were not deterred by the fact that it had rained heavily the day before and during the night the weather had changed ''to a fiercely blowing, cutting wind which lasted during the whole day . . .'' The Galesburg Democrat would headline: ''Great Outpouring of People! 20,000 Persons Present!''
Douglas, nicknamed ''The Little Giant,'' came in on the eastbound Burlington train loaded with a large delegation of supporters and a number of Lincoln men. A little later Lincoln was met by local Republicans and escorted into town. Prior to the debate receptions were held for both men. As Lincoln met with area Republicans, he was called outside to accept a banner from a group of twenty young people, all on horseback. One of the women representatives was Caroline Wells. Their spokesperson presented Lincoln with a silk flag and ''upon one side was the inscription, 'PRESENTED TO THE HON. A. LINCOLN BY THE REPUBLICAN LADIES OF GALESBURG, OCT. 7, 1858.''' On the reverse was a scroll with the Declaration of Independence.
Escorted to the college's main building, the two men faced off before their largest crowd. Partisan supporters displayed signs for their man, and behind the platform and above the debaters hung a large banner ''bearing the inscription, 'Knox College for Lincoln.'''
In 1860, poised for his party's presidential nomination, Douglas saw the Democrats split as the southern fire-eaters bolted the convention. He would eventually be the Democratic nominee, but he only represented the northern section. His main opponent would be Lincoln. The 1858 debates had propelled Lincoln to national prominence. During their debates, Lincoln supporters had labeled him the ''Little Giant Killer;'' now he was affectionately known as ''The Rail Splitter.'' Lincoln and Douglas were once again going before the people. This time, however, Lincoln prevailed.
The succession storm, which had been brewing since the passage of Douglas' Kansas Nebraska Act, unloaded its torrents with Lincoln's election. One by one, the southern states left the Union and soon formed the Confederate States of America. Quickly the South moved, taking over Federal arsenals and garrisons. One that had not surrender was Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. On April 12, 1861, Southern batteries opened fire on the fort, prompting Lincoln to ask for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.
On Thursday evening April 18, as a band played martial music, the citizens of Galesburg crowded into Dunn's Hall, located on the corner of Main and Prairie. There followed a series of speakers who addressed the issue at hand. They ''all agreed that the war ought to be prosecuted vigorously and brought to a speedy termination, if possible.'' A committee was appointed to organize a company. By Saturday night enough men had signed on that a telegram was sent to Springfield informing the governor ''that they held themselves in readiness to serve their country.''
John Howard Wells answered Lincoln's call. Just past his nineteenth birthday, the blue-eyed, light-haired John Howard stood about five feet ten inches when he joined the other men from Galesburg and Knox County making up Company E of the 17th Illinois Infantry. Short handed when it mustered into Federal service by Captain John Pope, U.S.A., on May 24th, the additional recruits brought the company up to the required strength of three officers and ninety-eight enlisted men. When they enlisted, some of the men had taken to calling themselves the ''Galesburg Invincibles.'' On his arrival at Camp Mather in Peoria, John became part of this group.
Chosen Colonel of the 17th was Leonard F. Ross, a thirty-eight year old veteran of the Mexican War, where he served as a Lieutenant in the 4th Illinois Infantry. A Fulton County native, Ross was a local Democratic leader and son of the founder of Lewistown. Elected captain of the Company E was a Galesburg tinsmith, Francis Marion Smith. A Kentuckian by birth, Smith had attended West Point for two years between 1837 and 1839. For awhile in the 1850s he had been a partner in a local hardware store.
On June 17th, two days after John's arrival in camp, the regiment boarded a steamboat and headed down the Illinois River destined for Alton, Illinois, a Mississippi River town north of St. Louis. Here the men continued to drill and learn the art of soldiering. They would soon be going to war.
In mid-July the 17th crossed over to Missouri and were initially assigned to garrison duty. Eventually, the regiment joined in the pursuit of a partisan force led by General M. Jeff Thompson. The former mayor of St. Joseph, Thompson headed a band of guerrillas operating in southeast Missouri. These Rebels were proving an embarrassment to the Union troops commanded by Brigadier General U. S. Grant, and he was anxious to gain a victory over these upshot ''secesh.'' After weeks of frustration, a Union column on October 21st caught up with 1,500 of Thompson's men near Fredericktown, Missouri. Leading the Federal attack that put the Rebel detachment to flight was the 17th Illinois.
The charge netted the Illini boys two cannon and a number of prisoners, while losing one man killed and twenty wounded -- one mortally. Severely injured was John Howard. Hit in the right leg, John was hospitalized in Ironton, Missouri. Even though the Rebel ball was not removed, John made a full recovery.
By early February 1862, the 17th was pulling provost duty at Cape Girardeau, Missouri when orders came to join Grant on the Tennessee River. On February 8th the men broke camp and ''embarked on board the steamer Gladiator for Fort Henry.'' Arriving on the night of 9th, the 17th along with the 43rd and 49th Illinois Infantry formed the Third Brigade of McClernand's division. John A McClernand, a prominent Democratic politician and Illinois Congressman, was appointed by Lincoln a brigadier general of volunteers in effort to bolster support for the Union in Southern Illinois. McClernand's prior military experience covered about two months as a private in the Black Hawk War.
Marching cross-country 12 miles on February 12th, the brigade now lay in front of the Rebel defenses of Fort Donelson. The next morning, while moving to a new position, they came under artillery fire. The Rebel shells pushed an agitated McClernand over the brink. In defiance of Grant's orders not to engage the enemy, McClernand, itching for a fight, impulsively set out to silence the nuisance battery. He hastily threw together an assault force of three regiments. With the 43rd on detached duty, the 48th Illinois was borrowed from a neighboring brigade and joined the 17th and 49th to storm the Middle Redoubt of Donelson's defensive line.
Other than ordering the attack, McClernand made little preparation. He failed to reconnoiter the ground the regiments were to cross. Regimental commanders were told there would be an artillery barrage to soften up the Rebel defenses, but the order never got to the batteries. Meanwhile, the soldiers from the Sucker State dutifully stacked knapsacks, fixed bayonets, capped weapons, and waited. For them the die had been cast and at about 1pm the hodge podge Bluecoated force moved out. The 17th, with Major Francis M. Smith in command, occupied the center of the advancing Union line.
Marching at a quickstep, the regiments swept down a slope and into an area of heavy undergrowth and broken terrain. As they emerged into the open, their parade ground alignment had disappeared and no attempt was made to realign the formation. The men headed uphill for the Rebel breastworks. In his report Major Smith explained what happened next. ''At this juncture the enemy opened a cross-fire upon us with artillery and infantry, which was returned with great spirit by the men under my command.'' Some of the men made it to within 50 paces of the enemy's works but were stopped by an impassable barricade. ''After . . . about thirty minutes, resulting in severe loss in my regiment, the order was given to fire and retreat.''
Back where they started, the three regiments remained ''in a line of battle all night suffering from cold and hunger.'' February 14th was spent in supporting Taylor and Schwartz's batteries. Another night was spent in line of battle ''and the cold rain and snow made great suffering among the men.'' The morning of the 15th, enemy guns again shelled the 17th, ''killing 4 and wounding several.'' Among the injured was John Howard Wells. On the 16th, the surrounded Confederate Army ''unconditionally surrendered'' to Grant.
The 17th entered the fight with 750 men and suffered 81casualties, with 13 killed, 61 wounded and seven missing. Regimental records have John ''absent with leave at Galesburg, Illinois to recover from wounds.'' Sent home on February 24th, John returned to duty on March 31st.
He caught up with the regiment and Grant's army at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. The brigade, which now included the 29th Illinois, camped within sight of Shiloh Church. When the long roll beat that Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, John and 600 of his comrades fell in line. The time was around 7:30 a.m. In command was Lieutenant Colonel Enos P. Woods, a New Boston, Mercer County physician -- Colonel Ross again absent.
By 8:00 a.m. the brigade moved to support Sherman's left, but the Illinois soldieries could only watch, as the Ohio general's division disintegrated before them. The attacking Rebels came in view and the 17th temporarily checked their advance. Lieutenant Colonel Wood details: ''Very soon the enemy made his appearance, and our boys opened fire on him, doing fine execution.'' The regiment was in position near Shiloh church ''with two of Taylor's guns between it and the church.''
At this point remnants of the 53rd Ohio formed on the right of the 17th. An officer of the regiment recognized Private Voris*, a soldier he knew had fought at Donelson, and received permission to have him come over and help bolster the rattled Buckeyes. Voris moved among the remainder of the regiment ''telling the men he had seen the elephant before, and learned that the way to meet him was to keep cool, shoot slow, and aim low. 'Why, it's just like shooting squirrels,' he said, 'only these squirrels have guns, that's all.''' *(The only Voris in the 17th was a private in Co. F., William M., from Monmouth, Illinois.)
No matter how well the 17th stood it ground, advancing Rebel infantry began to overlap their right and left. Waterhouse's battery, 200 yards in front and left of the 17th fell to the enemy. As Rebel color-bearer planted a flag near one of the guns, Lieutenant Davis, of Company K, grabbed a musket from the hands of one his wounded men and dropped the graycoat. At this point the hard pressed and unsupported 17th received orders to fall back, which was done ''in good order, pouring in a terrific fire on the advancing foe.''
While the brigade fell back step by step, the 17th was detached to support Schwartz's Battery (2nd Illinois Light Artillery, Battery E), which Lieutenant-Colonel Wood explains ''we promptly did until he was obliged to limber up and moved off without losing a gun.'' Wood then pushed the regiment forward in front of the line, ''where they could have full play as the enemy advanced.'' The boys of the 17th ''stood their ground well and bravely, doing good execution with their fire until I [Wood] found we were entirely unsupported both on our right and left, when I again gave the order to fall back.''
And so the day went until the 17th like all of Grant's regiments found themselves in one last line with nowhere to retreat. By late afternoon the Rebel attack came to a halt. As the evening shadows darken the bloody field, the men were ordered to lie on their arms. Wood exhausted from the day's trials was ''taken with a severe ague chill'' and turned command over to Major Smith.
''On Monday morning, the 7th, a general advance was ordered and the fight opened early, fierce and furious; the enemy was gradually driven back and by nightfall the 17th regiment had regained possession of their camp which had been abandoned Sunday morning.'' In the two-day fight the 17th suffered 138 casualties with 15 killed, 118 wounded, and 5 captured or missing. Wood summed up the 17th's action in his official report: ''Both men and officers behaved with great coolness and bravery through the whole day, remaining under the severe fire without flinching, and always promptly advancing at the word of command.''
Having been promoted to corporal in January, John Howard added another stripe, becoming a sergeant three days after the War's bloodiest battle to date ended. On May 1st the new fifth sergeant became the company's first sergeant. After a year's service promotions were no longer political or popularity contests, but based on ability, leadership, and foremost bravery.
April 1862 found Henry Ward Wells practicing law in Cambridge, Illinois. In 1850, at age seventeen Henry took a job in Peoria working as a clerk in a general merchandising store. Ambitious to have a professional career, Henry returned to New York in 1851, enrolling at the National Law School at Balston Spa. Graduating in 1853, he came back to Peoria where he read law with a local firm and taught school in the winter. In 1855, Henry located in Cambridge and established a law practice, which was soon doing an extensive business.
In Cambridge Henry boarded at a hotel ran by Alexander Showers, an early pioneer of the area. He also became a friend of Judge Joseph Tillson, the first man to settle in this part of Henry County. In the fall of 1857, Judge Tillson, Henry, and two other men became partners in a newspaper, when the four purchased the press and materials of the Galva Watchman and moved the paper to Cambridge, establishing the Chronicle.
When it came time to find a mate, Henry did not look far. He fell in love with his landlord's daughter. On September 8, 1859, the twenty year-old Demaris C. Showers and the twenty-six year-old Henry Ward Wells were married.
While at Knox College, Ebenezer Tracy Wells, studied for the ministry, but after graduating in 1855, he chose to follow his older brother and read law. In 1857, Ebenezer was admitted to the Illinois bar.
In his final year at Knox, Ebenezer met Frances Sophia Pettit, a first year student at the college's academy. Francis' family had been part of those who had left Oswego County, New York for the West, settling in Wisconsin. She was born on August 1, 1837 in Pulaski, a town about two miles from Richland, where the Wells family had lived. Romance blossomed and the daughter ''of an old and much respected Knickerbocker family'' married the great-grandson of a Revolutionary War general. The ceremony took place on October 14, 1857 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The couple took up residence in Rock Island, Illinois where by the spring of 1862 Ebenezer was an established attorney and respected member in the community. They were also the parents of two children, a boy born October 2, 1858 and a girl born March 1, 1862.
By the summer of 1862, ''the casualties of battle and the ravages of disease'' reduced the Union forces to a point where it was evident to both the Lincoln Administration and the Northern governors that the armies in the field lacked the manpower to put down the Rebellion. To shore up the National armies, Lincoln on July 1, 1862 called for 300,000 more men.
Both Henry and Ebenezer answered the President's call and enlisted in their respective counties. Julia's earlier words had to be on both their minds. ''If your country needs you, you certainly have my blessing when you go.'' For the older Wells brothers the time had come to put down their law books, leave their families, and to go forth and defend the Constitution.
When fellow Rock Island attorney, William D. Williams, set out to recruit a company, twenty-seven year-old E. T. Wells was at his side. In April 1861, Williams was the first man in Rock Island County ''to volunteer in defense of the union.'' While in the service, he had been a major with the 12th Illinois Infantry, but by the summer of 1862, he had resigned and was back in Rock Island. The Rock Island Argus wrote: ''We are glad to see him [Williams] again in the field, at the call of his country.'' As Williams' company grew in number, the Argus commented: ''When such men as E. T. Wells . . . and others named above, put their names to a muster roll, it means a fight. They are in earnest.''
Unlike 1861, men did not rush to enlist. J. B. Danforth, Jr., the Argus editor, felt a rousing war meeting was the needed impetus. In an editorial on July 25, 1862 he asked: ''What do the people say? Shall we have the meeting, and some good speeches from such men as Judge Wilkinson . . . Maj. Williams, E. T. Wells and others.''
The meeting was scheduled for Monday evening, July 28th, where the public was ''to consider the state of the country, to encourage enlistments and help PUT DOWN THE REBELLION!'' With bells ringing, cannon firing, and a band playing, 3,000 people gathered outside courthouse ''to hear and talk about the war.''
The crowd was addressed by a number of speakers, and each was received with cheers and applause as they told those assembled that the rebellion had to be crushed, treason punished, and the government sustained. ''The speakers, one and all, closed their remarks with stirring appeals to those who could go in defense of their country, to respond now . . .'' Caught up in the moment an Irishman named Rooney enlisted on the spot and ''was sworn into the service by E. T. Wells, Esq.''
When his turn came, Wells ''made a motion to open a subscription to raise funds to and in filling up Major Williams company, and to support the families of all married men, who volunteered, should they need assistance.'' His request was adopted unanimously, and men immediately stepped forward announcing the amount of their pledge.
The company, now numbering 101 men, formally organized on August 14th by electing officers. Chosen were W. D. Williams, captain; E. T. Wells, 1st lieutenant; and Laertes F. Dimick, 2nd lieutenant. The election was a mere formality, and the vote was by acclamation as the men who recruited the company were now the officers. The next day they left for the rendezvous camp at Dixon, where they waited to be formed into a regiment and mustered into Federal service.
Talk of an all Rock Island county regiment with Major Williams as the colonel circulated through the camp and made the hometown papers. The rumor was founded on the fact that seven of the companies at Dixon were from the county. Due to infighting for the line officer positions, the consolidation of the local companies into a regiment never materialized. William's company found themselves assigned to the 89th infantry as Company F and joined the regiment in the field at Bowling Green, Kentucky. The 89th Illinois was better known by its sobriquet, ''the Railroad Regiment.'' Organized by the railroad companies centered in Chicago, the regiment was ''composed principally of railroad employees'' drawn from up and down their lines.
On August 9, 1862, Henry W. Wells enlisted at Cambridge in what would become Company D of the 112th Illinois Infantry. Elected the company's captain was one of Henry's partners in the Chronicle venture, and its editor, Dr. Augustus A. Dunn. The regimental officers voted Thomas J. Henderson, a Stark Country lawyer and politician colonel. Henderson had served in both the State Legislature and the Senate and was currently the Union Party's nominee for Congress, losing the bid to abolitionist Owen Lovejoy, a Republican. In 1874, Henderson won the first of several terms to Congress.
Henderson appointed Henry the regiment's adjutant. A post to which Henry was aptly suited. Lieutenant Wells' duties were to assist the colonel with correspondence, record keeping, and distributing orders.
The late summer and early fall of 1862 the Armies of the Confederacy moved North. General's Lee and Bragg respective targets were the border states of Maryland and Kentucky. While the forces of Price and Van Dorn set out to retake the important railroad center at Corinth, Mississippi. President Davis envisioned the invasion swinging the people of Maryland and Kentucky over to the Confederacy and drawing recruits to the ranks of the invading armies.
In reaction the governors of the Northwest hurriedly dispatched their newly raised and untrained troops south to Kentucky's defense. Both Company F and the 112th left Illinois for the Bluegrass State, arriving too late to take part in the Battle of Perryville. Here on October 8th Bragg's offensive was halted and turned back.
With the front moving to Tennessee, the 112th spent the next 12 months in the war's backwaters, on duty in Kentucky, guarding bridges, fords, and ferries. Occasional mounted detachments went out to scout for guerillas and Rebel raiders.
Writing his mother in June 1863, Henry confided to her his frustrations with the regiment's lack of action. ''If I could resign and go home and come back to take part in every battle I would gladly do so.'' He further commented: ''I am sorry that both my brothers have so much more and better army experience, but it is not my fault. I have only seen one miserable little skirmish and one in which the regiment did not fire a gun.''
As to the 112th's current position and task, he explained to Julia: ''We are camped at Somerset, Kentucky, and are guarding the Cumberland River passes. Though some one must do such duty, I am very sorry that we are selected. Then we are cursed with a lot of old crow bait horses and the regiment is mounted on them. It has destroyed our efficiency as an infantry regiment and turned us into a band of policemen to catch horse thieves.''
While Henry and the 112th remained in Kentucky, Ebenezer and 89th marched with the newly designated Army of the Cumberland into Tennessee after Bragg's retreating rebels. The 89th found themselves with four veteran regiments in what was known as Willich's Brigade.
The brigade's namesake, fifty-one year old August Willich, was an eccentric former Prussian officer, who had risen from private to general in little over a year. During the European uprisings of 1846 to 1849, Willich commanded a corps of revolutionaries. Defeated, Willich, a member of the Communist League, fled to London, where in 1850 he led a group who split with Marx. In 1853, Willich now out of Marx's loop and at loose ends immigrated to the United States, and at the War's outbreak edited a German language newspaper in Cincinnati.
Part of a November 29th letter from Lieutenant Wells appeared in the December 10th issue of the Rock Island Weekly Argus. He wrote the regiment had '''moved camp to-day, and are about seven or eight miles south east of Nashville. The enemy are in force only eight or nine miles off. We may see fun any day.''' Wells told of a recent commotion. '''Had an alarm day before yesterday and heavy skirmishing in front. Our regiment was in line in less than ten minutes, our company first.'''
Bragging about both Company F and the 89th, Lieutenant Wells passed along the following occurrence: '''We had a very fine compliment from Gen. Willich who commands the brigade, the other day on inspection. ''Ha!'' said the old fellow 'dare is meeletary movements in dis companee.'' Our's is conceded to be the best drilled company in the regiment, and the 89th has no mean reputation.'''
On December 26, 1862, Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland left the Nashville area and moved toward Murfreesboro and Bragg's Army of Tennessee. As the troops broke camp, the 89th's elected colonel, Captain John Christopher of the 16th U. S. Infantry, had yet to join the regiment. As a consequence, all the line officers temporarily advanced a rank. W. D. Williams, as senior captain, became acting major. Company F command evolved to Lieutenant E. T. Wells.
On the fifth night out Willich's Brigade went into position on the extreme right of the army with ''its front slightly refused from the main line.'' After days of skirmishing with the enemy, Willich's soldiers spent a cold night without fires and in a line of battle. Bivouacked in the rear of two veteran Ohio regiments, the 15th and the 49th, the 89th along with the rest of the Union army began to stir around 5:30 a.m., building fires for breakfast and warmth. The Bluecoated soldiers awoke expecting a fight, but as they went about their morning duties and dawn approached, all was quiet. Willich wrote an early dispatch to the division commander, referring to the Confederate army: '' . . . I guess they are all no more here.''
Shortly before 6:30 a.m. scattered shots were heard from the picket line off to the right in the direction of Kirk's Brigade. Then suddenly as darkness gave way to dawn, seven Rebel brigades numbering 11,000 men in a line six deep descended on the two brigades holding the far right of the Union line. Rosecrans and Bragg both had the same plan of battle -- to attack the other's right. But on the last day of 1862, Bragg's Army of Tennessee jumped off first, catching the Federals by surprise.
Joseph Buckley, a private in Company H, relates what happened that morning to the men of the 89th. ''Had just got my coffee ready, and was in the act of taking it off the fire when they came out of the woods -- eight columns deep and fired on us, and charged our Batteries [Goodspeed's Battery A, First Ohio Artillery]. The horses which belong to the Battery were gone to water so that there was no chance to get away. The Battery boys discharged their cannon on the Rebels which cut them up very much.''
While the men gathered their equipment and awaited orders, the officers attempted to figure out what was going on and what to do. Colonel Hotchkiss explains: ''Sergeant-Major [John M.] Farquhar was probably the first one in my regiment who took in the whole situation, and he darted from my side, gave the orders to take arms and deploy, mounted a fence bordering the stony field on our right, and from him I learned the strength and formation of the Confederate lines of infantry and cavalry.'' The regiment was ordered to lie down while the men fleeing the attacking Rebels came through their line. When part of the 89th was free of fugitives, they rose and opened fire on the advancing Butternuts, ''which was done with good effect, the colors of the leading column of rebels falling.'' Orders were given for the regiment to retire about 400 yards. At this junction four of the 10 companies were still in tack, Lieutenant Well's being one of them. Private William E. Seaman of Company F explains what took place that morning. ''Captain Wells held his men well in hand, retreating from fence to fence and fighting every step, and finally rallied the whole regiment on his little band of followers.''
As the morning passed toward noon the 89th's other missing companies along with stragglers from the brigade found the regiment as it fell back. Private Buckley describes one of the stands. ''We fell back until we got three Regiments formed into a line of battle. We allowed them to get pretty close to us when we were ordered to advance to the edge of the timber, and then give it to them which we did with a will and courage that did us credit. The Rebels lost a great many in that part of the fight.''
Much like the rest of the Army of the Cumberland, the 89th as the day ended was battered but not broken. Backed up against the Nashville Turnpike and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railway, Rosecrans' refused to fall back, but held his ground and waited. New Year's Day 1863 passed with the two armies lying where the fighting had ended the evening before. Throughout the day there was with only occasional firing along the lines. On January 2, 1963, Bragg ordered one more assault on the Federals. Breckenridge was ordered to take some high ground east of Stones River in hopes of turning the Federal flank. The 89th now under Captain William's command served as infantry support for one of the Union batteries (Stokes Chicago Board of Trade) on the hill across the river -- the exact point of Bragg's attacking infantry. The Confederate charge failed and so ended the Battle of Stone's River.
With Willich captured, brigade command passed to senior colonel, W. H. Gibson of the 49th Ohio. In his official report Gibson wrote the following about Lieutenant-Colonel Hotchkiss, which also speaks well of the men and officers of the 89th. ''He drew off his men in good order, fighting as he withdrew, and showed himself worthy of any command. This gallant officer has given to the service one of its best regiments, and has justly earned promotion.'' The 89th's losses at Stones River were 10 killed, 46 wounded, and 94 captured and missing.
On January 7, 1863, the temporary rank the 89th's field officers held became permanent. With W. D. Williams the regiment's major, E. T. Wells was promoted to captain, a position he had earned on the 31st. Recognition of his leadership and valor at Stones River soon followed. In General Order No. 19 Rosecrans established an Honor Role as ''a method of pointing out to the army and the nation those officers and soldiers of the command who shall distinguish themselves by bravery in battle, by courage, enterprise and soldierly conduct; and also to promote the efficiency of the service.'' The Argus reported: ''Lieut. E. T. Wells' name was also place upon the roll 'for gallant conduct at the battle of Stone River, and general good conduct while in command of Co. F, 89th infantry.'''
In early March 1863, Captain Wells was detailed to the staff of Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson, beginning a relationship that would last throughout the War. A Kentuckian by birth, Johnson graduated from the Military Academy in 1849, and before the War served on the western frontier in both the infantry and cavalry. At Stones River Johnson commanded the Second Division in Rosecrans' Right Wing, of which Willich's Brigade was a part.
In his memoirs Johnson tells how his association with Captain Wells began. ''While I was at Murfreesboro, I ordered a general court-martial and Lieutenant E. T. Wells, Eighty-ninth Illinois Volunteers, was designated as judge advocate. The business of the court was conducted so regularly and the record was so neat and businesslike that I had him detailed as judge advocate of the division.'' On April 14, 1863, Wells was appointed Assistant Commissary of Musters of the Second Division Twentieth Army Corps. E. T. would not return to Company F.
Medical supplies, clothing, and food were all in short supply with the Federal armies. To meet the soldiers' needs, civilians on the home front, especially woman, came forward to provide what the government could not and was not giving the men in the field. Throughout the North ladies' aid societies and sanitary fairs were organized and shipped to the front not only clothing and medical supplies but also food, much of it canned fruits, vegetables, and jellies. With husbands and sons in the Union army, the Wells women took an active part in these efforts.
Hearing of the deplorable conditions of the camps and hospitals in Cairo, members of the Old First Church raised funds and gathered supplies for the relief of the soldiers stationed there. Placed in charge of the mission was a 44-year-old widow, Mary Bickerdyke. Mother Bickerdyke, as the boys in blue affectionately knew her, served throughout the war as a nurse and agent of the Sanitary Commission. As a friend of Mrs. Bickerdyke, Julia subscribed $1,000 to the United States Sanitary Commission.
With Ebenezer Tracy and Henry Ward both away, Frances and her two small children left Rock Island and moved in with Demaris at Cambridge. Here they, along with other Cambridge women, made lint bandages and sewed shirts for soldiers. Their circle called themselves the ''Ancients and Honorables.''
After Fort Donelson and Shiloh, John Howard Wells and the 17th landed four months of welcomed reprieve -- when they spent July through October at Bolivar, Tennessee, guarding a section of the Tennessee and Ohio Railroad. However, the regiment's plum duty abruptly ended on November 2, 1862, when Grant commenced his first attempt to capture Vicksburg. The army moved forward along the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad, pushing Pemberton's Confederates before them and getting as far south as Oxford, Mississippi. ''The 17th was distributed along the railroad guarding bridges.''
Grant established a secondary supply base for the army at Holly Springs. On December 20th disaster struck as General Van Dorn and 3,000 Rebel cavalry surprised the garrison destroying food, forage, and munitions. Meanwhile Forrest cut the railroad and telegraph between Jackson, Tennessee and Columbus, Kentucky severing Grant's communication and supply line with the North. The Rebel raiders thus forced Grant to abandon this phase of the campaign and retrace his steps.
By mid-January 1863, the 17th was in Memphis, pulling guard duty at the navy yard. The detail was short-lived, for on January 18th the regiment embarked on a steamer and headed once more for Vicksburg. Seven days later the men unloaded at Young's Point, Louisiana, an assembly area for Grant's forces. The move proved temporary though as the 17th left on February 1st for Lake Providence, Louisiana, where they remained until April 30th. Here ''the regiment went on frequent expeditions up the river and out through the country for forage and were engaged in several skirmishes.''
On April 19, 1863, John Howard penned a letter to Julia forwarding $10 since the regiment had ''just been paid off.'' He commented on a visit by Adjutant General Lorenzo D. Thomas to the division. Thomas had come West to assess the soldier's feelings on raising Negro regiments with white officers. John Howard told his mother: ''Of course we like the plan and there were hundreds of applications for office tendered within 24 hours. Eight from our company. [Five men from the 17th were commissioned as officers in the United States Colored Infantry.] I was not one as my prospects here are better than there. The General assured us that our regiment would be filled up with conscripts immediately. In that case, I propose to take a 'commish' here but please say nothing about it until something more definite turns up.''
Like most veteran regiments the 17th's numbers had dwindle to the point that new recruits or draftees were needed to fill their ranks. John wrote in the same letter. ''Two years ago today our company was formed in Galesburg. There are now only _ dozen of the original 'invincibles' left.'' John knew the 17th would suffer more casualties as further fighting lay ahead. He informed his mother: ''We hear heavy cannonading down the river almost every day and expect to go down ourselves in a short time.''
On the night of April 16th, Admiral David D. Porter at Grant's request ran 12 vessels of the Mississippi Squadron past Vicksburg's batteries, opening the way for the Union army to advance below the city. The 17th arrived at Hard Times Landing on May 4th and were ferried across the river to Grand Gulf, Mississippi that evening. For the next 10 days the 17th remained at Grand Gulf, unloading and forwarding ammunition and supplies to Federal troops at the front.
Released from stevedore duty, Sergeant Wells and the 17th caught up with Grant's army on May 17th during the battle at Big Black Bridge. By May 19th, Pemberton's Confederates had fallen back inside Vicksburg's defenses. With the investment of Vicksburg, General John A. Logan personally placed the 17th, informing their commander, Major F. F. Peats, that his men had post of honor, ''being the nearest troops to the enemy's works.''
On May 22nd Grant attempted a second assault to breach Vicksburg's defenses. In assembling his division, General Logan selected the 17th as the skirmishers. The men advanced, driving in the Rebel outposts and holding an advanced position for the storming column to pass through. When Logan's brigades were repulsed, the 17th suddenly became the rear guard. The regiment was commended for its action that day, ''especially for the hot fire poured into the enemy as the column retired.'' The attack was not only a disaster for Logan's men but also for the whole Union army. After this failure, Grant settled into a protracted siege.
Apologizing for not writing more often, John Howard on June 20th explained the situation before Vicksburg to his mother. ''During a siege, and especially such a one as this, is a poor time to indulge in correspondence. We have none of the accommodations of camp except a marching kit.'' He went on to say. ''This morning we gave the Rebs a lively reveille of 2 or 3 hours duration - replied to at intervals. As I write, shells are passing over each way occasionally and now and then a piece drops in to pass the time of day with us, but no damage results and very little notice is taken of it.'' As to the army's situation, he shed this light: ''We get the papers pretty frequently and learn the progress of the siege.''
Writing from Vicksburg on July 9, 1863, John made amends for failing to keep in touch with Julia. ''I condemn myself severely for not writing before, but with fighting, marching, making quarterly returns, muster rolls, etc., etc., my time has been pretty well occupied for the last month. I forget when I wrote you last but guess it must have been a good while ago.''
On the day Vicksburg fell, John Howard chanced to meet an acquaintance from Galesburg and Knox College, Fred Fuller, a private in 77th Illinois Infantry. About the meeting he penned his mother: ''I saw Fred Fuller on the 4th and he told me you were enquiring of his folks about me, whether I was alive or dead. You need give yourselves no uneasiness on that score for bad news flies fast and you would be sure to hear it.'' The twice-wounded young sergeant commented: ''I got through this without a scratch and in better health than I ever knew in such hot weather.''
In the same letter he relayed the following unfortunate incident. ''We have had only one serious casualty in our company. Some fools picked up an old shell, supposing the powder was all out and lighted the fuse. It burned for a long time and finally one of them threw it in our quarters (which were very small) and it burst just as it touched the ground. A large piece struck Henry Brown in the back as he was drinking coffee. He died in a few hours, very much regretted as he was one of the best soldiers I ever saw. I have seen men that could face as great a danger perhaps but not with that cool indifference of ''sang froid'' that he had. He was not rash. He was wholly brave. We miss him very much. The hardest part to bear was that it was the 4th of July morning and only a couple of hours before the rebs marched out and stacked arms. He saw the fight through without knowing it and died at the moment of victory.'' One of the first Knox County men to enlist, Henry C. Brown was the son of a prominent pioneer and farmer. His father having arrived in this part of Illinois from Kentucky in 1830.
Concluding the letter John broke the news of his recent promotion. ''I have the honor to announce that I now write myself Lieutenant John H. Wells, 17th etc., etc.'' On July 1, 1863, First Sergeant John Wells was promoted to second lieutenant proving, as he thought, his prospects for a commission were better where he was.
Corresponding with Caroline, John informed her that he had seen ''lots of old Knox boys'' during the Vicksburg Campaign, and all were fine. As to her husband and brothers in the service, he tried to allay her concerns. ''Of all things, don't worry about him or any of your brothers in the army. It's only borrowing trouble for nothing. Always fancy us in a nice camp with all the comforts of life around, enjoying ourselves hugely. It is true 9/10 of the time.'' As to his current duties now that Vicksburg had fallen, John wrote: ''Soon after I received my commish, I was detailed as acting adjutant so you see my superior talents are not allowed to lie dormant.''
After six months of inaction and considerable prodding by Lincoln and Halleck, Rosecrans' put the Army of the Cumberland in motion on June 23, 1863. Captain E. T. Wells and the Second Division, Twentieth Corps moved out on June 24th. His old brigade and regiment met the enemy about 2:00 p.m. that afternoon at the entrance to Liberty Gap. When the day ended, over 60 Rebels lay dead in front of the 89th's lines. After the fight Captain Wells corresponded with Lieutenant Copp, who was back in Rock Island recovery from wounds received at Stones River. Excerpts from the letter posted from Tullahoma, Tennessee on July 6th showed up in an Argus article. The editor noted, ''' Capt. Wells takes no credit to himself -- says he was not in the line of battle but gives credit to all his men.''' Wells' letter informed the homefolks of the praise given the 89th by Generals Johnson and Willich. He reported Willich proclaimed to the 89th: '''Poys, I wish you all curls, den I would marry you every one.'''
Known as the Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans' brilliant maneuvers forced the Confederates out of Middle Tennessee forever. Bragg now retreated to the vicinity of Chattanooga. By mid-August, Union forces resumed the offensive, moving on the Gateway City. Outflanked, Bragg abandoned Chattanooga on September 6th, falling back into northern Georgia with the Army of the Cumberland in pursuit.
From Dekalb County, Alabama, Captain Wells wrote a letter dated September 15th, which the Argus published portions. He informed the editor that ''The people in the mountains are all Union . . . the women and children cheer for the Yankees and the old flag. These mountaineers . . . have suffered intolerable persecutions almost all of them have at some time been in the Confederate army as conscripts and cleared [out] probably, at the time of the 'Big Run,' as they call Bragg's retreat from Tullahoma.''
Four days later Captain Wells and the Army of the Cumberland were locked in a death struggle with Bragg's Army of Tennessee in the Battle of Chickamauga. Halting his retreat, Bragg saw an opportunity. Rosecrans' advancing army was separated and open to attack and defeat piece meal. Seeing his predicament, Rosecrans forced marched his scattered troops, pulling the army together as the Rebels struck.
E. T. was all over the field those two days, riding between units with dispatches and orders. In two letters to the Argus, Lieutenant Dimick, now in command of Company F, commented: ''Capt. Wells, as a staff officer, added to his already conspicuous reputation for bravery and coolness.'' He ''behaved with great gallantry rendering much assistance in maneuvering our division.'' General Johnson reported that ''Captains Bartlett and Wells were with me all the time, and were frequently sent to points of danger; their duties were faithfully and fearlessly performed.''
At the end of second day of fighting the Federal army was broken and fled for safety in Chattanooga, and shortly found themselves trapped and under siege. While here, Rosecrans reorganized and consolidated the army. General R. W. Johnson moved to the First Division, Fourteenth Corps, while his old division became the Third Division, Fourth Corps. The new commander, Thomas J. Wood, was an 1845 graduate of West Point and a Mexican War veteran. E. T. would remain on Wood's staff for the time being.
On October 23, 1863, Grant arrived in Chattanooga, replacing Rosecrans with Major General George H. Thomas. He then went about issuing orders to open a supply line and lift the siege. With the arrival of food and ammunition, Grant began plans to drive the Confederates from the surrounding heights. The offensive began on November 23rd and culminated with the spontaneous charge up Missionary Ridge and the rout of Bragg's army. For their effort on the 25th, Wood wrote of his staff, including Captain Wells, who were with him ''on the field throughout the entire operations -- my thanks are specially due for much valuable assistance, promptly and intelligently rendered.''
In mid-February 1864, Captain Wells rejoined General Johnson, at Johnson's request, as his assistant adjutant general. The move ended E. T.'s association with Willich's Brigade and the 89th Illinois.
Even though Henry Ward Wells cursed his luck and lamented the fact his two younger brothers were having ''so much more and better army experience,'' he had his share of hair-raising experiences as the 112th fended off Rebel calvary and guerilla activity in Eastern Kentucky. The 112th's historian relates the following episode from late March 1863. The regiment was on duty guarding fords and bridges on Dick's River when they were ordered to fall back. When told to pull out, no one passed the order to Company E, who occupied the main bridge. After the brigade traveled a considerable distance, the error was discovered and ''Adjutant Wells at once started back to relieve the company form its perilous position.'' The forgotten company soon was faced with a Rebel force in the front and detachments crossing above and below to cut them off. At this point Lieutenant Wells came galloping down the road shouting, '''Get out of there as soon as you can, the command is half way to the Kentucky River.''' The forgotten company eluded the encircling Confederates, and ''after a hard night's march joined the regiment.''
The mountaineers of Eastern Tennessee did not succumb to succession like the rest of the state and remained loyal to the Union. Aware of their suffering under the Confederate authorities, Lincoln for months pushed for a Federal army to liberate these loyal patriots. When Rosecrans and the Army of the Cumberland forced the Rebels from the middle Tennessee, Burnside advanced two corps toward Knoxville, occupying the city on September 2nd. To solidify his position, Burnside sent detachments from the city to destroy or chase away any lingering Rebel units. The 112th Illinois Mounted Infantry took part in one such action. A Union calvary brigade was pushed south as for as the Hiawassee River, near the Georgia border.
Henry wrote his mother about the expedition. ''At Calhoun on the Hiawassee river, where we camped for a few days, we were attacked and driven out by the rebels. They outnumbered us at least 11 to one. In the skirmish, I got one bullet through my pistol holsters, one through my saddle blanket, and another through my coat right under the arm. My horse saved me . . .'' He further explained: ''Since then, I have been in several heavy skirmishes and one totally sharp fight though I have never seen a 'battle'. I was however within hearing of the cannon at the battle of Chickamauga.''
On his return to Knoxville, Henry left the 112th, accepting the position of major in the First East Tennessee Artillery. He told Julia that Colonel Crawford asked for his assistance in raising the regiment. ''I obtained General Burnside's permission and, a few days since, received my appointment as Major and was placed in command of the regiment. I presume the President will commission me before long.''
While Grant extricated the Army of the Cumberland from its entrapment in Chattanooga, Burnside too came under siege. November and December 1863 saw Major Wells serving in a number of capacities. Temporarily, he was ''chief of artillery of the 23d Army Corps, and [he] had command of a portion of the line of defense at the siege of Knoxville.'' With the Rebels driven off and the 23rd Corps organized as the Army of the Ohio, Major Henry W. Wells became the chief of artillery for Jacob D. Cox's third division.
During 1863, enthusiasm for the War in the North had waned. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation disturbed many Northern Democrats, who initially supported Lincoln and the Republicans in suppressing the Rebellion. The combination of battlefield losses and the passage of a draft law left many Northern Democrats openly questioning the continuation of the War and calling for peace. In a letter to Julia dated June 28, 1863, Henry addressed the issue. ''We hear that the Copperheads of Illinois are acting as badly if not worse than in Indiana and Ohio and that serious troubles are anticipated. What is to become of the country if traitors at home turn on us, I do not know? The army will, I think, look after its own safety and the odds are that those who get in its way will have the worst of it, but it will be terrible to have to use armed forces in any of the free states. Were some of the Copperheads to see a country as completely desolated as the country south of the Cumberland is I don't think they would want the like at home. What is to be the result if the north is not united, no one can foresee . . .''
From Vicksburg John also touched on the same subject. ''A great deal of indignation is felt toward the conduct of 'our' copperhead treasurer and if the statement of the Chicago Tribune proves true, Illinois will be no good-abiding place for him after we get home.''
With the anti-war sentiments on rise and with Copperheadism appearing to grow, General Logan returned to Illinois in the summer of 1863, and ''took the stump to whip up war support.'' Logan ''demanded support for the home front and condemned all those who opposed the war . . .'' Logan a War Democrat had no patience with those in his party who called for peace. Watching for results from Vicksburg, John commented to his mother: ''General Logan's speeches seem to be doing some good up there.''
As 1864 dawned, Julia had to wonder what the New Year held for her three officer-sons. In 1863, all had been in harm's way and come through without a scratch. In the previous 12 months, all totaled, the three fought in four major battles, three sieges, and innumerable skirmishes. And after over two years of fighting, the War's end appeared no where in sight.
With no further movements planned until spring, Thomas' Army of the Cumberland kept an eye on their Rebel adversaries. After the rout at Missionary Ridge, the Confederate Army of Tennessee rallied and took up a defensive line near Dalton in northern Georgia. The defeat resulted in Bragg being replaced by General Joseph E. Johnston. The foe may have been vanquished, but he was not defeated and stood between the Union armies and Atlanta.
On March 1, 1864, Ebenezer Tracy wrote a reply to a letter from his mother. Knowing her uneasiness and wishing to allay her fears, he wrote the following: ''I received your letter of the 22nd instant and, because you express a desire to hear from me, and because also we have lately had some fighting which I see has been greatly exaggerated in your papers -- and may occasion your anxiety -- I hasten to drop you a short note to let you know that I am alive and in good health . . .''
On February 22, 1864, Federal troops sallied forth from Chattanooga to feel out Johnston's positions. The Union scout in force lasted through the 25th. Writing his mother, E. T. discussed the movement. ''Our late operations were really insignificant. These truculent newspaper correspondents, I see have made a great thing, and what is further from the truth, a great success out of it. In truth it was an ill-conceived attempt to change an unnecessary and purposeless reconnaissance into a positive campaign; and, of course, the attempt failed.'' A quite aggravated Captain Wells continued: ''Our demonstration to be sure may have had the effect to deceive the enemy and induce him to recall reinforcements which had been started to, or toward, Mobile. Further than this, it was positively and wholly without results.'' As to any gains or loses, Wells noted: ''We picked up perhaps 50 deserters and prisoners from the enemy. We lost over 200 killed, wounded, and captured -- besides something of our morale.''
Julia, ever the mother and moralist, begged E. T. in her letter to write his younger brother regarding his use of tobacco. The humorous side to E. T.'s response to Julia is John's own comments to his mother after receiving a package from home. ''The 'tobacco stick,' of course, couldn't spoil, but why send in such quantities? Have you any idea how long that much would last? About 4 days! However, small favors thankfully received.'' E. T. assured Julia that he would ''write John one of these days, though I hardly think it is an urgent case for good advice. If he does nothing worse than chew tobacco excessively, he will not spoil.''
At least by March 27th, E. T. had not written his younger brother for John told his mother on that date: ''I have not heard from Hank or Tray yet. I guess they have forgotten me. It is now nearly a year and a half since I heard from either.'' He went on to tell his mother that foremost on this mind was whether to re-enlist for the duration of the war.. In less than 90 days his three years would be up and the decision was weighing upon him. Moodily he reflected to his mother. ''I don't know what in the world I shall go at next. After soldiering 3 years a man ain't good for much else.''
Lieutenant John Howard Wells like the majority of his regiment chose to leave the service when his term of enlistment was up. For him it was a difficult choice. Three days before he mustered out, John wrote home. ''You have probably heard through some source that our Battalion was to be consolidated with the 8th Illinois. That interesting event has come off and I have orders to march my detachment over to that camp as early as I please this morning. That gives me an opportunity to be mustered out as a supernumerary officer or accept a position in that regiment with every show for promotion next month. I think I shall do the former. You may look for me home in the course of a few weeks if you see me coming -- but don't be too confident of it.''
On June 24, 1864, Lieutenant John Howard Wells made his decision, mustered out of the army, and returned to Galesburg. Once home he decided to take up law and began studying in the office of Clark E. Carr, a local Republican politician and Galesburg postmaster. John and Carr had crossed paths in the 1850s when both were students at the Knox Academy.
While John Howard contemplated his future and opted to leave the service, his two older brothers were in the midst of the campaign for Atlanta. Sherman's offensive started on May 7, 1864. From that day until September 8th, Union forces were in continual contact with the enemy. On August 10th, Henry wrote his mother from the trenches before Atlanta: '' We have had one of the most arduous campaigns of the war and I am of the opinion it has thus far been the most fatiguing and wearing to the army. I am thankful, however, truly thankful that I have thus far escaped death and sickness. I have been sick only once and that for only one day. I was quite sick then with dysentery and was cured by eating onions.''
As Sherman's armies closed on Atlanta, the new Rebel commander, John Bell Hood launched two counterblows -- Peachtree Creek on July 20th and the Battle of Atlanta on July 22nd. Both failed to break the Union stranglehold on the city. At Peachtree Creek, E. T. was struck in the lower back by a spent shell fragment and injured. The chunk of iron failed to penetrate E.T.'s body, but left a significant contusion. In his official report of the action for that day, General Johnson noted: ''My efficient and gallant assistant adjutant-general, E. T. Wells, was severely wounded.'' As a result of the injury, E. T. was given a 20-day furlough home to recover.
Since E. T. traveled to Kenosha, where his wife and children were staying with her family, Henry off handedly mention to their mother: ''You, of course, know of brother Tracy being wounded and at home.'' He further told Julia that he had seen General Johnson and that ''He seems to think very highly of Tracy and I conclude from what he and the officers of his staff say Tracy was a good officer and a favorite.''
Nearly two years had passed since E. T. had been with his wife and children. Once in Kenosha he applied to have his furlough extended, enclosing a physician's letter substantiating that his injury had not sufficiently healed for him to return to duty before August 24th.
After the fall and capture of Atlanta, Sherman's weary army looked forward to a long rest, but John Bell Hood had different plans. The Rebels may have abandoned Atlanta, but their army was intact and far from being destroyed. Driven by action, Hood overnight initiated a plan to fall on Sherman's communication and supply line -- the railroad linking Atlanta and Chattanooga. As summer turned to autumn, Sherman's veterans found themselves drawn back toward Chattanooga marching over the same roads they had moved south on in May and June. Frustrated with the game of cat-and-mouse, Sherman concluded it was time to cut all contact with the North and march for the sea. From there he planned eventually link up with Grant. He left Thomas to deal with Hood.
At this juncture, Hood entered on a desperate gamble. He would move on Nashville, after it's fall, take Louisville, and maybe cross the Ohio River. To oppose the Confederate thrust, Thomas, now headquartered in Nashville, issued orders to his scattered Union units to assemble. As Thomas organized his force, the Wells brothers were active on their respective staffs.
Desperate for horsemen, Thomas temporarily appointed General Johnson head of his cavalry. E. T. was now the Assistant Adjutant-General, Military Division of the Mississippi, Office Chief of Calvary. Eventually Johnson would command the Sixth Division of the new cavalry corps. Working in Nashville, Captain E. T. Wells charted Wheeler and Forest's movements and issued orders on General Johnson's behalf. While E. T. studied the Rebel's progress, Henry Ward was scouring the countryside searching for enough able-bodied horses to keep Cox's artillery moving. It was race to see if the dispersed Union regiments and brigades would come together in time to head off Hood's Rebels as they advance on Nashville. The concern was serious enough for Lincoln and Grant to issue an order to replace Thomas if need be.
As Schofield moved toward Thomas with two corps, Hood came close to trapping him south of Nashville at Spring Hill. A command failure allowed the retreating Federals to escape. In infuriated at the lost opportunity, Hood ordered an assault on the entrenched Bluecoats when he caught up with them the next day, November 30th, at Franklin. Schofield's veterans turned back the Rebels, leaving them irreparably damaged.
When the fighting ended, Schofield made a night march, joining Thomas behind Nashville's defenses. Hood followed, but was too weak to attack and too stubborn to retreat. That is how the situation stood for two weeks.
While Washington fretted, Thomas went about putting his army in order. When all was complete, he left his works on December 15th, attacking the Confederates and driving them back. On the 16th the assault was renewed with the Federal cavalry ordered to envelop the Rebel left. Late in the afternoon the Union hammering broke the Butternut line. Hood's army fled south with the Bluecoated horsemen in pursuit.
The two-day Battle of Nashville left the Confederate Army of Tennessee a shambles. For all intents and purposes the War west of the Appalachians was over.
Major Henry Ward Wells learned that Illinois was organizing a number of new regiments for the 23rd Corps to replace those who would soon be mustering out. Major-General Schofield gave Henry a letter to present to the Governor of Illinois. About Henry, Schofield wrote: ''Major Wells, who will hand you this, has already received my recommendation for the command of a regiment, for which he is in all respects well qualified.'' Armed with Schofield's letter and encouragement, Henry went to Springfield and had an interview with the governor. The effort was unsuccessful and Major Wells returned to his command. Frustrated and with the War near it's end, Major Wells resigned his commission and returned to Cambridge in January 1865.
After chasing the remnants of Hood's army into Mississippi, Johnson's division settled into a period of relative inactivity. In March 1865, Brigadier-General R. W. Johnson wrote General Lorenzo Thomas, adjutant general of the army, seeking brevet promotions for Captain E. T. Wells. He asked that E. T. be made ''major for gallant and meritorious service July 20, 1864, on which day he was severely wounded, and to be lieutenant-colonel by brevet December 15, 1864, for the battle of Nashville.'' On June 9, 1865, Johnson again penned Thomas on E. T.'s behalf. This time he asked that ''Brvt. Lieut. Col. E. T. Wells, assistant adjutant-general, U. S. Volunteers, to be colonel by brevet, for long and faithful service, and particularly for gallantry at the battles of Stone's River, December 31, 1862 -- January 3, 1863; Liberty Gap, Tenn., June 26, 1863; Chickamauga, Ga., September 19 and 20, 1863; Orchard Knob, November 23, 1863; Mission[ary] Ridge, November 25, 1863; Buzzard Roost, February 22, 1864, and throughout the battles and skirmishes of the campaign to Atlanta in 1864.''
Captain Wells' value was not lost on General Johnson. When he compiled his memoirs in 1886, he confided: ''I soon found that all routine matters could be safely instrusted to him, and this relieved me from an immense amount of troublesome details.'' He further said of E. T.: ''He was one of the very best officers I ever met, and ought to have commanded a brigade, for which he was eminently fitted.''
E. T. Wells was discharged on June 10, 1865 at Pulaski, Tennessee, and returned to his wife and family at Kenosha, Wisconsin.
That June, Henry Ward Wells left Cambridge moving to Peoria where he opened a law office. During his long legal career, Henry authored three volumes -- Mechanics' Liens, Patent Law, and Wells on Replevin. He was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for circuit judge and for state attorney general. In 1870, Henry was a member of the convention that rewrote the Illinois Constitution. Socially, he belonged to the Masonic fraternity and the local Grand Army of the Republic. For eighteen years, Henry served on the local library board. He died January 7, 1908.
Ebenezer Tracy Wells did not return to Rock Island. In October 1865, E. T. took his family west, settling in Colorado Territory. For the term 1866-67, E. T. was elected to the Territorial Legislative Assembly. He was responsible for writing a revision of the Territorial Statutes, know as the ''Revised Statutes of 1868.'' From 1871 to 1875, he held the post of associate justice on Territorial Supreme Court. When statehood arrived, Judge Wells was a member of the Colorado Constitutional Convention of 1876. That same year, he was elected an associated justice on the Supreme Court of Colorado, a position he resigned in 1877. That year he moved to Denver where he practiced law for over thirty years.
A long time Republican, Judge E. T. Wells was on the reception committee to welcome former President U. S. Grant to Denver in August 1880. In the spring of 1897, Judge Wells was unsuccessful Silver Republican candidate for mayor of Denver. From 1898 on, he affiliated himself with the Democratic Party. In 1909, he was appointed the Reporter of the Supreme Court of Colorado and held that position until 1920.
Injured after being knocked down by revolving door, E. T. took pneumonia and died on April 20, 1923. He was age 88. The Rocky Mountain News headline read ''Ebenezer T. Wells, One of State's Best Known Pioneers And Former Supreme Court Justice, Dies After Short Illness.''
In 1866, after two years of study at the law office of Carr and Chambers, John Howard Wells was admitted to the bar. In May of that year, he left Galesburg for Colorado, and eventually began a law practice in Boulder County. He located in Burlington and was appointed county attorney in 1867. From 1868 to 1869, he was also the postmaster. In 1869, he served the first of two terms in the Territorial Legislature. In 1871, John moved to Longmont where he resided for thirty-four years. In 1883, he was appointed county judge. A local history remembers John as a ''silver-tongued orator at Memorial and July 4 celebrations.''
For a number of years he was president of the Longmont and Erie Railroad Company. In an interview, John Howard commented: '''I gave up law from 1872 to 1881 to build the narrow gauge D.L.M. & N.W.RR. as far west as Mitchell Junction, serving as Pres. Of the Co. This broke me financially but we saw the track taken over by the B & M and made into a standard gauge R. R., serving the community.'''
In 1905, John left Colorado for Chicago, and family history holds he worked in the law office of Robert G. Ingersoll, the noted agnostic. He died in the Windy City on April 16, 1923. As one of his last acts, E. T. had requested his brother's body be returned to Colorado for burial.
Julia Ward Wells passed away at her Galesburg home on the corner of Prairie and Tompkins Streets. Cause of death was old age. She died on September 17, 1891, nine days past her 94th birthday. She was buried in Kewanee next to her husband, who died forty-seven years earlier, leaving her a widow with five children.
Frank Wells remained home with his mother until her death. He authored his mother's obituary. Unlike his brothers, Frank's only adventure was in the summer of 1858 when he and some Knox companions journeyed to Minnesota to hunt buffalo. He traveled by riverboat up the Mississippi River to St. Paul. Again, by boat, they went west, eventually camping near a village of Sioux. Frank chronicled the expedition in two articles for a Knox College student magazine.
With Julia's passing, Frank left Galesburg and joined Caroline in California. Caroline Martha Chamberlain died in Berkley, California on May 9, 1906. Frank died in January 1919.
From their beginnings in New England, to the prairies of Illinois, to the mining camps of Colorado, and across the continent to California, the Wells family travels can be seen as a true American odyssey.