April 27, 2021

Pages 4104-4108
Whole Number 162


A number of years ago, Minnie Mae (Pierce) Huffer, who died in 1984, (see the Quarterly of September 1984, Whole No. 127, p. 2673, for her obituary) shared with us a letter that had been written by her grand-uncle, William M. Sparks (1838-1922) on January 14, 1914. It is apparent from the contents of this letter, that William M. Sparks had learned that his brother, Thomas J. Sparks (1843-1936), a lawyer and a resident of Champaign, Illinois, was planning a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, and also to Vicksburg, Mississippi. William wrote a hurried letter to his brother, urging him to visit sites in both cities that he remembered from his service fifty years earlier in the Union Army during the Civil War. He also drew a map to guide his brother in finding the area where his regiment had camped and fought at Vicksburg. Although, after half a century, William Sparks's memory of the landscape was probably a bit inaccurate, we believe that the reproduction of his drawing makes an interesting cover design for this issue of the Quarterly.

It was as a member of Company I of the Illinois 72nd Volunteer Infantry that William M. Sparks had participated in the Union Army's historic Siege of Vicksburg in 1863. In 1865, he had also been stationed in New Orleans, where his company had camped near the site of the battleground in the War of 1812 on which Andrew Jackson had won his famous victory over the British in 1815. Sparks even remembered seeing the tree under which the British commander, Sir Edward Pakenham, had died from wounds received in the battle. In his Pictorial Field-Book of theWar of 1812, published in New York in 1869, Benson J. Lossing told of Pakenham being "placed under a venerable live-oak tree" where he had died from his wounds on January 8, 1815.

The chronology of events described in the Sparks letter is a bit confusing be cause, knowing that his brother would go first to New Orleans, he began by telling of the sites there that he remembered, but his memories of New Orleans actually followed those of Vicksburg, to which he devoted the remainder of his letter.

William M. Sparks had been born on December 20, 1838, in Clinton County, Indiana, being the fourth child of Joseph and Sarah (DeFord) Sparks. As a boy, he had accompanied his parents when, in 1844, they moved to Fulton County, Illinois. There, near the village of Ellisville, he became a farmer, but he also practiced medicine, having studied at the Rush Medical School in Chicago. On November 17, 1859, he married Harriet Emily Hossleton, and they had a son, Clarence Newton Sparks, before William joined the Union Army. In fact, Harriet was pregnant with a second child when William left for Chicago where, on August 14, 1862, he enlisted in the Seventy-Second Regiment Illinois Volunteers. He became a corporal in Company I. He was with the same unit when he received his discharge on August 7, 1865, by which time he had been promoted to sergeant. (A record of the branch of the family to which William M. Sparks belonged can be found in the Quarterly of June 1984, Whole No. 126; an abstract of his pension file at the National Archives also appears in that issue, pp. 2638-40.)

As will be seen in his letter, Sparks mentioned, what his brother obviously knew, that at Milliken's Bend he had become ill and been left "alone to die in a cotenfield." This incident must have taken place in April 1863. The division of which Sparks's regiment had become a unit landed at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, on April 23, 1863, and it was from there that they marched with General Grant's army to Vicksburg, arriving at Champion Hill on May 16, 1863.

The letter of William M. Sparks follows. Apparently he was an early owner of a typewriter, for his letter was typed, though doubtless with the "hunt-and-peck" system, since he had lost his left hand in a sawmill accident in New Mexico, where he lived after 1879. Because of his numerous typing errors, we have taken the liberty to make corrections, along with adding punctuation, for ease of reading. We have not changed what are obvious spelling errors. Following the text of this letter, we shall quote from a history of the Illinois 72nd Infantry Regiment to make some of his references more clear.

Las Vegas [NM] January 19, 1914


Your letter of the 15 was recieved this morning, and I hasten to reply so you will be sure to get it before you start to New Orleans. At New Orleans we wer camped about 100 yards northwest of the big tree that Peckingham [Sir Edward Pakenham] died under. I may be mistaken in the course, [but] it apears to me that the river runnes north or west of north; aney way, it was down the river from the Oald Battle Ground of Jacksons and was in a direct line from Jacksons Monument to the tree. Their was nothing their then but the tree, but they tell me now it is all fensed in and is a fine looking place. As you look down the river, their was at that time a big swamp on your left which protected Jacksons left flank in this fight. As you come up the river and pass Natcheese [Natcher], we were camped on the bluff next to the river, right on the bluff on the left side, as you go up to the city. 50 years ago, it was the nicest place on the Mississippi.

We were camped on the north east corner of Vicksburge, just south of the little creeke called Graiveyard Canion, close up to the creeke. Our cook shanties was on the north side of the streete. My company was the 3 [third] co. from the streete, on the east of the camp. Co. A was camped right on the side of the streete, and Co. B was camped on the east side of the streete, on the west of camp. On the 4 of July, our Regt. was, or stood on, the streete north of the corthouse. I saw Dr. Moris their, the last time I ever saw him. He hunted me up for 6 months. I mounted gard at Jail No. I, just across the streete, south east of the corthouse. I was on duty every other day for over 6 months. During the Seage, we were stationed at the head of the Graveyard Canion in the second draw that comes in from the north. To get there from the city, you take the Jackson Wagon Road from Vicksburge to Jackson about 300 yards out from the Oald Fort that the Joneys (Confederate soldiers] had. We maid a road to where our Bregade lay. As you turne north on the road we maid, the 124 IL. Regt. lay just on the left of the road. That was the Regt. that Steave Brink and Tom Roach of Walnutt Grove was in- - -I saw them quite often during the Seage. In going north, as you go out of the canion, there is, or was, quite a steap hill to clime, and our Regiment lay at the foot of this hill. Then came the 11 IL., then the 95th IL., then the 14 Wis., and then the 17 Wis. Then came the 124 IL. of Logans Division, and on the right of the road going to Jackson, was the 17 IL., Cosen [cousin] Jake Whealers regiment. It was raised in Fulton Co.

I will draw you a ruff map of whear we were camped while around Vicksburge. On the 5 of July 1863, we were mooved on the high ridge north of Vicksburge, about 1 1/2 miles from the citty. If you go into,Vicksburg on the R.R. from Jackson, when you get to Clinton look well to your left. As you go in, you will see the battleground of Champion Hill, or as some call it, Bakers Creeke. The next place will be Edwards Station, and the next will be Big Black River Bridge. Our Regt. was up close to the R.R. on the right as you go in. We left the R.R. after we crossed the river [on May 17th] and went across the country to the Jackson Road and folowed it into the Joheneys Works [the Confederate stronghold]. If you go down the River, look at Milagans Bend [Milliken's Bend, Louisiana]. Their is wheare they went off and left me alone to die in a coten field, but I did not stay long in that place, but it took me all day to get about one mile, but I found a good well of water and got away from the river. I began to get better, and the 3 [third] day I caught up with the Regiment at Smiths Plantation, and I had the pleasure of telling our Dr. what I thought of him. He said one of my pluck deserved better treatment, and he would see in the future that I got it, and he never forgot me after that.

On our road home to be mustered out in 1865, we walked from Jackson to the Big Black River Bridge and then took the cars into Vicksburge. Then we camped in the south side of the city, just in the edge of the town at the foot of Cherry St. You can hardley look at a place in Vicksburge but what I was in it 51 years ago. A long time, ain't it?

Newtie [eldest son of William M. Sparks] was down last night, but went home this morning. I am geting over the grip, but slow. Wright when you can. I wanted you to know just where we wer in Vicksburge so you could see it for your selfe, but to take it all in, it will take 3 or 4 days. We lay during the seage about 4 mile north of wheare Grant and Pemberton had interview on July 3 [1863].

As ever


In a handwritten postscript, William M. Sparks added the following sentence to the letter to his brother: "When you come back, tell me all about Vicksburge and the National Cemetery; George Leeper, Will Hoit, Chris Lovewill, Joe Herr of Canton, [and] Ed Briminstall of Marietta are buried there."

From the listing of members of the Seventy-Second Infantry Regiment in the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Vol. IV, pp. 525-52, published in 1901, we know that the George Leeper, to whom Sparks referred, was George W. Leeper of Fairview, Fulton County, Illinois, a private in Sparks's company. Although Sparks noted on his map (see the cover of this issue of the Quarterly) that Leeper had been killed on May 19, 1863, the above report indicates that he died at Vicksburg on May 27th. His death may well have been from wounds that he had received on May 19th, of course. The Will Hoit mentioned by Sparks seems to have been Abraham Hoyt of Avon, Fulton County, who was killed at Vicksburg on May 22, 1863; he was also a member of Company I of the 72nd Regiment, as was, likewise, Chris Lovewill. Lovewill was killed at Vicksburg on May 22, 1863; his hometown had been the village of St. Augustine in Knox County, just over the line from Fulton County, Illinois. Joe Herr was Joseph D. Herr, also a private in Company I; he died at Vicksburg on September 27, 1864. As will be seen in the history that follows, the 72nd Regiment returned to Vicksburg "on provost guard duty" in October 1863 and remained there for over a year. Joseph D. Herr's home town was given in the report noted above as Marietta, Fulton County, whereas Sparks stated that he had been from the town of Canton, also located in Fulton County.

Ed Briminstall, whom Sparks also stated had been buried at the National Cemetery at Vicksburg, may have been the Duane Briminstall of Lee Township in Fulton County, Illinois, who was also a member of Company I, but in the Adjutant General's report, he was listed as having died at St. Louis on April 22, 1863. Perhaps the Ed Briminstall of Marietta to whom Sparks referred was a different man belonging to another regiment.

Sparks also mentioned "Steave Brink and Tom Roach," identifying them as members of the 126th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Actually, both men held the rank of captain. Stephen Brink was captain of Company A, while Thomas K. Roach was captain of Company I. It was their 124th Regiment that "mined" beneath the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg called Fort Hill (shown on Sparks's map), and then packed the tunnel with gunpowder. The explosion was set off on June 25, 1863, and the crater which resulted came to be called the "Slaughter Pen" as soldiers from the 124th Regiment entered it, two companies each for half an hour, in an attempt to capture the fort. They finally succeeded in doing so on July 1st. Both Roach and Brink later resigned their commissions, Roach on July 11 and Brink on August 11, 1863.

Sparks also referred to his cousin, "Jake Whealar," of the 17th Illinois Infantry Regiment. This was Jacob Wheeler, whose home at his enlistment in 1861 was given as Havanna, Illinois, in Vol. II of the Report of the Adjutant General of theState of Illinois, noted above. Wheeler had been a first sergeant of Company K when he was twice wounded at Frederickstown, Maryland, in October 1861; he was later promoted to the rank of first lieutenant and, before the 17th Regiment was sent to Vicksburg, he had become a captain. We have been unable to identify the "Dr. Moris" whom Sparks said he had last seen at Vicksburg.

The following history of the 72nd Regiment is taken from the Report cited above, Vol. IV, pp. 553-54. There had been 967 members of this regiment (including 27 officers) at its mustering-in. At the end of the war, 332 returned home. Seven officers and 78 men were killed during the war; 10 officers and 120 had been wounded; while three officers and 130 men had died of disease. Three officers and 76 men had been taken prisoner.

(The following are excerpts from a "History of Seventy-Second Infantry" found on pages 553 and 554 of the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Vol. IV, published in 1901.)

The Seventy-second Regiment Illinois Volunteers was organized at Chicago, as the first Regiment of the Chicago Board of Trade. . . the entire Regiment was complete and mustered into the service of the United States, for three years, or during the war [on August 23, 1862]. The very day of their muster they were started off for Cairo.

On the 6th day of September they were ordered out to Paducah, KY, where they went on post duty, until the 17th, when they were sent to Columbus, KY, at which point they did guard and picket duty, mainly, until November 21.... [They were sent on] two expeditions, one to Clarkson, Missouri, on October 6th, when they dispersed a rebel camp and captured a number of prisoners, horses, etc., and the other, on October 21, to New Madrid, which was not so eventful.... On November 21 they were ordered to join General Quimby's command, Seventh Division, Seventeenth Army Corps, at Moscow, Tenn., and, with that command, they arrived on December 1, 1862, at Lumpkin's Mills, Miss., whence they accompanied Grant's Army as far as the Yaconapatafa River.... [Later,] the Seventy-second was sent, as guard to the wagon train, to Memphis, Tenn.

On March 1, the Division, of which the Seventy-second Regiment formed a part, started down the Yazoo Pass; but finding Fort Pemberton in their way, and not being able to take it just then, went back. April 23, they landed at Milliken's Bend, La., and, from there, marched up with Grant's Army to Vicksburg. On May 16, they arrived at Champion Hill, just in time to turn the enemy's left, and, by that movement, decided the fate of the day.... On May 17, they found themselves at Big Black, in the rear of Vicksburg, and on the 19th, this Regiment was the first to open the attack on the rebel stronghold. In the desperate charge of the 22d, they participated with the highest honor to themselves, losing some 130 of their number killed, wounded, and missing, but fighting as bravely as men could fight, until the last. From that time until July 4, when the rebels capitulated, the Seventy-second did its duty among the foremost in the siege, and on the capitulation were among the first to enter the city.

On July 12, the Seventy-second embarked for Natchez, Miss., where they landed the succeeding day, taking possession of the town, capturing a large number of prisoners, pieces of artillery, confederate government stores, and 5,000 head of Texas cattle.

October 18, 1863, they went on provost guard duty at Vicksburg, Miss., where they remained until October 30, 1864. [Here we omit the account given of this regiment's activities in Tennessee from November 1864 to February 1865, including "the great battle of Nashville" December 15-16, 1864. Following this battle] until January 2, 1865, they were engaged in the pursuit of Hood's Army, following it up closely as far as Clifton; but Hood managed to escape across the Tennessee River. From Clifton, the Regiment went, by boat, up the Tennessee River, to Eastport, Miss., arriving there on January 13, 1865, and there remaining in quarters until February 9...

February 9 [1865) they started for New Orleans, where they arrived February 21. Until March 21 they remained in camp eight miles below the city, and then they were embarked and taken across the Gulf to Dauphine Island, Ala., where they arrived on March 17.... [We omit here the regiment's activities in Alabama between March 26 and July 19, 1865, when they started their homeward journey, from Union Springs, Alabama. On August 6, they were mustered out of the service at Vicksburg.]