Reed, Benjamin Franklin. Papers, 1861-1863 | Illinois History and Lincoln Collections
This collection consists primarily of the Civil War correspondence of Benjamin Franklin Reed to his Douglas County neighbor Charles Welliver. Reed was a Union Army Captain in the 21st Illinois Infantry who died in September 1863. Also included in this collection are miscellaneous photocopies, a photograph of Reed, and newspaper articles written by Reed's descendant in 1995 and 1996.
Benjamin Franklin Reed was born in 1827 in Bourbon County, Kentucky, to Daniel and Margaret Wayne Reed. The family came to Edgar County, Illinois, in 1835, his father running a road house in Hickory Grove. Reed settled in Douglas County and married twice, in 1847 and 1857, and had two children from each marriage. Reed worked as a farmland speculator. By June 1861, Reed was serving in the U.S. Army as a Captain in Company D of the 21st Illinois Infantry, a company raised in Tuscola. From 1861 to 1863, he and his regiment campaigned in much of the American Civil War's Western Theater, including Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. While away, Reed corresponded with neighboring landowner and farmer Charles Welliver whom Reed trusted to take care of his farm and business matters. Reed was injured at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, and died of his wounds on September 22, 1863.
The correspondence deals with many of the important aspects of the war and soldier life. Reed declared his views on emancipation (4/8/1862 and 3/4/1863), Democratic opposition to the war, conscription (3/4/1863), black troops (2/14/1863 and 6/10/1863), and his commitment to the Union cause. He evaluated the war's progress at certain points, as well as some officers, including Generals Rosecrans and Logan. Reed also described life in camp - going unpaid for months, waiting for mail, gambling, sending fallen comrades home, picket duty, desertion and malingerers filling the field hospitals. He described real sicknesses, too. His company was stricken with measles, typhoid, and smallpox; Reed took quinine "in large quantities" for a time to combat "the chills." Also included are descriptions of the engagements at Fredericktown (10/18/1861) and Stones River (1/8/1863 and 2/15/1863).
Reed's dislike of the Peace Democrats was particularly pronounced in the letters. He often referred to them as traitors, and contrasted the hardships of those in the army with those back home enjoying the constitutional freedom that others were defending. This theme is strong in the letters of 2/15/1863, [late March]/1863, 4/2/1863, 4/11/1863, 8/20/1863, and 9/1/1863.
The primary purpose of most of the letters was to instruct Welliver on carrying out Reed's personal business in Douglas County. Several land sales and purchases, many in dispute or already having been through the courts, are discussed in detail. Reed at one point instructs Welliver to buy railroad land with recently issued currency, writing, "I want 80 acres of good prairie land for my son William" (1/28/1863). Farm business and family business are also included, from purchasing hogs and apple trees to ensuring the children go to school every day. Reed also frequently mentions Welliver's son John, who was serving with the regiment.
Other materials in the collection include a photograph of Reed and a photocopy of an envelope upon which is written "I shook hands with Gen. Grant" (also mentioned in the 6/6/1862 letter), and "I would stay in the service if I knew I would loose [sic] my life." Photocopies of the company muster rolls, two casualty sheets, two pension documents, and four postwar biographical notes are also included. Finally, there is a folder of Villa Grove News newspapers dating to 1995 and 1996. These newspapers include articles about the Grand Army of the Republic room in the local courthouse, Reed's grave, local Civil War veterans, and the village of Hugo, many of which were written by Reed's descendant Melinda Meyer.
Reed's original materials were donated to the Illinois Historical Survey, predecessor of the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, in 1990 by Reed's great granddaughter Louise Helm Randak. These letters were first housed in two oversize binders (Books I and II), but were rehoused into folders in 2018 for better preservation. The Villa Grove News newspapers - at least one of which was donated in 1995 by Reed's descendant Melinda Meyer - were added at a later date.
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