Once Upon a Time

84th Illinois Volunteer Infantry suffered severe losses

Hiram Roberts was badly wounded in battle, and after recovery he returned to his company as a chaplain. | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
By PHIL REYBURN
Posted: Nov. 10, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Nov. 10, 2019 12:08 am

By Aug. 15, 1862, 10 companies that were to comprise the 84th Illinois Volunteer Infantry were camped at Quincy. When mustered into federal service on Sept. 1, the regiment numbered 987 men. These new Union soldiers came from Adams, Brown, Fulton, Henderson, Knox, McDonough and Mercer counties. Adams County recruits made up Companies E and I. Of the 97 men in Co. E, the majority were from Burton and Payson Townships.

Illinois Gov. Richard Yates selected Macomb attorney Louis H. Waters to recruit, organize and command the regiment. His decision was based on Waters' previous service as lieutenant-colonel with the 28th Illinois. Waters was all business, ensuring the men were drilled and equipped before they left Quincy. In addition to their knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., the men were armed with the English-manufactured Enfield rifle. "Our arms happened to be of the very first quality," the regimental historian would write; and he added, on leaving Illinois, the men were "fully prepared for active duty in the ‘tented field.' "

Co. E's captain was 33-year–old Miron G. Tousley, whom The Daily Whig noted showed up in Quincy intending to establish a military school. But with Lincoln's call for 300,000 volunteers, the paper reported that Tousley dropped his military college plan and was "off for the war." The Whig further stated that Tousley and 31-year-old Quincy teacher, Hiram P. Roberts, had "already commenced recruiting a company, into which they expect to draw none but the best volunteers."

The two announced in The Daily Herald that they were looking for "sober, intelligent, and upright men. ..." But only five Quincy men enlisted. It appears that the type of men they were looking for were not to be found in the city. Fortunately, the outlying townships provided the needed recruits.

Roberts became the company's first lieutenant while the second lieutenant position was filled by a 23-year-old farmer from Burton Township, Henry V. Lewis.

Named first sergeant was another Burton Township farmer, Seymour S. Slater, 22. The sergeants were Peter Rinehart, Robert S. Roeschlaub, Crayton Slade and Joseph M. Will.

On Sept. 23, 1862, the men making up Co. E boarded a Quincy and Toledo Railroad car and headed to war. After three days they arrived in Louisville, Ky. Here, 13 six-mule teams and wagons were supplied to transport the 84th's baggage and camp equipment. Now outfitted for the field, the regiment marched off on Sept. 28 to fight the rebels and preserve the Union.

A little over three months had passed, when at dawn on Dec. 31, the 84th found the war that they left home to fight. Union troops were caught off guard when out of the morning mist swarms of rebels attacked the unsuspecting federal line. Thus began the bloody three-day battle along Stones River.

On the last day of the fight, Quincyan William H. Tillson wrote his parents, stating that "the old year has passed away with a bloody fighting and the new one opened in the same way."

After the battle, German-born Fall Creek Township resident David Fox wrote: "our Loss is grat[e], and many Companis are left without officers[.] Some Companis has lost won half of der men but we haf got the victori[.]"

The Whig received a letter from Lt. Roberts saying that the 84th had "acquitted itself with honor, though with severe loss." As for himself, he had been "wounded in the right side .. and while trying to seek shelter was hit again though the calf of the right leg." Roberts' letter was written while lying "on the ground at a field hospital, surrounded by scores of wounded."

The cost to the 84th at Stones River was 67 men killed. This was only the beginning. The regiment saw action in the Tullahoma Campaign; the Battle of Chickamauga; in "the fight above the clouds" at Lookout Mountain; the Atlanta Campaign; and the Battles of Franklin and Nashville.

During the war, the 84th had 124 men killed in action or die of wounds, while 322 more were wounded. Another 145 died of disease or from accidents. Along the way others were discharged as disabled. Of the original 987 men who left Quincy in September 1862, 326 returned to Illinois in June 1865.

With no ties to Quincy, Capt. Tousley moved on. The 1880 Census listed him working as a chemist in Indianapolis. He died in 1907 and was buried in Chicago.

Fst Lt. Hiram Roberts' wounds left him disabled for further front line service. He returned as the regiment's chaplain; however, when his wounds reopened, he resigned his commission. By 1868, he was in Council Bluffs, Iowa, as pastor of the Congregation Church. He died in Colorado in 1888.

Snd Lt. Henry Lewis resigned in February 1865 because of a gangrene wound. To save his life, the decaying flesh was burned off, leaving him partially crippled. About his wound he would say that "it was one of the sacrifices required to save the Union." Renting his farm land, he opened a store in Plainville, where he also was postmaster. He eventually went west, dying in 1921 in Ashland, Neb.

Wounded in the first day's fighting at Stones River, 1st Sgt. Slater died Jan. 21, 1863. His body was returned and buried near his birthplace in Andover, Ohio.

With Lt. Roberts' resignation, Sgt. Robert Roeschlaub became the company's second lieutenant. He was Co. E's acting captain when the war ended. Back in Quincy, he was a shopkeeper, but gave that up to become an apprentice to local architect Robert Bunce. In 1873, he left Quincy for Denver, where he thrived as an architect and contractor. Buildings designed by Roeschlaub remain and are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pvt. Fox was captured at Chickamauga and spent 18 months as a prisoner, mostly at the Andersonville Prison. Returning to Quincy, he became a successful engineer, dying at the Soldiers' Home in 1908.

Periodic reunions brought the veterans back to Quincy. Reporting on the 30th anniversary of the regiment's muster into federal service, The Whig stated: "Stories were told, reminiscences exchanged, and many were the recollections called up ... of camp and battle."

 

Phil Reyburn is a retired field representative for the Social Security Administration. He authored "Clear the Track: A History of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, The Railroad Regiment" and co-edited " 'Jottings from Dixie:' The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, U.S.A."

 

Sources:

"Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Vol. V, Containing Reports for the Years 1861-1866." Springfield, Ill.: Phillips Bros. State Printers, 1901.

 

Eddy, Thomas M. "The Patriotism of Illinois: A Record of the Civil War and Military History of the State." Chicago: Clarke, 1866.

 

Fox, David. Letter in possession of Historical Society of Quincy & Adams County.

 

Fox, William F. "Regimental Losses in the American Civil War 1861-1865." Albany, N.Y.: Joseph McDonough, 1898.

 

https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/rober-s-roeschlaub.

 

Norton, A.T. "History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Illinois." St. Louis: W.S. Bryan publisher, 1879.

 

Perky, Charles. "Past and Present of Saunders County, Nebraska." The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co.: Chicago, 1915.

 

Quincy Daily Herald, Aug. 9, 1862.

 

Quincy Daily Journal, Feb. 14, 1908, and Nov. 9, 1923.

 

Quincy Daily Whig, March 27 and July 26, 1862; Jan. 31, 1863.

 

Quincy Whig, Sept. 8, 1892.

 

Simmons, Louis A. "The History of the 84th Reg't Ill. Vols." Macomb, Ill.: Hampton Brothers, Publishers, 1866.

 

Tillson, William H., letter (Jan. 3, 1863) in the Tillson Family Papers, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Springfield, Ill.