A GREENE COUNTY CIVIL WAR SOLDIER’S STORY
This is the story of a Civil War soldier who did not return home from the war. I have, however, managed to find out what really happened to him--- things his wife and child never knew! Solving one mystery invariably opens many others, especially as regarding the motivation of an individual—why did he—whatever! But here is what I’ve discovered and although it is still an incomplete story, half a loaf is better than none. Who knows if or when the rest of this story will ever emerge? For I’ve learned patience, if nothing else, in tracing this man forward and backward in time. Backward to his family and ancestors in Germany and also forward to his fate, even though his tracks had been partly obscured, both deliberately to prevent this and by passage of time.
PART ONE: Joseph Feger, a Discovered History
At first he was no more than a name, a name whispered breathlessly to me by my great-aunt Gertrude (Ontis) Price, who’d begun this search for our ancestry long before I ever located her and joined forces.
“Joseph Fager,” she told me, “was your great-grandma Mag’s father.” She’d learned that much and nothing more about him, as there was simply nothing more to know from the scanty family tradition and what little we found in local county records. I then began my own expanded search in earnest, but my initial searching also yielded little save dead ends, even trying alternate spellings of the last name brought only false leads. Our roots seemed entirely dead and buried! No family Bibles emerged with any clue and even the fact that any of our ancestors had fought in the Civil War was completely unknown to all succeeding generations of our family. There was so little for us moderns to go on; just the 1860 census and a marriage record, both being spare with details. The county histories of the region also had no mention of this rare family name, nor even of his descendants and our ancestors, as if no one had wanted, or perhaps dared to tell it. Almost immediately I smelled a cover-up—was this a scandal hidden from view?
Turning to the 1860 Federal census for Greene county IL, we find on page 747 an enumeration of free inhabitants living “between Apple Creek & Macoupin” River. Thomas Carlin, Assistant Marshal, accomplished this part of the census on the 13th day of July 1860. On that day he found a young immigrant:
Joseph Feger, age 21, who had been born in Germany--- "State not known”, his occupation listed as "Farm Hand". Joseph Feger had no personal or real estate, as would be expected of a young farm hand, yet I wonder at his State in Germany not being known. Very likely he was not around at the time and the information given by others? He is living with James M. Gates, a farmer, in dwelling house and family numbered in order of visitation # 896. James M. Gates possessed $2,000 value of Real Estate and $500 of personal estate and Joseph is only one of the four farm hands living in his household. The others are all about the same age, in their early twenties: Joseph Duncan, William Hill and Samuel Gates. The later along with Sarah A. Gates, 19, may be a child or relative of the owner Mr. Gates, who is said to be 36 and is living with Eunice Henderson, 43, a “domestic” from Ohio.
The exact date of this ‘visitation’ is important here, for while there is a box to check on this census to indicate whether a person had been “married within the year”, that place is left blank for Mr. Feger, however, the record shows that he had tied the knot a mere nine days previous to this census taking. Perhaps that explains the lack of complete information about him, perhaps he was not out in the fields, but still celebrating with his new bride away from this home he shared with his employer? Would they not have known what he was up to?
Then again, Mr. Carlin may have been in a hurry or simply gotten distracted or confused during this questioning of a mixed family household, as often occurred. I am otherwise unable to account for this rather incomplete account of Joseph Feger’s circumstances on that mid July day.
State of Illinois, Greene County.
The people of the State of Illinois,
To all who shall see these presents,
Know ye, that License and Permission are hereby given to any
regular Minister of the Gospel authorized to Marry by the Church
or Society to which he belongs: any Justice of the Supreme
Court: Judge of any Superior Court: or any Justice of the Peace,
to celebrate and certify the Marriage of Mr. Joseph Feger and
Miss Margaret Ann Smith now both of this County, according to
the usual Custom, and Laws of Illinois.
WITNESS: Francis P. Vedder, Clerk of the County Court of Greene
County, Illinois, and the Seal thereof being hereto affixed at
Carrollton, this 27th day of June in the Year of our Lord, one
thousand eight hundred and sixty Francis P. Vedder Clerk
~THIS IS TO CERTIFY~
That on the 4th day of July A.D. 1860
I joined in the Holy Bonds of Matrimony, Mr. Joseph Feger and
Miss Margaret Ann Smith according to the usual custom, and the
Laws of Illinois. Given under my hand and seal the 4th day of
July A.D. 1860
Thus, on June 27th Joseph Feger had purchased marriage License # 4362 from Francis P. Vedder, County Clerk of Greene County IL and on July 4, 1860 he had married Margaret Ann Smith, as certified by Richard Robley, Justice of the Peace. This was not a church wedding, at least I have not been able to discover that this event was ever celebrated within any church thereabouts and their ages or other personal data are most unfortunately not recorded here, whether it ever was or is missing I cannot say. With over a week passing between the purchase of the License and the actual marriage, it was certainly not a spur of the moment thing, or an ill-considered elopement. Or was it? With so little to go on we cannot rule out complications, like a ‘shotgun wedding,’ but we also have no reason to suppose so.
The choice of that auspicious date for his land of adoption, the Fourth of July, for their more personal union could imply a strong patriotic feeling in our new immigrant. After all, he has no family here with him. Undoubtedly he was a young man who had already traveled a rough road alone to arrive here by this last year of peace—before the nation would be torn apart by Civil War. We can only assume that they were a happy couple; I have not been unable to discover anything for sure about his bride. Her age and origin are perplexing, later on, the 1870 census would give her age as 35, while the 1880 census would have it as 54. She seems to be aging too rapidly rather than getting younger as most women do! She was, however, consistently said to have been born in Illinois.
We have many unanswered questions and few insights. Did this new couple remain to live on the estate of Mr. Gates? I find that most probable, as they definitely remained in Greene County. If so, we may narrow down their residence more than simply “between Apple Creek & Macoupin” within the lines of Greene County. That designation takes in all of Townships 9 and 10.
Fortunately, the Illinois State Archives has only one Public Domain Land Sale for a James Monroe Gates in this county. It is for 80 acres in township 9 North, range 13 West, E2NE of section 8. That places them in the Woodville or Eldred area, near a nameless lake and not far from the Illinois River. This appears to be about the same area that Margaret appears in on the 1870-80 censuses, but more on that later.
They had a daughter born sometime before June in the momentous year of 1861; I’m still unable to learn the exact date. She was named Fanny, after Franziska, his mother, which I shall go more into later on. But now time moves swiftly and in months this new family of three was swept into the uncertainties of war along with many of their neighbors and of the nation around them. We may imagine that this new father was pulled in two directions. Surely he was patriotic, as his 4th of July wedding should attest, but he initially held back from joining the colors to preserve the union during the immediate recruiting hysteria. To do so would take him far from hearth and home and how cruel that would have seemed, to leave his new wife and infant daughter completely on their own. But still, through patriotism he must have been drawn to join up. And perhaps too, like so many others, he also hankered after the thrill of some exotic adventure far from the domestic challenge he, still a young man, had so recently taken on. At any rate, summer had almost passed and still this war, far from winding down, had barely begun. There was still time to get into it and more and more men were continually needed, even though Illinois had surpassed its quota of volunteer recruits and did not have to draft men, as other states did. Captain Joshua C. Winters was raising yet another company of men in Greene County, but as the quota of recruits for Illinois was already met, they would have to go to Missouri and be attributed to that State’s allotment of troops.
According to his Military file, Joseph Feger first signed on
in Carrollton on August 24, 1861 and then, on September 21,
1861, was enrolled in St. Louis Missouri by Captain Winters for
a period of three years. Thus he found himself sworn into the
9th Infantry Regiment of Missouri Volunteers, each company of
which was formed in a different Illinois county and Company G,
his company, was composed of men from Greene County. Surely he
was among friends and neighbors here in this merry band, but I
cannot say for certain which of these men whose names appear on
the muster roll he may have known before this moment, at least
none of the names on his page of the 1860 census appears there.
On this 21 September his description was recorded in the Company
book thus: “age 22 years; height 6 feet – inches. Complexion
light; hair dark. Where born Germany. Occupation farmer.”
They immediately marched into the thick of the fighting…
This Regiment, which had been incorporated in St. Louis as the 9th Missouri, although made up of Illinois men, became the 59th ILLINOIS regiment on Feb. 12, 1862. I shall not here go into the many battles and long marches this unit embarked on; it was called the “Greyhound” Regiment for all the territory of the western Department it covered, fighting battles all the way. Pea Ridge to Arkansas, the siege of Corinth, Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, leading the charge up Missionary Ridge, with Sherman to Atlanta and then hurried back to Tennessee to rebuff a rebel counter-attack to Nashville. All this is nicely laid out in two books:
Episodes of the Civil War: Nine Campaigns in Nine States by
Corp. George W. Heer, 1890, and the earlier History of the
Fifty-Ninth Regiment Illinois Volunteers, by Dr. D. Lathrop,
Instead I shall focus what we can know for sure of this one
soldier’s experiences from the record; he is not mentioned by
name in any larger history, although it may be assumed that he
participated as a foot soldier in the early battles and marches
of his regiment.
From February 1862, however, Joseph Feger is “absent on extra duty. Blacksmith at Lebanon since Feb 10.” That would be Lebanon TN and this seems to be where Joseph developed or returned to the trade of Blacksmith, as heretofore he had been listed only as a farmer. Beginning in 1862 he seems to be largely absent from the rank and file of his Company on extra or “detached” service. I wonder whether all this kept him out of the several battles the Regiment engaged in during this time? Did it enable him to see more of the country with less supervision than otherwise would be the case? But we digress…
April 1862: teamster from date of last return
May 1862: on extra duty as Blacksmith
July 1862: Blacksmith
Oct. 1862 to May 1863: on daily duty, Regimental Blacksmith,
detailed Oct. 29, 1862, order of Lt. Col. Fredrick, Comdg. Regt.
Sept. & Oct. 1863: absent, detailed as teamster in Div. Supply
train, (from) Sept. 25, ’63, order of Lt. Col. J. C. Winters
Nov. & Dec. 1863 Reenlisted as a veteran Volunteer Nov. 22/63
On this last date was yet another description entered into the Regimental Roll. “Eyes dark; hair dark; complexion dark; height 6 ft. __ in.” His complexion has darkened! We now also have his pay. “Advances $25.00, Bounty paid $35.00; due $340.00. Where credited; Pioneer, Greene Co. Ill.”
From this last it appears that his pay advance and Bounty
were sent to his post office in Pioneer, Greene County Illinois,
which is presently the village of Eldred. That leads me to
believe that his family received this pay for their maintenance
and support. How else would they get on? It is only at this
point that the location “Pioneer” appears on the muster Roll of
some of the veteran reenlistments. Was this the designation of a
new town? Now we find Pioneer as a residence on the muster roll
for other men who had earlier been listed as only Greene County.
Roster of Company "G" 59th Illinois Infantrymen who were
residents of Pioneer Greene Co. IL. These three men would have
been neighbors and comrades of our Joe Feger.
Name Rank Residence Date of Muster Remarks
CUMMINS, William Private Greene Co. Aug 7, 1861 Re-enlisted as a
CUMMINS, William Veteran Pioneer Jan 12, 1864Sgt. M.O. Dec 8,
EMLEY, Isaac Private Greene Co. Aug 7, 1861Re-enlisted as
EMLEY, Isaac Veteran Pioneer Jan 12, 1864 Sgt. M.O. Dec 8, 1865
SWAN, Mathew Private Greene Co. Aug 7, 1861 Re-enlisted as
SWAN, Mathew Veteran Pioneer Jan 12, 1864 Disch. Jun 15, 1865
At any rate he not only made it through most of his term of service unscathed, but he was persuaded to reenlist for another three years! This is from the history of the 59th.
While the regiment lay at Ringgold, an order was received at headquarters authorizing the enlistment of veteran volunteers, to serve for three years, or during the war, with the proviso that those who had been in service for two years would be accepted, and none others; and that each should receive a bounty of four hundred and two dollars, and a thirty days furlough; and also, that their old term of service should expire, and their new term commence, on the day of enlistment. Some fifteen or twenty re-enlisted immediately, and, after returning to Whiteside, some two hundred and fifty others entered their names for the veteran service. This, according to an act of the war department, constituted the fifty-ninth a veteran regiment. It, therefore, now lost its identity as the 59th Regiment Illinois Volunteers, and assumed the name of 59th Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment of Illinois. The men were mustered on the 5th day of January 1864, as veterans, and, on the 13th of February, arrived at Springfield, Illinois, to receive their promised furloughs. On their arrival, Adjutant-General Fuller addressed them… (page 236)
From his service file I have his reenlistment papers:
Veteran Volunteer ENLISTMENT
STATE OF TOWN OF
I Joseph Fegar (sic) born in Germany
In the state of (space crossed out) aged twenty-two years, and
by occupation a farmer. Do hereby acknowledge to have
voluntarily reenlisted this twenty-second day November 1863, to
serve as a soldier in the Army of the United States of America,
for the period of three YEARS or during the war: Do also agree
to accept such bounty, pay, rations, and clothing, as are, or
may be, established by law for veteran volunteers. And I, Joseph
Fegar, do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and
allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will
serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or
opposers whomsoever; and that I will observe and obey the orders
of the President of the United States, and the orders of the
officers appointed over me, according to the rules of war.
Sworn and subscribed to, at Whiteside Tenn.
This 22 day of Nov. 1863 (signed) Joseph Fegar
Before D.F. Korhammer
Lieut. & Recruiting officer
I certify, on honor, that I have carefully examined the above
named Volunteer, agreeably to the General Regulations of the
Army, and that, in my opinion, he is free from all bodily
defects and mental infirmity, which would in any way disqualify
him from performing the duties of a soldier.
Joseph W. Gaston
Asst. Surgn. 59th Ill Inf. Vol. Inf.
I certify on honor, that I have minutely inspected the
Volunteer, Joe Fegar previously to his enlistment, and that he
was entirely sober when enlisted; that, to the best of my
judgment and belief, he is of lawful age; and that, in accepting
him as duly qualified to perform the duties of an able bodied
soldier, I have strictly observed the regulations which govern
the recruiting service.
This soldier has hazel eyes, dark hair, light complexion, is 6
feet x inches high.
David F. Korhammer
59 Regiment of Ills. Infty Volunteers,
Lieut. And Recruiting officer
It is interesting to note the differences in his physical
description from his first enlistment and also how his name is
phonetically altered here to “Fegar”. How long had it been since
he last saw his wife and child? I can only wonder if they wrote
to each other during the long separation, for to my knowledge no
such letter now exists. The next verifiable chance to see each
other would be this furlough following his reenlistment. His
service record contains this:
No. 4001 Requisition for Transportation of U.S. Troops,
Issued March 7th 1864
On agent (illegible) R.R.
At (illegible) for transportation of 59th Ill vol Inf
From .. to Springfield Ill
I believe the date above was for his train ticket back to TN. On Jan. 12, 1864 Joseph and the other re-enlisted men were mustered in again at Whiteside Tennessee, in the same company G, as a veteran, and the whole was given transportation home for furlough.
Thirty-day furlough! It actually began on Feb. 15, 1864, immediately after the speech at the Springfield Station mentioned above. Then he “Reported for duty Mar. 16/64” and returned to the war in Tennessee. This was undoubtedly the first chance Joseph had of seeing his family since his mustering in at St. Louis. A good year and a half had gone by, and with it a long and arduous campaign over deadly battlefields that had claimed the lives of comrades and sent others home disabled. And if we may assume it affected these men, their absence as well must surely have affected the women and children left so far behind. His infant daughter Fanny would have grown much in these years and he may well have seemed a stranger to her. Perhaps also he’d become a stranger to his wife? For their marriage had lasted little more than a year before his enlistment and absence does not always make the heart grow fonder as some would have it. Absence can also kill a relationship. Following are his further activities from his service file:
Feb. 1864: absent on furlough.
March 1864: absent, sick, Hospl. Nashville, Tenn, March 30, ’64.
May 1864 to Jany. 1865: absent on detached service in ambulance
Corps. Since May 7, ’64.
And then comes the bombshell, the reason we had so little of his
life passed down to us.
Feb. 1865: Deserted Dec. 14, ’64, Nashville Tenn. From detached
service in ambulance train.
Joseph Feger, the reenlisted veteran of so many battles, had
deserted his unit barely eight months after returning from
furlough! What could have been his motivation—to return to his
family? Or was it simple cowardice, running from the face of the
enemy? Then there is this notation for clarification at the end
of this synopsis of his service record:
Name appears also as Feger, Fager, Fegan
The date he deserted his Regiment is recorded as Dec. 14, 1864 and we must turn to that date in the Regimental histories to search for a clue to his motivation. What was happening in his world on that winter’s day? We find that this was the day before the momentous Battle of Nashville Tennessee. The 59th Illinois regiment, in the language of General Thomas, "took the initiative in the brilliant deeds of that day."
From the Regimental History we have:
The Fifty-ninth was in the first line of the assaulting column,
and planted the first colors on the captured works... the
regiment lost, in killed and wounded, one third of its numbers
engaged, among them were nine officers, including Colonel Post,
who was severely wounded with grape shot...
From this bare record I cannot tell if Joseph was expected to be in that exultant charge against the enemy lines, for he was recorded as deserting from the ambulance train. Would he have been expecting to be sent in, musket in hand, against the rebel works with the rest of his company on that fateful day? If so, perhaps a sense of foreboding, that his luck may have been about to run out, assailed him with mortal fear and he took his chance and ran for it? Perhaps his participation in earlier battles and also seeing the maimed and killed during his service with the ambulance train could have haunted him with the knowledge of what they would be in for on tomorrow’s assault? Whether it was a pining for his family or cowardice that removed him from that scene of carnage, Joseph was officially listed as a deserter and disappears from the service record of his regiment throughout the rest of the war.
We should not be too shocked; desertion was common enough in the War Between the States and this regiment and company was hardly an exception. Besides Mr. Feger there 14 other outright deserters listed on the company muster roll and many others, an unbelievable 29 by my count who were mainly substitutes and transfers, who never even reported for duty in the first place!
But what of his soldier’s pay? Who got the bulk of it? Did he
forward all or some of it to his wife and child or did he keep
or spend it? The final account from this regiment’s payroll:
“Last paid to Aug. 31, 1864. Due soldier for clothing account:
$7.47. Bounty paid $160.00; due $240.00”. It looks like he never
got the rest of his promised $400 Bounty, but then he didn’t
fulfill his part of the bargain either. In fact it had become
quite a racket! The Army had wised up and discontinued lump sum
payments, as plenty of men had enlisted under false names just
to run off with their bounty money at the first opportunity and
then repeat the ruse elsewhere.
Did he have assistance or did he instigate this scheme all
alone? Now our Joseph Feger was just another hunted man on the
run, perhaps consorting with such undesirable, or unpatriotic
elements as these “Bounty-Jumpers” or anti-war “Copperheads” who
sometimes offered safe haven to deserters.
continued Part 2 ...