Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Forts of Palos, Illinois. Investigations into two fortified fort sites near Chicago.

In the 1830s, the remains of earthwork fortifications were discovered in what is now Palos Hills, Illinois (a suburb some eighteen miles southwest of Chicago).
The forts were located atop a bluff overlooking what was once the old Ausagaunashkee Swamp, a vast, reed-choked marsh that had once stretched from the Desplaines River eastward to the Calumet River. While local legend contends the forts were the work of the French explorers (a belief that conveniently explains the presence of fortifications in an area having no known military history), who built these works, when, and why are questions yet to be explained adequately.

By about 1904, farming and other inroads of civilization had erased the physical features of the earthworks, and their precise locations became as clouded as their origins.

With no positive historical record of the construction of these fortifications yet found, and with all visible features having been erased some eighty years ago, the question of whether or not they actually existed arises. Fortunately, interest in Chicago area history had begun to develop before the earthworks were leveled, and a few people familiar with the sites made mention of them. One such person was Dr. Valentine A. Boyer (one of' Chicago's earliest physicians) who wrote to the Chicago Historical Society on June 4, 1883: 

"This is to point out the locality or the remains or an old Fort located in the town or Palos, Cook County Illinois, at the crossing or the old Sag trail, which crossed the Ausagaunashkee Swamp, and was the only crossing available East or the Des Plaines River prior to the building of the Archer Bridge in 1836. The remains of the fort situated near this crossing were to be found on the elevated timber land, commanding a view of the surrounding country, and as a military hold would well command and guard the crossing; who built this fort I have never been able to find any account of it in any historical works I have had access to. I first saw it in 1833 and since then visited it often in company with other persons some of whom are still alive. I feel satisfied it was not built during the Sac War from its appearance when I first saw it, and that it may have been built by the Old French explorers who are known to have visited this region of country two centuries ago and more, is more than probable from circumstances connected therewith, in my mind, tending to substantiate that fact, the strongest evidence being the growth of trees a century old being found growing in its environs. It was evidently the work of an enlightened people skilled in the science of warfare. As a strategical point it most completely commanded the surrounding country and crossing of the Swamp.

The tracing herewith accompanying was made from the original United States Surveys prior to the year 1836, on which the course of the contemplated Illinois and Michigan Canal was traced out to which I have added the lines showing the Calumet Feeder, the old Sag Trail, and some minor additions not noted on the original map.” 

Dr. Boyer’s crude map (Figure 5) showed a figurative representation of a fort on the line between the SE 1/1 of section 16 and the SW 1/4 of section 15, Palos Township (T37 N., R12 E. of 3rd P.M.) [for simplification, this location will be referred to as SITE A; see Figure 2]. His supposition that Frenchmen built this fort unfortunately became "fact" in the minds of many throughout the years, thus inadvertently spawning a French "heritage" that has yet to be proven.

Early Chicago Historian A.T. Andreas wrote in 1884: "There is in the town of Palos the ruins now clearly discernable or what were once evidently French or Indian fortifications. These ruins, which are situated on the Farm of Theodore Lucas, some three miles southwest [actually southeast] of Willow Springs, are yet so well preserved as to enable one to clearly trace their former extent and size. From their location on a rising piece of ground, and the area they once evidentially enclosed, the conclusion is arrived at that they were of considerable importance and well-designed in their construction For affording refuge and protection to a large number of persons. As to who built them, no one knows… The Fort was located in the West half of section 15, town of Palos, on the Farm of Theodore Lucas." Andreas also quotes the Boyer letter elsewhere in his book.

At the close of the 19th century, interest in area archeology was also emerging, with some primitive archeological surveys of the area taking place. Conducting one such survey was Karl August Dilg, whose notes mention "the remains of a former cabin or stockade fort dating back to the French period.” He states this feature was "West of the Sag Indian village,” however he also makes a margin note to the effect that the features he was describing were in Palos Township; this would place them, in point of fact, east of the Sag Indian village, not west. Dilg's papers are not very precise and his conclusions often misguided.

On the other hand was Albert F. Scharf, a German immigrant who, from the time he arrived in Chicago as a boy in 1853 until his death in 1929, spent a great deal of time traveling Cook and Will counties talking to farmers and long-time residents, visiting, recording, and mapping Indian sites; his volumes of notes written over the last Quarter of his life form an early archeological survey still used by archeologists today. Archeologists I have talked and worked with have found Scharf's placement of Indian sites to be quite accurate, although some of his writings get a bit romantic.

Of the Palos fortifications, Scharf says: "The ruins of this supposedly French fort in section 15, town of Palos, Cook County, first described by Dr. V.A. Boyer, were found in the same condition in 1837, by A.J. Mathieson [Mathewson], of Lockport, Illinois. But Mr. Mathieson says there were two forts, the other being similarly situated one mile to the northeast in section 14 of the same town.

Ruins of a French fort, or stockade, were also found in section 8, town of New Lenox, Will County, Illinois. Of the original formation of these ruins, Mr. Mathieson can give an accurate description, having surveyed and platted them at that time. To some extent, the first two mentioned can be traced today, but the last mentioned one is well preserved and covered with timber.

The location of the Boyer ruin can be round on the northeast corner of the Southwest quarter of section 15, town of Palos, Cook County, on the farm of Theodore Lucas. For a description of this ruin and also the following, which are partially defaced, the writer is indebted to Mr. A.J. Mathieson, who says: 'The earthwork in section 15, formed an equilateral triangle, pointing to the forks of the Sag, having three Sally Ports. (A Sally Port is a small, easily secured door in a fortification. During a siege, defending raiding parties would "sally forth" from these ports and attack the besiegers.)

The location of the Mathieson ruin (1837), is in the northeast corner of the northwest quarter of sec 14, town of Palos, on the farm of Mr. Theisen. This ruin Mr. Mathieson says was an earthwork in the form of a square, true to the points of the compass, and having four Sally Ports. Both or these ruins are well known to the early settlers…"

Also with the above quote, Scharf mentions the possibility of another fortification of some sort in Willow Springs, Illinois, near the Desplaines River, at the southeast corner of section 32, Lyons Township, but states the site was obliterated by the building of the "Drainage Canal." (No other reference to this fortification can be found.) Writing at apparently later date (many of Scharf's writings are not dated), Scharf says: "On the S.W. quarter of section 14, there is said to have been a square enclosure ('fort') of small size, having openings in the middle of each or the four sides. This earthwork was about two-hundred feet square and was surrounded by a ditch. No trace or it now exists…

A triangular earthwork, the point of which directed toward the water, was located just where the Ausaganash trail crossed the swamp this earthwork had openings in each of its three sides. It also has long since disappeared."

Scharf's map, "Crossing of the Old Sag Trail,” detail 28" (Figure 7) shows a triangular fort on the N.E. quarter of the S.W. quarter of Section 15 extending slightly into the S.E. quarter of the N.W. quarter of the same section, Palos Township. [This fort is referred to as SITE B (see Figure 2)]. The map also shows a square fortification on the border between the N.W. quarter of the N.W. quarter of Section 14 and the S.W. quarter of the S.W. quarter of Section 9, same township [this fort is referred to as SITE C].

It should be noted that the locations shown on Scharf's map do not jive totally with his written descriptions; in both cases, the map figures are shifted slightly (perhaps a matter of yards) to the north of the locations described in his writing. This is probably because the size of the forts on the map was exaggerated somewhat for the sake of illustration -- artistic license -- and would therefore take up more space than if drawn to scale. Although (assuming momentarily they are drawn to scale} forts of this size may have existed, they would probably have received more attention in historic record. 

Although the map is undated, its drawing can be placed sometime prior to 1904 by Scharf's placement of Sacred Heart Church on Kean Avenue in Section 10. The church at that location burned in 1903, and was rebuilt in 1904 on or near where he shows the triangular fort [SITE B]. Scharf would surely have noted this had the building been there for a while.

Scharf's notes mention interviewing "A.J. Mathieson" at the man's office in Lockport, Illinois, in 1903. Other details gleaned from Scharf indicate that his Mr. "Mathieson" must have, in fact, been Artemus Julias Mathewson, a civil engineer and official with the Illinois-Michigan Canal commission and (at times) County Surveyor for Will County. In 1837 (and later), Mathewson was involved with work on the Calumet Feeder (a channel cut through the Sag swamp to provide additional water to the I&M Canal) and would certainly have been familiar with the Palos area. Scharf says Mathewson surveyed and platted the earthworks in sections 14 and 15, and that he willed his papers to his grandson Arnold (Figure 3). In a conversation with a member of the Illinois & Michigan Canal Museum staff in 1975. Following Mathewson’s death, a legal dispute arose over who had jurisdiction to his papers, the result apparently being that his Canal and government-related papers were eventually split between the I&M Canal Museum, the Illinois State Archives, and possibly some other offices, while his private papers -- if any actually existed -- would have been retained by the family. In short, his papers were scattered.

The Mathewson papers at the I&M Museum consist mainly of his survey notebooks for the Canal proper and have no direct relation to the Palos area. At the Illinois State Archives, however, Director John Daly was able to turn up Mathewson's survey and plat notebook for the Calumet Feeder dated 1849 (at which time the Feeder was already operational), as well as a Mathewson map of Palos Township delineating the Feeder route through the Sag swamp. The survey notebook reveals nothing related to the fort sites. However, near where the Scharf map shows the "Mathieson" fort [SITE C] in section 14, the Mathewson map shows a peculiar (and unexplained) symbol resembling a hollow, four-pointed star. Although it could be some sort of surveyor's marking, this symbol does not appear anywhere else on either Mathewson's map or in his notebook; it’s not a coincidence that this mark should appear where it does, especially considering Scharf's contention that Mathewson had surveyed the forts. On the other hand, though, nothing of note appears in sections 15 or 16 (where the "Boyer" earthwork could be expected to turn up) on this map. Mr. Daly added that the notebook and map were all the related Mathewson material on file at the Illinois State Archives. If Mathewson did make more extensive drawings of both sites, they are either lost to history or with some unknown descendant.

Around the turn of the century (and later), historians were arguing over the placement of the Chicago Portage route. While most favored the traditional Chicago River/Mud Lake/Desplaines River route, some people supported a Calumet River/Sag Swamp/Desplaines River placement of the portage. In the latter camp was newspaper editor Henry W. Lee, who stated his case in a paper presented to the Illinois State Historical Society in 1912; the "Boyer" fort was included in his argument. He quoted passages from Boyer and Andreas, then stated: “I have personally visited this site [SITE B] several times and have a number of relics including a skull, arrowheads, and spear heads, and a curious old iron axe, said to be of French make. Mr. Peter Lucas of Palos has a similar axe…

···It is more than likely that the original French Fort at Chicago (is Fort Chicago a myth?) was located at Palos. There is today a Roman Catholic Church on the crown of the hill, just above the fort."

The Catholic Church referred to here was Sacred Heart Church (now the Sacred Heart-Chapel Hill Newman Center) -- the one built in 1904 at Site B. However, a pamphlet published by the Sacred Heart Parish in 1933 mentions "…the local tradition to the effect that the old French Fort stood on the Lucas farm, a few feet from our present Church."

In addition to the above references, there was an interview with Ann Busch Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is the daughter of Charles J. Busch, one of the Busch/Lucas clan mentioned in Scharf's notes. The Busch and Lucas families were among the oldest in the area. Ann Busch Wilson was born around 1907 and grew up on her father's farm located at Site B just west of the Sacred Heart Church building previously mentioned.

Mrs. Wilson stated her father had told her that a fort had existed on their property west of their house. She and her son, Mark, recalled that visitors often came out to look around the farm (probably for artifacts), but usually searched near the bottom of the hill south of the buildings.

Also interviewed was Mrs. Clara Thiesen Kueltzo, who grew up on the Thiesen farm mentioned by Scharf in relation to the "Mathewson" earthworks in section 14 [SITE C]. Mrs. Kueltzo referred to the fort as the “Indian Fort" and said it was located where the Palos Hills City Hall stands today. She also stated all traces of the fort had disappeared by her time. Clearing up a local legend, she said that a log cabin once standing on the site was the Thiesen homestead and was not part of the fort as some old residents claimed. (The cabin was razed in the 1950's, although Mrs. Kueltzo now wishes it had been saved. The Palos Hills City Hall is south of 103rd Street at 86th Avenue [SITE C] -- a few yards south of where Scharf's map shows one of the forts to be, and almost exactly where the Mathewson map indicates something.

One long-time resident of the area once stated that one of the forts had been on "Lady Brith Road,” although he couldn't -- or wouldn't – say where that had been. That problem might be cleared-up through the following reference (in a 1940 town history article) to the above mentioned cabin: "This house stands but a few yards from one of the old Indian forts before mentioned at 103rd street near 86th avenue (Ladies' Lane).” The same article mentions the Site C fort in a discussion of a possible (but very improbable) camp of Father Marquette near "Stony Creek, later known as the 'Feeder,’ and now the Sag Canal, where it was crossed by the Sauganash Trail and ford, and above which is the site of one of the old Indian forts. It was near this spot that on what was later the Theodore Lucas farm that two French axes were found some years ago.”

Were there actually two forts? Before 1900, farms in the area surrounding the Sag swamp were few and far between, therefore much -- if not most -- of the area discussed here was covered with dense brush and timber. And, it may be added, with the coming of the Cook County Forest Preserves, much of the area has been restored to that condition today. Boyer's visits were concluded before there were any real landmarks, and he attempted to pinpoint the site using a map long out of date, even in his time. Wandering through miles of underbrush, it is quite believable he and his contemporaries would not have found another fort unless they knew it was there. It is even conceivable some parties may have seen (at different times) both sites yet not realize they weren't the same one.

The only man who actually saw the two different works (in their entirety) on two different sites was Mathewson, and on that fact we must trust Scharf's account. Mathewson was a trained engineer who must have spent much time on the bluffs of the Sag while surveying the Calumet Feeder route. Perhaps he is the only early visitor to the area to realize there really were two fortifications. Mathewson would also have been capable of determining and remembering the planform of such works.

Scharf himself seems to have briefly seen only bits of two forts before their visible features were forever leveled by "progress." According to members of the Lucas-Busch family, their ancestors (who occupied Site B -- the Boyer/Scharf site in section 15) may have looked on such ancient works with curiosity, but would not have hesitated to level them if they stood in the way of plowing or other projects. Perhaps the Thiesens of the section 14 site [SITE C] felt the same way. A.F. Scharf came along just a little too late and therefore was dependent on Mathewson for his descriptions of the works as they were. I believe Scharf's map exaggerates the size of the forts for the purpose of depiction, but is accurate in placing the sites (within, perhaps, a few hundred feet).

Taking into account references made after the sites were erased (but while people who had seen the features -- perhaps even those responsible for their leveling -- were still alive), as well as statements made by descendants of the owners of the sites, it is fairly certain there were indeed two separate earthworks forts found in Palos. Their probable locations being Site C -- the Palos Hills City Hall/Green Hills Library property at 86th avenue and 103rd street (the "Mathewson" fort, NE 1/4 of NW 1/4 of Section 14, formerly the Thiesen farm), and Site B -- west of the Sacred Heart/Newman Center at 107th street and Kean avenue (the "Boyer/Scharf" site, NE 1/4 of SW 1/4 of Sec. 15, formerly the Lucas-Busch farm). However, the original "Boyer" site as shown on his 1884 map [SITE A] should not be totally ignored, for archeologists found some items there that could possibly be fort related.

SITE A - Boyer’s depiction of the fort (rectangular walls with corner bastions and a flag, no less) on his map was for the sake of illustration only, and the works would have to have been of grandiose proportions if drawn to scale. While it is probable Boyer missed his mark slightly in placing the site where he did, it still deserves some consideration as a legitimate location. Today the site is owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District; it is on a high bluff overlooking the Calumet Sag Channel and the Sag Valley (once the Sagaunash Swamp). The valley forms a narrow neck at this point. A great portion of the hillside along the north-south section line was entirely removed for the construction of the four lane Route 45. The adjacent area in section 15 was completely removed by a deep gravel quarry operation, only to be refilled as a garbage dump or "sanitary landfill" (the ground contours you see today are original, only the artifacts have been changed). On the west side of the highway cut, the land is more or less at its original contour, forming the bluff extending westward into section 16. There was an Indian village on this site (the Palos Site, Illinois Archeological survey# 11-CK-26); it was partially excavated by members of the Chicago Field Museum Summer Archeology Program in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although the site proved to have had longstanding intermittent occupation the bulk of the artifacts were of the Upper Mississippian culture, Blue Island subculture, with some items definitely assignable to the Early Historic period; the principal occupation was figured to the late 17th century. Along with Indian artifacts a limited number of European trade goods were found, including 17th century beads, a 17th century "Jesuit" ring (found on the finger of an 18 year old male skeleton), and a silver musket trigger guard tentatively identified as 18th or possibly 17th century French. Also found was a possible clasp knife and a few brass fragments. Of particular interest was a mass burial of 13 men, women, and children ranging in ages from 1 to 58; all appeared to be buried at one time with little order. Although no marks of violence were apparent, many body parts were missing. Archeologists believed this to have been the spring burial of dead accumulated over a particularly devastating winter; this certainly makes sense, although there is the possibility that, if some sort of foul play had occurred, no evidence may have been left on the skeletal remains found. Traces of a previous farm also are present here.

SITE B - This site is also owned by the Forest Preserve District, although the eastern portion may be under the control of the Sacred Heart Newman Center, whose building is on part of the possible site. About ½ mile northeast of the Boyer site, this one is on an upper bluff overlooking a lower bluff (the remaining beachfront of the Calumet Stage of Ancient Lake Chicago). West of the old Church is a small asphalt parking lot. West of that is the overgrown remains of the Busch farmyard, where bits of old buildings are evident. Since the majority of these buildings were constructed before earthmoving Equipment was in common use, it is possible that soil disturbance was kept to a minimum, excepting the machinery used by the Forest Preserves during building removal and during mass tree-planting operations. Previous archeological investigation of this site is not known at this point.

SITE C - Also situated on the bluff-top approximately one mile northeast of the Boyer/Scharf site; no original ground remains in this area, having been completely recontoured during various periods of construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The exception is a narrow strip of land (about 20 by 75 feet) between the City Hall and the Library; this piece is believed to be at its original level (although there may be some soil disturbance -- including the burial of a "time capsule" in the form of a burial vault), and seems to be about dead center in the possible fort site. The site is immediately adjacent to the Knoll Springs - Ausagaunashkee Indian village site (IAS 11-CK-19) excavated in the 1960s by archeologist Charles Slaymaker III of the Treganza Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco, California. This site, like 11-CK-26, was a long-used village area with a principle occupation by the Upper Mississippian culture, Blue Island subculture, early in the Historic Period (Slaymaker estimated a period pro-1750). Among the European-related artifacts found were a musket ball of .51 caliber (unfired, sprue attached), an iron arrowhead, a brass strip, and clay pipe fragments. Four well-ordered burials in two different areas were found. The entire site was not excavated.

There are a few other matters relating to the forts of Palos that should also be mentioned since they may or may not have some bearing on the issue.

In 1963, three children were playing in a freshly-cut ditch at 87th avenue and 103rd street (west of Site C, see Figure 2) when they found three "cannonballs" partially imbedded in the clay bottom of the shallow ditch. This spot was about one block from the supposed site of the square "Mathewson" earthworks in section 14 -- just beyond reasonable musket range, but still well within the bite of a small cannon. Unfortunately, an iron ball is an iron ball, and it is impossible to tell an industrial iron ball (intended for use in a ball mill) from a cannon ball unless there is some marking cast into the latter, such as the French fleur-des-lis, an English broad arrow, or a lettered U.S. mark. Such markings were often cast or stamped into some (but by no means all) shot for each of these nations. None of these marks are present on the balls in question. The three balls are of two calibers, one measuring 2.100 inches, the two smaller ones measuring 1.543 and 1.550 inches. It is very interesting (but certainly not conclusive) to note that the theoretical standard size of ½ pound shot listed by the English Ordnance Board in 1764 was 1.52 inches, while another English shot table of 1780 shows 1½  pound shot to be (theoretically) 2.201 inches. Both of these calibers (plus or minus a little) were in common usage by many nations in the 17th and 18th centuries, usually in the small, relatively portable cannons called "swivel guns." It would appear these balls are within what may be considered allowable manufacturing tolerances for ammunition of this period, as artillerists always called for a generous amount of "windage" between ball and bore to prevent accidents caused by irregular shot Jamming in the barrel on firing. Perhaps the similarity in sizes to these calibers is a coincidence, perhaps not. It must also be mentioned that certain types of Civil War shot (notably 12 pounder Grape and 12 pounder Cannister) come close to these sizes, making it possible (though not probable) that someone's war souvenirs may have found their way into the ground there. We may never know.

Although the "cannonballs" described above definitely exist, some other interesting artifacts have become lost to history -- if they ever really existed to begin with. Fitting into this category are -- or were -- the artifacts found by one Thomas Kelly, as described by Andreas in 1884, by Scharf c.1900, and Hattie Sinnard Pashley, 1940:

"Thomas KeIIy, a farmer living in Section 18, says that in some researches he has made among the ruins of the Boyer/Scharf fort, [SITE B] not long since, he found a number of relics, among which was a curiously wrought powder horn, evidentially of an antique pattern, and having on its surface inscriptions in a language which he was unable to read.

Here, on the Charles Bush/Theodore Lucas farm in the southwest quarter of section 15 is where Thomas Kelley, of section 18, Town of Palos, dug up Indian relics and a powder horn (Copper flask, found in section 18, as related by his son John. [Scharf's note]).

At 107th street in section 18, Mr. Thomas Kelly in 1856 found a pair of metal soles, such as the French soldiers wore in olden times, and he discovered the skeleton of a man with an ancient French gun and copper powder horn with the makers-mark of 'Frary Benham & Co.' etched upon it."

It is somewhat distressing to note how the amount of information regarding the Kelly finds grew over a span of decades. Perhaps all of the items attributed to Kelly were in fact found, or maybe the stories about the finds were embellished as they were retold over the years. The source of Sinnard's information in unknown and thus one cannot judge its validity. However, taking all of the reported Kelly finds as gospel; Andreas and Scharf differ on where the powder horn/flask was found, while Sinnard was noncommittal. I am not familiar with metal shoe soles being found at other fort sites in America, but, considering the drastic wear put on leather shoes by foot soldiers through the centuries, it would not be surprising to find such an expedient in use somewhere. It is very unlikely a powder horn could have survived very many years exposed to the weather, but a powder flask made of brass or copper is another matter. Many armies over the centuries used such flasks at various periods.
Frary, Benham & Co. of Meriden, Connecticut, a powder flask company,
opened in 1855. After old man Benham died, Frary joined Walter Hicks
forming American Flask & Cap Co. of Waterbury, Connecticut in 1857.
They made flasks until 1890.
Concerning the "ancient French gun," there is seriously doubt that anyone but an expert on colonial guns could pick up a musket that had been buried for perhaps a century and reliably identify it as French, especially considering that many United States military arms up through the early 1800s were patterned after certain French weapons. If the skeleton accompanying the gun did exist (and it is certainly fishy that the first known mention of both comes nearly a century after their purported find), it is clear the man died alone, for otherwise his belongings -- especially a gun and powder -- would not have been left with him. However, Indians did occasionally bury firearms with their dead; such burial guns were almost always either missing key parts or deliberately broken, possibly to discourage others from coming back to dig them up. We do not have enough information to judge if this might be the case here.

Another persistent legend mentions caches of French and Spanish coins being found in the vicinity; these legends are occasionally trotted-out to "prove" the French (or Spanish) origins of the forts. It is strange that (if such coins really were found) no one bothered to record their dates. It is also slightly improbable that any soldier of the 17th or 18th century -- French, British, Spanish, or whatever -- would even have enough coins to make a "cache," let alone carry them miles into the wilderness and bury them. If foreign coins were found in the area, their origins probably date back to one of the periods in the 1800s when shortages of "hard" money made usage of foreign coins common, or when immigrants from many nations began to settle the area in the 1840s or passed through heading westward.

Many longtime residents claim to have dug up "French" lances, "French" guns, etc., in days long passed; it would appear that every piece of rusty metal a farmer ever hit with a plow around Palos was a "French" something -- and possibly they were! But, as far as it’s known, such items have never been brought forward for examination, and probably no longer exist -- if they ever did. The one exception is a possible sword discovered by a Mr. Max Dunlop while working in his yard in 1969. Mr. Dunlop lived about one third of a mile east-northeast of the Mathewson fort site [SITE C] in an area that would have been on the edge of the Sag swamp many years previous; the fort site would have overlooked the future location of the man's house. The "sword" was displayed shortly after its discovery. It was very crude. It had a straight blade, no taper, about 18 inches long; it appeared to have been made from a piece of strap steel or iron of rectangular cross section (not triangular) and had a rounded -- not pointed -- tip. It was unknown if it had a cutting edge or not. The handle was crudely wrapped with wire (probably over a piece of wood) to form a grip, and it had a knuckle guard made of steel or iron rod pounded flat on bottom end and drilled to accept what appeared to be a common screw which was sunk through it into the handle lengthwise. The consensus of opinion was it was either a homemade toy or a makeshift machete for whacking weeds. Swords of similar size, referred to as "fighting knives," are known to have existed, but configuration of these seems to have been far more "sword like" and of better quality. Even so, there may always be some doubt, since no one thought to photograph Mr. Dunlap's crude sword, and he has since moved away. The "sword" probably no longer exists.

Still the questions remain: Why was the Sag fortified at two locations, either at the same or different periods? Who built them? When? It is likely the construction of either -- or both -- of these forts fit into one or more of the following categories:

Aboriginal village fortifications: blaming these forts on the Indians is the easiest route to take, and in many ways the most logical. Various Indian cultures did build earthworks forts; some, such as the Fox, even built theirs in a similar manner in the historic period. Square or round Indian forts seem to be relatively common in the Midwest, but that triangular fort at Site B poses a problem. Archeologists I have talked with to date could not recall any other examples of triangular Indian forts in the Midwest. If such forts aren't totally absent, they are at least rare. Take a look at Figure 3 (the sketch of the triangular fort drawn by Mathewson for Scharf in 1903), then take a look at Figure 4 (a drawing of common field works or redoubts from a 1780's manual on fortifications). Is their similarity totally coincidental?

And then there's the problem of the "cannonballs" found near the site of the square fort in section 14 [SITE C]. Perhaps they had nothing to do with the earthworks, in which case their presence is a remarkable coincidence. But it is certain that, if they were cannonballs, the Indians sure didn't leave them there.

Although the very circumstantial evidence introduced above by no means disproves possible Indian construction of one or both fortifications, it certainly points out the folly of hastily labeling them as Indian forts and dismissing them as such without further research.

Late 17th century French fortifications: Whether or not a French fort existed at Chicago -- particularly Duranteye’s 1685/86 fort -- is a question beat to death by historians years ago, all using the same skimpy references to reach their sweeping conclusions. There is nothing to add, except the thought that no one has yet proven Duranteye (a French soldier) didn't build his fort somewhere in the Chicago area. The arguments against Duranteye having built a fort at Chicago seem to be based largely on interpreting "Chicago" as meaning at the mouth of the Chicago River. But, in centuries passed, the term "Chicago" was also used as a general term for any area near the tip of Lake Michigan, not necessarily an exact location. For this reason, this period should not be dismissed, but no conclusions should be drawn unless some positive documentation surfaces.

Forts guarding a possible portage route: Authors like Zeuch and Knight (Location of the Chicago Portage Route) have tried to set the Chicago portage route in stone, while an occasional maverick like Henry Lee has taken much of the same raw material to show something different. Was the Sag a portage route? The Sag swamp doesn't start appearing with any consistency on maps until the 19th century; in addition, early names for the Sag, such as Tall Grass Valley, Grassy Lake, Reed Lake, etc., do not produce visions of easy passage through its midst. However, one must not overlook the comments of James M. Buckin, another early I&M Canal engineer, who (in the company of the famous Chicago half-breed Billy Caldwell and one other Indian) did a preliminary survey in 1830 for a possible canal route through the Sag.

He stated: "The Indians further assured me that in certain seasons of high water there had been a water connection between the Desplaines and the Calamic [Calumet River] through the valleys of the Sauganash and Stony creek."

It is most likely that there was not one portage route at Chicago, but several, their use being governed by factors such as the season, the weather, etc. There was no big sign in Lake Michigan saying "Turn here for Portage." In short, any route between Lake Michigan and the Desplaines or Illinois rivers became a portage if somebody used it. Although the bulk of the traffic probably used the traditional Mud Lake route, the above information does open the possibility that the Sag (only a few miles south of the Mud Lake route) could also have served at times as a portage route, and therefore the possibility of someone building a fort to protect it -- particularly one covering an important crossing point (possibly the only one for miles) for a north-south trail -- cannot be quickly dismissed.

French military field fortifications of the Fox Wars: The French-Fox wars of the early 18th century are particularly interesting in relation to the problem at hand because of numerous expeditions (both Indian and French) through the Chicago area at various times between 1715 and 1732, with several mentions of temporary forts. The French are also known to have used small artillery pieces in some of these conflicts. Also interesting is the fact there were several major battles and skirmishes between the French and Fox-related tribes that occurred in the Illinois-Wisconsin-Indiana area that have not been pin-pointed; even more of a curiosity, a number of battlefield sites are in historical contention for the same battle!

One interesting bit of information comes from Clarence Alvord's book, “The Illinois Country.” In discussing an attempt at a coordinated assault on the Fox in the spring of 1728, French troops from three different commands were to combine forces, but the venture was a failure. The Commandant, François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery, tried to put the blame on the Commander of the troops from Fort de Chartres, Sieur de Liette, who failed to make the rendezvous. According to Alvord: "…Sieur de Liette, accompanied by a Jesuit, Father Dumas, did lead twenty soldiers and as many habitants and some Indians as far as Chicago, where he defeated a band of Foxes and Kickapoo, killing twenty and taking fifteen prisoners, with the loss of one officer and two soldiers."

Such an incident could well explain two forts on a seemingly dead-end swamp. The French-Fox wars are nearly virgin ground for historians; only a handful of related documents have been translated and/or transcribed. Perhaps some researcher will someday either prove or disprove the possibility of the Palos forts having anything to do with this series of conflicts.

French or American forts of the French & Indian War: I have yet to come across anything indicating military activity in the Midwest during thls period. If anyone has knowledge of such, I would appreciate hearing from them.

Forts of the British Occupation: I have yet to come across anything indicating military activity in the Midwest during this period. Although the British did occupy Fort de Chartres downstate, they appear to have been more interested in divesting themselves of the responsibilities of maintaining garrisons in the Illinois country, not creating more of them. I do not know of any military activity in the Chicago area in this period.

American or British forts of the Revolutionary War period: This is another interesting period, with troop activity on both sides in the Chicago vicinity. Expeditions of British and/or their French agents to raise Indians in the British cause were in the area in 1779 and 1780; the latter year also saw a full-scale military retreat through Chicago by British-allied forces after their defeat at St. Louis during the British spring offensive. Although a two-pronged assault out of Michilimackinac had been planned, only the force under Hesse -- moving down the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers -- reached St. Louis; the force under Langlade, which was to travel through Chicago and down the Illinois river, didn't arrive, raising some speculation as to whether or not they may have been holding someplace in route –possibly Chicago -- as a back-up. Hesse's force retreated up the Illinois River to the Chicago area, then back to Michilimackinac. Unsubstantiated rumors of Americans active near Chicago building forts and stirring up anti-British sentiments kept filtering back to the commandants at Fort Michilimackinac; no confirmation of such activities has ever been found. At least one American retreat took place in the area in 1780 following a raid on the British outpost of St. Joseph (Niles, Michigan). The raid was a success but the retreat was a disaster: British-allied Indians and Frenchmen caught and slaughtered the American force somewhere around the tip of Lake Michigan, and only three of the raiders made it back to American-held Cahokia. In 1781, a party of American-allied Spanish also successfully attacked St. Joseph, but made a clean getaway back to St, Louis; it is not known if this party passed by way of Chicago, or if it traveled the frozen Kankakee River. Of all of these instances, it would appear that only Langlade's 1780 expedition would have had time to throw up earthworks. Unknown documents will have to turn up to prove or disprove such a hypothesis.

It should be kept in mind that in the previous periods, the term "Chicago" was a somewhat ambiguous term that could mean either the mouth of the Chicago River or anything near the tip of Lake Michigan.

American forts of the early Indian wars (late 18th century): I am not familiar enough with this period to comment on possible military actions in the Sag area, although some historians with knowledge of this time period doubted there was any activity here.

Forts of the 1812 War: With the exception of Chicago proper (and the Fort Dearborn Massacre), I am unaware of any military actions that could involve the Sag area.

Fortified trading posts: There is a remote possibility of such a thing existing here in the 18th century, for small trading posts did exist at other places in the Midwest, but I have yet to find any documentation to suggest this is the case. Although there were some Trading posts in the Chicago vicinity in the early 19th century (such as Laughton's, Friend's, etc.), it is unlikely they would have created earthworks with "trees a century old" growing in their midst by 1833, as Boyer states. This somewhat effectively precludes later periods.

As may be obvious, some of the above possibilities are more plausible than others. The one period that best fits the circumstantial evidence at hand is the French-Fox Wars, particularly Sieur de Liette's 1728 expedition to Chicago.

Consider this hypothetical situation: A small band of Fox and other allied Indians, hoping to elude possible pursuers, take refuge on the backwaters of a large swamp. A force of French troops, making their way to join a larger expedition against the Fox, discovers this band. Cornered, the Fox are forced to dig-in and fortify, as was their custom. Nearby, the French throw up a second fort, a field fortification for use as a base or operations by the besiegers. A siege line, or first parallel, is established by the French just outside of musket range of the Indian fort, the French set up their swivel guns and the siege commences. Many Indians are killed; perhaps the Fox attempted to escape and were hunted down and annihilated by the Frenchmen (as occurred during other Fox War conflicts). Delayed by this episode, the French force marches on in an unsuccessful attempt to rendezvous with their main force and, after waiting awhile, content themselves with their own victory and return to their post on the Mississippi River.

Several factors neatly fit this scenario: the seemingly European triangular fort at Site B, the proximity of the second fort to the first, the cannonballs lying together beyond the fort at site C, and perhaps even the mass Indian burial at site A. The dating of known European artifacts found by archeologists at adjacent Indian site would be compatible with this period.

But there are some problems with this supposition. Although it seems certain there were two earthworks forts, a primary question is whether or not they coexisted. From their similar states of decay, from their similar situations, from their proximity to Indian sites of common culture and period, it would appear (though only through bare circumstantial evidence) the two works do bear some relationship to each other. A weak argument, to be sure. Another problem is whether or not a triangular-planform fort can be considered uniquely white men’s construction in the Midwest; the evidence to that effect is based solely on lack of evidence to the contrary. And if a battle as outlined above really occurred at these sites, why haven't more bullets and such turned up? Perhaps because it never happened, perhaps because no one ever looked for them. It is possible that if the 1728 fight did occur here, it may have been scattered and not centered at any one place. Assuming this fight really did take place here, another explanation for the lack of bullets may be that, in 18th century warfare, the amount of ammo carried and the rate of fire was surprisingly low; a man might -- perhaps fire less than twenty rounds in anything less than a prolonged battle. That, coupled with the small amount of people firing over a vast expanse, makes it unlikely many bullets would turn up. This theory was supported somewhat by an archeologist familiar with the Tippecanoe Battlefield (1811) area in Indiana. Although there had been a major battle involving several hundred soldiers and Indians there, bullets rarely turn up in the immediate area.

Needless to say, the above is offered only as informed speculation to explore one seemingly plausible explanation for the Forts of Palos. Far more research (both archival and archeological) needs to be done before the French-Fox War theory can be totally believed. Until that time, the other possibilities dealt with in this article may also have validity and, therefore, should not be dismissed unless proof to the contrary is found.

The mysterious forts of Palos did exist, but they are still mysterious. Unlike other historic archeological sites already excavated in the Midwest (where it was pretty well known what was there and what excavation would find), the Palos sites offer a definite opportunity for the relatively new discipline of Historic Archeology to prove its merit and produce useful answers to some challenging questions. On the documentation side of the coin, there still could exist some document awaiting a researcher that would reveal the secrets of these forts. However, if ever it will be determined who built these forts, when, and why, it will most likely come through the combined labor of both the Archeologist and the researcher. Until that time, the origins of the Forts of Palos will remain conjecture.

Compiled and Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
William Potter, Researcher








Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fort Armstrong, Illinois (1816–1836)

Fort Armstrong, Illinois, was one of a chain of western frontier defenses which the United States erected after the War of 1812. It was located at the foot of Rock Island, Illinois, in the Mississippi River near the present-day Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. It was five miles from the principal Sac and Fox village on Rock River in Illinois.
1839 painting of Fort Armstrong, six years after the removal of the Sauk and Fox tribes, on the U.S. Army's, present-day Rock Island Arsenal Island, looking toward Iowa, in the background, from the Illinois side, of the Mississippi River.
Built of stone and timber construction, 300 feet square, the fort was begun in May 1816 and completed the following year. In 1832, the U.S. Army used the fort as a military headquarters during the Black Hawk War. It was normally garrisoned by two companies of United States Army regulars. With the pacification of the Indian threat in Illinois, the U.S. Government ceased operations at Fort Armstrong and the U.S. Army abandoned the frontier fort in 1836.

In 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition into the Louisiana Territory, he also sent Lieutenant Zebulon Pike and Major Stephan H. Long up the Mississippi River to gather data and determine strategic sites for forts. Pike identified one site as the "big island." Congress agreed with his recommendation, reserving the island for military use in 1809 and named it "Rock Island."

"The island was the best one on the Mississippi, and had long been the resort of our young people during the summer. It was our garden, like the white people have near their big villages, which supplied us with strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, plums, apples and nuts of different kinds. Being situated at the foot of the rapids, its waters supplied us with the finest fish.

In my early life I spent many happy days on this island. A good spirit had charge of it, which lived in a cave in the rock immediately under the place where the fort now stands. This guardian spirit has often been seen by our people. It was white, with large wings like a swan's, but ten times larger. We were particular not to make much noise in that part of the island which it inhabited, for fear of disturbing it. But the noise at the fort has since driven it away, and no doubt a bad spirit has taken its place." 
[NOTE: Quote from an Indian, but it's unknown who it's from.] 

This was to be the second US fort between St. Louis and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The US wanted to establish a military presence to dissuade the French and English Canadians (who traded in areas nearby) from encroaching upon the unorganized territory. After its losses at several forts during the War of 1812, the US Army wanted to increase its presence on the Mississippi frontier. The fort also would serve to protect American settlers within the area and to help control or remove the Sauk, the American Indians in the region.
A Model of Fort Armstrong, Illinois.
The Sauk disapproved of its construction; Black Hawk wrote in his memoir, "When we arrived we found that the troops had come to build a fort on Rock Island. This, in our opinion, was a contradiction to what we had done– 'to prepare for war in time of peace.' We did not object, however, to their building their fort on the island, but were very sorry."

On May 10, 1816, soldiers arrived to begin construction of Fort Armstrong. It was named after John Armstrong, the Secretary of War under President James Madison. The army assigned 600 soldiers and 150 laborers to the project. After the construction was completed, fewer than 200 soldiers garrisoned the post. Between 1824 and 1836, the garrison was reduced to fewer than 100 troops.

During the Black Hawk War of 1832, General Winfield Scott led 1000 troops, to Fort Armstrong, to assist the U.S. Army garrison and militia volunteers stationed there. While General Scott's army was en route, along the Great Lakes, his troops had contracted Asiatic cholera, before they left the state of New York; it killed most of his 1000 soldiers. Only 220 U.S. Army regulars, from the original force, made the final march, from Fort Dearborn, in Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois. Winfield Scott and his troops likely carried the highly contagious disease with them; soon after their arrival at Rock Island, a local, cholera epidemic broke out, among the whites and Indians, around the area of Fort Armstrong. Cholera microbes were spread, through sewery-type, contaminated water, which mixed with clean drinking water, brought on by poor sanitation practices, of the day. Within eight days, 189 people died and were buried on the island.

Painting of Black Hawk, the Sauk
war chief and Black Hawk War
namesake, being the last Indian
war in Illinois.
On September 21, 1832, the Black Hawk War officially came to an end with the treaty signed at Fort Armstrong (named the Treaty of Fort Armstrong)[1]. The defeated Sauk and Fox Indians agreed to cede to the US the lands they occupied east of the Mississippi River. Black Hawk, two of his sons, and other Sac and Fox warriors had been taken to the fort as prisoners after their captures following the Battle of Bad Axe. They spent the winter held at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, after which the Army took the men on a tour of Eastern cities, hoping to impress them with the wealth and power of white civilization. The natives met with President Andrew Jackson and were of great interest and celebrity among the white population, who at that period admiringly viewed natives as "noble savages." After a brief period of imprisonment at Fortress Monroe at Hampton Roads, Virginia, the Sauk and Fox warriors were allowed to return to Iowa. Together with their people, they occupied a small reservation in Iowa allotted by the Treaty of Fort Armstrong. Black Hawk died there in 1838.

Fort Armstrong was abandoned by federal troops on May 4, 1836 but continued in use by militia until 1845. The remains of the old fort were destroyed by fires in 1855 and 1859.
The historical reconstruction of a Fort Armstrong, three story, blockhouse, on the U.S. Army's, Rock Island Arsenal Island.
The photograph above is the replica blockhouse that was built in 1916.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

On Sept. 21, 1833, following the Black Hawk war, at Fort Armstrong, Rock Island, HI., a final treaty of peace, friendship and cession was made by Gen. Winfield Scott and the Hon. John Reynolds, of the State of Illinois, representing the United States, and the chiefs, head-men and warriors of the "Sac and Fox" Indians. 

This treaty recites that certain "lawless and desperate" leaders constituting a formidable band and a large portion of the Sac and Fox nations, left their country in April, 1832, and, in violation of their treaties, commenced an unprovoked war upon citizens of the United States, which, at great expense, has subdued said hostile band and killed or captured all of the principal chiefs and warriors. Thereupon, partly to indemnify it for such expense and partly to secure the future safety and tranquility of the invaded frontier, the United States demanded of said tribes (to the use of the United States) a cession of a tract of the Sac and Fox country, bordering on said frontier, more than proportional to the numbers of said hostile band. Said tribes accordingly ceded a large territory in Iowa to the United States and among other things provided:

By Article V, the United States agreed to pay to Farnham & Davenport, Indian traders, at Rock Island, $40,000 to satisfy their claims against said tribes for articles furnished them. 

By Article VI, the United States, at the request of said confederated tribes, agreed to grant by patent, in fee simple, to Antoine Le Claire, interpreter, a part Indian, one section of land opposite Rock Island and one section at the head of the first rapids above said Island within the country herein ceded by the Sacs and Foxes.

By Article VII, Muk-ka-ta-mish-aka-kaik (or Black Hawk) and his two sons, Wau-ba-ku-shik (the Prophet), his brother and two sons, Napope, We-shut, Iowa, Pama-ho, and Cha-kee-pa-she-pa-ho (the Little Stabbing Chief) were to be held as hostages for the future good conduct of the late hostile bands during the pleasure of the President of the United States.

This treaty was signed by the "marks" of nine of the Sacs, including Keokuk, "or he who has been everywhere," and by twentyfour of the Foxes.

On Oct. 1, 1834, the United States made a treaty with the united nations of the Chippewa, Ottawa and Pottawattamie Indians, whereby they ceded to the United States all their land along the shore of Lake Michigan, and between that lake and the land ceded to the United States by the Winnebago nation by the treaty of Fort Armstrong, made Sept. 15, 1832, bounded on the north by the country lately ceded by the Menominees, and on the south by the country ceded at the treaty of Prairie du Chien, made July 29, 1829, and supposed to contain 5,000,000 acres of land.

This cession was in lieu of 5,000,000 acres of other land to be given them by the United States west of the Mississippi river; also, $250,000 to satisfy claims of persons against them, $100,000 in goods, $280,000 to be paid in annual amounts of $14,000 for twenty years, $150,000 for the erection of mills, etc., $70,000 for the education of young Indians, and $4,600 to certain Indians named.

On Dec. 17, 1834, the United States made a treaty with the Pottawattamie whereby they agreed to remove farther west within three years thereafter to a country provided for them by the United States.

By these numerous treaties it is apparent that the United States became seizin of an absolute and indefeasible title to all the land in this portion of the State of Illinois.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Life and Times of John Washington Barker (1822-1863), 131st Illinois Civil War Infantry Man.

John Washington Barker was born about 1822 in Perry County, Indiana. Nothing is known of his first 35 years of his life.
John Washington Barker lived in this cabin sometime in the mid-19th century. It was located in Bethel Hollow, Pope County, Illinois. This photo is Circa 1880.
At age 36 he married Elizabeth Thacker on Christmas Day of 1858 in Pope County, Illinois. His life moved very quickly after that as John and Elizabeth had three children: Maria (or Mariah) born in 1860, Angelana in 1861, and John Washington Barker Jr. in 1863.
Barker was not at home while Elizabeth was pregnant with John Jr., and he was never able to return home after he left 2 months after John Jr.'s inception. Barker enlisted in the Civil War the month after John Jr. was conceived and by the time Elizabeth was round with child he was being transported far away from his family aboard Union steamboats. He had joined the newly formed 131st Illinois Infantry on August 12, 1862 along with 814 other men.

Pope County residents were nervous in 1862. Grant's Union Army had come through in 1861 and by the spring of 1862, the bloodiest battle in US history to that date occurred 200 miles to the south in Shiloh, Tennessee. New fighting units were being formed throughout Illinois and Pope County was no exception. The Illinois 131st infantry was formed in August 1862 and took in men from Hamilton, Gallatin, Hardin, Pope, and Massac counties.
Unbeknownst to Pope County's residents, a major reason for the new units was to prepare for the new 1862 Union thrust: to split the Confederacy in two by taking control of the Mississippi River. The 131st became a part of that effort and they first gathered at Fort Massac, Illinois in September 1862. They had no tents or firearms when the measles broke out. About 100 of the 815 men were discharged due to death or disability.

On November 13, 1862 the 131st was mustered into US service and boarded the steamboat Iowa bound for Cairo, Illinois.
The Steamboat Iowa.
There they were issued inferior Harpers Ferry flintlock guns of various calibers, which they received in protest.
An Original 1860 Musket Harper's Ferry Musket - Model № 1855; .58 caliber.
They again boarded the steamboat Iowa and proceeded along the Mississippi to Memphis, TN where they arrived on December 7, 1862. 

On December 20, 1862 the 131st embarked again on the steamer Iowa and headed south on the Mississippi to Milliken's Bend, just north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. They stayed there until December 27, 1862 when they were sent to land near Hayne's Bluff, up the Yazoo River and north of Vicksburg.

They returned to Milliken's Bend on January 1st or 2nd of 1863. The size of their group had grown to about 74 boats.

On January 4, 1863, the steamer Iowa began it's trek north first along the Mississippi to the mouth of the White River then up the Arkansas River 30 miles to just outside the Arkansas Post. The 131st disembarked at noon on January 10th and marched 4 miles until 11 PM through swamp covered with underbrush and fallen timber during a snow and rainstorm.

Unbeknownst to our Barker, Joseph Fardell and the rest of the 131st they were about to become part of an important Civil War battle. The Confederates had been disrupting Union shipping on the Mississippi River from Fort Hindman located at Arkansas Post.
Union Major General John McClernand began landing troops there the evening of January 8, 1863. Major General William T. Sherman forced the Confederates to retreat into Fort Hindman.
Plat of Fort Hindman Arkansas.
Rear Admiral David Porter moved his fleet toward Fort Hindman on January 10, 1863 and bombarded it until dusk. Union artillery fired on the fort from artillery positions across the river on January 11th, and the infantry moved into position to attack. Union ironclads continued shelling the fort and Porter's fleet cut off any means of retreat. The Confederate command surrendered during the afternoon of January 11, 1863 after 6,547 casualties had occurred.

After four days of filling ditches, burying the dead, and demolishing fortifications the 131st was again on the move aboard the steamer Iowa on January 15, 1863. They arrived at Youngs Point on January 23, 1863.
The curve of the river in front of Vicksburg made it impossible for Union ships to pass the town without being exposed to rebel fire.
Abraham Lincoln proposed building a canal at Youngs Point that would allow the ships to bypass Vicksburg. He was very disappointed when the concept did not work as planned. The canal came to be called Grant's Canal and the project started on June 27, 1862.

The men left the steamer on January 25th and set up camp at a point surrounded by the levee while the rain continued to pour. They waded through waist deep water to get to their posts and used pick and axe to dig the canal. Pneumonia, smallpox, and measles were rampant. The regimental surgeon was too sick to report to duty, and the healthy troops were tasked with burying those that died. They buried between 1 and 5 members of the 131st each day.

On March 2, 1863 General McClernand ordered the 131st to board the steamship Westwind and return to Memphis to recruit its health. (On March 7th, the dam holding the Mississippi out of Grant's Canal broke and work permanently ceased on the canal) The troops arrived at Fort Pickering on March 6, 1863. This is apparently where Barker and Joseph Fardell part company because Fardell did not go to Memphis with the other troops - he was sent to Jefferson Barracks at the US General Hospital in St Louis, Missouri.

By May 10, 1863 the original 815 men of the 131st were down to about 400 due to death or disablement. The remaining 400 boarded the steamboat Golden Era on that day and headed down the Mississippi River bound for Vicksburg, accompanied by the steamboats Crescent City and Warren along with a gunboat.

They came under fire while passing Island No 82 from a group of about 100 men positioned behind logs on the shore. The gunboat returned fire and the men on shore dispersed, but not before one man and a mule were killed onboard, and two men injured.

The 131st arrived at Shermans Landing just north of Vicksburg on May 12, 1863. They returned to Milliken's Bend on May 17 and relieved the 30th Ohio that was on duty there guarding army supplies from thieves.

They used the steamboat Fanny Bullett to return to Shermans Landing on May 24, 1863 and camped within full view of Vicksburg. Some of the men did duty on the picket line (ie they guarded the larger force) and some of the men manned mortar boats. The seige on Vicksburg had started on May 23, 1863.

On June 7th the 131st and 120th were ordered back to Milliken's Bend to support a colored regiment equipped with inferior weaponry that was being attacked by 1200 rebels. They arrived at Milliken's Bend one hour after the order, but the rebels retreated at the sight of the gunboats. The Union had lost 652 and the rebels 185 in the battle. They stayed for two days awaiting a reattack that never came, then they returned to picket duty at Sherman's Landing. 

By the end of June 1863, Confederate General Pemberton realized his situation was desperate. Over 10,000 of his soldiers were incapacitated due to illness, wounds and malnutrition. His supplies were at critically low levels and he had just learned that Grant was preparing another massive assault for early July.

Pemberton and his commanders concluded that surrender was inevitable. On the morning of July 3, 1863 he gave orders to display a white flag of truce and sent someone to deliver a message to General Grant proposing to meet to discuss surrender terms. At 3 o'clock pm, Grant and Pemberton met under an oak tree midway between opposing lines. They did not reach agreement, but notes exchanged later in the day brought about the final terms.

Also on this day, General Robert E. Lee was defeated in Gettysburg. These two events marked the turning point in the Civil War. On July 4, 1863 Union soldiers took control of Vicksburg.
This home was known as the White House or the Shirley House.
On May 18, 1863 as Confederate forces retreated, they were ordered to burn the house but were shot before they could apply torch. Mrs Adeline Shirley, her 15 year old son Quincy and several servants were in the house and huddled for three days before they made their presence known by waving a white flag.
Troops stationed on the edge of Shirley House.
Jefferson Davis, a Democratic US Senator from Mississippi, resigned in order to become the President of the Confederacy.
Jefferson Davis' home, called Brierfield, was captured in Vicksburg.
The next day, on July 5, 1863, John Washington Barker died near Vicksburg.

The cause of death was "Chronic Dysentery," but it cannot be denied that the capture of Vicksburg lead to his demise on that day. Working in unimagineable conditions for almost a year had taken its toll on Barker. On various documents, the location of death is listed as "Mouth of the Yazoo River" and "Paw Paw Island in the Mississippi River," but those locations are very close together.

He died in a hospital at the mouth of the Yazoo River. At that time, there were many floating hospitals along the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers.
The Red Rover floating hospital was in the vicinity at that time.
There were numerous "field hospitals," such as this one, used throughout the Civil War.
During the battle from March 29, 1863 through July 4, 1863, numbers range northward of 10,000 Union and 9,000 Confederate men killed. The city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the 4th of July for the next 80 years.
Monument to the 131st Infantry in Vicksburg.
There is no grave marker for John Washington Barker in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, but it's possible that he's buried in one of the 13,000 unknown graves.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.