Wilmer W. Dickerson

a few notes from Chuck Hill, Curator, GAR Memorial Museum, Springfield IL

Wilmer W. Dickerson joined the 27th Illinois Infantry in 1861.  According to available records, he was a 22-year-old farmer from Concord, Morgan County, Illinois who entered service on 2 September 1861 in Jacksonville, IL.  He was assigned to Company K and served until 20 September 1864 when he was mustered out in Springfield, IL.  The records also indicate that he was wounded at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain (GA) on 27 June 1864.

Dickerson survived the War to go home to Concord, IL where he married Mary Jane Madden in 1865 (although several of his letters indicate he is engaged to a woman by the name of Lina).  Mary died in 1871 and the 1880 Census has him living with his widowed mother.  He is listed as a Constable in Morgan County, IL.  By 1884 he is living in Harper, KS where he joins GAR Post #251 and gives his occupation as Barber.  Later records show him married to a woman by the name of Hannah J. Dickerson and living in Colorado Springs, CO where he is a Grocer.

According to city directories he was living with Hannah in Colorado Springs as late as 1925. We know that he died on September 4, 1926 but not where.  The 1928 application for a headstone of an unmarked grave of a soldier indicates that he was buried in Concord Cemetery, Concord, IL.

There are 17 letters from Wilmer to his mother and/or sister dating from late 1861 to July 1864 just after the Kennesaw Mountain battle. I will give a brief description of some of the letters and quote from them.  In the quotations, I’ve left the spelling, capitalization and punctuation (or lack of punctuation) as I found them so that they are verbatim transcripts.  One letter in particular stands out because it is runs some 16 pages in length and dates over the period of six days, from 6 Nov 1863 to 12 Nov 1863.  He refers to it as a journal in which he intends to tell you everything I know, and part that I don’t kn[ow] commencing with my health, which is good…”

The first letter is dated 5 Nov 1861 from Cairo, IL where the regiment is encamped.  He mentions that the 18th and 29th Illinois Regiments are packing to leave, perhaps to attack Columbus, KY, and his regiment will probably be called out very soon as well.  He then goes on to say “If so I quietly resign myself to what ever may be my fate and if I fall I should leave the comfortable assurance behind from you and all of my friends and relations that If I fall I fall in the most holy cause that a Nation had to fight for and to fight to maintain the rights and liberties of our once peaceful and happy country that became Sacred by the Blood of our Fathers…”

By 22 February 1862, he is still in Cairo and is once again anticipating a move on Columbus and states “Wee rather think that our move will be toward Columbus but then wee have been talking so long about going and never went yet that I have come to the conclusion that the taking of Columbus will soon be played out…”  He mentions that “the boys are eager for a fight The Succor State has proved herself a little the Best of any other in the field…”  [Sucker State is an old nickname for Illinois.]  He also describes an incident in which a guard bayoneted a Confederate prisoner after a heated conversation during which “the Cesesh called the guard a d–  Union son of a B___.” 

His letters are filled with the usual complaints about not receiving mail or pay, how much he misses home and family, news of other members of the regiment who are from Concord and his health as well as living conditions.  There are also some incredible descriptions of the sights and sounds of everyday life in the Army including a very poignant passage in the letter

he titled “journal.”  On 12 November 1863 he wrote “I have just witnessed a sight that I never seen before, nor never wish to see again;  It was the execution of two deserters, by being shot to death; I must acknowledge I felt bad, and my knees trembled as the executioners made ready to fire  Men that to all outward apearence was as good as I was taken off to try the realities of the unknown world to us  The soldiers belonged to the 44th & 88th Ills”  In the very next sentence he goes on to say “The weather here is pleasant but it bids fair to rain…” 

Although he talks about his health in many of the letters, he seldom complains about being unwell or sick.  In fact, in a letter dated 6 July 1864, after he was wounded at Kennesaw Mountain, he says “my health is still good and am, – so far – unhurt.”  In this same letter he writes about another disturbing incident “The most shocking sight I have witnessed on the march is the skeleton of a man that has either hung himself or someone has done it for him and he is still hanging; some of the boys in searching him found a descriptive rool (?) and twenty dollars in confederate money; no one knows anything concerning his character.  We expect to start home soon…”

In several letters, I noticed a casual nonchalance about the way he transitions from the seeming horrific to the suddenly mundane.  However, this may be explained in the closing passage of the 6 July 1864 letter where he talks about the regiment coming home soon and he doesn’t know if they will muster out in Quincy, Jacksonville or Springfield: 

“I shall be pleased to pay you a visit at any rate and see how home looks it sounds sweet to my ears after what I have seen and passed through.  Praying that the Blessings of God may continue with you I close  accept love and write often from your Son & Brother   W.W. Dickerson”