Joliet’s civil warrior
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org April 13, 2011 9:26PM
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This article draws from the works of the late John Whiteside, the Herald-News columnist, who wrote numerous columnist about Joliet’s role in the Civil War.
The research materials he used came from the Joliet Public Library. They include:
George H. Woodruff’s “History of Will County 1978,” “Forty Years Ago,” and “Fifteen Years Ago”
W.W. Stevens’ two-volume “History of Will County”
William Grinton’s “Juliet and Joliet”
Fayette Baldwin Shaw’s “The Economic Development of Joliet, Illinois, 1830-1870”
Articles from the Joliet Signal, Joliet Daily News, Joliet Republic and other newspapers
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Frederick Bartleson hoped for the thunderheads of war to vanish — and for the bow of peace to shine after the storm, reconnecting North and South.
He was killed in battle, with his poetic dream far off in the future.
Bartleson was the first Joliet man to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. He answered Abraham Lincoln’s call shortly after the war began April 12, 1861 — 150 years ago this week.
The soldier suffered through more than three years of the conflict — in which more than 618,000 American lives were lost.
Bartleson lost his left arm in battle, and then returned to his Army post after healing. Then he suffered starvation in a prisoner-of-war camp, and again returned to his Army post after healing.
He repeatedly rejected pleas to retire. He rejected pleas, from Democrats and Republicans alike, to run unopposed for Congress.
Bartleson marched back into battle. He was killed by a Rebel sharpshooter at Kennesaw Mountain.
He left behind these words, from a poem he had written while he was a starving prisoner:
“Speed the time, Father, when the bow of peace / Spanning the gulf, shall bid the tempest cease.”
Col. Frederick Bartleson is pictured in a painting at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St. in Joliet. His sword also is on display there.
As the nation begins a four-year observance of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the Joliet museum will offer several related exhibits and activities this year.
“Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America” will be on exhibit from July through September.
“Joliet Remembers the Civil War” will be on exhibit from September through December.
From 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, the museum will host “Finding Your Civil War Ancestor: An Introduction to Genealogy with Marge Rice.”
Call 815-723-5201, or visit online at www.jolietmuseum.org.
The Joliet Public Library will host a Civil War Living History Encampment on April 30 and May 1 at the Black Road Branch, 3395 Black Road.
And in Lockport, the Will County Historical Society has opened a four-year series of programs on the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Call 815-838-5080, or visit the society at 803 S. State St.
For a broader view of Civil War history, visit The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s website at www.illinoishistory.gov or the National Park Service at www.nps.gov.
Bartleson’s life, a Joliet treasure
Bartleson’s life is well-documented in Joliet history.
He is described by local historian George H. Woodruff as “a Christian in his convictions and always a man of pure morals.”
And John Whiteside, the late Herald-News columnist, wrote of Bartleson: “The memory of this soldier is a city treasure.”
“Of all the warriors from Joliet who fought in the Civil War, the best remembered and most noble among them was Col. Frederick Bartleson,” Whiteside wrote in 2001.
First to volunteer
The Civil War began April 12, 1861, with the Battle of Fort Sumter, S.C., and lasted until the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va., in April 1865.
Southern states seceded from the Union, intending to continue the practice of slavery. President Lincoln and the Northern states prevailed in the struggle to preserve the Union, abolishing slavery throughout the nation.
After Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to save the Union.
“It was a Wednesday night in Joliet when several hundred men gathered in front of the Will County Courthouse. With the light of lanterns and torches, politicians delivered fiery speeches about this war,” Whiteside wrote.
“But the most eloquent speech came from Frederick Bartleson, a 26-year-old lawyer who had just completed a term as county prosecutor. He concluded by saying: ‘I will not urge you to do what I am unwilling to do myself. I propose to head the list.’”
Bartleson was the first Joliet man to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. Though recently married to Kate Murray, he left his bride to become the captain of a company of soldiers in the newly formed 20th Illinois Regiment, Whiteside wrote.
Bartleson was promoted to major during the fighting at Fort Donelson. That fort was a Confederate holding along the Cumberland River near Dover, Tenn.
A few months later, Bartleson lost his left arm at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee.
“When he healed from that wound in Joliet, his friends urged him to retire from the military. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘I have still an arm left for my country, and she shall have that, too, if necessary.’” Whiteside wrote of Bartleson’s well-known quote.
Prisoner of war
Bartleson was promoted to colonel, in command of the 100th Infantry Regiment, composed of 1,000 Joliet and Will County men.
Whiteside writes of Bartleson’s sufferings after the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia: The colonel was held at Libby, a prisoner-of-war camp in Richmond, Va.
“During the battle at Chickamauga in the late summer of 1863, he was captured. Bartleson had rallied several soldiers behind a picket fence and was trying to hold the position. They were about to be flanked on both sides when he ordered them back to the Union line. He and a dozen others covered the retreat and were captured.
“The fighting had been so fierce at Chickamauga, the regiment lost 165 of the 315 men who had gone into battle. Every color guard in the regiment but one was killed.
“The colonel was sent as a prisoner of war to the Confederate prison at Libby for the next six months. The POWs there were starved while prisoners.”
And there, Bartleson wrote his poem, longing for the bow of peace.
Bartleson was freed when he was exchanged as a prisoner of war in 1864.
“As he healed from the months of starvation, his Joliet friends again urged him to retire from the Army,” Whiteside wrote. “Democrats and Republicans alike wanted him to run for a congressional seat. They promised that no candidate would oppose him in the election.
Bartleson replied: “Gentlemen, the question is still unsettled whether we are to have another Congress or a country. It can only be settled by the success of our armies. Until it is settled, I want no nomination and no office but the one I now hold, and I shall return to my post and give my life if need be, to secure to us a free government.”
A few weeks later, Bartleson walked 30 miles in the hot Georgia sun to reunite with the 100th Regiment. Bartleson and his troops went on to fight at Kennesaw Mountain.
More than 5,350 soldiers were killed in the battle fought at Kennesaw Mountain from June 19 through July 2, 1864, according to the National Park Service.
On June 23, Bartleson was commanding a skirmish line when it was ordered to advance.
“As the line moved, Bartleson was exposed, and he was killed instantly by a rebel sharpshooter,” Whiteside wrote.
“Stretcher bearers carried him behind a barn and sent word to the rest of the regiment. His soldiers passed by in single file to say farewell to their colonel,” Whiteside wrote. “Bartleson’s body was escorted home with a regimental honor guard.”
Joliet mourned as Bartleson was buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
“The entire city closed down for his funeral.”
Whiteside also traced the interesting history of Bartleson’s sword, which is now on display at the Joliet museum.
The soldiers in the 100th Regiment presented the sword to Bartleson, shortly after they marched off to war.
After the war, Union soldiers formed Grand Army of the Republic posts across the country. The Joliet post was named after Bartleson. His widow, Kate, presented his sword to the post. The saber was on display in a glass case there. However, the post closed in the early 1900s.
For decades, the location of the sword was unknown to Joliet. In the earlier part of last decade, the sword was donated by a descendant great-niece in California. She also donated a framed photograph of Bartleson taken before he had lost his left arm at Shiloh.
Whiteside searched for that sword for years. He had written about it, hoping it would surface for display at the museum. He believed Bartleson had the sword at his side when he was slain at Kennesaw Mountain.
In December 2004, Whiteside wrote about the sword finally coming home to Joliet. Only a few weeks later, Whiteside died of cancer at age 61.
Frederick Bartleson died with his sword at his side and his poem safe in history’s keeping. He was only 30 years old, at the pinnacle of his life, on Kennesaw Mountain. At that height, a bullet stopped him before he could see the brilliant arc extend over the land.
Maybe he was closer to it when he wrote from a prison camp in the depths of starvation:
“Through the clouds the sun is slowly breaking / Hope from her long deep sleep is waking / Speed the time, Father, when the bow of peace / Spanning the gulf, shall bid the tempest cease / When men, clasping each other by the hand / Shall shout together in a united land / All is well.”