The collection consists primarily of the Civil War correspondence of Benjamin Franklin Reed to Charles Welliver, beginning in June 1861 and continuing through Sept. 1863. Reed was a captain in Company D of the 21st Illinois Infantry, a company raised in Tuscola in June 1861. (The regiment was mustered into the service by Col. U. S. Grant.) Reed accompanied the regiment as it marched to Ironton, Mo., for its training. From there the 21st campaigned through Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The regiment and Reed first saw action at Fredericktown in Oct. 1861. Reed also participated in the siege at Corinth and the battles of Perryville and Stones River (Murfreesboro). Reed died Sept. 22, 1863, of wounds received at the battle of Chickamauga.
Reed was born in 1827 in Bourbon County, Ky., to Daniel and Margaret Wayne Reed. The family came to Edgar County, Ill., in 1835, his father running a road house in Hickory Grove. Reed settled in Douglas County and married twice, in 1847 and 1857, and had two children from each marriage.
The correspondence deals with many of the important aspects of the war and soldier life. Reed declared his views on emancipation (4/8/62 and 3/4/63), Democratic opposition to the war, conscription (3/4/63), black troops (2/14/63 and 6/10/63), and his commitment to the Union cause. He evaluated the war's progress at certain points, as well as some officers, including Generals Rosecrans and Logan. Reed also described life in camp - going unpaid for months, waiting for mail, gambling, sending fallen comrades home, picket duty, desertion and malingerers filling the field hospitals. He described real sicknesses, too. His company was stricken with measles, typhoid, and smallpox; Reed took quinine "in large quantities" for a time to combat "the chills." Also included are descriptions of the engagements at Fredericktown (10/18/61) and Stones River (1/8/63 and 2/15/63).
Reed's dislike of the Peace Democrats was particularly pronounced in the letters. He often referred to them as traitors, and contrasted the hardships of those in the army with those back home enjoying the constitutional freedom that others were defending. This theme is strong in the letters of 2/15/63, [late March]/63, 4/2/63, 4/11/63, 8/20/63, and 9/1/63.
The primary purpose of most of the letters was to instruct Welliver on carrying out Reed's personal business in Douglas County. Several land sales and purchases, many in dispute or already having been through the courts, are discussed in detail. Reed at one point instructs Welliver to buy railroad land with recently issued currency, writing, "I want 80 acres of good prairie land for my son William" (1/28/63). Farm business and family business are also included, from purchasing hogs and apple trees to ensuring the children go to school every day. Reed also frequently mentions Welliver's son John, who was serving with the regiment.
Other materials in the collection include a photograph of Reed and a photocopy of an envelope upon which is written "I shook hands with Gen. Grant" (also mentioned in the 6/6/62 letter), and "I would stay in the service if I knew I would loose my life." Photocopies of the company muster rolls, two casualty sheets, two pension documents, and four postwar biographical notes are also included.
Mrs. Louise Helm Randak, of Green Valley, Ariz., and McLeod, Mont., gave the collection to the Library in 1990, through the assistance of Dale L. Johnson of the University of Montana. Melinda Meyer of Camargo, Ill., subsequently added several issues of the Villa Grove News regarding, in part, the GAR Room in the Douglas County Courthouse, Tuscola, Ill., established by the B. F. Reed Post.