The History of Joliet – Chapter 14

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

I have still an arm left for my country, and she shall have that too, if necessary.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

Of all the warriors from Joliet who fought in the Civil War, the best remembered and most noble among them was Col. Frederick BARTLESON. The memory of this soldier is a city treasure.

Described by George H. WOODRUFF, the local historian, BARTLESON was “a Christian in his convictions and always a man of pure morals.” Arriving in Joliet in 1855 as a 22-year-old lawyer, he was elected almost unanimously as the county’s state’s attorney.

On April 17, 1861, when the war started, the young lawyer was the very first volunteer. While recently married to Kate MURRAY, he left his bride to lead a company of the 20th Regiment in the war.

During the fighting at Fort Donaldson, he was promoted to major. A few months later in the spring of 1862, BARTLESON lost his left arm at Bloody Shiloh.

While 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.”

He was promoted to colonel in command of the 100th Infantry Regiment, composed of 1,000 Joliet and Will County men.

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. While there, BARTLESON wrote these lines in the conclusion of a poem about the war:

“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.”

There was a celebration in Joliet when BARTLESON was exchanged as a prisoner of war in the spring of 1864. As he healed from the months of starvation, his Joliet friends again urged him to retire from the Army. Democrats and Republicans alike wanted him to run for a congressional seat. They promised that no candidate would oppose him in the election.

“Gentlemen, the question is still unsettled whether we are to have another Congress or a country,” he replied. “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.”

BARTLESON returned to his regiment a few weeks later, walking the last 30 miles in a hot Georgia sun. The date was May 30, 1864, and the 100th Regiment was taking part in the Atlanta campaign. On that same day, Capt. John BURRELL, commander of Company D, a close friend of BARTLESON, had been killed.

When the colonel saw the thinned ranks of his regiment and heard the news of BURRELL‘s death, he cried out, “My God, boys, is this all that is left of you?” As he reviewed the lists of dead and wounded, tears rolled down his cheeks.

Less than a month later, the beloved officer was killed on June 23, 1864, during the battle at Kennesaw Mountain. He 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.

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.

BARTLESON‘s body was escorted home with a regimental honor guard. The entire city closed down for his funeral.

“Never before or since has there been such a funeral in Joliet,” wrote WOODRUFF, the local historian.

Horses and carriages were lined up for miles going to Oakwood Cemetery, where BARTLESON was buried on the back side of the city cemetery. His widow had a 20-foot stone installed to mark the spot where the hero was buried.

After the war, Union soldiers formed Grand Army of the Republic posts across the country. The GAR Post in Joliet was named after BARTLESON.

Published June 30, 2001