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Friday, May 25, 2012

An appropriate Memorial Day story

This story written by Mike Doyle is in Friday's Rockford Register-Star . Drake Cemetery is the one I mentioned before that is in Candlewick. I am glad to see this historic site will be made presentable again with all it's history.   Ken Dillenburg

Last week’s column told how Andrew Geyer of Belvidere plans to clean up the nearly forgotten Drake Cemetery on Dawson Lake Road for his Eagle Scout project.

With Memorial Day approaching, it is appropriate to focus more on one topic in that story — that of Private Alanson T. Knox, who is buried in that cemetery. Knox, who died June 29, 1863, in the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss., fought for the 95th Illinois Infantry Volunteer Regiment, which was made up of men from Boone and McHenry counties.
Knox wasn’t the first Union soldier in the 95th killed in action, nor was he the last.
In fact, many men died of disease in conflicts, and the Civil War was no exception.
Wales W. Wood, an adjutant with the 95th, wrote of the regiment’s time in late winter 1863 along the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg, Miss. “During this period much sickness prevailed in the regiment, and its hospital building in the village was covered with sick soldiers. ... The cases of sickness increased for a time with frightening rapidity. (Eventually) Deaths became frequent occurrence; the muffled drum, with its mournful roll, beating time to the familiar dead-march, gave notice almost daily that the corpse of some Union soldier was being consigned to the burial ground nearby …”
In his introduction to the 1993 reprinting of the 95th history, local historian Frank Crawford wrote that it was at Vicksburg “where the previously Bloodless 95th first ‘saw the elephant,’ ” which is to mean it saw its first combat.
That occurred May 19 to 22 in 1863 in Gen. U.S. Grant’s attempt to capture Vicksburg, a key strategic location on the Mississippi. Whoever controlled Vicksburg and its commanding high bluffs controlled the great river.
The Great Louisiana Redan in May 1863 cost the 95th 25 lives and 128 wounded in an unsuccessful effort, but the assault continued.
“The great siege now began, and was prosecuted vigorously,” Wood wrote. “All through the sultry days of May and June 1863, our lines were gradually advanced toward the enemy’s works.
It was during this time, as the Union lines continued to advance, that Alanson Knox of Company K from Boone County lost his life.
The 47-day siege ended on July 4, 1863, and the 95th was one of the first regiments to march into the city.
“With the victorious stars and stripes unfurled, and with music playing the national airs, these dusty, scarred and war-worn battalions, keeping step with the music of the Union, marched into the streets of Vicksburg …” Wood wrote.
It marked a turning point of the war, and the defeat was so devastating to the South and the residents of Vicksburg that the city did not celebrate the July Fourth holiday until 1945.
Knox’s was one life lost in a major battle, but it is one that should never be forgotten. And, thanks to a 14-year-old from Belvidere, it won’t be.