Peoria Public Library - Peoria, Illinois

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Peoria, Illinois 61602-1070
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Colonel Fahnestock

by Norm Kelly

Fahnestock was born in Abbots Town, Pennsylvania in 1828, coming to Peoria County in 1837.  Folks started working at a tender age back then and during his teen years he carried mail and worked as an apprentice Cooper.  He was elected to the Timber Township Clerk’s office out in Peoria County until the next opportunity to volunteer for the army.  That chance came during the Civil War when he was commissioned a Captain on August 27, 1862. His leadership qualities got him quickly promoted first to major then finally as a full colonel in 1864.  Colonel Allen Fahnestock retired from the military a local hero on June 6, 1865. In 1866 local folks elected him Peoria County Treasurer until the colonel opened a dry goods store in Glasford, Illinois.  Colonel Allen L. Fahnestock lived a full, satisfying life, until his death on June 29, 1920 at age of 92.  Let’s learn something about his military career by looking through the diary that he kept all during the war.
Colonel Fahnestock talks of his beloved wife Sarah and his six children the marriage brought him and his pride and love for them.  In the Colonel’s diary he often referred to the Civil War as “The Great Rebellion.” Fahnestock rode his white horse named ‘Molly’ throughout the war, wherein he described his trek over 5,500 miles. Fahnestock’s men endured 18 major battles during the ferocious war. One of the first entries in Fahnestock’s diary began on an enthusiastic note: “We march out of Louisville in good spirits and ready to meet the enemy, fearful that the war would end and not get a chance for battle”  Over the dreadful, terrifying years that followed, his diary entries would change dramatically.
They trekked along, shivering, freezing and then later, bogged down in mud and attacked by insects of every kind. Besieged with every communicable disease known to mankind his troops fought on.  At night, seeking shelter in his small tent, Fahnestock put his thoughts down in his cherished diary.  “I took some morphine and lay in the tent hearing cannonading and the Battle of Murphysboro is progressing and more boys are losing their lives in the hundreds.”  He included, “Sleet two and a half inches. Feet wet, feel blue.  This is enough to kill the best men living.”  Daily the then junior officer poured his heart out writing hundreds of entries in his diary. “A Union general mistook our brigade and fired upon us. The sun was getting low and as red as blood and there is no doubt but what both armies prayed for the sun to set and let darkness end the battle.”    
I often wondered how men were recruited for service before and during the Civil War.  Here is an enlightening paragraph as to how Fahnestock managed to get the job done. “L. Fahnestock and W.A. Woodruff, raising a company for the war have opened a recruiting office at the head of Bridge Street here in Peoria. They already have 64 men sworn in.  They opened a larger office over on Fulton and Main and managed to recruit seventy new men before having a meeting over in Timber Township. In all 1,262 men were recruited in this general area during that time.  Some man of means offered recruits $10.00 to sign up and also stated that he would deed 40 acres in Timber Township to the widow of the first man who fell in battle.”   Enticing…huh?
The colonel’s description of the mass graves of men killed during a Georgia skirmish makes the reader weep. He wrote that “Many of the bodies were piled high with less than enough earth over them to conceal the color of their blue uniforms.”
The war ended and Colonel Fahnestock and what was left of his men got on a train and came home to wives and children they could barely recall. He, like so many of the men from Peoria and Peoria County gave everything they had to protect this Union and they all lived right here where we live today. Remember their sacrifices the next time you complain because your morning newspaper is late at your doorstep.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a local historian and author:           norman.kelly@sbcglobal.net