Rev. Taylor’s War-time Duties

All the fun things that come with war…..

Rev. Robert  F. Taylor served as pulpit supply for First Presbyterian Church of Macomb, Illinois, for the year 1860. The minutes of Presbyterian General Assembly of 1861 report 155 communicants in the Macomb congregation. When the 78th Illinois Infantry was recruited for Civil War service, Rev. Taylor became the unit’s Chaplain. Several officers and most of Co. I & some of Co. C were Macomb-ites.

Carter Van Vleck was born in 1830 in New York. He married in Ohio, and he & his wife Patty lived in Beardstown, Illinois before moving to Macomb.  He was an attorney and a Democrat. He registered a patent (No. 17,709) for improvements in resinous compounds for covering hams. He served as an elder at First Presbyterian Church of the Macomb from the late 1850s until he mustered into the 78th  Illinois Infantry in 1862. In May 1860, he attended the General Assembly in Rochester, New York, representing Schuyler Presbytery in the Synod of Chicago.  Between 1852 and 1861, the Van Vlecks had 2 boys and 2 girls, but only their daughter Nellie lived past the age of 2 years.

Nellie was 4 years old when Van Vleck was elected Lieut. Col. of the 78th. In June 1863, Carter Van Vleck & a Col. Baird from an Indiana regiment, both stationed at Fort Grainger, Tenn., were approached by two men claiming to be army inspectors.  Baird believed their ruse, even loaned them $50, but Van Vleck was skeptical and refused to loan money; he thought they were spies.

Indeed, the men were soldiers in the CSA. Union patrols were sent to pick them up.   The two were called to a court martial at 3 AM (Van Vleck was on the court commission) and were convicted to be hung the next morning. They requested to be shot instead, and the leader of the two asked for his cohort to be dealt with more leniently than himself.  Col. Baird contacted his HQ several times attempting to change the outcome and spare their lives, to no avail. Upon the convicts’ request, Chaplain Taylor served them the sacraments (and apparently collected the notes they wrote to family & a few personal effects; both Taylor & Van Vleck wrote notes to their families).

Chaplain Taylor resigned as about a month after the executions.  Reports say that in the last years of his life Col. Baird, who initiated the call for hanging but soon wanted to be more lenient, committed himself to an insane asylum. Harper’s Weekly (subtitle is “A Journal of Civilization”) carried a gruesome detailed account of the hangings along with a sophisticated pen & ink sketch of the event including the single coffin in which the two were to be buried together.  The high degree of public interest was probably because the leader of the pair was a relative of Robert E. Lee’s wife and also of Martha Custis Washington.

Van Vleck was promoted to full Colonel in Sept 1863, following the resignation of the Col. from Quincy.  When Major William Broaddus of Macomb (born 1822, married to Martha Ann Hayden in Hancock County, IL in 1841, in 1847 ran as Whig for County Treasurer and lost, 1857 2nd ward alderman) was killed at Chickamauga, the story goes that Van Vleck detailed a private to get Broaddus’ body back into Union territory so it could be shipped home.  The private didn’t make it, but in Jan 1864, Van Vleck & his comrades, including Broaddus’ son, searched through the graves on the battlefield and eventually located what they identified as Major Broaddus’ body.

On Aug 14, 1864, Van Vleck was walking near his tent a half mile behind the skirmish line when a bullet entered his forehead.  For several days it looked like he would survive, although the bullet remained deep in his skull — he was conscious, apparently free of pain and was able to talk easily.  He died on Aug 23 and his body was returned to Macomb, Illinois for burial in Oakwood Cemetery.  His wife and his daughter Nellie moved to Ohio.

The Adjutant General’s report for the 78th Regiment shows 862 soldiers mustered in 1862 & 140 recruits were added.  In June 1865, mustered out 393 men.  The report estimates 400 killed and wounded– 96 killed on the field, 24 died in prisons; 77 in hospitals.


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