Friday, April 8, 2011

Notre Dame's Civil War Roll of Honor - Cassius M. Brelsford : A Promising Life, Cut Short

As I have mentioned in previous posts and in the Preface of my book, Notre Dame in the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), I have a long-term goal of
cataloging and researching Notre Dame's Civil War student-soldiers.

You can find an initial list here

My previous student-soldier profiles are listed below:

John C. Lonergan - 58th Illinois Infantry (here)
Timothy E. Howard - 12th Michigan Infantry (here)
Frank Baldwin -
44th Indiana Infantry (here and here)
Felix Zeringue - 30th Louisiana Infantry (CSA) (here)
Michael Quinlan - 27th Virginia Infantry (CSA) (here and here)
Thomas E. Lonergan - 90th Illinois Infantry (here
Orville T. Chamberlain - 74th Indiana I
nfantry (here and here)

There are many more profiles to come!

Today's post introduces readers to another Notre Dame Civil War student-soldier - Pvt. Cassius M. Brelsford, Co. F., 113th Illinois Infantry.

As it turns out, it's the story of a most promising young man who died too young to fulfill that promise.

A biography and selected images from his compiled military service record are below. In addition to my own research, my search was aided immensely by the kind folks at the Archives of the University of Notre Dame (UNDA) (as always!), the great folks at -esp. Jay Odom - who retrieved the Compiled Service Military Record, and the Iroquois County Genealogical Society, who provided a copy of his obituary.

As with other attempts to identify Notr
e Dame's student-soldiers, my strategy is thus:

1) Look at the Notre Dame catalogs just before and during the war
2) Identify students whose studies ended upon the start - or shortly thereafter - of the war
3) Confirm whether they might have been
a soldier using the National Park Service Civil War Soldier and Sailor System
4) Find other confirmation (state muster rolls, etc.) to match
muster-in hometown with Notre Dame catalog information
5) Verify further with any other biographical information to connect the soldier to Notre Dame
6) Final confirmation (if needed) by se
curing pension, military record, and enrollment details

So here goes...

1) Using the UNDA's excellent Student Index (1849-1912), I was drawn to the following student: Cassius M. Brelsford (what a GREAT name, right?!)...his enrollment ended in 1862, during the war years, which made him a candidate for a student-soldier.

2) Cassius Brelsfor
d also appears in the 1861-62 Notre Dame Catalog (full text available on Google Books here). By all accounts, he was one of the top students at the University, taking many of the top honors at the 1862 commencement, including:

3) A "Cassius M.
Brelsford" does appear in the NPS's Civil War Soldier and Sailor System and in the, and his listed UND hometown of "Middleport, IL" is in Iroquois County, IL.

4) Here is a sum
mary of the 113th Illinois Infantry from the NPS:

Organized at Camp Hancock, near Chicago, Ill., and mustered in October 1, 1862. Ordered to Memphis, Tenn., November 6, 1862. Attached to 1s
t Brigade, District of Memphis, Tenn., Right Wing 13th Army Corps (Old), Department of the Tennessee, November, 1862. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, District of Memphis, 13th Army Corps, to December, 1862. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Sherman's Yazoo Expedition to January, 1863. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 15th Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee, to August, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 16th Army Corps, to November, 1863. Post of Corinth, Miss., 2nd Division, 16th Army Corps, to January, 1864. 2nd Brigade, District of Memphis, Tenn., 16th Army Corps, to June, 1864. 2nd Brigade, Sturgis' Expedition, June, 1864. 1st Brigade, Post of Memphis, District of West Tennessee, to February, 1865. Unatta ched, Post of Memphis, District of West Tennessee, to June, 1865.

SERVICE.-Grant's Central Mississippi Campaign. "Tallahatchie March," November 26-December 12, 1862. Sherman's Yazoo Expedition December 20, 1862-January 2, 1863. Chickasaw Bayou December 26-28. Chickasaw Bluff December 29. Expedition to Arkansas Post, Ark., January 3-10. Assault and capture of Fort Hindman, Arkansas Post, January 10-11. (Cos. "C," "D," "F," "I" and "K" guard prisoners North after Arkansas Post, and retained in Illinois on guard duty till October, 1864, when rejoined Regiment at Memphis, Tenn.) Moved to Young's Point, La., January 17-22, and duty there till March. Expedition to Rolling Fork, Miss., via Muddy, Steele's and Black Bayous and Deer Creek March 14-27. Near Deer Creek March 22. Demonstration on Haines' and Drumgould's Bluffs April 29-May 2. Movement to Jackson, Miss., via Grand Gulf, May 2-14. Jackson May 14. Champion's Hill May 16. Siege of Vick sburg, Miss., May 18-July 4. Assaults on Vicksburg May 19 and 22. Surrender of Vicksburg July 4. Advance on Jackson, Miss., July 4-10. Siege of Jackson July 10-17. Ordered to Memphis, Tenn.; thence to Corinth, Miss., and Post duty there till January, 1864. At Memphis, Tenn., till June, 1865. Sturgis' Expedition into Mississippi June 1-13, 1864. Near Colliersville, Tenn., June 10. Brice's (or Tishamingo) Creek, near Guntown, Miss., June 10. Ripley June 11. Repulse of Forrest's attack on Memphis August 21, 1864. Eastport, Miss., October 10, 1864. Mustered out June 20, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 1 Officer and 25 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 4 Officers and 273 Enlisted men by disease. Total 303.

5) His Compiled Military Service Record was very rich (and believe me: sometimes they just aren't), even though - by the time he joined in lat e 1863 - he had missed most of the action, it still includes some wonderful biographical material. It appears that Brelsford spent a good deal of time away from his regiment while on detached duty as a clerk at Headquarters:

6) My favorite piece of correspondence in his service record is this letter written by Brelsford himself; notice the appeal to his "collegiate education" and also his willingness to serve his additional year, even though unfit for regular duty.

7) This
disability/discharge certificate may provide some clues as to why Brelsford served as a clerk instead of as a soldier in the ranks. He developed a lung complication which the surgeon attributed to Brelsford's service. Note that "incipient phthisis" was a mid-19th century clinical term for "consumption" or "tuberculosis."

8) Cassius M. Brelsford left the service and embarked on a promising career, first as a druggist and general store manager at home in Illinois, and then in New York, working his way up to an officer of the "American Literary Bureau," one of the leading speaking and literary agencies of the day. In one interesting - and as yet unexplained - "twist of fate," famed actress Laura Keene - made even more famous by her appearance in "Our American Cousin" on the n
ight of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination - once sued Brelsford for $15,000 for libel in his capacity as an officer with the Bureau.

9) However - as mentioned above - a promising young man's life was cut short by the disease that he contracted in the service. Brelsford died in 1873, only eight years after the war. His obituary was carried in the New York papers, his hometown Iroquois Times and Onarga Review, and also copied in the Notre Dame Scholastic:

DIED - At the Grand Central Hotel, New York City, December 18, 1873, CASSIUS M. BRELSFORD, of pulmonary disease. Aged 28 years.

Cassius M. Brelsford was born at Decatur, Indiana. Was educated at Notre Dame University. Removed to Illinois a few years before the war, and in 1862 enlisted in Capt. Bridge's company (F.) of the 113 Illinois Infantry. Of rather a delicate constitution, camp-life did not agree with him, and he was detailed as a clerk at Gen. Geo. H. Thomas's headquarters at Nashville, Tenn., where he served until mustered out; the general and his subordinate officers giving him letters of the highest recommendation, and his office associates presenting him with many tokens of esteem.

Returning to the North, he associated himself with his father, Dr. Joseph Brelsford, in the druf business, afterword, in company with with Mr. V. W. Dashiell, embarking in the nook and stationery business, the form starting the first news depot in Onarga. His interest in this establishment was purchased by Mr. Dashiell, and Mr. Brelsford moved to Wilmington, Will county, where he started a drug and stationery store.

About three years ago he entered the service of theAmerican Literary Bureau, accepting a subordinate position. His business qualifications soon attracted the attention of the managers, and he was promoted to the position of General Manager, with headquarters in New York. He held that position for about a year, when he was elected President, filling the office until death relieved him of his earthly cares. His associate officers in the Bureau seemed to have no envy upon his promotion over them, each and everyone of them recognizing his ability to fill the position with which he was honored. His directorship received the highest encomiums from all sides, the lecturers, particularly, bestowing praise upon his admirable management of their business with the public.

When the disease assumed a serious aspect telegrams were daily received from such men as Wendell Phillips, Bret Harte, and other eminent literary men, all showing great interest in his condition.

During his illness, the families of his brother officers vied with each other in contributing to his comfort, and the best medical skill was employed. The disease, however, had taken too strong a hold upon him, and he died, as stated above on the 18th of December, cutting off a life of great promise.

The remains were brought to Onarga by the bereaved father, and were interred in the cemetery on Tuesday, the 23d. The funeral took place in the Episcopal Church and was attended by a large concourse of our citizens, who deeply symapthized with the sorrowing relatives.

Cassius M. Brelsford
, University of Notre Dame, 113th Illinois Infantry, 1845-1873, Rest in Peace.

(To be continued: Cassius Brelsford's brother, Horace, was also a Notre Dame student and also a Union soldier in the 9th Illinois Cavalry...he will be profiled in the future).

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