Civil War Hero Gravesite in Jeopardy
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Civil War Hero Gravesite in Jeopardy

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Old 06-01-09, 10:46 AM   #1
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Default Civil War Hero Gravesite in Jeopardy

At the Civil War Battle of Shiloh, Brig. Gen. W.H.L. Wallace of {edit} heroically held off enemy assaults for six hours.

But the odds appear dismal his grave will win a fight against decades of erosion unless there are financial reinforcements.

Wallace is buried in a small family cemetery on the north edge of {edit}. The 40-by-60-foot plot is on the edge of a steep ravine. The dozen graves include that of his father-in-law, T. Lyle Dickey, an {edit} attorney, Civil War officer and judge. Both Wallace and Dickey were acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. Also buried on the grounds are the remains of Prince, the horse Wallace rode in battle.

If nothing is done, it is only a matter of time before Wallace's remains, and those of other relations, will end up sliding down the ravine.

Officially, the burial spot is known as the Dickey-Wallace Cemetery. Due to being landlocked by private property in a secluded grove of stately trees, the cemetery which has no sign is not accessible to would-be visitors. With no public path to the location just north of {edit}'s city limits, it is difficult to find without a guide.

The erosion aside, the general condition of the cemetery also is on the slide. An octagional stone wall is falling apart. The headstones need to be reset and a tribute obelisk to Wallace is leaning toward toppling.

Members of the {edit} Civil War Roundtable regularly spruce up the grounds, but the attention needed to the headstones and erosion are beyond the financial ability of the {edit} Avenue Cemetery Board, which has owned the cemetery for the past half century.

Originally the land was on family property. Wallace's former home, The Oaks, is nearby.

In 1941, the state purchased both the home and the cemetery, partially with money raised by local donations. For a while, the home and its Civil War relics were a museum. But later, the state decided to sell the house. The Civil War relics were removed and no longer can be accounted for.

In 1957, the state turned the cemetery over to the {edit} Avenue Cemetery Association along with a one-time stipend of $3,000 for its perpetual care.

Now the money is long gone. But despite the lack of funds, the cemetery board still has responsibility for the cemetery. It is a responsibility it needs the community to help shoulder, Chuck Sanders, the cemetery board president, told The Times.

He said the board's plan is to try to form a coalition of public interest groups to come up with a solution and the funding to accomplish it.

Sanders has immersed himself in knowledge of the cemetery site. He is an encyclopedia of facts about the land.

He knows the title sequence for the cemetery land and the ownership of the nearby parcels. He understands the immediate geography. His set of maps allows him to trace property boundaries and even the old roadway that once led to the cemetery.

To place the erosion in check would cost untold thousands of dollars in order to shore up the cemetery land with a wall of sheet piling, said Sanders.

"And we have no money."

Moving the remains to the {edit}Avenue Cemetery also has been considered.

It would allow Wallace's grave to be more accessible and easier to maintain, not to mention eliminating the erosion concerns.

But that solution sounds easier than it is, Sanders said. While the costs can be calculated, the paperwork is considerable, Sanders said. Just getting permission from family members could be formidable.

So, the situation has left the cemetery board open to suggestions.

"It's quite a dilemma."



Wallace: Fighting like 'a hard day's plowing' Civil War Brig. Gen. W.H.L. Wallace is looked up to in [edit].

His image on horseback looms over La Salle Street in a larger-than-life "Brush With History" mural. His life and death are depicted in an 1872 painted window installed at Christ Episcopal Church deemed by the Times in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of {edit} County based on its significance in the realm of art history.

Nationally, Wallace is considered a hero of the Battle of Shiloh, where he was mortally wounded. At the battlefield, a huge monument is maintained in his honor. In the Pentagon, a Medal of Honor nomination for Wallace's heroism is slowly working its way through channels.

Wallace, born in 1821 to a poor carpenter in Ohio, moved with his family to {edit} Township, just outside of {edit}, at age 13. In 1841, he enrolled at Rock River Seminary near Mount Morris and, three years later, planned to study law in Springfield with the firm of Stephen Logan and Abraham Lincoln.

However, T. Lyle Dickey, an {edit} judge, politician and friend of Lincoln, persuaded Wallace to stay in {edit} for his legal studies. Shortly thereafter, the two led a company of La Salle County men to the Mexican-American war in 1846, returning in 1848.

Wallace, who rose to the rank of lieutenant, married Dickey's daughter in 1851 and the next year was elected state's attorney for the 9th Judicial District.

In 1858 he was present for Lincoln's first debate with Stephen Douglas at Washington Square in the heart of {edit}.

It was in the late 1850s that Wallace built The Oaks, a two-story stone home situated high on {edit}'s north bluffs just off Caton Road. The home is an example of American Gothic and French Renaissance architecture.

When the Civil War started, Wallace volunteered again to serve. The state made Wallace colonel of the 11th Illinois Volunteer Infantry regiment. He played a key role in the 1861 capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and in February 1862 of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.

He was promoted to brigadier general and, after his commanding officer fell ill, Wallace was given command of a division.

For Wallace, fighting was hard labor. Lew Wallace of Indiana, a fellow general at the Battle of Shiloh who later authored "Ben Hur," described a battle-weary Wallace as looking like a "farmer coming from a hard day's plowing."

During Shiloh, Wallace's division was ordered to Pittsburg Landing to defend a key position in a sunken road known to Confederate soldiers as the Hornet's Nest. He and his men repelled several waves of rebel onslaughts until troops finally swarmed Wallace's line.

As he directed his troops in retreat, Wallace rose in his saddle and just as quickly fell, shot through the head by a Confederate sniper bullet.

His ability to hold the line as long as he did prevented Confederates from also overrunning the position of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, helping make Shiloh a key for the North's eventual triumph in the war.

How vital his role was is argued by Timothy B. Smith, a park ranger at the Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee and a published Civil War author, in his recent book, "The Untold Story of Shiloh" published by the University of Tennessee Press.

According to Smith, Wallace's death a few days after the 1862 battle allowed his superior, Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss, to claim credit for Wallace's leadership role in fighting off repeated Confederate assaults.

It is a case of stolen thunder, said Smith.

Prentiss' after-battle report, says Smith, "was glowing in terms of his own accomplishments. Historians through the years then accepted that report at face value."

Thus, says Smith, although "it was primarily Wallace's troops who held the Hornet's Nest," it was Prentiss who lived to put his spin on the fighting and take the credit.


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