[pg. 9] NEWTON C. FARR (1887-1967) *** Newton Camp Farr would have been eighty years old on Christmas day, 1967. He lived his four-score years in Chicago, involved in Chicago activities, and concerned with the welfare of his city and its people. He was born in a house on Woodlawn Avenue in Hyde Park; and lived there for seventy years until he moved to a Lake Shore Drive apartment on the near North Side. He was senior member of Chicago’s oldest realty firm.
He was a gentle, cultured, intelligent, responsible citizen who loved his city, his state and his country and gave completely of his time and fortune to the welfare of the American people and their institutions.
In the world of education he supported a vast number of activities, including service as a trustee of the Faulkner School for Girls (Chicago); Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago); Lincoln memorial University (Harrogate, Tennessee); and Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield). He was deeply interested in American history, and particularly the American Civil War and its aftermath. He was a founder and second president of the Civil War Round Table. His fine collection of Civil War material was given to his alma mater, Cornell University, a few years ago. He was a life-member and president of the Illinois State Historical Society; a life-member of the Chicago Historical Society; and a life-member and president of the Chicago Geographical Society.
He served as chairman of the committee which sought to purchase the [pg. 10] Oliver R. Barrett collection for the State of Illinois, and did raise funds (which included a personal contribution of $10,000) to buy material from the collection when it was sold at public auction. When the State of Illinois honored the memory of Abraham Lincoln on the occasion of his 150th birthday in 1959, Newton Farr served as chairman of the committee selected by the Governor to plan the occasion.
He was one of the first customers of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop when it opened its doors more than thirty years ago, and was a friend, benefactor, advisor and teacher to all of us who travelled along the Lincoln-Civil War Trail.
He cherished the American traditions, and loved the history of our country. His knowledge of the history of the middle of the nineteenth century equalled that of any professional historian. He was a member of The Civil War Centennial Commission of Illinois and was a founder and director of The Ulysses S. Grant Association which is currently gathering for publication the collected writings of our Eighteenth President.
Though he was the senior of most of us in the Civil War Round Table, he was young in heart, youthful in his interests, modern in his approach to business and education, and progressive in all community activities. He served as the model for the ideal citizen and public-spirited civic leader, and many of us, consciously or subconsciously, were motivated to a higher degree of public service by his example. That we shall miss him would be one of the understatements of the age; that we shall remember him, in Jefferson’s words, is a fact that is self-evident.
–Ralph G. Newman*
*Reprinted from the newsletter of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago.
[pg. 11] GRANT AS A COLONEL *** Under the headline “Grant’s Only War Speech,” the New-York Tribune of September 27, 1885, printed an interview with one of the survivors of the regiment which was Grant’s first command in the Civil War. Joseph Washington Wham of Salem, Illinois, enlisted as a private on June 10, 1861, in Captain Joseph Maher’s company of the Seventh Congressional District Regiment. Grant was appointed colonel within a week of Wham’s enlistment. Two weeks later, the regiment was mustered into federal service as the Twenty-First Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Wham was a private throughout the war, re-enlisting in 1864, and was promoted to first lieutenant on July 28, 1865, serving until December 16, 1865, when the regiment was disbanded.
Wham apparently acquired a taste for army life, and in 1867 he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Thirty-Fifth U. S. Infantry. After serving four years, he was discharged at his own request. On March 3, 1877, the day before Grant left the White House, Wham was appointed an army paymaster with the rank of major, and he held this position until his retirement in 1901.
Grant thought well of Wham, and Wham reciprocated, providing the Tribune reporter with a glowing account of Grant’s first Civil War service just two months after his death. Wham’s account of the circumstances surrounding Grant’s appointment as colonel must be weighed against the fact that a quarter century had passed, Wham was only a private when the officers made their decision, and other survivors remembered matters differently. These recollections are, nonetheless, one of the best and most straightforward accounts of a period for which we have little reliable information about Grant.
[pg. 12] Major Joseph W. Wham sat in the cozy back room of his paymaster’s office in the Government building at No. 33 West Houston—st., recently, and talked about his old colonel, U. S. Grant, to a Tribune reporter who had wandered into that abode of pay-rolls.”I was a private in the 21st Illinois Regiment, the first and only one of which Grant was ever Colonel,” said the Major.
“Ah, then you were one of Governor Yates’s ‘hellions?'” said the reporter.
“Yes, sir, I was,” said the Major, bringing his swinging chair to the right-about-face with an emphatic snap, “and I want to say right here, that that regiment has been sadly maligned. The facts in the case were simply these: Our regiment was composed of some of the best material that God ever made either for purposes of war or peace. We were all of us young men, from eighteen to thirty years of age, and the sons of well-to-do farmers of the old XIth [VIIth] Congressional District in Southern Illinois. We came from the fields and workshops to enlist, and we wanted to do our whole duty, but we had too much self-respect to serve under a drunken, incompetent colonel. We were brought up in an atmosphere of the most earnest loyalty and Republicanism. My father read The New-York Tribune in the family circle from the year of its establishment. So when the end of our three [one] months enlistment approached and Governor Yates wanted us to enlist again to help fill out the State’s quota of the 300,000 men for three years called for in the President’s proclamation, we simply said we wouldn’t re-enlist under Colonel Good [Simon S. Goode]. Our officers went to Governor Yates and told him how the matter stood. The Governor then said: ‘Gentlemen, I will give you Captain Grant for a colonel. You know him as the officer who mustered you in at Mattoon.’ We did know him and such a favorable impression had he made on officers and men during those few days at Camp Grant, that there was not a murmur at his being thus promoted over the heads of the ten captains and two field officers who outranked him. Not even Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander showed the slightest jealousy, and he, I think, rather expected the place himself, as he didn’t go to see the Governor with the rest of the officers.
“Grant at that time was simply a captain in the State Militia. The way in which he obtained that commission has been narrated hundreds of times, but never quite rightly, I think. As told to me by Adjutant-General Fuller,* the story was as follows: Grant had been recommended to Governor Yates by Senator [Representative Elihu B.] Washburne. The Governor tried to use him as a clerk, but saw that he was fitted for greater responsibilities; so one day he said to the Adjutant-General:
‘Fuller, I have a man that I think you had better take a hold of,’ telling him Grant’s name and history. ‘You need men for mustering in the troops. The State officers are green at the business, and we can’t call on the regular army men, as it is a State affair. This man Grant will just fit the office.’ So the first commission issued by General Fuller [pg. 13] was to Captain Grant.
“Well, Governor Yates kept his word and gave Colonel Good’s commission to Grant. The latter put it in his pocket, and dressed in a light blouse, with no sword or insignia of rank, stepped into a horse-car and rode out to the fair grounds, where the regiment was encamped. Going to the Adjutant’s tent, he showed his commission and remarked that be ‘guessed he’d take command.’ Then he sat down to write an order or two and strolled out to take a look about camp. The first thing that caught his eye was the camp guard, eighty strong and armed with clubs, which Colonel Good had created to keep the men from climbing the fence and going into the city to see the girls. His next order abolished the camp guard and told the men that they were required to be present at all roll-calls. An ordinary West Pointer would have stopped there, thinking it to be the business of the men to know when those roll-calls were. But Grant never forgot that he had to deal with volunteers instead of regulars or conscripts and be added a paragraph giving the times of roll-call and reminding the men that though they had become soldiers they had not ceased to be citizens and should exercise a manly self-restraint and not dishonor their citizenship. The effect of that order was wonderful. There was no more climbing the fence after that.
“I think that is a trait that has never been strongly brought out before, and one that shows the greatness of his genius. While educated at West Point, with all that rigid inflexibility of the military training ground into his nature so that in the midst of battle as well as in his own dying agonies he could hold all his faculties down to the work in hand, he was nothing of a martinet, but handled men as men and without any friction, whatever their notions of personal dependence and dislike for the restraints of discipline. He was kind to his subordinates, too. When [Governor Claiborne] Jackson was trying to get Missouri into the Confederacy the Illinois regiments were ordered to that State. There was no hurry about the matter and Grant asked permission to march our regiment across the State to the Mississippi River, as we needed the drill. And we did march as far as Naples on the Illinois River, when orders came to take the cars. One morning as we broke camp, which had been pitched for the night in a pasture lot, and filed out into the road, I was walking ahead of the regiment. I was on the sick list and out of the ranks. Colonel Grant saw me, a private of G Company, a lad of eighteen, trudging along the road alone. ‘Are you sick, my man?’ he asked. ‘How about the ambulance?’
“‘I don’t like the ambulance sir,’ I replied.
“‘Ah, then you can march a little,’ be said, ‘but don’t try to do too much.’ He was loved and honored by every one of the 1,000 men in that regiment.
“It was some time before Grant got his colonel’s uniform and until that came he knew his business too well to take command at dress parade. The Lieutenant-Colonel was allowed to manoeuvre the regiment. Once only he interfered and gave the regiment its first order from the new Colonel. The Adjutant had drawn us up in line with one flank so near the fence that there was no room for a battery of artillery which was coming up to take its station there. Grant’s quick eye took in the situation and almost involuntarily the sharp command ‘Right flank, forward march!’ remedied the difficulty.
“While we were lying in Camp Yates, this unfounded impression of [pg. 14] our sullen and mutinous condition which then and ever afterward clung to the regiment in a most unaccountable way, pervaded Springfield. General [John A.] Logan, then a Congressman simply, came down to make us a speech. Officers and men gathered in front of the grand stand in the free and easy democratic way characteristic of your true militiaman, and Logan made us a ringingly loyal speech. This you remember was in May [June 19], ’61, when his enemies now tell us that he was plotting rank treason. There was lots of enthusiasm and cheering, and after Logan had finished we didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have a speech from the new Colonel. Cries of ‘Grant, Grant; Colonel Grant!’ arose and so did the Colonel slowly and with quiet dignity. Every voice was hushed to hear what he would say. The speech consisted of four words. It was: ‘Go to your quarters.’ That was the first and last speech that Grant ever made while in the War. It was the most effective wet blanket that I ever saw thrown upon a warm spread eagle enthusiasm. It was not said harshly, and though we should have hurrahed lustily if he had waded into the very depths of eloquence, yet we all recognized the fact that he had no business speechifying and had said just the right thing. We went to our quarters a somewhat sadder but much wiser lot of men.
“He was our colonel for only three [two] months, but the regiment went through the War in a way that did credit to his training. Seven hundred and twenty strong we went into the battle of Stony Brook [Stone’s River], but we only stacked 150 guns when we came out. There are about 100 members now living who get together every year for a reunion.
“Yes, he was a great man,” said the Major, turning to his desk again; “perhaps the greatest that ever lived.”
[from pg. 12] * Allen C. Fuller, though later adjutant general of Illinois, was not in that office when Grant was in Springfield. Grant was called captain because of his previous U. S. Army rank and the title had nothing to do with the state militia. It is significant that the only seriously inaccurate section of Wham’s recollections is the only portion which came to him completely secondhand.
NEWS NOTES *** The Ulysses S. Grant Association has received a grant of $3500 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for 1968. *** David C. Mearns, Chief of the Manuscript Division, has retired after forty-nine years of service to the Library of Congress. Described by his colleagues as “librarian, author, historian, humanist, and humorist,” Mearns now begins a three-year term as honorary consultant in the humanities to the Library of Congress. He has been a director Of the Grant Association since 1962. *** Andrew Wallace of the Arizona Pioneers’ historical Society, Tucson, Arizona, recently gave the Grant Association a copy of his book, Gen. August V. Kautz and the Southwestern Frontier. Wallace’s biography, the first full-length study of Kautz, is a valuable source of information about Grant.