Dying the Good Death … James Madison Pope

“Do not save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead. Do not write them on their tombstones. Speak them rather now instead.”    

                                                                                                                                 Anna Cummins

In another post, I provided information about the early life of James Madison Pope. James and his family lived in Blue Mound Township in Macon County, Illinois. James, and his brother Zachariah, gave their lives for their country in a war where brother fought brother.

James’ father Dempsey Pope, and his mother Sarah Edwards Pope had moved to the area in 1827 when James was about three years old. When the family moved there, little did they know that in the future the United States would be torn apart and their family would be changed forever.

Blue Mound is about forty miles from Springfield, the capital of Illinois and fourteen miles from Decatur, the Macon county seat. I can’t help but think that the Pope’s were very aware of the local politics. Abraham Lincoln lived just west of Decatur and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. Being of voting age, it’s very possible that James may have cast a vote for Lincoln in that election.  Lincoln did not run for a second term but over several years he was very involved in politics eventually running for and winning the presidential election of 1860.’

As James farmed on his quiet acreage in Macon County, Illinois, the union of the United States was slowly falling apart. During the 1860 presidential election, Southern leaders began to lay the framework for secession in the event that a Republican president was elected. After Lincoln was elected, Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861; and thus the Civil War began.

Pope, Zachariah Picture_2

Zachariah Pope, private, 115th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry

The expectation was that the war would end within ninety days with the North being victorious. As the war continued for over a year, in July of 1862, President Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers. The call was quickly followed by another request for 300,000. In his book, History of the 115th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Isaac Henry Clay Royse wrote, “The later calls came to men of homes and families who loved the quiet of their firesides to go forth in defense of home and country ; to men who had much to sacrifice. The answer came quickly and with enthusiasm, and the cry ran through all the North, ‘We are coming, Father Abraham, 600,000 strong.’ Companies and regiments came forth as by magic. In the midst of their harvests farmers stopped their machines and laid down their implements to go to the recruiting rally, and there enlist for three years or the duration of the war.”²  In answer to that call, James joined the 115th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company E, on the 13th of August as a sergeant. His brother Zachariah answered the call as well and joined the same day as a private. Willis, the brother born between James and Zachariah, stayed home, most likely to continue to farm his land and help his mother and the wives of James and Zachariah.

Orders came for the recruits to report to Camp Butler on the 25th of August. Tears flowed as the recruits boarded a train on the Illinois Central Railroad  that took them on a ten-mile ride to Decatur, Illinois. Another thirty-five mile ride on the Great Western Railroad took them to Camp Butler where the regiment was officially mustered in.

On the 4th of October the regiment was loaded onto trains that eventually took them to Cincinnati, Ohio where they were marched across the Ohio River to Covington, Kentucky. A good portion of their day was spent on company and battalion drills. From the 18th of October to the 23rd the men marched to Falmouth. On the morning of the 24th they continued their march to Lexington, arriving on October 28th. Rain and snow greeted them along the way.

On the 13th of November the regiment was ordered to Richmond, Kentucky. The march took a heavy toll on the regiment. By the time they arrived in Richmond, one-hundred and fifty were sick. Soldiers sleeping on beds of straw placed on the damp ground contributed to the sickness.  Again, Isaac Royce wrote, “The doleful funeral march was heard almost daily, and many of our most valued men were left in the Danville Cemetery…Measles was the greatest scourge. Great numbers were so afflicted, and many cases turning into pneumonia proving fatal. At one time nearly two-thirds of the regiment were in the hospital or on the sick list in camp.”³

Zachariah Pope was one of the soldiers who died in a hospital in Lexington, dying of measles. James died of measles and cardiac obstruction at a regiment hospital in Danville. So where does dying the good death come in? People of that era expected that if they lived well into their adulthood they would die the good death by dying peacefully at home, among loving family. They would be able to get their affairs in order and, upon death, transition into the hereafter.

The Pope family was lucky. Nearly one-half of the Civil War dead were never identified and many were buried far from home. The bodies of James and Zachariah made it home, most likely by train. James is buried in the Hall Cemetery in Blue Mound. In September of 1938, a military headstone was placed upon his grave. Zachariah is buried in Pope Cemetery in Blue Mound. A military headstone was also placed upon his grave in June of 1938.

Fortunately Dempsey left this earth before he saw fate take two of his sons. But the living were left bereft of their loved ones. Poor Sarah, she lost two sons within a month of each other. Louisa and her six sons, one a baby, were left without their beloved James. Emily, Zachariah’s wife, was left without a father for her children.

I can’t help but wonder would the Pope men have joined the Confederacy had they grown up in North Carolina, the state of their parents birth? Did the fact that they lived so close to the political activity in Macon County have a bearing on their quick response to Abraham Lincoln’s call to defend the Union and their subsequent deaths? We can’t answer those questions, but so we don’t forget, let’s speak of James Madison and Zachariah Pope and all of the others who lost their lives too soon in a war that tore our nation apart.

 


¹Abraham Lincoln. (2016, April 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:49, April 20, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Abraham_Lincoln&oldid=714382089

²Isaac Henry Clay Royse, History of the 115th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Regiment, PDF download, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/historyof115three00roys : downloaded 19 Apr 2016), 12.

³Ibid., 46

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