Douglas R. Bushnell was born 17 June 1824 at Norwich, Connecticut. He was educated as a civil engineer, and moved to New Hampshire as a young man to begin a career in railroad engineering in that state and in Vermont. After marrying his wife Emily Edson, the couple moved to Sterling in Whiteside County, Illinois in 1855 where they resided with their two children. Bushnell enlisted into enlisting into Company B of the 13th Illinois Infantry on May 10, 1861 and was elected captain. The 13th Illinois was organized on April 21, 1861 in Dixon, IL. The 13th Illinois remained in Dixon for almost two months before they started moving west. They traveled from Belleville, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri and finally reached Rolla, MO on July 5, 1861. The 13th Illinois Infantry was the first regiment to cross the Mississippi River into Missouri.
Rolla was pivotal location for the Union during the Civil War because the southwest branch of the Pacific Railroad ended there. Thousands of Union troops and their supplies came to Rolla by train from St. Louis and then were transferred to wagon trails to go to the battles of Wilson Creek in Springfield, Mo., Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove in Arkansas, plus a number of other smaller skirmishes. While in Rolla, Bushnell organized construction of the earthen fortifications to protect the vital railhead. The fortifications would eventually become Fort Wyman, named after the regimental commander of the 13th Illinois, Col. John B. Wyman. Bushnell noted the influx of soldiers turned Rolla into a city of tents, “I have a tent to myself about 10 feet square & the lieutenants have one of the same size togeather – to give you a correct idea of our canvass city.”
Bushnell reported to his wife in his letters different rumors he heard about military movement. He wrote his wife on July 11, 1861 saying that a man had come in to camp on stage and said that there had been a battle between Col. Sigel and Gov. Jackson 150 west of Rolla and that the “confederates routed compleatly with a loss of from 500 to 600 men while Seigel’s loss was only 25 or 35.” The battle Bushnell heard about was the Battle of Carthage, in which Jackson surprised Col. Sigel and his troops and forced the Union troops to retreat to Sarcoxie. The losses for the Union were higher than Bushnell recorded; the Union suffered casualties of 44 men, not including the 94 men taken prisoner. Although Sigel retreated both the Union and Confederacy claim Carthage as a victory. Springfield was a valuable supply area both Union and Confederate troops fought continually over the town. While Confederate troops were able to drive the Federal soldiers out of Springfield in the Battle of Wilson Creek, Bushnell was optimistic and stated, “I think we have got the upper hands of secessionism in this vicinity.” Bushnell was ready to fight the Confederates if the opportunity arose, writing to his wife, “I should like to be in the next battle fought in Mo. for I think it is our time to “lick.”
By Oct 27, 1861, Bushnell and his company moved to Bolivar, MO and were “now within about 30 miles directly north of Springfield when Genl [Sterling] Price the rebel Genl is with 20,000 men.” They had marched 30 miles the day before and met General John. C. Fremont, who was on his way to Springfield. Bushnell wrote in his letter to his wife stating that “if Price stays in Springfield two days longer we will give him the liveliest shaking up a rebel army ever got we can clean him out “root and branch,” which will tell the tale of rebellion in this state.” Fremont was successfully able to lead his regiment through the embittered Southwest Missouri region in an effort to drive out Sterling Price from the state.
When the Colonel Wyman was promoted, Bushnell received a promotion of Major. Wyman was so well pleased with Bushnell’s work that he gave him a horse, “which he said I should need, & as an infantry officer of the line does not need & is not entitled to one, you can infer of what he was thinking” With Bushnell’s promotion to Major he was often quartered with his superiors giving him privileged knowledge of future military movements.
Genl. [Samuel R.] Curtis that all the troops at this place should be prepared to march. But no order to march has been isued, I know certain – I occupy a room with Genl. [John B.] Wyman, & night before last Genls Van Ranseller [Henry Van Rensselaer] & Curtis were in there all the evening, and I geathered by their conversation, that Curtis was very anxious to move on to Springfield where [Sterling] Price is stationed with about 15,000 men (more or less), but, Genl. [Henry H.] Halleck is opposed to it & I think, and feel certain there will be no move
Douglas Bushnell Letter to Emily Bushnell, June 25, 1861, pg1
In March of 1862 the 13th Illinois Regiment had relocated to Northwestern Arkansas. There, several companies from the regiment fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge on March 7th and 8th. General Curtis expected a Confederate attack on the morning of March 8. When it did not come, the Federals advanced. Union artillery was brought forward and opened fire on the Rebel position. After a successful bombardment, almost 10,000 Union infantrymen surged forward. The Confederate position collapsed and Van Dorn ordered a general retreat.
Bushnell and Company B of the 13th Illinois Infantry along with other Missouri regiments continued to pursue Sterling Price and his Rebel forces; eventually leading them to Searcy County Arkansas by May 1862. The living conditions in this camp were dismal as the constant rain and marching were trying on the young men’s patience.
It rained nearly all night, and continued to rain all the next day, but notwithstanding, we made an early start and marched through a pouring rain. . . I am not home sick but I am sick of this marching, marching, marching
Douglas Bushnell Letter to Emily Bushnell September 25, 1861, pg 1
Bushnell said that he was involved in several small skirmishes since arriving in Arkansas. Although his company did not receive any major casualties he wrote of the horrific incident that occurred to the 17th Missouri Regiment, who was ambushed and slaughtered by either Rebel soldiers or Bushwhackers. What was more shocking about the attack was that when, “A surgeon from the Mo. 3rd [Missouri] infantry went to the place with an ambulance, for the purpose of dressing the wounds, and bringing away the wounded, but the villains took him, hung him, and with their knives, cut and disfigured him.”
The 13th Illinois marched eastward along the Missouri border pursuing the Confederate retreated across the Mississippi River. After failing to capture Little Rock, they marched along the west bank of the Mississippi River and reached Helena, Arkansas on July 14, 1862. From Helena, Bushnell and the 13th Illinois became part of the Army of the Tennessee and participated in actions against Confederate surrounding Vicksburg. They engaged Confederates at Chickasaw Bluff, where Col. Wyman was killed in December 1862, and the capture of Arkansas Post the following January. The 13th Illinois Infantry went on to participate in the siege of Vicksburg in May 1863.
Following the capture of Vicksburg, the regiment moved to Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in October 1863. Afterwards, the 13th Illinois embarked on the Chattanooga-Ringgold campaign, and Bushnell participated in the fight at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga in November. On November 27, 1863, during an action with the Confederate rearguard near Ringgold, Bushnell was shot through the head and died instantly. The collection consists of seventy-two letters, but only Bushnell’s correspondence form May 1861 – May 1862 have been digitized. The entire collection can be found at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection in Rolla, MO. The 13th Illinois Infantry lost 6 officers and 61 enlisted men in combat. An additional 2 officers and 123 enlisted men died from diseases.
Contributed by the STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY of MISSOURI RESEARCH CENTER – ROLLA
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