2ND LIEUTENANT’S COMMISSION – JOSEPH W. BREWSER, 11TH ILLINOIS INFANTRY

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William Duncan had a very interesting record in an active company of cavalry that he came to command, seeing action in numerous scouts and small engagements as well as pitched battles such as Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge and there seems to be a lot of great history further to be developed. Duncan was a resident of Plato, Il., enlisting on 8/17/61 and mustering in as a corporal on 9/23/61 in “Smith’s Company,” one of several independent cavalry companies attached to infantry regiments, in this case one of two attached to the 36th Illinois and designated Co. B of that regiment. On 12/25/62 it was combined with other independent companies as the 15th Illinois Cavalry and was designated Co. K, serving under that designation until 1/26/65 when that regiment mustered out and the men retained in service were consolidated into three companies and combined with nine consolidated companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry to form the 10th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Cavalry. Duncan had commanded the company from February 1864, the date of this commission, and continued to do so, the consolidated company under his command retaining its designation as Co. K in that unit. He commanded it to the end of the war, mustering out 7/15/65, the unit as a whole being mustered out that Fall.

The Illinois Adjutant General’s short history of the company is worth quoting here to give and idea of the extent of Duncan’s service:

“Company B Cavalry, upon joining General Buell's army was transferred from General Mitchell to General Carlin and marched through Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky to Louisville, returning through Kentucky with General Carlin.  Was in battle of Perryville (first to enter the town) and in action at Lancaster and near Crab Orchard.  Counter marched to Cave City, thence to Bowling Green, thence to Edgefield via Tyree Springs where had an engagement with General John Morgan, and also the following day at Shackle Island.  Was in a cavalry action at Hepworth Shoals (special mentioned by General Rosecrans).  Then assigned as escort to General Jeff. C. Davis.  Camped near Nashville December 26, led the advance of McCook's corps to Nolensville, (complimented by McCook and Davis personally, and official reports.)  Crossed Overall's Creek and was in Cavalry fight with Colonel Stokes.  Was in battle of Stones River; with Davis' expedition to Eaglesville, Versailles and Franklin. Had cavalry action at Versailles, Rover, Franklin and Walnut  Church.  In June, 1863, transferred as escort to General T. L.  Crittenden. and marched with him to Stevenson, Ala., then to  Chattanooga, Tenn., and on to Ringgold, Ga., back to Crawfish  Springs.  Had cavalry engagement at Rossville and Ringgold.   Was in the battle of Chickamauga, then marched back to Chattanooga.  Generals McCook and Crittenden subsequently being relieved the Company escorted them to Stevenson. Returned to Chattanooga, assigned to General Thomas' headquarters.  Took seven hundred: starving horses and mules to Stevenson, returned to Chattanooga.  Assigned to General Hooker as escort, marched to Stevenson, thence via Whiteside to Wauhatchie and camped in Lookout Valley.  By order War Department transferred as Company  K, 15th Illinois Cavalry.

In battles of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Ringgold; returning to Lookout Valley, camped until the spring of 1864.”

From this point on, Duncan was in command of the company.

“Was escort to General Hooker in Atlanta campaign; charged across and saved a burning bridge over Pumpkinvine Creek (special mention.) General Hooker being relieved by General Howard, the company went through with him to the sea as escort and scouts.  Was in actions at Rome, Adairsville, Resaca, Snake Creek Gap, Taylor's Ridge, Lafayette, Greysville, Lynch's Creek, Mt. Elon, and Fayetteville.”

As should be expected from its wide service, the company had several nicknames: including Slocum's Escort, Dodson's Cavalry Company, Hooker's Escort, Davis' Escort, Sherer's Cavalry Company Dragoons, Smith’s Cavalry Company, and Williams' Escort. There is obviously a lot of interesting history to be developed. Most interesting, perhaps, is the following at the end of the Illinois Adjutant General’s summary history:

“Captain Wm. Duncan was twice taken prisoner, but escaped.  With five men he received the surrender of Milledgeville with General Howard thirty miles away.  With two men he floated down the Ogeechee River in a dugout past Ft. McAIIister out into the bay and thus opened communication between Sherman and Dahlgren.”

Duncan’s commission measures 14.5 by 10 inches and is in excellent condition, showing just slight fold lines. Governor Yates’ signature is prominent and the commission is embossed with the state seal at lower left. Duncan mustered in as corporal and the commission indicates he had been promoted to sergeant at some point. Yates signed the document March 29, 1864, giving Duncan the rank from February 18, 1864, the date at which he would have effectively assumed the rank, though he might well have been performing the duties quite a bit earlier. After the war he was a member of GAR Post 257 in Greenup, Illinois. He died in 1905.  [SL]

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