The Pea Ridge Pards

    William H. Chamberlain and Dyer O. Clark of Belvidere, Illinois were, in the Civil War vernacular, "pards." The two men enlisted the same day (August 20, 1861) in Co. G of the 36th Illinois Volunteer Infantry and went off to war together. The "drank from the same canteen," spooned to keep warm during the winter, shared in all of the perils of the march and camp, and enjoyed the close comradeship so fondly remembered by the men who served in that bitter war. 

    They also shared their first experience of battle together, taking part in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862. Here the men's paths diverged: Chamberlain kept his place in the ranks throughout the battle, but his dear friend Dyer was struck four times and left the field a casualty. "Dyer was slightly wounded," Chamberlain wrote home, but thought his pard would get well. Dyer wasn't so sure, recounting that he still had a ball in the "cords of his ankle," one that passed through his hip and was "in his possession," another that took the skin off his arm, and one more that ripped the heel from his boot. He confessed in a letter home that " I do not know whether it is best for me to stay or take a furlough and go home." He ended up taking a furlough as his wounds didn't heal well, and he ended up being discharged for his wounds on October 4, 1862.

    One of the key elements of being "pards" is sharing with one another, and the following year William ended up sharing another distinction with his pard Dyer. On December 31, 1862, William sustained a serious wound in his left arm that also led to his discharge from the army, this occurring on March 30, 1863. The two pards met back up in Belvidere, discharged and wounded veterans.   Interestingly, the Belvidere Standard ran letters from both Chamberlain and Clark in the April 1, 1862 issue, both soldiers giving their perspective on the Battle of Pea Ridge giving a rare opportunity to see a battle from the point of view of both pards. 

Officers of the 36th Illinois Volunteer Infantry pose at Camp Harker, Tennessee just before their discharge in June 1865. These men had proven themselves in numerous hard fought battlefields such as Pea Ridge, Stones River, Chickamauga, Resaca, Franklin, and Nashville. 

Private William H. Chamberlain

Benton Co., Arkansas, March 17, 1862

    Dear friends at home,

      I have seen so much that I scarcely know what to write. I have written two letters since I have been in this state, but I know that they were opened by secessionists, because I saw two that Dyer wrote home the same mails. I do not feel disposed to write the particulars of our march from Lebanon and risk the chances of its falling into the hands of the Rebels again. I suppose you see letters from Lyons and others in the papers. 

    We had been in camp some time in different places before we were aware that the secessionists intended to give us a rub. On the 6th we broke up camp at 1 o'clock at night. Co. B guarded our regimental ammunition wagon. We had but just started when the tongue broke and ended up leaving it behind. As they came through Bentonville, the Texas Rangers came on to them and took them prisoners. Sigel with less than 1,000 men fought his way through and half of Co. B ran away; the remainder I suppose are in Fort Smith before this with others that had fallen out and got behind. We were about-faced and double-quicked back but the fun was all over. They had shot three of the mules on the wagon; the other three could not draw it, and we had no time to lose because they were trying to surround us. 

    On the morning of the 7th we were in the battlefield early and were not kept long in suspense. Scarcely had we got into line when a cannon ball killed one man and took off the right arm of another in Co. C. We fell back while the bullets fell amongst us. Shortly after, Co. B was sent out as skirmishers and our company as reserve. We crossed a corn field about 80 rods. Co. B went over a fence and into the brush when they opened upon us. We had to stand until they came back to us when we retreated a little ways, and dropped to the ground and fired, and they fired at us from right and left. Our cannon threw grape shot over us at them. It proved to be Ben McCulloch with three regiments. He was shot and one of the Co. B boys got his gold watch and chain (this is reliable). After they fired, we got up and ran. Only one man was killed but 13 of our company were wounded. I think they will all get well. Dyer was slightly wounded. I have one bullet hole through my coat and one struck my gun. If we had not fell to the ground, I doubt about there being anyone left. We did not join the regiment, but supported a battery the remainder of the day and was in a hot place most of the time, staying on the battlefield until 11 o'clock at night.

    In the morning we were sent out as skirmishers and I dropped one secessionist and wounded others. I fired 12 rounds both days and came off unhurt. It seems like a dream. I can say that I felt no fear although I expected to be shot every minute. Suffice it to say that I have seen the evils and horrors of war in every shape. Many of our wounded boys are going home on furloughs. Maybe Dyer will and if so, he can talk with you all. I expect we shall fight again soon. All we ask is to be crowned with similar success. I am well and in fighting order and intend to stand up for the old flag until the war ends, unless my fate is otherwise ordered. If so, you can be assured that I tried to do my duty without flinching and am willing to give up all into His hands who doeth all things well. But I anticipate meeting you all and relating my escapes, incidents, and privations down here serving my country in the ranks. I would not exchange positions with many who are lounging around quiet home. We hear but little news about how our troops are doing in other parts. I will try and write again. Write soon and direct to Rolla. 

Source: Belvidere Standard (Illinois), April 1, 1862, pg. 2 

Later war national colors of the 36th Illinois
DuPage County Historical Museum

Private Dyer O. Clark

Headquarters, post at Cassville, Missouri, March 18, 1862

Dear Father,

      I have not heard from you for over a month I think and I guess it has been longer than that since you heard from me for I found two letters I had written to you from Arkansas between here and our old camp without an envelopes. To let you know how I am getting along, I will tell you what I am doing. I am at Cassville, 25 miles north of the battlefield. I was moved here last Friday and I have made me a pair of crutches, or rather a native made them for me and I am now head clerk in the Post Quartermasters' Department of Cassville. I do not know whether it is best for me to stay or take a furlough and go home.  I will make up my mind in the course of a couple of weeks, or at least by the time you will look for another letter from me. I have not made up my mind what to do yet. The Quartermaster wants me to stay with him. He is same man I worked under at the Fort. I will get my pay for what I have done on the Fort. I will not get anything for what I did at Lebanon, for I had to run away to get off. They were not going to let me go with my company.

    I suppose you have heard before that I was wounded, but not badly. I have one ball in the cords of my ankle which I expect is there yet, another in my hip which is out and in my possession; another passed through my coat sleeve and took the skin off my arm but not enough to make it sore; another took my right boot heel most all off. 

    We have won the battle against twice our number and they had the choice of ground and planted themselves in our rear on the hills and in the brush where we had to go across an open field at least half a mile wide to get to them. So they had the advantage of us enough to make one of their men as good as three or four of ours, for they were in the brush where we could not see them and we were in fair view of them so they could pick us off as fast as they pleased until our shooting wagons [cannon] began playing on them. That they could not stand. Sigel said he would not surrender as long as he has 12 men left. I believe and so does all the boys that Sigel saved us. He is a very small man, talks very broken, rides a splendid horse, and is the best rider I ever saw. 

Dyer Clark described Franz Sigel as "a very small man, talks very broken, rides a splendid horse, and is the best rider I ever saw." He credited the German with saving the army at Pea Ridge. 

    I was wounded the second day of the fight. The day before the battle, we were marching from our camp about 20 miles from the battlefield. General Price marched through Bentonville the night we started for the battlefield. Bentonville was between us and the main command and he passed through just before we did. Just after we got through, Ben McCulloch's force came in sight and had General Sigel surrounded three times before he could get with us. Then we had to fight them all the way for about 15 miles to the main body. We were all day getting that 15 miles and it was the hardest day's march I ever had. We marched most all the way through a hollow with high hills on both sides. They would get on the hills and fire into us all the way along. Sometimes we would turn and drive them four or five miles and get back again and before we could get a great ways, they would make for us again. The cowards would not stand for a moment after we turned. 

    We slept that night without any tents and only half of our blankets. We did not sleep much. And the next day we ate our breakfast and the boys marched out and fought most all day and traveled most all night and did not get a wink of sleep and then fought all the next day. We did not get anything to eat until supper time that day so they were 36 hours without anything to eat and then only one cold pancake. Some days we got half rations and again we do not draw a thing for three or four days. For six days we lived on corn gruel, about a pint a day, but we do not mind it. It is all counted in in the time we have to serve.

    You know better how things are going on than I do for we do not get any papers here at all and do not get any news except rumors. General Wyman's regiment passed through here yesterday to reinforce our boys. They need it very bad and I do not know what we would do without them for I do not doubt but they calculate to fight the Rebels again but how soon I do not know. I think it will be a harder battle than the last one but I shall not be in it. I think if I can, I will get a furlough and go home, but you need not look for me for this war is very uncertain and I may not get a chance to go. Wrote to me often and remember me to all the folks and tell them I am getting along finely.

Source: Belvidere Standard (Illinois), April 1, 1862, pg. 3



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