The Boy Yankee in Butternut: Edward Savage's Adventure with Morgan's Troopers

 It is said that a picture can tell a thousand stories.

Among the holdings of the Library of Congress is a remarkable image identified as Private Edward P. Savage of Co. G of the 100th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Between the misshapen hat that looks as if it belonged on a scarecrow’s head to his shoddy sack coat and Confederate issue Gardner-patent canteen, Savage looks more like one of Sherman’s bummers tricked out for a day of foraging during the March to the Sea than one of Rosecrans’ fresh-faced recruits in the fall of 1862.

But there’s a deeper story to the image that the Library of Congress only briefly alludes to in the description. "Private Edward P. Savage of Co. G, 100th Illinois Infantry Regiment in Confederate jacket with Gardner patent canteen and haversack. Photograph shows identified soldier in dilapidated condition, who had recently been paroled by Confederates." 

Private Edward P. Savage of the 100th Illinois poses in his butternut "finery" given him by the men of Morgan's command. 

A quick review of the roster of Co. G of the 100th Illinois shows that Private Edward P. Savage enlisted in Joliet, Illinois on August 7, 1862, and the company was mustered into service on August 30th. Savage wasn’t with the regiment for long, being discharged for disability on February 10, 1863, so roughly six months of active service. No mention in the roster of him being captured. The LoC mentions him being parole which implies he was captured, so a review of the battle record of the regiment shows it first being under fire in early October 1862 at Bardstown, Kentucky and during the Battle of Stones River. Casualty reports for both engagements indicate no men listed as captured or missing. So, if Savage was captured, where did it happen?

Surgeon George H. Woodruff’s 1876 history entitled Fifteen Years Ago: Or the Patriotism of Will County provides the rest of the story. The 100th Illinois, as part of newly assigned William S. Rosecrans’ Army of Ohio, was marching south from Kentucky to go into camp near Nashville, Tennessee in early November 1862. “On the 10th, they crossed the Cumberland, marched twelve miles and camped on the Lebanon and Nashville Pike about 20 miles from Nashville at Camp Silver Springs and here the regiment remained for some days,” he wrote.

“The last part of that march was made after dark. Two of the boys of Co. G got so disgusted with marching in the dark and were so tired withal that they concluded that they would fall behind and take a rest for the night and catch up with the regiment in the morning. So they dropped out on a favorable opportunity and made their bed under some bushes and slept as only tired soldier boys can sleep, dreaming no doubt of home and its delight until the sun awoke them in the morning. When they jumped up and looked around, to their no small surprise, they found themselves in a camp, men and horses all around, some still sleeping, and some, like themselves, getting up. Sentinels were standing guard all around the camp. They have a strange look- who can they be? Certainly not their comrades of yesterday,” Woodruff continues.

“The mystery is soon solved. The boys are discovered and are soon surrounded by a lot of Rebel cavalrymen, John Morgan’s famous rangers. Of course, they are prisoners. How they cursed inwardly their folly in straggling last night. But there is no help for it. They are now at the disposal and under the orders of the men in butternut. The camp is all astir and after a hasty breakfast, of which they are allowed a slender share, they are treated to a rapid march of about 15 miles in the opposite direction of the one they wished to go. Marching to keep up with the cavalry was worse even than that of the night before. They are all uncertain as to what would be their fate. Their captors took delight in playing upon their fears and even talked of hanging them,” the story continues.

“But after keeping them three days, they paroled them and let them go. Not, however, without first effecting quite a change in their personal appearance. The Rebels compelled them to strip off their good clothes and to accept in exchange a suit of the hateful and dirty butternut, confiscating at the same time the contents of their pockets. They then made their way back to the regiment, sadder and wiser and, let us hope, better boys. They put the best face they could upon the matter as they made their entrée into camp at Silver Springs. The shouts and yells of welcome that went up from the boys on discovering who they were I presume they will never forget,” Woodruff wrote.

Colonel Frederick A. Bartleson
100th Illinois

The colonel of the 100th Illinois, Frederick Bartleson, a tough one-armed veteran whose missing left arm had been severed at Shiloh while he served as a captain in the 20th Illinois, was less than amused. “The colonel was indignant at their course and threatened at first that he would not respect their parole but put them in front. He relented, however, and let them off,” Woodruff states. “This adventure entitled them to an honorable retirement in the veteran reserve corps. It is said that a photograph of them, taken while dressed in their new uniform, is still extant and is the admiration of their friends. The Baptist church at Beloit would hardly recognize one of them as their eloquent and well-beloved pastor, but he was one of the boys!”

That “eloquent and well-beloved pastor” was none other than the Reverend Edward P. Savage, former private of Co. G of the 100th Illinois. The Find-A-Grave for the pastor provides a few more critical details that round out the story. He was born April 30, 1844, in Bristol, Connecticut, so he was a mere lad of 18 years of age when he was captured. Among the images is one clipped from a book showing Savage in his “Rebel” outfit with the handwritten notes that he “was paroled and made his way back to the Union lines. The coat is butternut which he deemed as safer to travel than his soldier coat.” Most importantly, there is a date on the photograph: November 13, 1862. So, this was the picture that Woodruff alluded to in his account, and now we know when it was taken and while the place is not definitively stated, my best guess is that it was taken in Nashville, Tennessee.

Savage’s adventure essentially ended his Civil War service as he was discharged for disability by early February. His remarkable story no doubt grew in the telling in the postwar years as Savage served as a pastor throughout the Midwest. As is made clear in Woodruff’s account, Savage was a prisoner of the Confederacy for all of three days, but by the time of his passing, his obituary states that he “was held captive for several months in a Southern prison camp.”


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