#702: Don Juan of the Western Sharpshooters

October 21st, 2016

From the June, 30, 1863 Chicago Tribune:

WANTED — A Correspondence with a young lady of intelligence, vivacity, and a cultivated mind by one of Uncle Sam’s gay young Nephews, who wears a fine coat and shoulders a rifle, and who having endured the hardships and encountered the dangers of several active campaigns, finds himself now lying in garrison, with very little prospect of having to take the field again very soon, and is growing tired of inactivity. He has therefore concluded to enter on his own account into a campaigne [sic] of love, with his pen and ink for his army of conquest, and Cupid for his Aid, and takes this mode of challenging the fair readers of the Tribune. Should any young lady of the above description feel belligerent enough to risk an engagement with a handsome son of Mars in the lists of love, she has only to write as sweet a note as she can afford to, to “Don Juan” Co. G, Western Sharpshooters Corinth Miss. and the challenge will be considered accepted and the contest begin. She must prepare herself to abide the consequences and he will do likewise. Real name will be given if desired, and photographs will be exchanged if agreeable to the lady.

It’s late at night. I’m on vacation. I can’t stop reading this dead man’s words.

The 66th Regiment, Illinois Infantry was known as the Western Sharpshooters. Their leadership negotiated the dandiest of hot rifles throughout the Civil War, first the Plains Rifle and, a few months after this anonymous “handsome son of Mars” turned this thoughts to love and Chicago, the Henry Repeating Rifle. 

The lonely soldier’s uniform included that “fine coat” and a squirrel tail or three hanging from the hat as tribute to the woodsman tradition an early commander wanted to spread.

By the time this personal ad had been filed and placed, the regiment was stationed at Camp Davies outside Corinth, Miss. It was a cushy assignment after bits of bloodshed at Shiloh and elsewhere. Fishing, picking berries and marksmanship at a luxurious campground they had to burn to the ground lest it fall into Confederate hands when they abandoned it seven months after this letter ran.

Maybe cushy’s not the right word, but it was cushy enough to give a soldier time to get lonely and poetic, looking for a woman of vivacity and brains through 1800s Tindr.

I’m assuming the soldier had some Chicago connection, based on his choice of newspaper for his “campaigne of love,” but Company G did start as an Ohio company. Who knows? Maybe every newspaper in the North was festooned with this campaign by a bored serviceman with a lot of love and ink to give.

I like him, whoever he was. I like his weird wordplay, I like his overly cutesy personal ad conceit, I like his surprisingly modern call for pics and IRL names.

But who was he? More important, did it work?

I have no desire to pore through the list of every man who served in Company G of the Sharpshooters, from Joseph W. Allison to Isaac Wright,  for any hints of Chicago heritage, unmarried status or whether they survived the Battle of Shiloh.

It’s been 153 years. Feasibly there could be a few hundred people walking around who owe their existence to this note.

Equally feasible, even he could have forgotten about it by the time he got shot in the head, died in a swamp of a now-curable disease or passed away at age 114 surrounded by family as the radio played news of Sputnik.

I hope he got his sweet, affordable note. I hope the real names and photos were both desired and agreeable. I hope those few hundred people are walking around today.

If those people do exist, in a weird way I hope they never find out this part of how they came to be.

It’s selfish and weird, but on this late night reading and re-reading the dead man’s words, I like the idea only I know someone owe their existence to a personal ad in the Chicago Tribune written by a lonely soldier in a squirrel-tail hat.

Enjoy dirty politics and dirty martinis with me at “How to Steal an Election,” a night I’m running with Atlas Obscura and the Room 13 speakeasy a week before the election. Swill craft cocktails while I take you through decades of COMPLETELY LEGAL voter manipulation in Chicago and elsewhere. Fun, civics, jazz and the craftiest of craft cocktails. Tickets are going fast.

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