The stories of Chester Beebe, William Beebe, and Gideon Portman

This is a series of 19 letters written by Chester Beebe, his brother William Beebe, and Gideon Portman. Chester Beebe was married to Portman’s sister so the two were brothers-in-law.  The young men were from Brady Township, east of Vicksburg. They enlisted in 19th Michigan Infantry in the late summer of 1862.

Portman died of chronic diarrhea in early 1863 while Chester Beebe would survive the war and become a successful farmer. He died in July 1911 at the age of 71. William Beebe moved to Indiana after the war where he died in 1911 at age 64.

The first six letters plus an undated letter were written from Camp Douglas near Chicago. Six were written by Gideon Portman, including one in which Chester Beebe wrote a letter of his own. The other letter was written by William Beebe.

In late 1861 and early 1862, a group of young men from Brady Township trained at the camp with a unit of Illinois Mechanics and Fusiliers. The group included Gideon Portman, Chester Beebe, Darius A. Beebe, Edwin D. Beebe, William Beebe, Elisha Darling, John Whaley, Dwight G. Corwin, and Michael Corwin. How they ended up instead in the 19th Michigan Infantry is a complicated story.

In 1861 as patriotic enthusiasm for the Union swept through the Northern states, a Colonel Wilson of Illinois recruited men from southwest Michigan for a unit of mechanics and fusiliers. In the summer of 1861, the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics Regiment was organized and some of the men who had signed on with Colonel Wilson and the Illinois unit joined the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics.

In the fall of 1861, possibly because it was too late to join the 1st Michigan unit, it appears the young men from Brady Township enlisted in Colonel Wilson’s Illinois unit under the impression it was a unit of Mechanics and Fusiliers. They went to Chicago for training but early in 1862, they were informed that the unit was going to be converted into an Illinois infantry regiment.

Portman, Beebe, and their friends were unhappy about that and express their dissatisfaction in several of the letters. They felt if they were going to be in an infantry regiment, then they wanted to be in a Michigan unit. Their unhappiness reminds us that is was an important point of pride for many soldiers during the Civil War to be associated with their native state.

There is no indication in these letters how the men secured their release from the Illinois unit. What is known is that all of the men named above returned to Michigan and enlisted in the 19th Michigan Infantry in the summer of 1862.

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