Sun Prairie’s Civil War Soldier Dies at Just 15

His death was given only passing notice in the Wisconsin State Journal, the state’s official newspaper. “May he rest in peace,” the brief item from April 9, 1864 read. So it was the unwritten that was truly remarkable in the all-too-brief life of James Moore, soldier of the Wisconsin 12th Infantry Regiment in the Civil War.

The son of Irish immigrants who settled to farming in the Town of Sun Prairie, Moore was just 14 when he enlisted in Company I of the 12th Infantry Regiment in late September 1862. Moore and Lemuel C. Neal of Sun Prairie enlisted together at Camp Randall on September 29, 1862. Moore was a boy who went to fight in a man’s war — a theme that would be repeated, most especially in the “war to end all wars,” World War I. His youth, just five months past his 14th birthday, seems quite remarkable for an infantry private. The sacrifice of his very young life in the fight to save the republic should always be remembered.

The Wisconsin State Journal covered the return of the 12th Infantry Regiment on March 21, 1864.
The Wisconsin State Journal covered the return of the 12th Infantry Regiment on March 21, 1864.

Moore saw combat and the horrors of America’s bloodiest war, although the 12th Infantry Regiment did not take part in the most famous battles of the Civil War. These men rebuilt and guarded key railroad lines, supported the battle of Vicksburg and took part in General Sherman’s Meridian Expedition in February 1864. That month they marched 416 miles, aiding in the capture and destruction of Jackson, Brandon and Decatur as they proceeded to Meridian. “A shell exploded in the ranks of Company I, killing Eugene Baldwin and W.H. Murray, wounding O. Lind, J.W. Dean, John Thorp and George Everett,” read the account in the 1866 Military History of Wisconsin. 

The battle flag of the Wisconsin 12th Infantry Regiment is held by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.
The battle flag of the Wisconsin 12th Infantry Regiment is held by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.

Shortly after the Meridian campaign, Moore was among some 700 men in the regiment sent home to Wisconsin on a 30-day furlough. After rolling into Madison via rail at 5 a.m. on March 21, the men ate a hearty supper at the Railroad Restaurant and then marched to their quarters at Camp Randall. The next day they were welcomed by Wisconsin’s newly minted governor, James Taylor Lewis. The Wisconsin State Journal published a chronicle of their service, noting the regiment had marched more than 2,000 miles to earn itself the nickname “the Marching 12th.”

The newspaper asked the community to be patient with these and other young soldiers, home from the stress of war with full bellies and money in their pockets. “Brave boys, they are going back, and the voice that now makes the night hideous with bawdy songs will utter its last accent in a victorious cheer upon some future battlefield,” the paper wrote. “Yes, they are going back, and he who is now a ‘drunken soldier’ will bear the dear old flag in triumph, amid the whistling bullets and screaming shell, to plant it on the battlements of the enemy.”

The grave marker of James Moore at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Cemetery in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
The grave marker of James Moore at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Cemetery in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The soldiers of the 12th were discharged to their homes on Thursday, March 31. It is a safe assumption that Pvt. Moore was ill when he reached his family farm in the Town of Sun Prairie. He took to bed. His death on Monday, April 4 came before he had any chance to enjoy the well-deserved furlough. We don’t know what disease or illness claimed his life, or if he was exposed to it in battle, on the train ride home or at Camp Randall. His funeral Mass was held at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, which his father helped to build just a year before. His parents and two sisters had the sad duty of burying young James just as Wisconsin shook off the winter of 1864.

James Moore was born in Ohio on April 15, 1848, the only son of Mathew Moore and the former Catharine O’Neill. His parents emigrated from Ireland and spent some time in Ohio before settling on a 37-acre farm on the western edge of the Town of Sun Prairie in May 1850. Mathew and Catharine carried the loss of their son with them every day. Around 1875, the family left the farm and moved into the village of Sun Prairie, where Mathew died on April 28, 1891. Mrs. Moore died on Feb. 22, 1907 at age 93. Their daughters, Margaret Moore and Sara (Moore) Flavin, are buried near their parents — and their soldier brother — at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Cemetery in Sun Prairie.

Moore was among the more than 224,500 Union soldiers who died of disease, exposure or other non-battle causes in the Civil War. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the state sent more than 91,000 boys and men in 56 regiments to fight in the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865). More than 12,000 died, including nearly 8,500 from disease.

Lemuel C. Neal of Sun Prairie enlisted the same day as James Moore. Neal survived the war and lived until age 91. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin Veterans Museum)
Lemuel C. Neal of Sun Prairie enlisted the same day as James Moore. Neal survived the war and lived until age 91. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin Veterans Museum)

His compatriot Lemuel C. Neal survived the war and went on to live a long, productive life. The son of Thomas Neal and the former Olive Dolley, Lemuel was one of nine children in the Neal farmhouse when he left home to enlist in the fall of 1862. He mustered out of service on May 31, 1865 and returned to Sun Prairie. His mother fell ill that fall and died on October 29 at age 45. The family left Wisconsin for Iowa, and eventually Lemuel settled in the Town of Turtle River, North Dakota. He married the former Ellen Forest and started a family. He kept moving west, later settling at Lewiston, Idaho. In 1896, he was awarded a patent for a clothespin by the U.S. patent office.

Neal again moved west, settling in Oceanside, California before eventually moving to Santa Ana. Neal and Ellen had two sons and two daughters. Ellen died in 1920. Neal remarried in February 1921, taking Clara Skelton Jones as his bride. Neal was hospitalized at the U.S. veterans hospital in Sawtelle, California in 1922, suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure. At the time, records listed his occupation as a merchant. He died at that same hospital on February 13, 1936. He was 91.

[This post has been updated with details on, and a photograph of, Lemuel C. Neal]
©2014 The Hanneman Archive

6 thoughts on “Sun Prairie’s Civil War Soldier Dies at Just 15”

    1. I was at the cemetery shooting photos for FindAGrave.com when I saw his marker. I was so amazed I had to do research and write about him. I’m checking with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum to see just how unusual it was for someone so young to enlist in the Civil War.

      Liked by 1 person

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