Beloit College
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In Lincoln's Time

Published in the Round Table, February 10, 1911, pp.171-173
By William Fiske Brown (class of 1867)

 

Our College Loyalty to Union and Freedom

 
     Asked for some personal notes under the above heading let me begin with a few very early experiences. Before this college was started our village was rather pro-slavery. When in 1842 my father, Benjamin Brown, voted the first Free Soil ticket in Beloit only two others, Thomas Tuttle and Horatio Burchard, (later a trustee of the college), voted with him and heard themselves called Nigger lovers, Abolitionists. Beloit citizens, however, did not like the fugitive slave law, then in force.

A Runaway Slave in Beloit

     In 1848, a fugitive slave blacksmith stayed at my boyhood home here several weeks. He was called a bad slave in Kentucky, he told us, because he would not submit to being whipped and therefore no one would buy him. At last a Missouri gentleman said to him, "Bob, if I buy you will you promise me not to run away for three years?" He promised and was bought, earned his master a thousand dollars a year for three years and then, having taught himself to read and write, wrote his own pass and came north.

     Our early college leaders, especially Bushnell and Emerson, advocated Free Soil principles. Among the many memorials to Congress in 1854, protesting against Douglas' Nebraska bill, which would have allowed the land pledged for freedom to be made into slave states, one was signed by all our college faculty and most of the students.

Deacon Hinman's Bowie Knife

     The rescue of the slave, Joshua Glover, from a Milwaukee jail in 1854 stirred all Wisconsin and the effort to make Kansas a slave state in 1856 brought out the patriotism of the builder of Middle College, Deacon Samuel Hinman. He was a very peaceable and polite gentleman, who live in that cobblestone house just south of the campus. Whenever any easterner visited Beloit, whom it was thought particularly desirable to interest in our village or college, he would be committed to the care of Mr. Hinman and the deacon's charming manners generally produced the good impression desired. His son, Moses, of the college class of 1855, with other volunteers from Beloit went to Kansas in the spring of 1856 to resist the Missouri Border Ruffians, so called. At a public meeting, held down town on the evening before they started, lamblike Deacon Hinman, I remember, got up in front, flourishing his big bowie knife in one hand and a six shooter in the other and calling out his son, presented those weapons to him in succession saying, I give you this knife and I give you this revolver so that with them you may help save Kansas for freedom.

Lincoln and Horace White

     In 1858 Abraham Lincoln showed the nation that it could not long exist half slave and half free and one of our graduates helped him in this way. His celebrated public debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 were heard by only a few thousand Illinois citizens. It was the publication of those speeches in full by a prominent Chicago paper, however, that gave them national scope and thereby opened Lincoln's way to the presidency. And that great service to him and to the nation was rendered by Horace White, of the class of 1853, who accompanied Lincoln on that tour and carefully reported his speeches for the Chicago Tribune. On Saturday, October first, 1859, Abraham Lincoln spoke in Beloit at Hanchett's Hall, north-east corner of State and Broad streets. Mr. C. C. Keeler was chairman of the reception committee. Jammed in among that audience I, a boy of fourteen, thought Mr. Lincoln's speech dry and the man himself as homely as he was tall. My picture of him from a photography by Fassett of Chicago, taken in that very month and year, confirms the impression of his homeliness but reveals what mental-power, sincerity, endurance. [sic] Very fitly our local D.A.R. chapter will soon mark that building and occasion with a bronze memorial tablet.

First Gun of the War
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Beloit College Cadets

     So many of the class men volunteered in 1861 that the college could hardly continue. In 1863 our students formed a military company, called The Beloit College Cadets. With wooden wands we practiced the manual of arms and there was the sound of gruff military orders and much marching and counter marching on the campus west and north of Middle College. Whenever volunteers were about leaving for the front a public meeting would be held in Murray's Hall, south-west corner of State street and St. Paul avenue, and amid songs and cheers the soldier boys would be called on for speeches. I remember that one young college volunteer said briefly, Friends, we shall succeed in this war, I believe, because we have on our side justice and freedom and the God of the oppressed.

Year of No Commencement

     After we Hundred Days men enlisted in 1864 there were left at the college no Seniors, the whole class of three being in the army, only one Junior and of the two lower classes but a corporal's guard. A Beloit correspondent wrote me in June, 1864, "So many soldier boys are gone that the streets look desolate without them and the ringing of the old college bell seems quite a mockery." [Punctuation edited.] There were no commencement exercises that year.

How the Girls Helped

     [Under the term "the college girls" Dr. Brown includes city girls, the women of Rockford Female Seminary, and sisters and girl friends. Their help took the form of lint and bandage preparation, boxes for the sick, knitting, and, above all, writing of encouraging letters. Some became army hospital nurses. "The mother of three of our Beloit graduates, Mrs. Eliza Chappell Porter, was a famous army nurse through the whole war and her life-like portrait, hanging in our art gallery, is a perpetual inspiration and benediction." And there were war widows.]

College Military Record

     Beloit College sent more than half she had to the war. For the College Register of Dec. 1865, as editor I searched out and recorded the names and army record of two hundred and sixty-seven of our soldier students and, as it sometimes took eight letters to find out about one man, that record was not complete. . . . . . . . During several years after the war so many ex-soldiers came to Beloit that, when Memorial Hall was dedicated in 1869, Professor Emerson said we had the names of some four hundred students, who had been loyal soldiers, with one deserter (a preparatory man).

     Beloit College was represented in thirty-five Wisconsin regiments or batteries, thirty Illinois organizations and twenty-four of other states, and in regiments of colored troops. Instructors who enlisted were Tutor H. S. DeForest and Professor J. J. Blaisdell, Chaplains, and Prof. H. M. Whitney, Sergeant Major. [Prof. Whitney, however, came to the college after the war.] Among the students we had one Brigadier General, seven Colonels, five Adjutants, twenty-six Captains, eight other commissioned officers and a hundred and forty-five army positions of honor and trust.