- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - Neither poor penmanship nor his Quaker religion stopped Jesse Fell from becoming the Union army’s paymaster during part of the Civil War.

As a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and credited with helping persuade him to run for president, it would have been hard to turn down such an appointment.

Recently, Illinois State University acquired documents connected with Fell’s time as paymaster for its Special Collections, using money from an endowed fund for its Lincoln Collection.

The signatures on several of the documents - some easier to read than others - match Fell’s signatures on other items in ISU’s collection, said Maureen Brunsdale, head of Special Collections and Rare Books, adding Fell had “horrible penmanship.”

Among those previously acquired items are ledger books, one dating back to 1861, outlining Fell’s vast property holdings from Pennsylvania to California.

A pacifist, Fell refused to walk around armed as paymaster, or even travel with armed guards, according to Brunsdale. He was paymaster in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Lexington, Ky.

The most recent acquisition “fills a gap,” said Mark Schmitt, special collections specialist. “This is an under-researched time of Jesse Fell’s life.”

Brunsdale said the documents are an important addition to ISU’s collection “because of the connection between Jesse Fell, Lincoln and the university. The Fell family is foundational in the community.”

Fell helped found Normal, which was originally known as North Bloomington, and was instrumental in creating Illinois State Normal University.

Summer intern Becky Stowe, who has been working with the new collection, said, “You don’t think a lot about all that goes into forming an army. . It really gets into the details that people don’t think about.”

Those details included not only increases in pay for people who were promoted, but other things to which their new rank entitled them, such as a horse, said Stowe, who received her bachelor’s degree in English from ISU in May.

Holding documents more than 150-years old “is very real but it feels surreal,” Stowe said. “You think about all the places they’ve been.”

One is a letter to Fell signed by assistant adjutant general Julius Peter Garesche, dated July 14, 1862, containing Fell’s commission as paymaster. Looking into Garesche’s background, Stowe found he was killed in battle on Dec. 31, 1862, at the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee - decapitated by a cannonball.

The documents also shed light on the financial and hierarchical structure and are a gateway to further research, said Brunsdale.


Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1g8iefj


Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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