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William Penn Beesley and the Illinois 66th Infantry

Sharpshooter's Glasses Used by William Penn Beesley

The 66th Illinois Infantry was organized at Benton Barracks near St. Louis, MO during September and October of 1861. Eight companies of sharpshooters were collected from Illinois, Missouri and from other places. The purpose of the Regiment was to be used as skirmishers. These men were assigned to harass the enemy in advance of larger forces. They were armed with Demmick, American Deer and Target rifles but carried very little other equipment. They traveled light and moved quickly when needed. Three of the companies came from Illinois including Company I with men from Lawrence and Wabash counties. William P. Beesley of Wabash County was one of these men. His diaries are at the Wabash County Museum and have been transcribed and are on display there. The diaries begin in January of 1862 in Sturgeon, Missouri. Prior to the initial entries in the diary these events had already been experienced by the regiment: From December 14 through the 1, 1861 the regiment was constantly engaged in fighting and skirmishing with rebel bushwhackers (guerillas) of Sterling Price’s army. On December 20th companies I and H of the 66th regiment were engaged in brisk fighting with Keene’s confederate scouts in which the confederate commander was captured after an exchange of fire between officers armed with revolvers. On December 28, 1861 the regiment captured Columbia, Missouri and then went on to overpower the enemy at the Battle of Mount Zion. In January of 1862 the regiment scouted and skirmished at Renick, Macon and Centralia. This was a great deal of action compared to the other local infantry regiments who were primarily encamped for long periods of time between major battles.

On the first page of the 1862 diary, W. P. Beesley writes that he is from Decker’s Prairie, Wabash County, IL and volunteered at Friendsville. His entries are brief, usually 1 or 2 lines at a time in tiny handwriting. Beesley lists the amount of money he paid for the parts of his uniform and the serial number of his Henry rifle (#2545). He describes the weather, his activity in camp and participation in battles or skirmishes, including Ft. Donelson. Among the artifacts at the Wabash County Museum belonging to W. P. Beesley is a pair of target shooting glasses pictured here. The ends of the ear pieces have a small opening which was used to tie a ribbon or string through to hold the glasses on.

The entire list of those men serving in the 66th Illinois Regiment can be found in the civil war section at Nearly all of the men listed as belonging to Company I were from Wabash County and the surrounding communities of Bridgeport, Olney and West Salem. Several men with names recognizable from Wabash County are listed from Junto. It will take more research to discover just where Junto was located.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series.

Claudia Dant

Wabash County Museum

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