Welcome guest blogger, Barbara Hower, a fifth generation Napervillian and a volunteer in the Naper Settlement Research Library and Archives.
One of the research projects I worked on at Naper Settlement was transcribing Civil War diaries written by Napervillian Adam L. Dirr. I also researched information on Naperville men who had served in the Civil War and wrote biographies about them. I found myself growing attached to these guys, but especially so to Adam. This past Memorial Day, I was at the Naperville Cemetery, putting flowers on my family’s graves. I had an extra geranium plant and wandered over to Adam Dirr’s grave. I was surprised to find that there was nothing on his grave to denote his service in the Civil War. A quick inspection of some other Civil War veterans at the cemetery showed that they, too, had no recognition for their service.
This gave me an idea: I called the American Legion and they asked me to share our list of Naperville’s Civil War vets with them so that next year, these soldiers’ graves (at both the Naperville and Saints Peter & Paul Catholic cemeteries) can be graced with flags. I volunteered to help distribute the flags, too, which the Legion welcomes.
About Adam Dirr: he was 22 years old in 1861 when he enlisted as a private in Company K of the 13th Illinois Infantry. He took part in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, where he was injured on December 27, 1862. He also fought in the battles of Arkansas Post, Jackson, the Siege of Vicksburg, Look-Out Mountain, Mission Ridge and Ringgold Gap.
His diaries run from the mundane to the routine to the exciting. He talks about letters he receives from home, such as one from a Naperville girl named Lydia A. Fleisher, who would someday be the future Mrs. Dirr. Many days he reads his Bible or mends his compatriots’ uniforms. He also cooks and washes clothes. Routine activities included pitching tents, taking part in drill exercises, and then striking the tents and marching for miles.
The mundane and routine can quickly turn exciting. He mentions hearing about the battle of Harper's Ferry and learning about recent battles from Lieutenant Mark Naper (Joe Naper’s son). At the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, Adam notes that amidst the fighting and cannonading, the 13th Illinois Infantry’s Colonel John B. Wyman is mortally wounded. He also sketches maps showing Union and Confederate positions, noting Rebel rifle pits, and identifying the spot where Wyman was mortally wounded.
Adam mustered out in June 1864, returned to Naperville, and married his sweetheart Lydia. They had three children (one died in infancy). However, after surviving the Civil War, Adam died in a freak accident in 1875. He and fellow Napervillian Jacob Netzley were digging a well on a farm east of Naperville with a well-boring auger. A shaft from the auger dropped to the bottom of the well, and Dirr went down to secure it. As he rode the auger up from the well, the shaft came loose and knocked him to his death at the bottom of the well.
On this Veterans Day, it’s important to remember all of the Civil War veterans and their contributions to our local history. Thanks to the efforts of the American Legion and other volunteers, we will never forget the sacrifices made by these brave soldiers.
- Barbara Hower
Barbara Hower is a lifelong Napervillian with an abiding interest in history. She is a graduate of North Central College in Naperville with a double major in English and History, the same college where her parents attended and where her father was the college registrar and Classics professor. In addition to volunteering in the Naper Settlement Research Library and Archives, Barbara is also a communications consultant, specializing in researching, writing and editing for not-for-profit and for-profit companies, and is a published author in major newspapers and magazines. She has worked for several large professional services firms as a writer and researcher and also served as an editor/writer for numerous magazines and newsletters.