Originally published in The Rock River Times.
The Spanish American War has been referred to as the “forgotten war” but for the families of the men who died during that time, it can never be forgotten.
The war took a heavy toll on Winnebago County. It took some of our best and brightest boys. Most of them didn’t die on the battle field. In fact, only one man from here died of injuries received during battle. The others were taken down by diseases that were running rampant in the camps.
The first man from our county to die in the war didn’t even make it to Puerto Rico. He fell ill during training. Charles Almond was only twenty five when he enlisted to join the fight. He still lived at home with his parents, mostly to help take care of his beloved mother. Charles worked at the Ulriel Box Company for over twelve years by the time the call came for men to fight. It was early spring in 1898.
Everyone who knew Charles spoke of his kindness and care he showed for anyone who needed help. He graduated from high school and joined the Rockford Greys, a local military group. Charles was in the Greys for over five years by 1898 and had worked his way up the ranks to First Lieutenant.
Charles marched away to training camp in Chattanooga full of promise. But within weeks, he grew ill like so many of the men. The hospital ward was so full that there were not enough beds to go around. When Charles saw a younger man who was very ill carried in and put on the floor, he told the orderlies to place the boy in his bed. Charles slept on the floor with only a thin blanket.
When Charles fever spiked dangerously high, he became confused and delirious. He kept telling the nurses and doctors that he just wanted to go back to his regiment to be with his men. They decided to place a guard by his bed to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. Private William Severson was assigned to watch over the very ill Charles. But Severson was exhausted and ill himself and he fell asleep. Charles wandered out into the chilly night air and in his weakened state, it proved too much for the young man.
Forty two men under the command of Lieutenant W.H. Sarver from Illinois Company H traveled from Rockford to Chattanooga to accompany Charles Almond’s body home. They attended a funeral held in the livery barn of the camp before loading Charles’ body on a train.
When the train arrived in Rockford, it was met by 20,000 people at the Illinois Central Depot. The people lined up in a procession that went from the train depot to the Church.
Charles was only 25 years old. Though Charles was denied a death during battle, Rockford still honored this fallen soldier and the others that followed.
Six other men from our county died during that short war. One, Herman Huffman was the only Rockford man to die of injuries that he received during a battle. He was shot on August 6, 1898 while on duty at Arroyo, Puerto Rico. It was an ambush that occurred while he was on a picket line during heavy fighting at Guayama. Herman would linger for a few days while all of Rockford prayed for his recovery. But the sad news came by telegram. Herman was buried in a national cemetery in Arroyo.
Another young man who was killed in the war had a name more familiar to those in Rockford. William A. Talcott Junior was considered one of our golden boys. His family settled this area early in Rockford’s history. William grew up here, graduated Amherst College and then turned his sights toward law. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1897 and moved to New York City when offered a position in a law office there. William made it all the way through the war and proved himself to be a leader in every way. He was First Lieutenant during the famous charge up San Juan Hill serving under Colonel Dow. When the call came to charge the hill, Dow froze and refused to give the order to his men to fight. Some of the men, including William, knew that they could be seen as defying orders but they charged ahead anyway and helped take the hill.
William was returning from that campaign to Camp Wykoff, Long Island when he fell ill with malaria and dysentery. His parents were at a resort a short distance away when they received the news. His father rushed to William’s side to bring him back for treatment. But because of the quarantine, he was held for eleven days. His father never left his side during that time and would speak later of the feeling of utter helplessness he experienced as he watched his son weaken. William lived long enough to hear that he had gotten the promotion to Second Lieutenant and to see his mother again. He died at Watch Hill in Rhode Island.
His devastated parents brought him home to be buried in the family plot at Greenwood Cemetery where the newspapers stated that his death “cast a gloom over the whole city.”
The other men that were mentioned in the Morning Star article from November 12, 1898 edition were Private Burt Lindell, Private Rinus Nelson, Corporal Luman B. Lillie, and Sergeant Harry Potter. The paper called them the Forest City Boys. All of these men are honored on a plaque at the Veterans Memorial Hall in downtown Rockford.
Copyright © 2020 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events