Biography - Jesse Phillips

HON. JESSE J. PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge. Prominent among the historical names of Illinois is that of the subject of this sketch. Few, if any, of the gallant officers who won their way to distinction, and, by their valor in the field, shed luster upon our army in the great war against the rebellion, can show a record as replete with deeds of daring as that of Gen. Jesse J. Phillips, of Hillsboro. Nor is he lacking in any of those essential elements in the character of the civilian which, when properly concentrated and applied, render their possessor a peer among the more prominent of his fellow-citizens. Gifted by nature with abilities of a high order, he has by arduous study, acquired fine attainments as a scholar, and ranks among the foremost orators and jurists of his native State. Gen. Phillips is a native of Montgomery County, where he was born May 22, 1837. His education was acquired in Hillsboro Academy. Having early demonstrated excellent business qualifications, he was, when little more than nineteen years of age, appointed to the position of route agent on the Terre Haute & St. Louis Railroad. He resigned this position in May, 1857, and entered the law office of Davis & Kingsbury, of Hillsboro, where, for the three succeeding years, he was a diligent student. In 1860, he was admitted to the bar of the State, and began practice at Hillsboro; here he remained until the breaking-out of the rebellion in 1861, when, upon the first call of President Lincoln for 75,000 troops, he raised a company, of which he was, at the date of its organization, April 17, 1861, elected Captain. The company was accepted and ordered to Springfield, Ill., on April 23, 1861. At the time of the organization of the Ninth Illinois Infantry for the three months' service, he was elected Major of the regiment, and the latter command having been ordered to Cairo, it accordingly reported for duty at that point May 1. The regiment was required to do little save garrison duly during its service, and having been properly mustered out at the expiration of its term of enlistment, the Ninth Regiment was, on September 3, 1861, re-organized and entered the service for three years, Mr. Phillips retaining the position of Major. Gen. Grant, then in command of the military division at Cairo, ordered the Ninth and Twelfth Illinois Regiments to Paducah, Ky. Maj. Phillips was at this period placed in command of his regiment temporarily. The rebel forces were about to take possession of Paducah, and it was important that they should be foiled in their purpose. The Union forces had scarcely invested the city before a train of rebel troops approached the suburbs of the place; discovering that the Union troops had anticipated their purpose, and were preparing to receive them, the train hastily retraced its course. Maj. Phillips, with his regiment and two pieces of artillery, was immediately ordered to go out, on the line of the railroad, twelve miles from Paducah, and destroy a bridge. This order he promptly executed. While stationed at Paducah, the Ninth Regiment did considerable scouting, but was engaged in but comparatively few skirmishes. On the 15th of October, 1861, he, with companies B, H and I, of the Ninth Regiment, attacked 300 rebels at a point about four miles east of Eddyville, Ky., and killed three, wounded twenty, and captured twenty men, together with some thirty head of horses. December 2, 1861, he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, and February 4, following, he moved with his command up the Tennessee River, his regiment forming a part of the army that co-operated with the fleet in the attack on Fort Henry. Col. Phillips, with eight companies of his regiment, participated in the memorable battle of Fort Donelson, and was in command of the regiment during the greater part of the action, the Colonel having been disabled by a wound. In this action, the Ninth Regiment, out of about six hundred men engaged, sustained a loss of thirty-five killed, one hundred and sixty wounded and six prisoners. For his gallantry in this contest, Col. Phillips received much praise from his superior officers, and from the officers of other brigades, Gens. Grant, and Oglesby being among the number who congratulated him upon the superior manner in which he handled his regiment. During this action, and while leading charge with bayonets, Col. Phillips' horse was shot under him. The next great battle in which he took part was at Shiloh, on the 6th of April, 1862. In this battle the Ninth Regiment went into the fight with 570 men, and of this number sixty-one were killed on the field, 287 wounded and ten taken prisoners. One commissioned officer was killed and nineteen wounded; only four commissioned officers were left unhurt. Among the mortally wounded was a brother, Sidney B. Phillips. The horse ridden by Col. Phillips in this action received three musket shots and one grape shot before he fell, and the Colonel himself was shot through the hand and twice through the right thigh. In March, 1862, the Colonel of the Ninth Regiment was severely wounded, and in consequence the command of the regiment devolved upon Lieut. Col. Phillips, who was retained in this position until the close of the term of service of the regiment.

Upon recovering from the effects of the wounds received at Shiloh, he was ordered to Northern Alabama, and was stationed at Athens, in that State, for several months. This being the extreme outpost, both to the South and West, of the Union forces stationed in that locality, made it a point of great danger, and required constant activity and caution during the period the regiment remained there. His command was at this time mounted for scouting purposes, at his request. About the 1st of February, 1863, he with his command engaged in some ten or twelve cavalry fights, in one of which, near Florence, Ala., a desperate charge with sabers was made, in which he received a severe injury, by his horse falling after he had broken through the enemy's column. He had made a charge upon seventy men with a detachment of his own regiment numbering but thirty-three men, and succeeded in capturing thirty-four of the enemy. The only person hurt during the charge was a rebel, cut down by a saber stroke from Col. Phillips, and that sustained by the latter, as above stated. In connection with, and as a part of, the command of Col. Comyn, commanding a cavalry brigade, Col. Phillips, on the 15th of April, 1863, had a skirmish with rebel cavalry, at Cherokee, Ala., and on the same day another skirmish at Lundy's. In .these two skirmishes the enemy lost, in killed and wounded, fifty men, with twenty-three taken prisoners. The Union loss was five wounded and fifty-nine captured. On the 17th another skirmish occurred at Cherokee, in which the Union forces captured thirteen of the enemy, the former sustaining no loss. Another skirmish took place at Crane Creek, Ala., on the 27th. On the 4th of May, Col. Phillips and his command participated in the fight at Tupelo, Miss., and on the 28th had a skirmish at Florence, Ala., in which a number of the enemy were captured. In this action, Col. Phillips, with his regiment, charged the rebel guns, and by the artillery firing at the rebel guns, one of our men was wounded by the Union guns. On the 31st of May, our forces again skirmished with the enemy in Tennessee. On the 19th of June, 1863, he was in command of about six hundred men, his own and parts of two other regiments, with two guns, and while reconnoitering in Mississippi, was attacked by about three thousand men under Gen. Ruggles, at Mud Creek Swamp, and a severe battle ensued, the fight lasting from 8 A. M. to 3 P. M. Col. Phillips being eighty miles from any support, wisely determined to retreat, but in so doing, to contest every inch of the ground. By securing advantageous positions, and by his tactics and skillful maneuvering, he punished the enemy quite severely on the retreat, and the rebel forces were ordered to discontinue the advance. The rebel loss, as was afterward admitted by them, was 200 in killed and wounded. The Union loss was live killed and eighteen wounded. This contest is referred to in the official reports as having been conducted in a gallant and masterly manner by Col. Phillips, notwithstanding the fact that he was pursued by a force nearly four times as great as his own, he marched forty miles in an orderly manner, over a swampy country, swam his command over two rivers (the Tallahatchie and Hatchie) and brought his artillery through in safety and with comparatively little loss. On the 13th of July, his command, forming a part of a brigade under Col. Hatch, was engaged in a sharp fight with rebel cavalry, capturing about seventy men. Union loss, seven. In August, 1863, he, in command of about sixteen hundred men, raided through Mississippi. At Grenada, they captured and destroyed sixty locomotives, 450 cars of all kinds, and a large amount of stores. At this point the command of Col. Phillips met and drove back a force of 1,500 rebels under Col. Slemmer. He again skirmished with the enemy on Forked Deer River, in Tennessee, October 3, 1863. A short time thereafter, whilst scouting in Mississippi with 500 men and two guns, he found himself in the front of a force of about three thousand rebel cavalry. Surmising that their object was to cut the railroad, and thereby prevent re-enforcements being sent toward Chattanooga from Memphis (as was being done by Gen. Sherman), Col. Phillips dispatched couriers from his command to several points on the railroad, requesting re-enforcements to be sent to him near Salem, as the indications were that he would have to attack the enemy near that place. On the 8th of October, at 11 A. M., with his small force, he attacked the enemy vigorously, and, after fighting two hours, was re-enforced by 800 men under Col. McCrillis; and with this force he continued the fight until dark, when, owing to the disadvantages under which he had to maintain the conflict, he retreated. The loss of the Union forces was thirty killed and wounded. Three days later the rebels attacked Collierville, and on the same day Col. Phillips, in command of a brigade, forming part of a division under Col. Hatch, followed in pursuit, marching upward of seventy-five miles, fighting at Graham's Mills and at Wyall, Miss. In the last engagement he had a horse shot under him.

At Florence, Ala., November 30, 1863, he, with 200 men, attacked a force of the enemy, charging them with sabers and capturing thirty-four men. At Decatur, Ala., where his command was next ordered, he remained from January, 1864, until the 1st of May, following, during which time he was engaged in frequent reconnoissances and skirmishes. Among the more important of the latter was the action near Moulton, Ala. With 350 men, he was ordered to reconnoiter, and find the locality and strength of an infantry force of the enemy, understood to be in that neighborhood. His instructions were to "develop the strength of that infantry." He accordingly attacked, at Somerville, Ala., a force of about one hundred and twenty-five rebel cavalry under Maj. Williams, and after a short skirmish drove them to Danville, where they were re-enforced by an additional force of seventy-five men under Capt. Doan. From Danville the rebels were driven to Moulton, where they were re-enforced by 350 men under Maj. Morehead. Here a sharp fight ensued, and the entire rebel force, 550 strong, who by this time had learned the invincible troops, against whom they were arrayed, were driven three miles beyond the town, where Col. Phillips, as he afterward remarked, "developed'' the rebel infantry, two or three regiments strong. Ten minutes after the latter "development," he ordered a retreat. On reaching the town, three miles in his rear, he made a stand against the cavalry that were in pursuit of him, and checked and drove them back until the infantry again came up. During this fight, his horse was shot and fell upon him, pinning him to the ground so securely that he could not extricate himself. The position in which he was lying was one of great peril, being immediately between the lines of the opposing forces. At this juncture, however, his men having discovered the peril of their leader, a charge was made by a portion of his troops, led by Lieut. Cyrus Gilmore, of the Ninth Regiment, and Col. Phillips was rescued. In this fight the Union loss was twenty men killed and upward of twenty taken prisoners. The rebel loss was about the same killed and wounded, and thirty-six prisoners. About the 1st of May, the corps to which he belonged was ordered to Chattanooga, preparatory to the Atlanta campaign. When the troops reached Brownsville, Ala., ten miles east of Huntsville, the infantry were placed on cars and conveyed to Chattanooga, while Col. Phillips, with his regiment, was ordered to take the wagon and ambulance train, with the artillery, through to Chattanooga. He accordingly set out with a train of about three hundred and fifty wagons, sixty ambulances and two batteries, making the march of ninety miles in three days. On reaching Chattanooga, he found orders for him to move to the front, which he immediately obeyed, and the next morning he was ordered, with his command, to take the advance of the Army of the Tennessee. In obedience to this order he set out with his command, and in passing through Snake Gap, drove a force of rebel cavalry before him. On the following morning, having been ordered to make a reconnoissance on Resaca, he had advanced but little more than a mile when he was confronted with a heavy rebel cavalry force under Gen. Wheeler, of rebel cavalry fame. Col. Phillips' force was driven back after a sharp fight of about two hours, during which time he had his horse shot under him, and received a wound by a shot through his ankle, which was quite painful, and rendered him unfit for service until about the 1st of June, when he again assumed command of his regiment, and took part in the heavy lighting before Atlanta. In the battle of the 22d, he took an active part. He was placed upon the staff of Gen. Dodge, who made honorable mention of the Colonel's gallantry in his official report. On the night of the 22d of July, he was placed in command of a brigade of infantry, and bore a prominent part in the battle of the 28th of July, materially aiding the heroic Gen. Logan, who on that day sustained the brunt of the battle. About the 1st of August, 1864, he was again appointed a chief on Gen. Dodge's staff, where he remained until the capture of Atlanta, when he resigned, his resignation being accepted, upon the 1st of September, 1864. On returning to his home, at Hillsboro, in 1864, he re-commenced the practice of law, which he has since continued with great success. He was commissioned as Brevet Colonel, to take rank from the 13th of March, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services during the war, and was commissioned at the same time Brigadier General, by brevet, for distinguished services, also taking rank from the 13th of March, 1865. Thoroughly Democratic in his political views, Gen. Phillips ranks prominent among the leaders of his party in the State. Possessing a well-stored and finely-balanced mind, with intellectual and oratorical attainments of a high order, he is at once powerful on the stump and wise in the councils of his party. He was twice brought forward by the party as a candidate for the office of State Treasurer; his first candidacy for that office being in 1866, when he made a thorough and vigorous canvass of the State, speaking at more than sixty different places. He was again nominated in 1868, but the Democracy being largely in the minority, he was again defeated. In social life Gen. Phillips is one of the most genial of men. As a citizen, he is enterprising and public-spirited, ever taking a leading part in all matters calculated to advance the material interests of his city and county. He is at present Circuit Judge of this district, a position he fills with ability.

Extracted 22 Nov 2016 by Norma Hass from 1882 History of Bond and Montgomery Counties, Illinois, Part 2 Biographical Department, pages 328-333.

Templates in Time