I had a request recently to see what I could find out about this gentleman, and thought I’d post it here in case anyone’s curious. He was a much more difficult nut to crack than most queries I attempt. I certainly learned a few things, most of them unexpected. It is very likely that John is featured in the banner photo for the blog, as this was his company in early 1864 near Brandy Station.
John Saville was born in County Limerick, Ireland about 1841. He immigrated to the United States, and was living near Chicago when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted as a private into Company G, 23rd Illinois Infantry regiment on June 15, 1861 at the age of 21. He served with this unit for the first year and a half of the war, in what appears to be a singular experience.
The 23dr Illinois was mustered in the same day John enlisted, June 15, 1861. Upon completion of their training, they marched to garrison Lexington, Missouri in September. After a brief siege, they surrendered the town to militia under Confederate General Sterling Price and were captured and paroled. The regiment was mustered out by order of General Fremont on October 8, and ordered restored by General McClellan on December 10th. For the first half of 1862, the regiment guarded prisoners at Camp Douglas outside of Chicago. In June they moved to Harpers Ferry, where they served as part of the Railroad District, 8th Corps, Middle Department. They served at various locations in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry for the duration of the year, marching to the relief of Parkersburg and Clarksburg in September.
On December 24, 1862, he transferred from his volunteer regiment into the regular army at New Creek, Virginia. He was sworn into Company K, 1st U.S. Cavalry by Lieutenant Judson Haycock. His enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 11” tall, with blue eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. He served the remainder of the war in the company without any major issues. He was discharged at the expiration of his enlistment in New Orleans, Louisiana on December 24, 1865 as a private.
John returned home to Chicago, but must not have been too pleased with his homecoming. On January 27, 1866, barely a month after he left the army, he re-enlisted. He was sworn into company A, 18th U.S. Infantry, which later became Company A, 36th U.S. Infantry, by Lieutenant Kirkland. This enlistment did not go well at all. He deserted on July 3, 1867, only to be apprehended six days later. Apparently things continued to go poorly, for he was dishonorably discharged as a private on January 27, 1869, per General Order 38, Department of the Platte at Camp Douglas, Utah.
John returned to Chicago, where he worked as a laborer. He evidently suffered the effects of his military service. He was admitted to the Northwestern Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1877 for disability due to rheumatism. He was expelled a few months later on February 28, 1878 with the note, “refused to work.” He filed a pension as a veteran invalid on May 3, 1879. He was in and out of the Northwestern Branch and the Western Branch for the next several years, then disappeared from records after December 1889. I could locate no marriage records, and he was listed as single in the National Home entries.
So ends our tale of John Saville, a common soldier.
Stan Schneider said:
Are we talking about the dude, standing with the open trench coast and left center? A recent book, almost certainly misidentified him as George Armstrong Custer.
Stan, Yes, that’s the person. I don’t think for a minute it’s Custer, as he never served a day in the 1st Cavalry. It’s most likely one of the company officers, possibly the regimental commander. Unfortunately, with people cycling in and out on winter leaves, it’s nearly impossible to determine who without knowing the month the photo was taken. Perhaps I’ll have time to dig into it this summer.