Harrison Nutting was born in Franklin, Mass. When the Civil War broke out in April of 1861 Nutting apparantly was living in Champaign and working as mason. That fall he volunteered, enlisting on August 14. A married man, he was age 43 - much older than most of the other soldiers in the regiment - had dark hair, hazel eyes, a dark complexion and stood 5 feet 11 inches tall. The unit he joined became Company G of the 39th Illinois Infantry, known as "The Preacher's Company."
Company G had been organized by Dr. William Bradner Slaughter, 39, a Methodist circuit-rider preacher based in Blue Island south of Chicago. Slaughter held a Doctor of Divinity degree from Allegheny College and was trained for the Methodist itinerant ministry. After his arrival in Illinois he was associated with Methodist churches from Chicago to Joliet. From the 1889 regimental history by Dr. Charles Clark, the former regimental surgeon: "Company G was called the Preacher's Company, not alone from the fact of its having a clergyman for its commander, but because its rank and file had pretensions to more morality than the majority of their comrades; and, in fact, it well maintained its superiority in this respect for some considerable time after joining the regiment. But, as is well known, evil communications and peculiar situations and surroundings are corrupting; so they soon lost prestige in this respect and became, in the esteem of their associates, hail fellows, well met, at every turn. Ezra A. Cook, a private in Company G whose father was a Methodist minister had this to say: "About the time I saw father was likely to give a reluctant consent to my enlisting, Captain Slaughter's rousing appeal in the Northwestern Christian Advocate, for Christian young men to join his company, appeared. It stated that the company would be made up mostly of Christians, and no one but moral young men would be taken; and as he was a Methodist minister, my father thought his company was the best for me to join, though it was not expected that I would find in it a single man I had ever seen before. Naturally, my faith in Captain S. was somewhat shaken when, soon after I had enlisted, I found that nearly all the men of the company, that he had recruited up to the time he published that article, would swear like a pirate, and several of them would get drunk. But that article, or those articles, for I think other appeals followed, did bring into the company some of the noblest Christian young men I have ever met, and I doubt not God guided me to Company G.
Slaughter affiliated his company with a regiment forming in Chicago that called itself, in honor of Illinois Governor Richard Yates, "Yates Phalanx." The regiment's early quarters were in the Wigwam, the convention hall where the previous year Abraham Lincoln had been chosen as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party.
Later the regiment was assigned to a newly completed training center on the south side of Chicago named Camp Douglas, which later became a prisoner of war camp.
Nutting and the rest of his comrades were officially mustered in on October 11, 1861, and immediately assigned to Benton Barracks, Missouri, under the command of General John C. Fremont, the famous explorer. The regiment's fate took a twist in October when it was assigned to the Ward Hill Lamon Brigade. Lamon, a former law partner of Lincoln and then the Marshal of the District of Columbia, dreamed of raising a brigade of "loyal troops from his native West Virginia." Still short of troops, Lamon persuaded Fremont to assign the 39th Illinois to his command. But by the time the 39th arrived at Camp Lamon in Williamsport, Maryland, the actions of Lamon, who held no military commission, were being investigated by Congress, and Lamon relinquished his command.
The 39th was assigned to guard railroad bridges in the area of what is now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. The regiment's first taste of action came there in January, when Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's forces advancing troops forced the 39th to withdraw across the Potomac River to Hancock, Maryland.
About this time, by the way, Capt. Slaughter resigned. He moved west, for a long time being associated with the Methodist church in Omaha, Nebraska, the town where he is buried.
After other service in Virginia, the 39th was assigned to participate in the siege of Charleston, S.C. In December the regiment was sent to Hilton Head Island, where, the next month, most of the men, including Nutting, reenlisted for new three-year terms. Those who did received hefty bonuses, usually of hundreds of dollars, and a months furlough at home. In the spring of 1864 the 39th was back in Virginia. It was assigned to General Benjamin Butler's Army of the James and joined in efforts to take Petersburg and Richmond.
The regiment's first true battle experience was at the Battle of Drewey's Bluff, an effort to enter Richmond. The 39th sustained heavy losses and the army fell back. During a Confederate attack on June 2, 1864, rebels broke through the regiment's lines near Wier Bottom Church north of Petersburg, Virginia. During this engagement Nutting was wounded in the leg. He was taken to the hospital at Ft. Monroe, Virginia, where on November 27, 1864, he died of disease brought on by his wound.
Palos Heights, IL
Thanks to Charles Stanley for this information. If anyone has additional information on the 39th or Harrison Nutting, please contact Charles Stanley. Thanks!
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