James Knox Polk Wilkins

56th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

James Knox Polk Wilkins was born December 27, 1845 when James Knox Polk was president and was named after him. James' father died when he was young and his mother married again to Thomas Griffith. So James and his older brother Willoby had several half and step brothers and sisters. James most likely never went to school, or at least not enough to learn how to read or write or even sign his name. We have several letters from him to his parents which were written during the Civil War; but they were written for him by others.

A month before his 16th birthday, James enlisted in the army. This was November 15, 1861 at McLeansboro, IL. Several of his friends and neighbors went with him to enlist. There were four young men who served with him in the same company who would later be his brothers-in-law. They were Robert and Andrew Evans (brothers of James' future wife Agnes) and Jasper Fitzgerolds (who was married to Agnes' sister Ann Evans) and James H. Duncan (who would later marry Agnes' sister Jerusia). The Evans farm was near the Griffith place in Pope County.

The 56th Illinois Infantry was organized and mustered-in at Shawneetown, IL on February 27, 1862. James is described on his enlistment papers as being 5 foot 5 inches tall with blond hair and blue eyes. His regiment participated in nearly all the great campaigns of the Western Army in the Civil War. "It never turned its back upon the enemy; it never was driven from a position, and was never engaged in an unsuccessful battle."

See a history of James' war service at: http://www.angelfire.com/md/wilkins/jkpwilk.html

You can also find information on James' brother Willoby Wilkins, 120th Illinois Infantry at: http://www.angelfire.com/md/wilkins/willoby.html

Submitted by Kari A. Schulman

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