Henry Clay Peek

Company L, 15th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry


It comes as a surprise while walking through an Oregon, Illinois cemetery, to see a gravestone which proclaims that the interred person served in an Alabama cavalry regiment. The stone is etched:

Henry Clay Peek
Capt. Co. D 1st Ala. Vol.

Henry did serve in an Alabama-manned regiment, but it fought for the Union.

Henry was born in 1837 in Vermont and in 1838 his family moved temporarily to Grand Detour, Illinois but soon moved to a farm south of Polo. Grand Detour conjures up the name of John Deere and his steel moldboard plow. Deere and his wife, a sister of Henry's mother, had also moved from the same Vermont area a short time previous to the Peek removal.

When the Civil War came along, Henry enlisted and was mustered into Company L of the 15th Illinois Cavalry Regiment on january 1 of 1862. Peek, after almost two years of service, rose to the rank of sergeant while the regiment participated in several skirmishes and the Battle of Corinth.

When the Union forces moved into northern Alabama, it was found that in that non-cotton growing area, there were many local Alabamans who were still loyal to the Union. The U.S. government gave the okay for the loyalists to enlist in a Union Reiment. The regiment was called the First Alabama Cavalry Regiment.

The Army decided that the regiment would be officered by Northerners. Experienced enlisted men were offered commissions to serve in the new regiment, while the ranks were primarily Alabama men.

Henry Peek received a commission and went on to command Company D on Sherman's March to the Sea.

Captain Peek was mustered out in October of 1865. While on leave from the Army, Peek got married. That union produced 5 children, all of whom went to college. Two sons became heads of the John Deere Company, and later were golfing partners of President Eisenhower. FDR had named one of the sons to head up the Agriculture Adjustment Administration ("Triple A") in the early 1930's.

Captain Peek operated a grain elevator in Oregon, Illinois and served 10 years as sheriff of Ogle County. Peek's home still stands in Oregon. He died in 1924.

Submitted by Leonard J. Jacobs

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