Accounts of Captain Jim's early experience were published in his lifetime, but none say precisely why he switched vocations. A possible hint might be found in the choice of topics on which he wrote, and the tone of his most pointed comments, within those topics, during the Civil War. A further likely hint may be evident through the history of his later commercial career.
He shows an impatience with abstract theories. By inference, he appears impatient with much that related to a scholar's life. For him, it held no promise, no excitement.
It could not compare to what a strapping young fellow might find in a bustling new land. He wanted to build, to impose order on the landscape, and achieve balance. Construction and design intrigued him. Even during the War, as he walked the muddy roads of the South with other Maquon lads, Jim paused to sketch a gothic doorway.
It was probably the main entrance of some church or plantation mansion. The sketch survives on one of his diary pages, somewhat faded, but meticulous, nonetheless, with many architectural details labeled. And while this sketch conveys the depth of Jim's feeling for the act of building, as well as for the art of it, the sketch is also a revelation of something else.
A profound conflict raged within that young officer, for he had ambivalent feelings about the ruthless destruction that General Sherman decreed should be wrought upon the South. The endless burning of homes, stores, crops, and barns made Jim suffer. The buildings were certainly Confederate property and the War could be attributed to the Rebels. Yet everytime he saw a structure go up in flames, he was sad. He knew what vast labor some carpenter had invested, often far beyond what any cash payment could compensate. destruction of such property ran counter to his basic views, and in his writing, Jim mentions the devastation with regret. His comments are much brighter when things are intact. He loved the sight of land that was improved with rail fences, neat fields and attractive houses.
He knew very well that the vindictive treatment which General
Sherman ordered heaped upon the Rebel civilian population would
have long-range harmful effects. The immense banality of constant
destruction never silenced him. To the last of his "marching"
entries, Jim wrote again and again of the horrible desolation
inflicted upon the Confederacy. Fields where nothing grew, where
no fences were in sight, where housed were burned to their foundations,
where children stumbled sick and hungry, children who appealed
to their empty-handed mothers, who had nothing to give - these
are repeatedly cited in the pages of Captain Burkhalter's history
of a bitter fratricidal war.
At the same time, there was the other side of his misery, for he was forthright in his dislike of the rebels. They deserved to be punished for their wrong-doing, their hateful slavery, their surly stubbornness. He could shoot at any of those fellows with a clear conscience. But war still was not for him.
In 1856, Jim left the East and went to Galesburg. Why he chose our town is not known, although he did have a relative living there. The predecessor of the Burlington Railroad had arrived but a year or so before, and about the time that Jim was ready to leave the East, Galesburg was expanding. There was a demand for carpenters.
George Churchill says of Galesburg in 1854-55 " the town felt the impulse and sprang from hundreds to as many thousands, and on every hand signs of unwonted life and activity were see,. New buildings sprang up as in a day; new churches were built' college lands sold rapidly and at large prices . . ." Swedish immigrants poured in, as did the Irish - to work on the railroad or go into agriculture.
He arrived during April, his birthday months, and went to work.
For a time, Jim worked in the village of Maquon as a carpenter and a contractor. Then he went to Memphis, Tennessee, and spent a few months. Returning, he took a position as bridge builder on the Wabash Road. Then he became bridge boss on the Peoria & Oquawka road, which later became the Peoria branch of the Burlington Railroad. After holding this job for a year, he returned to his carpenter business, which he followed until the Fall of 1858, when he resumed his place on the Peoria & Oquawka.
Jim was a handsome fellow, as his photograph attests, and he made the social rounds. After a while, he met a girl in Maquon named Martha Adle and married her in that village on December 2, 1858. Their first son arrived the following year, and two more lads had followed by 1862. Although no records have been found to date, it seems reasonable to assume that Jim Burkhalter's relations with the Colton Family of Galesburg commenced shortly before the war, or not long after it began.
The Coltons were among the earliest settlers of Galesburg. Chauncey was the head of the family and arrived in 1836. he had two brothers, who were associated with him in business ventures. He also had two sons, John and Francis, grew up to participate in the family enterprises. John was somewhat older than Jim Burkhalter, but Francis was nearly the same age, being but a year Jim's senior. A thriving general store was a Colton landmark on Main Street, at the Square in Galesburg, by the late 1850's. Jim may very well have first encountered the family as their customer. In any event, the Civil War broke out and John Colton helped raise the Illinois regiment which became the 83rd Infantry. Jim assisted as an enlistment officer and was responsible for the recruitment of Company G, of the 83rd. After that, Jim went on to raise Company F, of the 86th. He was elected its Captain in the summer of 1862. He soldiered with the 86th from the first to the last day of the outfit's military service.
Jim's relations with the Coltons continued after the War. By then, Francis lived abroad with his first wife and family, for he was the United States Minister to Venice. John was back in Galesburg and associated with Chauncey. Chauncey was a director of the C.B.&Q., and an officer in a local bank. A large hotel was built by a syndicate which the Coltons backed. A foundry operated by one of Chauncey's brothers had grown substantially. The general store under John's aegis had also expanded.
In 1869, the Coltons founded a new bank, the Farmers &
Mechanics Bank, and Jim Burkhalter was probably among the many
initial depositors. Chauncey Colton was the bank's first president,
from 1869 until 1872. Francis returned from Europe by then and
succeeded his father as head of the bank, staying from 1872 until
1884. Captain Jim followed Francis Colton as president.
Earlier, in 1865, Jim returned to his family in Maquon and stayed until 1884, when he resettled permanently in Galesburg. During Jim's postwar Maquon years, he was a building contractor. His partner was John hall, formerly Lieutenant of Company F, 86th Illinois Infantry. The firm of Hall & Burkhalter was responsible for a great many buildings, roads or other structures around Knox County. Wolf Bridge, a covered structure still in service across the Spoon River, near Maquon, is part of their history. Presently existing documents show that Hall & Burkhalter provided the stone foundation of the bridge. Wolf Bridge is now an officially recognized historical site in the State of Illinois. During this period, Burkhalter also served in various political jobs, being a police magistrate in Maquon at one time, and the Treasurer of Knox County at another.
There must be many old hometown stories which speak of Captain Jim. One such item was published in Fred Dunbar's autobiographical Memories of a Horseman, some years back. Mr. Dunbar told of Leroy Marsh, for whom he began working in 1892, at the Galesburg horse and mule barn - which , in its day, was practically a national institution. About Mr. Marsh and Captain Jim, Fred Dunbar told this story:
Mr. Marsh's "... business grew fast and by 1895, he was receiving fifteen carloads of horses per week. At the time, Mr. Marsh ran into financial trouble through a partner, who, like many others at the time, was trying to get rich by speculating on the grain exchange. The next year in 1896, we had that terrible depression, which completely put him out of business and he was financially broke. I was 21 years old at the time and was working for Mr. Marsh. For months, he walked the streets a broken-hearted man. One morning, while he and I were standing on the sidewalk at the corner, a man drove up with his horse and buggy. He was Judge Alfred Craig, of the Bank of Galesburg, and he said, "Leroy, what are you doing?"
Mr. Marsh replied, "I am not doing anything."
Craig replied, "You're too valuable a man not to be doing anything - here's a check book."
The same day, Captain James L. Burkhalter, President of the Farmers & Mechanics Bank, came down and said to Mr. Marsh, "You should buy this corner back - it can be bought for four thousand dollars."
And Mr. Marsh said, "I haven't got any money."
Burkhalter said, "Come up to the bank tomorrow and we will let you have it."
"So you see," Fred Dunbar concluded in his autobiography, "only for the efforts of these two men and these two banks, Galesburg would never have had her 'mighty horse market.'"
Captain Jim lived until within a few months of his 73rd birthday. The end came one morning in January, 1908. A few minutes before a director's meeting at the bank, he was stricken with apoplexy. he was taken home, where he died shortly thereafter. He left six children and several grandchildren. Martha Burkhalter had died fifteen years earlier.
In New York City today, there lives a retired investment banker, who, in the early years of this century, was an impecunious student at Knox College. He lived at the Burkhalter home and assisted with various tasks. One daily responsibility of his was to drive Captain Jim in a carriage - drawn by a horse named "Old Bill" - to the bank every morning. When told that Captain Jim's Civil War writings were being gathered for a book, this gentleman said: "Yes, I remember him well. He was a good-hearted man. And a martinet."
(Ed. Note: the above was written in 1968, but publication was delayed until the Fall of 1972. The retired investment banker described in the paragraph was Nelson Dean Jay, who had a brilliant career with Morgan et Cie in Paris for a great many years. It is hard to believe that the famous and immensely successful Mr. Jay of international investment banking fame, was once a poor college boy in Galesburg, who earned a portion of his expenses by being a stable boy and driver of Captain Jim's carriage, headquartering at the old Burkhalter Home on West South Street. But it is true.
Mr. Jay was very interested and pleased that the Burkhalter manuscripts were headed for publication and asked for a copy when ready. Mr. Jay died in the summer of 1972, only weeks before "Voices" was ready for public sale.)
This summation of Captain Jim seems logical. His military narrative show him to have been a very insistent person, who sought correctness in details, and he as a man of conventional values. He was a meticulous bookkeeper. The Pennsylvania lad who jettisoned school teaching and law study, in favor of carpentry and solvable construction problems, and who later became a successful banker, was a man who required standards of correctness. he expected the fulfillment of legal promises, for that was a proper way, he knew, for a bank, a town, and a country to develop an orderly sensibility. The result had to be progress, and it was.
Captain Burkhalter's Georgia War is a compilation of Jim Burkhalter's Civil War writings. These filled three diary volumes, one lengthy journal, a second, lesser journal, and a few personal copies of Company F records. Of this material, nine-tenths relates to 1864 and 1865, General Sherman's campaign in Georgia and the two Carolinas.
Burkhalter's wartime personal letters have not been found and are presumed lost.
Company F was also a participant in the events of its regimental history that preceded the advent of General Sherman into the Deep South. During 1862 and 1863, the men from Maquon were in the Kentucky and Tennessee campaigns. Jim may have filled diaries then, too, but these have not been found.
With his observant carpenter's eye, and his Yankee good sense, Jim wrote daily entries over 1864 and 1865 which set forth revealing aspects of his, and Company F's, experience. Among his range of topics is the weather. That was an important item, because those Illinois farm boys had to live outdoors in a climate far different from that of Knox County. Continual southern rainstorms were a source of worry, for the men were usually ill-protected and sickness was an inevitable result. Military clothing was never adequate and the soldiers always needed boots, coats, shirts, drawers, stockings, and trousers. Burkhalter seems to have spent almost as much time worrying about his men's clothes, as he did about their protection from rebel bullets. Part of his anxiety may be attributed to a commanding officer's sense of responsibility. The rest of it was because the men of Company F were friends and neighbors from back home. for them, the war might be a splendid adventure, but it would end one day. Then everyone would go home. as Captain Burkhalter also planned to return to Maquon, his interest in the boys' welfare was also practical.
Another concern of Burkhalter's was the quality of his men's sleep - usually it was ruined by rebel attacks and cannonading. He makes those night battles sound like banzai attacks. The need of water fit to drink preoccupied him, too. Jim was less concerned about rations, because foraging was the historic method of obtaining food and there was plenty to be found, he says, on southern farms and plantations.
Because Jim was a builder, he reported in his narrative his experiences in building pontoon bridges. One scene, at Rome, Georgia, early in the Spring of 1864, is especially vivid. The army's subsequent trek through the swamps and bogs of coastal Georgia and the Carolinas required the construction of corduroy log roads under the most appalling conditions. His scenes are elliptical at times, yet graphic. One wishes he had filled in more description, and yet it must be remembered the quantity of material he did write and the thoroughness of his details, that Captain Burkhalter must have carried those little books and a pencil, constantly.
Recently, after the tree diaries had been transcribed into typescript, the hundred-odd pages were read by a present-day Marine commanding officer, who served in the Vietnam campaign. This Marine officer says about Captain Jim's narrative: "...the portrayal of the day-by-day life of a military man during war hits home. it doesn't romanticize something which is hard and often tedious work, where men's lives are at stake."
And there lies the key to the central virtue of Captain Burkhalter's observations: what he wrote is unique for its humanity, its believability. Jim wants his men to wash their clothes, to get a good night's rest. he tells of the misery of building log roads through quagmires and then moving wagon trains eight miles long. He records the company's need for axe handles, spades, stockings, drawers.
He complains that the soldiers performed poorly at a parade because the band music was bad - details which turn into a picture of life, of failure, of exhaustion, of those very rare moments of happiness. It is a narrative of war that is firmly grounded in the simplicity of life, American life, North and South, white and black.
Burkhalter was an amateur writer and perhaps never aspired to be more, yet his observations are remarkable for their felicity and truth.
When Captain Jim returned to his wife and small sons in 1865, he resumed domestic responsibilities. He and John Hall went into business, bidding on construction jobs, working on roads, bridges and buildings. The record books of Hall & Burkhalter which survive tell an intriguing tale - naming the men of the work gangs, what they were paid, where they lived, what they built and the materials they required - from chewing tobacco, stone, mule teams, wood, mortar and trick, to loaves of bread and demijohns of whiskey.
Captain Jim's progression upward in life was highlighted by political jobs that increased his prominence and extended his contacts. Many of the jobs which he and Mr. Hall undertook were done on credit, with promissory notes and payments of interest playing a major role. This, in turn, put him squarely into the banking business, and once there, he went on to the top.
Go to Page 3
Return to Scrapbook page