Transcribed by Mary Ann Kaylor
BANCROFT, GEORGE ROBERT , a lifelong resident of Springfield, Ill., was born in that city, April 25, 1843. Mr. Bancroft has lived retired many years, and though unable to take an active part in affairs on account of his invalidism, he is still keenly interested in what is taking place in the community and in the outside world, and through the medium of the newspapers keeps in touch with current events and issues. He is well known in Springfield and has many warm friends who greatly enjoy his companionship. He is best known as a veteran of the Civil War, in which he made a record of which he is justly proud. Mr. Bancroft is a son of Jonathan Coburn and Frances S. (Stone) Bancroft, natives respectively of St. Lawrence County, N. Y., and Vermont. His great-grandfather, Colonel Philip Stone, commanded Vermont Militia in the Revolutionary War and the Stone family were prominent in early Vermont history. The Bancroft family were early settlers in New York and George R. Bancroft is a third cousin of George Bancroft, the historian.
Jonathan C. Bancroft at one time conducted a brick-making plant at Springfield, Ill. He had emigrated to Michigan and in 1827 to Illinois, where the remainder of life was spent. His wife came to Springfield from Vermont in 1831, and there spent the remainder of her life. They were parents of three children.
George R. Bancroft spent his childhood just outside of Springfield and received his education in the public schools. After leaving school he engaged in newspaper work and afterwards in various other occupation. December 16, 1863, Mr. Bancroft enlisted at Springfield, in Company G, Tenth Illinois Cavalry, serving until July 7, 1865. During part of his service he was under the command of General Steel Reynolds in Sheridan's cavalry. Among the interesting experiences he relates is that of the time when his regiment was engaged with bushwhackers near Bayou Des Arc, in Arkansas, July 8, 1864, when, out of the two hundred fifteen men who took part in the skirmish on the Union side, but one hundred and fifteen escaped, and Mr. Bancroft was the only unmounted man who got away safely. He made a good record as a solider and did his full duty in defence of the cause for which he had enlisted his services. He had many narrow escapes and slept many nights in the woods alone. He was highly esteemed by his comrades, who recognized his bravery and true worth.
At one time, in 1864, Mr. Bancroft was sent out with a scouting party, consisting of 350 men, under Captain Bates, and they were sent to Hickory Plains, Ark., to capture a party of bushwhackers, but the latter made their way into woods so dense that they made their escape. Upon returning to camp they fed their horses and prepared to spend the night, and as it was raining Mr. Bancroft took shelter in a corn crib, where he soon fell asleep. His companions left the vicinity and forgot to arouse him, so that when he awoke he found himself in the midst of a gang of bushwhackers, who supposed it was some trick of the Yankees. He started away from them and when he had proceeded about 300 yards he was followed, but coming to a sharp turn in the road took to the timber and walked about two miles in the woods, when he was safe from further pursuit. He was then about thirty-five miles from Little Rock, and after spending all night and the next day in the woods came out at Grand Prairie, where he found another gang of bushwhackers, but the grass was high enough so he was not discovered. He took a wrong road while trying to reach Little Rock and the trip was thus made longer for him. At sundown, having traveled nearly all day, he came to the railroad and proceeding to walk along the tracks, was arrested by a Union picket as a spy. He was subjected to some two hours of questioning by the Colonel of the regiment (an Ohio one), in spite of his blue uniform, and finally was cleared of suspicion, given supper and a bed, and eventually returned to his own company, where he had been reported by his comrades as captured by bushwhackers.
At one time Mr. Bancroft and three comrades were given a pass to hunt for hogs, but warned not to go more than two miles from camp. When they were some distance away Mr. Bancroft asked the others not to proceed farther away from the camp, but as they refused to keep within the prescribed limits, he remained with them and they were about nine miles away when they shot three hogs in a field. There were surprised by a gang of about thirty-five bushwhackers, who fired upon them, but they all made their escape, though Mr. Bancroft became separated from the others in the confusion and haste of their departure from the scene. Two holes had been shot through his clothes and a hole cut in his saddle, but he was uninjured. His companions, who returned safely to their company, on account of their passes, reported Mr. Bancroft as killed in the encounter, and when he reached the Union lines he was again arrest by the picket on duty, but soon rejoined his command..
July 7, 1864, the day before the incident previously mentioned as taking place near Bayou Des Arc, after darkness had settled down on the camp, several men being on picket duty, one of vidette duty and six on post, Mr. Bancroft warned the corporal of suspicious noises near them and asked that the five men who lay asleep on the ground should be awakened. However, though Mr. Bancroft believed it was the enemy, the corporal insisted it was nothing more than cattle or hogs, and refused to give the alarm. Just then fifty Confederate soldiers made a charge in the darkness and captured the corporal and all the men except the man on vidette and Mr. Bancroft, the two latter mingling with enemy and making their escape through reason of the darkness. They then fired their carbines and help soon arrived, but not before the enemy had taken the prisoners away. They had also taken Mr. Bancroft's horse and he was afterwards given a mule to ride.
Soon after his enlistment and before he had learned much of military life, Mr. Bancroft drew a new rifle and ammunition, and being advised by an old soldier to practice by firing at a tree, put up a target of paper and proceeded to try his skill. This was strictly against the rules and three hundred yards away was a picket post of infantry, and after several shots had been fired among them they lay down on the ground to be out of danger. They captured Mr. Bancroft and he was put in jail at Little Rock by Provost Marshall. However, the veteran who had got him into the trouble explained matters, and Mr. Bancroft was released.
At the time of the secession of the Southern States Mr. Bancroft was working at the office of the State Journal of Springfield, carrying dispatches from the telegraph office to the office of the paper, and while performing this duty carried the news of the secession of the various States as they came in. He took may dispatches to Governor Yates at the Revere House, and often delivered them as late as twelve o'clock at night. Mr. Bancroft also worked six weeks, in 1861, in the bullet department of the old armory on North Fifth Street, Springfield. Upon returning to Springfield at the close of the war, he was unable to engage in any manual labor, being badly crippled in his lower limbs as a result of scurvy, and since then has been a semi-invalid. In 1862 he was employed by the Government as driver of an ammunition wagon, under General Herron.
Mr. Bancroft is liberal in his religious views and espouses the cause of the Prohibition party, having voted that ticket for twenty years.