BLUFORD WILSON. - there is something akin to poetic justice in the fact that Bluford Wilson is recognized as a distinguished and prominent citizen of the state in which his ancestors were pioneers. They aided in laying the foundation of the great commonwealth of Illinois and from an early period in its development the name has been closely interwoven with its history in connection with progress, upbuilding and advancement. Furthermore the family has a notable record for patriotism and for military service and General Wilson of this review has added new lustre to the record made by his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather. Isaac Wilson, the last named, was a soldier of the war of the Revolution, serving for three years in the Virginia State Line as a sergeant under command of Captain Augustine Tabb. When the war was over and the independence of the nation was assured he removed with his family from the Old Dominion and became a resident of Fayette county, Kentucky.
Alexander Wilson, the grandfather of our subject, established his home in Union county, Kentucky, and afterward came to Illinois, settling in Gallatin county in 1808. The work of reclaiming this wild district had scarcely been begun. There was a little fort upon the present site of the city of Chicago for protection for a few scattering settlers against an Indian attack. A few settlements had also been made in the southern portion of the state, but the greater portion of the broad prairies remained as they came from the hand of nature. Alexander Wilson was a man of influence who left the impress of his individuality upon the public life of the locality. He was a member of the first council of the territory of Illinois and was the personal friend of Governor Ninian Edwards and Governor Ford, enjoying the confidence and esteem of those distinguished men to an unusual degree. He was sent to the territorial legislature which met in Kaskaskia, then the capital of the state, but in recent years the town has become entirely obliterated, remaining only as a memory in the minds of the early settlers. While in the legislature, Mr. Wilson served as chairman of various committees and speaker of the house, and largely aided in molding public policy in those, its territorial days. He died in January 1814, and the legislature in subsequent session showed its appreciation of the man and his service by granting to his heirs the privilege of ferry franchise at Shawneetown, which has ever since remained in the family.
Harrison Wilson, the father of our subject, was born in Culpepper county, Virginia, and he too rendered his country valiant service by becoming a soldier of the war of 1812. While in the Black Hawk war he was captain of a spy battalion. He married Catherine Schneider, who was born in Gambsheim, near Strasburg, Alsace, whence she came to America in the early part of the nineteenth century with her father, Augustus Schneider. A new chapter was added to the military history of the family during the period of the Civil war. General James Harrison Wilson, a brother of our subject, was a graduate of West Point and became one of the celebrated officers of the Union service, was a distinguished member of General Grant's staff ans was one of Sheridan's division commanders. He afterward commanded Sherman's cavalry and was largely instrumental in securing the decisive victory over Hood in the engagement at Nashville. He led his corps to victory when opposing Forrest, the noted cavalry commander of the south and closed the war by the capture of Jefferson Davis. He was also a major general in the war against Spain and is now a retired brigadier general of the United States army and his life record forms a part of the history of his country. His brother, Major Henry S. Wilson, distinguished himself as an officer in the Eighteenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, in which he successfully served as adjutant, captain and major, and our subject was also a veteran in the Civil war, so that the three sons of Harrison Wilson nobly maintained the fighting prestige of their Revolutionary and pioneer sires.
Colonel Bluford Wilson was born near Shawneetown, Gallatin county, Illinois, November 30, 1841, and for a short period was a student in the public schools there. He afterward conducted the ferry which has always been in possession of the family and with money earned in this and other ways he was enabled to continue his education as a student in McKendree College, which he entered in 1859. Desirous of becoming a member of the bar he entered the University of Michigan, but after the outbreak of the Civil war he could no longer content himself to continue his studies while the preservation of the Union was in doubt and in 1862 he enlisted in the One Hundred and Twentieth Illinois Infantry, becoming a member of the company commanded by Captain P. B. Pillow. However, before the regiment took the field he was made adjutant and in May, 1863, he was promoted to the rank of captain and became assistant adjutant general on the staff of Brigadier General Michael K. Lawler. He bore an active part in the Vicksburg campaign, participating in the battles of Champion Hills, Black River and the siege of Vicksburg, and he served on the staffs of Generals Dana and Eugene A. Carr, in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. During the Red River campaign he was adjutant general of the Thirteenth Corps, then commanded by General Lawler, and for gallant conduct he was breveted major, in pressing the siege and assault of Spanish Fort, continuing to serve on General Carr's staff until the close of the war.
When hostilities had ceased Major Wilson returned to the north with a most creditable military record and continued the study of law in the University of Michigan until his admission to the bar in Shawneetown, in 1867. The following year he was made the candidate of the Republican party for the office of state's attorney and in 1869 he was appointed by President Grant United States district attorney for the southern district of Illinois, acting in that capacity until the re-election of General Grant, when in May, 1874, he was made solicitor of the treasury. The position was a very responsible one and he a young man of but thirty-three years of age, but the same loyalty, determination and comprehensive understanding of duty that marked his military services were also manifest in his official career. In Washington he was the main support of General B. H. Bristow, secretary of the treasury, in the famous contest against the Whiskey Ring, which was the most powerful and extensive combine of public plunderers that ever disgraced the civil service of the country. In this combine were not only many distillers, but also collectors and supervisors of internal revenue and men high in political authority who had gained the confidence of the president and then betrayed their trust in a most infamous manner. Owing to the work of Major Wilson, General Bristow and others, this combine was completely crushed out and its ringleaders were sent to the penitentiary. In recognition of the services of Major Wilson, General Bristow wrote to him the following letter:
"Washington, D. C., June 20, 1876.
My Dear Wilson: I can not take leave of the treasury department without expressing to you my great gratitude for the earnest and able support you have given me throughout my term of service. Whatever has been accomplished in the direction of enforcing law and bringing to merited punishment those who for a considerable time had plundered the public revenue and debauched the public service, is due more to your courageous, able and efficient conduct than to any effort of my own. The government owes you more than it is likely to pay. I beg you to be assured that I carry with me into private life, the most grateful remembrance of your fidelity, zeal and capacity with which you have met all your official duties and obligations, as well as the uniform kindness and friendship extended to me during our official relations. May heaven bless and prosper you in all your undertakings. Sincerely and gratefully your friend, B. H. Bristow. "Hon. Bluford Wilson, Solicitor of the treasury."
In the meantime Major Wilson had become actively connected with his brother, General Wilson, in the development and building of railroads in the southern portion of Illinois and as the result of their efforts the St. Louis & Southeastern Railroad, from East St. Louis to Shawneetown and to Evansville, Indiana, came into existence. The line was afterward extended to Nashville, Tennessee, and this property now constitutes the St. Louis end of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and has been a most important element in the development of southern Illinois and southern Indiana. The brothers also constructed the Cairo & Vincennes Railroad, now an important part of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, and they organized the company which built the Louisville, Evansville & St. Louis Railroad, now the St. Louis connection of the great Southern Railway system. In this regard the work of Major Wilson is deserving of special commendation. He was perhaps in advance of his time in the recognition of the possibilities and opportunities for railroad building. For a few years his work did not produce a remunerative return, but in the course of time these various railroad lines became of the greatest value in opening up different sections of the country to trade relations and thereby promoting the commercial prosperity and welfare of the localities through which they passed.
On resigning his official position in Washington in 1876, Major Wilson became a resident of Springfield, and has gained distinction as a member of the bar of this city. He is particularly well known as a practitioner in the United States courts and as a corporation lawyer. He is now general solicitor for the Chicago, Peoria & St. Louis Railway Company, general counsel for the Illinois Southern Railway Company, in which he is a stockholder, and is controlling an extensive private practice as a member of the firm of Wilson & Warren, his partner being his son-in-law, Philip Barton Warren. Few of the members of the Illinois bar have a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the principles of jurisprudence than does Bluford Wilson. He is especially well informed in the department of law concerning corporations and the character of his clientage indicates his high standing as a representative of the legal profession.
From the time of the organization of the Republican party down to the present Major Wilson has been a Republican, although he differed radically from the polity of the party in 1892 and cast his ballot for Grover Cleveland. He announced his intention of doing so and also made the statement that Judge Gresham would follow the same course. This was vigorously denied by men prominent in the ranks of the Republican party and as a vindication of his statement Major Wilson published the following:
"To the public: The truth of the statement made by myself and others, that Judge Gresham said he intended to vote for Mr. Cleveland at the coming election, has been persistently denied, not only by the Republican press, but also by the Republican national committee and upon the stump. It is due to Judge Gresham and his friends that the truth should be known, and I therefore take the responsibility of giving to the public his letter of the 27th of October, addressed to me. Bluford Wilson."
"Chicago, ILL., Oct. 27, 1892
Hon. Bluford Wilson, Springfield, Ill.
Dear Major: I have your letter of the 21st inst. I did tell yo, at Springfield, that, after mature reflection, I had determined to vote for Mr. Cleveland this fall, because I agreed in the main with his views on the tariff and did not believe in the principles embodied in the McKinley bill. I adhere to that determination and have said nothing indicating a change of purpose. It is not true that with my knowledge or consent the president was asked to appoint me to any office. It is not true that I requested any one to say or do anything to obtain the Republican nomination this year. It is not true that I voted for Mr. Cleveland in 1888. I voted the Republican ticket at every presidential election since the party was organized, except in 1864, when I was not able to go to the polls. Republicans were pledged to a reduction of the war tariff long before 1888 and during the campaign of that year the pledge was renewed with emphasis again and again. Instead of keeping that promise the McKinley bill was passed, imposing still higher duties. It was in the interest of the favored classes and not for the benefit of the whole people. It neither enhanced the price of farm products nor benefitted labor. Wages are and ever will be regulated by supply and demand. Duties were imposed upon some articles so high as to destroy competition and foster trusts and monopolies. I think you will agree with me that this was an abandonment of the doctrine of moderate, incidental protection. The tariff is now the most important question before the people and whatever others may do I shall exercise the right of individual judgment and vote according to my convictions. I think with you that a Republican can vote for Mr. Cleveland without joining the Democratic party. How I shall vote in the future will depend upon the questions at issue. Yours very truly, W. Q. Gresham"
With this exception, however, Major Wilson has been a firm and unfaltering Republican, although he has never failed to support his honest convictions when occasion warranted. He differed radically from his party concerning the Hawaiian question as treated during the Cleveland administration, strongly opposing the lowering of the American flag, which he believed to be lawfully floating over the islands. By telegram, letter and in personal conference he insisted that the act of annexation had been completed in President Harrison's administration; that it accorded in all respects with the traditional and patriotic aspirations of the great majority of the American people regardless of party and that the law of stare decisis in the administration of the state department should be as inviolable in American cabinets as in England, where no matter who is premier the state department always stands "four square" to the outside world. It is a matter of history that Major Wilson's views were not accepted in Washington and it is also known that no act of President Cleveland during his second term of office did more to re-establish Republican supremacy.
Patriotism may well be termed the keynote of the character of Major Wilson. It was again strongly manifest when the Spanish-American war was inaugurated, for at that time he offered his services to the governor of the state, who gave him authority to raise a regiment of infantry on the 22d of April, 1898. Three days later his regiment had more than the full quota of men and he tendered his aid to the governor. In the meantime, however, the governor had decided to give the militia organizations preference, and Colonel Wilson was therefore obliged to hold his regiment until the militia organizations who desired so to do were sent to the field. Then came the order for the Eighth Illinois, a colored regiment, to supersede the First Illinois in the field and again political reasons interfered with an order that would send Bluford Wilson's Provisional Regiment to the front, the Ninth Illinois being sent in its place. This regiment, however, would have been the next in order of muster had not the close of the war crushed his hopes for active service. All of this time Major Wilson had from fifteen hundred to three thousand men ready to respond to his call and many of these were sent to the front. A member of Mitchell Post, No. 450, G.A.R., he has served as its commander and is also identified with the Loyal Legion, Illinois Commandery.
On the 3d of July, 1865, occurred the marriage of colonel Wilson and Miss Alice Warren Mather, a daughter of Captain James Mather, of Louisville, Kentucky, and the became the parents of five children: Harry, who died in infancy; Jessie, the wife of Philip Barton Warren; Luc, the wife of Ralph Vance Dickerman; Bluford, who was the champion wrestler and wing shot at Yale as well as an excellent student during his senior year; and Arthur Harrison, who is now a cadet at West Point. The family attend the services of Christ church, protestant Episcopal, at Springfield, which Major Wilson aided in organizing in 1888, since which time he has served as senior warden. He is also a member of the standing committee of the diocese and of the board of trustees. He was a delegate to the general convention in Washington in 1898, while in 1901 he was a delegate to the convention which met in San Francisco. Perhaps we can not better close this sketch of the life of Colonel Wilson than by quoting the opinion of his work and character as given by one of his friends who has known him long and intimately, and said of him:
"When he was appointed United States district attorney by President Grant he was only twenty-seven years of age and came to Springfield a stranger to the members of the Sangamon county bar. He soon made a favorable impression by his prompt, business like methods and his close application to every case that came before him. From that day to this his record has been one of conscientious devotion to his chosen profession. He has been so long and prominently connected with railroads that he is most widely known as a corporation lawyer and his reputation as such is of the highest character. Colonel Wilson was for many years the trusted and confidential friend of the late Judges Allen and Gresham of the United States Court, being one of their masters in chancery. In many of their most important receiverships they appointed him special commissioner and they would often act upon his conclusions both as to law and fact in these important cases. By
members of his profession he is held in the highest respect for the thoroughness of his legal training and learning. He displays as complete a familiarity with fundamental principles of the law as with precedents. A profound lawyer as well as an accomplished scholar, he is moreover a singularly effective speaker, the charm of his diction being enhanced by a graceful delivery and a dignified bearing which at once makes a favorable impression upon his audience. There is a sort of vigor and a glow to what he says that holds the attention and controls juries. All those who have encountered him in the arena of forensic debate have had occasion to acknowledge the soundness of his judgment in dealing with large and important interests and his perfect fairness toward opposing counsel. It is the careers of such distinguished men as Colonel Wilson that should be an inspiration to the student and younger members of the Illinois bar.