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Jesse Fell’s part in the Civil War arrives at Milner Library

two black binders on wooden desk

These inauspicious binders contain the records of Jesse Fell's time as paymaster of the Union Army during the Civil War.

The Milner Library Special Collections and Rare Books Room at Illinois State University is excited to announce the acquisition of Civil War documents written by Jesse Fell.

Fell is an important figure in the history of Bloomington-Normal, best known for founding Illinois State University and the town of Normal. He was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, and played a pivotal supporting role in encouraging him to run for the presidency. After Lincoln became president and the Civil War began, Fell was appointed as a paymaster to the Union Army.

Among these documents is the Jesse Fell’s letter of appointment to that position, dated July 14, 1862. Fell served as paymaster in Cincinnati, Ohio; Lexington, Kentucky; and Indianapolis before resigning and returning to Bloomington in October 1863.

Fell’s position kept him away from the dangers of battlefield but nevertheless his work was essential. As paymaster, Fell oversaw the payment of soldiers and allotments for commanding officers to have servants, their own horses, laundry service and other amenities. Among these documents are letters from soldiers who wrote to Fell to inform him of their promotions. Many of those soldiers have traceable ties to other significant events in the Civil War.

There are also numerous documents that indicate that the Union Army was among the first to duplicate, and even triplicate, handwritten copies of all records. These papers give us valuable insight into the financial and hierarchical structure of the Union Army. They also serve as a gateway to research that will enrich our understanding of the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil.

For more information about this collection and other materials in the Lincoln Collection of H.K. Sage or Special Collections material, visit their website.

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