BLOOMINGTON — The Civil War was a brutal, decidedly unromantic slog, a fact often ignored in our ongoing four-year commemoration of its 150th anniversary. By the end, as Grant and Lee blackened the Virginia countryside in a death match costing thousands upon thousands of lives, the four-year conflict had become a harbinger of World War I and the tactics and machinery of mass killing.
On the other hand, the dashing cavalryman, sash tied around waist and sword held aloft (glinting in the sunlight, no less), remains an iconic image of the Civil War, though this figure is better suited to the supposedly more romantic, chivalric Napoleonic era of a half-century earlier.
Even so, the Civil War provided plenty of larger-than-life stories of beau ideal cavalry officers. Locally, this archetype is best represented in the life and death of Lt. Col. Harvey Hogg. Handsome (think Elvis Presley), recklessly brave and perhaps a touch naïve, Hogg died 150 years ago last week leading a doomed cavalry charge in western Tennessee. His death on Aug. 30, 1862, gave his adopted hometown of Bloomington a war hero and martyr to the Union cause.
Born in 1833 in Smith County, Tenn., east of Nashville, Hogg was raised by an uncle and attended schools in Tennessee and Virginia. Coming from a slave-owning family, he was that rarest of men in the Antebellum South — an outspoken opponent of the “peculiar institution.” He moved to Bloomington with his wife, Prudie Allcorn, in the mid-1850s and local tradition has it that he freed his last slave by bringing her to Bloomington. He served as city attorney and then prosecutor for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and right before the war was a Republican state representative. The Pantagraph described Hogg as “a consistent, conscientious, determined anti-slavery man,” though one who expressed his beliefs “without being fanatical.”
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The 2nd Illinois Cavalry mustered into service on Aug. 12, 1861, with Hogg as the second-in-charge lieutenant colonel. He had a decided flair for the dramatic. For instance, on the evening of March 2, 1862, he left Paducah, Ky., with a small force, having learned that the rebel troops had earlier evacuated the Mississippi River community of Columbus, Ky., some 40 miles away. Before heading out, he warned his men they might run into the enemy. “If we do,” Hogg declared, “don’t use your pistols, but give them the cold steel. The saber is the weapon for cavalry to reply upon.”
“In everything Col. Hogg was a manly man,” read one of several “man-crush” tributes from his contemporaries. “Physically he was one of the finest men I ever saw; about six feet high, finely proportioned, straight as an arrow, dark hair and eyes and swarthy complexion. He was a man born to command, a natural leader.”
At one point during the war Hogg returned to Bloomington to care for his ailing wife and then accompany her to Tennessee, “that she might have the care of her mother and relatives, in her last sickness.” She passed away on May 27, 1862, and Hogg brought her body back to Bloomington.
The maelstrom of war cared not a whit for personal grief, and the young widower returned to duty. On Aug. 30, 1862, Lt. Col. Hogg and part of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry arrived in Bolivar, Tenn., located about 70 miles east of Memphis. It was there that Hogg and a mix of Union cavalry and infantry ran into the advance of a large Confederate force. Hogg refused to retreat, instead calling his men forward with a shout of “give them cold steel boys.” According to the adjutant general’s report, the 29-year-old lieutenant colonel was hit nine times by rebel fire. Others killed in the charge included Sgt. William Ross of LeRoy.
Hogg’s body was escorted back to Bloomington, and the Sept. 14 funeral was said to be one of the largest in the city’s history, up to that time. The procession to the city cemetery (now Evergreen Memorial) included military companies, 55 carriages and a large number of residents on foot. He was laid to rest next to Prudie and their infant daughter, Mattie.
“Colonel Hogg was none too good a sacrifice for the principles he died to save,” noted The Pantagraph of Sept. 24, 1862, “but, like many others, he was too good a citizen and soldier for us to spare.” The eulogy concluded with a poem of unrestrained sentimentality common to the era. “His soul released upsoaring,” Hogg was now …
Where armies clash no more,
And peace shall reign forever.”