William M. Buffington, 1872


by Mike Schmidt


    William M. Buffington lived a long and full life. He was a man who wore many hats: a farmer, a soldier, a politician, a husband, a father, a brother and a son. He was alive during a great time in our nation's history and took an active roll in shaping the future of this great country, on a large scale as well as a smaller local one. He was a successful man, and a great American.


    William M. Buffington was born on January 22, 1832, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to Thomas and Mary M. Buffington, Quakers from a well-established Pennsylvania family. William, the first child of the couple, liked to be called Bill. He was a friendly young man.[1] Second in line was his brother, Lukens, born in 1835. Then Thomas S. came along in 1850, three years after him Robert B. was born, and last but not least little Rachel, in 1857. In 1857, right after Rachel was born, the Buffington family moved to Hale Township, just outside of Monmouth, Illinois, where his father was a farmer.[2] At this time Warren County was ideal for farming with its rich fertile soil.[3] Naturally his father being a farmer, William and all his brothers were farmers. According to the Warren County Federal Census of 1860, the Buffington family owned a farm worth $5,000. Everyone farmed except young Robert and Rachel, both of whom were still in school at the time.


    At the age of twenty-one William was accepted into the society of Freemasons, the oldest fraternal order in the world, which claimed an origin back in the days of King Solomon, with an emphasis on God, family, community service, brotherhood and equality; the group is also known for its secretive initiation rights[4]. Buffington’s membership in this group suggests that he had a high moral character, but also that he had lost contact with his Quaker roots, since Quakers discourage membership in secret societies. He remained a Free Mason until he died at age eighty-one. His acceptance into the Society of Freemasons with their emphasis on good character would seem in accordance with William’s choice to enlist in the Union Army in 1862.


   At age twenty-nine William enlisted in the Union Army. At that time he was five feet ten inches tall, with black hair and dark eyes and a light complexion[5]. The Civil War was the first United States war to implement a national draft. The draft was not popular. In fact, it was the cause of many riots in northern cities, but it meant that it was probably in a man's better interests to enlist voluntarily in the military so that he would have some choice of what regiment he would serve, and what job he would be assigned. Enlisting was also a mark of bravery and patriotism, as opposed to being drafted.


   He was put into the Eighty-third Infantry Regiment out of Monmouth under the command of Colonel A.C. Harding. Almost immediately after enlisting the regiment was stationed in Cairo, Illinois, Under Brigadier General Tuttle. On February 3rd 1863, while stationed at Fort Donelson, nine companies of the regiment including Company A, came under attack from 8,000 confederate soldiers. In seven hours of fighting, 800 Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded, while the Eighty-Third sustained only thirteen killed and fifty-one wounded.[6] On Aug 2nd of 1863, he was promoted to Quarter Master Sergeant. Just nineteen days after his enlistment his brother, Thomas Buffington,[7] joined up and served with Company F of the Eighty-Third Regiment.


   During William’s stint in the military a member of his company named Harvey Balding was discharged in July of 1863 for being a “copperhead”, a term that was used to describe northern democrats who supported compromise over military action to end the civil war and restore the Union. These individuals were called copperheads because newspapers of that time tried to show the faction as the serpent of the same name, using the analogy that their words spreading throughout the union as the venom of a snake spreads throughout a body. These men known as copperheads were sometimes considered to be cowards or traitors because of their efforts to persuade others to end the fighting[8]. The men of Company A were so disgraced by Harvey Balding that they felt the need to publish a formal statement declaring their dedication to the cause of the Union in battling the South. This note was written up and signed by thirty-two men of the company, including William M. Buffington, and posted in the Monmouth Atlas.[9]


   During the war the Eighty-third Regiment suffered 121 casualties, including thirty-eight deaths by way of combat and eighty-three by disease.[10] William was honorably discharged from the army as a Quarter Master Sergeant on the 26th of June 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee.[11]


   Currently there stands a monument to the men from Warren Country Illinois that fought in the civil war located right off Main Street in front of the Monmouth Court House. It has a list of the all the Regiments, Companies and the men who served between the years 1861 and 1865. William M. Buffington is on this monument listed under the Eighty-Third Regiment, Company A.


    The Atlas of September 28, 1866, contained a long editorial about Buffington having served as postmaster to "universal satisfaction" and said that there was great public outrage at the way the office was taken away from him. A week later another long editorial rebutted accusations in the Review that the former commander of the 83rd, A. C. Harding was responsible for the action. There was a mass protest meeting, then a week later a Grand Review of Union Veterans, a parade of 2-3000 men, through the streets of Monmouth.


   On December 7, 1866, the Atlas noted that Buffington and a partner had opened an auction house on Main Street, just south of the square.


   Two years after his discharge from the army, William married Fannie J. Shautt, a housekeeper from New York, on September 3rd 1867. By the time of the Warren County Illinois census of 1870 the young couple had a daughter named Blanche, also born that year.[12] Eva Shautt, Fannie’s sister, lived with them, along with Ellen Walker. Eva worked as a millenary, which means she was a custom hat maker. Ellen, on the other hand was a schoolteacher from Ohio.[13] William’s wife Fanny was an active member in the community. She was an exceptional horse rider and received first prize for best equestrian performance winning ten dollars, she also won prizes for best afghan, best-embroidered pillowcase and best toilet mats and ordainments.[14]


    At age thirty-eight William was working as Assistant Postmaster to Captain John M. Turnbull and owned $1,200 of real estate. William’s boss, Captain Turnbull, was mayor of Monmouth in 1867; he was appointed Post Master by president Lincoln and worked there until April 1st 1887. In January of 1867 Captain Turnbull had a small office built on south Main Street.[15] This location is where most of the mail transactions would have taken place and probably the place where William spent most of his time while on duty.


    William’s father Thomas, then seventy-two, was still farming but owned only $1,000 of real estate. Since the departure of most of his family, Thomas had more people living with him and his family: George Ewing, a clerk from Iowa, Rebecca J. Ashren, Mira Mitchell, and William Wilson, a drug Clerk, were among them.[16] When William moved out, it seems that his father had given or sold some of his land to him and his brother Lukens.[17]


    In April of 1872 William, a Republican Quaker, was elected mayor of the city of Monmouth, Illinois. The election results show a virtual landside victory by William over Wilson Sheldon. At this time the city of Monmouth was divided into three wards. The wards went as follows: East Ward went 135 Buffington, 85 Sheldon, West 131 to 20 and South 58 to 32.[18] Judging by the extremely limited coverage of the election, which is restricted to only the results of the election, and containing no references to the campaigns, being mayor of Monmouth in that time was not especially interesting.


    The minutes from the monthly meetings held in the city hall council room shows that the main priorities of that time were to improve the streets, put in more sidewalks and to build bridges[19]. The fact that the majority of the mayor’s meetings consisted of actions regarding roads and general mobility is very understandable because at this time in Monmouth’s history, Warren County was notorious for having terrible roads. The reason for this is two-fold. One, most roads at this time were constructed by local citizens, mostly farmers, and not professional construction workers. Two, when the townships did hire professionals to construct roads, the methods used were very primitive and were not by any means permanent, with little or no drainage system[20]; even our methods today, as advanced as they are, are still not permanent. Without drains for water to run off the road the road turned into sludge and was virtually impassable[21].


   A fire on May 9, 1871, damaged the Fire Department’s 450-foot hose. On May 6th the following year Mayor Buffington had his first monthly Hall Council meeting at 8:30 a.m. The Fire Marshal J. A. Boynton, asked the council for a new hose and new horses and new stables required for faster response to fire threats. It took until December 2nd 1872 for the council to actually fill an order for the new fire hose, but instead of getting 450 feet they got 600 feet of the best quality hose on the market[22].


   In other news of the era The Women’s Temperance Society of Monmouth petitioned the city council to stop the sale of intoxicating liquors; it was passed in June 1872[23]. Although this law was official it did not actually stop the sale of liquor, it only made the sale illegal. People such as Dow Earp, cousin to Wyatt Earp, continued to sell alcohol without discretion.[24]


   Decisions made by the council were free to the public and sometimes they would even put their decisions in the local papers. Such is the case when the council decided to pass an ordinance saying that it was illegal for hogs to run at large through the city. This decision was ordered to be printed in the Monmouth Atlas so that all citizens might be informed of the change.


   A typical meeting for the mayor started around 7-9 AM with the clerk would taking roll, reading the minutes from the last meeting, and, when all agreed these were correct, they would take up the day's business. This would go until about twelve PM, when they would break for lunch, and resume at two PM, having some more discussion, then calling it a day. At this point the mayor would sign the minutes to make them official. Mayor Buffington never missed a meeting, and on occasion called unscheduled emergency meetings. Such as August 13th 1872 when the City Marshal resigned, he quickly called a meeting that day and appointed a new one[25]. Mayor Buffington had his last meeting as mayor at nine o’clock on May 5th 1873, later that day Mayor Babcock, had his first monthly meeting.[26]


  In 1875, William either had a brother or a son born named Harry, but he only lived to be three years old, dying in March of 1878 of Scarletina after eighty days of struggle.[27] He was buried in Monmouth Cemetery on March 24th.[28]


   By the Census of 1880 Fannie had become a milliner just like her sister, and Ellen and Eva had moved out.[29] On March 15th 1880 William’s father Thomas died at the age of eighty-two after battling typhoid and pneumonia for two weeks. He was buried in the Monmouth Cemetery on March 17th.[30] It is not recorded what happened to his mother.


   Around 1883 William moved to Nebraska, then, shortly afterward, to California. Not long after that he moved again, to Missouri, where he worked in the stockyards. William M. Buffington died at age eighty-one in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 1st 1913.[31] His brother Robert brought William’s body back to Monmouth on September 3rd. The McClanahan Post gave him military honors during the funeral. He was buried in the Monmouth Cemetery north of Monmouth College where he still resides today in block four, lot 139.[32]


   William’s wife Fanny and his daughter were described as invalids in the obituary and only five years after his death they both passed away. His brother Lukens died in 1917.[33]


    William M. Buffington was an accomplished man. He fed this nation with the fruits of his labor, defended it in times of turmoil, and nurtured and raised it in times of peace. He accomplished much during the time given to him; anyone who followed his example would have much to be proud of.


Mike Schmidt wrote this biography in the fall of 2005 for the historiography class directed by William Urban.

[1] Obituary obtained from the Warren Country Illinois Genealogical Society book Obits from Early Monmouth Newspapers 2 Jan 1913-30 Dec 1913 Volume 15.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County Illinois, Volume I (Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company Publishers, 1927).

[4] Information obtained from the official website of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ohio. http://www.freemason.com/index.html

[5] Description of William M. Buffington taken from his official Military discharge paperwork, Civil War Discharges Warren Country Illinois, Genealogical Society, the papers say that he was 35 at the time of his discharge; my math tells me that this is incorrect and that he was actually 33. His eyes are described as dark, they were most likely brown.

[6] Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois Volume V, History of Eighty-Third Infantry

[7] Also known as Thomas L. Buffington according to civil war records obtained from The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System at http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/soldiers.htm, the reason for this is possibly due to signature discrepancies.

[8] James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire The Civil War, Volume Two.

[9] The Monmouth Atlas (1863)

[10] Information on casualties obtained from Illinois in the civil war Eighty-third Regiment History. Taken from the Fredericks Dryer’s Book A compendium for the War of the Rebellion Volume III Regimental Histories written in 1908. http://www.illinoiscivilwar.org/cw83-dyer.html

[11] Civil War Discharges Warren County, Illinois, Genealogical Society. The Civil War discharge papers say he was discharged on June 26th, 1865, in Nashville, but the Adjutant General’s report says that the Regiment was first moved to Chicago from Nashville, and there, they were given their final pay and discharge on July 4th, 1865.

[12] Warren County Illinois 1870 Federal Census.

[13] Warren County Illinois 1870 Federal Census.

[14] The Monmouth Atlas Friday September 29, 1871.

[15] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County Illinois, Volume I.

[16] It can be assumed that Thomas was renting out rooms. The women Mira and Rebecca have no occupation listed in the Federal Census of 1870 and are not married. The men are both clerks. It is hard to say whether or not anybody was helping Thomas with the farm at this time.

[17] Lukens Buffington’s name is spelled as Lukens in the Warren Country Illinois 1880 Federal Census and in Monmouth burial records, book 9, p. 212. His name is recorded as Lokens in the Warren county Illinois 1860 Federal Census, but spelled Luke in William’s obituary obtained from the Warren Country Illinois Genealogical Society book Obits from Early Monmouth Newspapers 2 Jan 1913-30 Dec 1913 Volume 15. These discrepancies can most likely be attributed to signature misreading. The most reasonable conclusion is that his name is in fact Lukens Buffington

[18]Election results posted in the Monmouth Atlas on April 5th 1872, the election occurred on April 4th of the same year.

[19] Official City Hall minutes obtained from Minutes 1865-1879 City Hall Council

[20] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County Illinois, Volume I.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Official City Hall minutes obtained from Minutes 1865-1879 City Hall Council May 1872.

[23] Official City Hall minutes obtained from Minutes 1865-1879 City Hall Council June 1872.

[25] Official City Hall minutes obtained from Minutes 1865-1879 City Hall Council Aug 1872.

[26] Official City Hall minutes obtained from Minutes 1865-1879 City Hall Council May 1873.

[27] Scarletina is the precursor to Scarlet Fever, it starts out as an infection caused by a rash, and is likely to occur in children with the chickenpox. It mostly effected children and was common in the 1870s. http://www.drhull.com/EncyMaster/S/scarletina.html

[28] Harry Buffington’s Death Certificate, filled out by S. M. Hamilton M.D.

[29] Warren County Illinois 1880 Federal Census.

[30] Thomas Buffington’s Death Certificate.

[31] William’s obituary says he was sick for a long time, but does not specify what illness he had.

[32] Obituary obtained from the Warren Country Illinois Genealogical Society book Obits from Early Monmouth Newspapers 2 Jan 1913-30 Dec 1913 Volume 15.

[33] Information regarding the rest of the Buffington family deaths is lacking.