Gray family papers  1861-1882 (bulk 1861-1865)
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Biography

Gray, William, d. 1864

Rank : Lieutenant

Regiment : 99th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Co. K (1861-1865)

Service : 1862 August-1863 May

Gray, Edwin Eckley, d. 1882

Rank : Private

Regiment : 99th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Co. K (1861-1865)
3rd Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corps

Service : 1862 August-1865 July 31

One year into the Civil War, William Gray and his son, Eckley, left their home in New Salem, Ill., to enlist in the 99th Illinois Infantry, leaving the care of their farm in the hands of William's wife, Lucy, and another son, Doan. Organized in response to Lincoln's call for troops of August, 1862, the 99th Illinois Infantry served in Missouri for several months before being assigned to duty before Vicksburg.

The hardships of war took a heavy emotional toll on the Grays. Already concerned about her husband's and son's health and well being, Lucy Gray was burdened with carrying out the heavy labor around the farm in the absence of men, with worries about the farm's solvency, and with the nagging rumors of Eckley's drinking, gambling, and precarious finances. Although she urged her husband and son to desert for home, enticing them with rumors of a secret society of Democrats prepared to assist deserters, her efforts failed and the conditions of her life remained bleak. Indeed, her lot in life may have declined in 1863 when William died of wounds incurred at Vicksburg, and when, later in the year, Eckley was hospitalized as the result of an unspecified illness. By early 1864, too ill to continue in regular service, Eckley was assigned to the 3rd Veteran Reserve Corps and was transferred to the District of Columbia.

If not a Democrat prior to the war, Eckley had become a very staunch one by 1864. If he is to be believed, the Democracy held general sway in the Reserve Corps, and the soldiers greeted election images of McClellan with raucous cheers and images of Lincoln with equally raucous boos. Lincoln became a particular focus for Eckley's rage. Asking rhetorically whether the president could really intend to call for yet another half million recruits, Eckley answered in the ardent tones of a true peace Democrat:

Yes he will do it, the wretch. Or at least he will try if him and his blood thirsty followers would draw the last man from the bosoms of his starving family to gratify their fiendish ambition. What is the life of a human being to Abe Lincoln? Nothing litterally nothing. Not so much as the life of a worm to a man of any feelings. If he is kept in power he will call out million after million of human beings to be slaughtered in a hopeless cause... Our only mode of escaping utter destruction is in getting a human being in the place of the fiend who rules us at present" (1864 July 19)

Although entertaining the idea of using a recently discovered, distant relative in congress to finagle a way out of the army, Eckley completed his enlistment, mustering out of the service at the end of July, 1865.

Whether it was an inherent trait of character or the experiences of war, Eckley seems never to have settled into a stable civilian life. The stability of married life, for one thing, was clearly out of the question for him. "Hey I am a pretty specimen of humanity to think of such a thing," he wrote to his mother, "poor miserable beggar that I am. I will not have money enough when I get out of the service to buy myself a decent suit of clothes. I would knock my brains out against a stone well or choke myself on butter if I had the funds to buy me a pine box to stay in afterwards." His only option, he jokingly suggested was to "hitch on to some rich widow in the South," adding darkly that if this plan failed, he would be "gone" (1865 May 24).

By 1882, Eckley had alighted near Baxter Springs, Kansas, where his sister Flora, and her husband, Benjamin Cooper, lived, and in March, after a three week binge of chloral abuse, Eckley died of an overdose of morphine.