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Civil War Era in North Dakota

Judge Dallas Duell and the Grand Army of the Republic

Dallas Duell was born in New York in 1845 and grew up in Illinois. At 16, he lied about his age to enlist in Company D, 72nd Illinois regiment. He served under General Ulysses S. Grant in the western theatre of war and participated in the siege of Vicksburg.

In 1884, with his second wife Viola, Duell moved to Dakota Territory. He took up farming near Starkweather on a “soldier’s homestead,” where he also served as justice of the peace. In 1889, he moved to Devils Lake where he completed his study of the law and was admitted to the North Dakota bar. He was elected county judge, a position he held for 14 years. He was later elected state’s attorney. Duell also served as Police Magistrate in Devils Lake for many years.

Soldiers’ Home in Lisbon, North Dakota, 1893Dallas Duell was a charter member of General Crook post, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), and served as the post commander for years. He attended many of the encampments, or national conferences, of the GAR. At the age of 93, he attended the reunion of Union and Confederated veterans at Gettysburg, and attended his last Encampment at the age of 95. He also served on the board of commissioners for the Soldiers’ Home in Lisbon, North Dakota. Duell died in 1943. He was the last surviving member of the GAR in North Dakota.

Mr. Duell’s biography appeared in the Devils Lake World beginning on March 3, 1926. Below are some excerpts from his story.

“On the morning of July 30, [1862], we boarded a train and started out for Chicago. When we arrived in the city we had no trouble in finding recruiting offices, for they were very numerous and the fifes and drums were calling for volunteers from every vantage point in the city. After being rejected at two places on account of being too small and under age I was finally accepted by Captain James A. Sexton as a full fledged member of Co. D. 72 Illinois Volunteers. As soon as our names were taken and the oath administered we were conducted to a back room and uniforms were issued to us. The sleeves of my coat were too long and my trousers had to be rolled up at the bottom, but when the blue suit was on my happiness was complete.”

At Columbus, Mississippi, Duell and two friends foraged for food:

“It was at this place that I became acquainted with the art of foraging. [We] secured passes and went a few miles into the country.  We came to a plantation and found the owner at home sitting on the back porch of his house. Just in rear of the main dwelling, was a small smoke house, which was standing on blocks leaving quite a space between the floor and the ground. On three sides of the building that space was boarded up, leaving the space in the rear open. In the yard a flock of fine ducks were discovered, and they were very tempting to us.  . . . One of the boys entertained the old gentleman on the back porch. The ducks . . . continued to draw nearer to the opening under the smoke house and finally went under. The boys soon gathered around to prevent the ducks from coming out, . . . and I being the smallest one of the lot, was detailed to crawl under the house to get a few of the ducks. I carried three haversacks under and came out with three good fat ducks.

After strolling around a short time longer we lit out for camp and that night enjoyed a good duck supper. I for one, felt that I had stolen something, and I believe yet that I did. I have no doubt that the owner knew what we were up to but was afraid to say anything to us.”

Duell’s Company traveled to join General Grant’s Army by train. In the South, they met African Americans for the first time. When Duell uses the term “Uncle Toms,” he means it in reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, not in the derogatory way used in recent years.

“We were loaded on closed freight cars and started on our way towards . . . the Tallahatchie River. We could not see out of the cars except through the doors and there were so many in each car that we could not get to the doors as often as we liked. . . . The country . . . was most beautiful. . . . There was still enough cotton on the plants to make a pretty picture, and it reminded me of the scenes in the south described by the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  . . . . [The] cars attached to our train . . . were heavily armored and carried artillery on them for defense against the guerilla bands that infested the country. . . . Everything seemed very wonderful to me. I had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Mrs. Stowe, and had heard Frederick Douglass lecture upon his experience as a slave, and here I was, face to face with the Uncle Toms, Elizas and the great cotton fields of the South.”

As Company D approached Vicksburg, they knew they would be engaged in combat. Company D was assigned to cut off the retreat of the Confederates, but the rebels managed to get away before Company D arrived. This is what Duell saw at the sight of the battle just ended.

“We stacked arms on the battle field and I had a chance to view the havoc that had been wrought by the contending forces. The dead lay very thick upon the ground and the wounded who could walk were trying to get back to the field hospital. It was an awful sight, ambulances were going down the road towards the hospital and blood could be seen dripping from the cracks in the bottom of the box. In going over the field I came across a young soldier, who was about my age, propped up against a tree, dressed in the rebel gray, who had been shot in the abdomen. I gave him a drink from my canteen and talked with him for quite a little while. He said that he knew that he was going to die, that he had been forced into the army and that it was against his will that he was fighting against the North. He said that he was not afraid to die and if only he could have seen his mother before going, he could die happy.

This conversation with the boy caused me to feel pretty creepy and wonder when my turn would come to be in the same fix that he was.”

At the siege of Vicksburg, Duell and his company experienced combat.

“Then ensued one of the most gallant assaults made during the Civil War or any other war, . . . Comrade F. W. Mann of this city [Devils Lake] was a member of the 124th and did his full share in the engagement. I feel like taking off my hat to him when I meet him and remember what he went through in this hand to hand conflict on the 25 day of June 1863.

Our boys were in the crater and the rebs were above them throwing down shells by hand with the fuse lit so they might explode when reaching them in the crater. Sometimes they would not cut the fuse the right length and our men would seize them and hurl them back into the ranks of the rebels. The slaughter was immense on both sides. About three hundred men were blown up with the fort. One colored man who was in the [Confederate] fort was blown and fell on the Federal side.  . . . [He] was not seriously injured.”

Duell remembered the end of the siege and Grant’s victory

“July 3, 1863, was a memorable day in the great struggle to gain possession of the strong and strategic position of the rebels at Vicksburg. On that day my regiment was in the trenches and the firing was going on as usual when all at once the orders came for all firing to cease. The enemy had hoisted white flags all along their line and the information was passed along that they were making overtures to General Grant for the surrender of the city. I peeped over our works and sure enough all along their works that I could see, small white flags and large ones were being displayed. In a short time the men in blue were standing on our entrenchments and those in gray on the rebel line, . . . exchanging witticisms with each other as if they had not a short time previously been trying to seek each other’s life.”

Dallas Duell was mustered out of service on March 20, 1866.