Former Enemies Who Became Friends
John J. Dunphy
A sign on Illinois Route 267 indicates the exit for Miles Station. One follows a road flanked by fields of corn and soybeans to this hamlet, which consists of a few houses and a large cemetery. A tombstone-style marker informs visitors that Miles Station Cemetery was established in 1866.
The cemetery’s grass is neatly mowed and an American flag flies from a large pole. Nonetheless, Miles Station Cemetery is showing its age. Many of the inscriptions on the oldest tombstones are now illegible. One such tombstone marks the grave of a child. I know this because I was able to discern the faint image of a lamb, an animal that symbolizes innocence and was frequently carved on children’s tombstones. The monument that marks the graves of Jonathan Miles, founder of Miles Station, and his wife, Elizabeth, remains in splendid condition, however.
Born in 1817 in Kentucky, Miles came to Illinois with his parents, both of whom were southerners by birth. The family in 1832 settled in Macoupin county, where they became “pioneers of Brighton Township,” according to the 1891 work Portrait and Biographical Record of Macoupin County, Illinois. Macoupin county was quite the wilderness when the Miles family arrived. Jonathan Miles could “remember when there were no roads here, there being an unbroken prairie over which one could ride for miles without fence or house intercepting his progress. Jerseyville, Alton and Carlinville were all then mere hamlets and it often required a week to make a trip to mill.”
History of Macoupin County, published in 1879, noted that Miles “attended school some little time in Kentucky” and “had the benefit of instruction for a short period” at an early school in Alton. Miles was largely self-educated or, as the author conceded in nineteenth-century prose, “for his acquirements in the way of an English education, he is mostly indebted to his own efforts.” An “English education” was an old term for basic schooling that taught one to read and write,
Miles built the first mill in this part of the county, which proved a boon for area farmers. Miles Station was originally called Providence and later renamed Miles Station to honor its founder. It was indeed a “station” for the Chicago and Alton Railroad, whose owners Miles convinced to run a line through his settlement. The author praised Miles’ character. “His business relations have never been tainted by a suspicion of dishonesty” and “as a man and a citizen” Miles, who belonged to his community’s Methodist church, stood “above reproach.”
Like Lincoln, Miles was a Whig until that party’s collapse. He then became a Republican and remained so for the rest of his life. I have yet to determine whether he and the community he founded played any role in the Underground Railroad.
When the Civil War broke out, Miles’ southern roots in no way deterred his allegiance to the Union. He recruited local men to join a unit that, on Aug. 9, 1861 was mustered in as Company F of the Twenty-Seventh Illinois Infantry. The company roster shows that no less than 12 men gave “Miles’ (sic) Station” as their residence. Men from neighboring communities such as Brighton, Shipman, Plainview, Piasa, Woodburn and Fidelity also joined Company F. This company included 14 volunteers from Upper Alton and 20 from Alton. Like so many other Illinois units, these men trained at Camp Butler.. Miles entered the army as a captain and eventually rose to the rank of colonel.
Company F first saw action in Belmont, MO and later participated in the capture of Confederate-held Island №10 in the Mississippi River. Miles led his men through major campaigns such as Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga. “His men conducted themselves with credit,” Portrait and Biographical Record stated, “reflecting honor upon their commander and his tactics.” The company roster recorded only two desertions and one dishonorable discharge. The other men in Company F indeed demonstrated honor and courage.
Henry Adam and John Richardson, both of Shipman were killed at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. Andrew Pfifer of Columbus, Ohio fell at Stone River on New Year’s Eve of 1862. Style Shives of Alton was killed at Peach Tree Creek in Fulton county, Georgia on July 20, 1864. Several other men died of unspecified causes. At least 10 men were wounded, including Leonard Cook of Upper Alton, who was mustered out after being wounded twice: once at Stone River and again during the battle at Rocky Face Ridge, which occurred during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign.
Miles led a charmed life on the battlefield. At Chickamauga, according to the 1891 work, “his field glass and sword handle were shot off and his horse was shot out under him.” Although “his clothes were several times pierced by bullets,” he was never wounded. The work also noted that Miles “never succumbed to sickness.” That in itself was quite a feat. Modern medicine was in its infancy during the Civil War and the germ theory of disease had not yet been widely accepted. As I observed in Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois, twice as many Union troops died from disease as from combat wounds.
For reasons that remain unclear, Miles resigned his commission while stationed at Cleveland, Tennessee. The 1879 work stated that it was “less than 90 days before the expiration of his three year term of service.” The author speculated his decision to resign was “perhaps connected with his business and his family requiring his immediate presence in Illinois.”
While Miles deserves our admiration as an area pioneer who fought for the Union, he also merits respect for the magnanimity he showed a former enemy. Miles met Bushrod Johnson in St. Louis, when the ex-Confederate general was down on his luck as well as a widower with a disabled son, and invited Johnson to move to Miles Station. His bravery as a soldier was matched by his benevolence as a veteran.
Johnson resided in Miles Station from 1875 until his death five years later. He was buried in that community’s cemetery and there he remained — until 1975, when his body was disinterred and sent to Nashville for reburial in the cemetery where his wife rests.
I once found it difficult to believe that anyone who took part in the Underground Railroad would ever repudiate abolitionism. I also thought it impossible that anyone who had helped fugitive slaves achieve freedom would fight for the Confederacy. Bushrod Johnson, however, was such a person.
Bushrod Rust Johnson was born into a family of Ohio Quakers on Oct. 7, 1817. Quakers were opposed to slavery on principle, but the Johnsons actively expressed their opposition to the Peculiar Institution by participation in the Underground Railroad. In Yankee Quaker Confederate General, his 1971 biography of Johnson, Charles M. Cummings wrote that Nathan Johnson, Bushrod’s brother who was born in 1794, “was to assume leadership of the family. He taught school, learned to be a physician and took an active part in abolition agitation and in the Underground Railroad’s aid to fugitive slaves.” The age difference between the two brothers meant that Nathan was “a second father” to Bushrod and “always his counselor and help in time of trouble.”
Cummings wrote that young Bushrod attended Quaker meetings where “he heard exhortations against the evils of holding slaves.” Nathan’s home served as an Underground Railroad station. “Negroes were brought in at night, hidden in the cellar, attic or barn until the following night. Then provided with food, they were taken to the next ‘station.’ “ Nathan’s sons assisted him “and doubtless Bushrod.”
Bushrod obtained an appointment to West Point in 1836. Choosing an army career violated the central tenets of his Quaker faith. A bit of research, however, revealed a few other Quakers who have served in the military. Paul Douglas, who represented Illinois in the U. S. Senate from 1949 to 1967, converted to the Quaker faith as an adult. However, at age 50 he joined the Marines and fought in World War II. Richard Nixon was born into a Quaker family but sought and received a commission in the Navy during World War II.
Following graduation from West Point, Johnson was stationed in Florida during the Seminole War. He saw extensive combat during the Mexican-American War. His obituary, published in the Sept. 16, 1880 edition of the Alton Telegraph, informed readers that at the end of the war “he resigned and located in Nashville as a professor of a military institute.” The truth is more complex and less laudatory. Before the war had even ended, Johnson resigned from the army after disgracing himself by attempting to sell government property for personal profit.
Johnson reinvented himself and taught at the Western Military Institute in Kentucky and the University of Nashville. When the Civil War broke out, Johnson chose to fight for the South and rose to the rank of major general. Cummings suggested that his decision was motivated by financial considerations. By 1860 this ex-Quaker owned $5,000 in Nashville real estate and $12,000 in personal property. He owned almost three times as much property in the South as he owned in the North. “The South had made Bushrod the wealthiest of the Johnson clan,” Cummings observed.
The Telegraph obituary noted that Johnson fought in “many of the most important battles” and returned to teaching after the war. A widower with a disabled son, he abandoned Tennessee for St. Louis in 1874, where he entered what Cummings called “a commission business.”
A letter written by Charlotte Roady, published in The Telegraph’s August 15, 1975 edition, described Johnson’s life at Miles Station. Roady wrote that Johnson “made his living cutting hedge posts” and “was loved by the people in the community and always willing to help raise a barn and even helped to build our little church which stood in the center of the cemetery.” Roady’s grandfather told her that Johnson “was a highly cultured man and had brought his library of books, which he would lend to anyone who wanted to read them.”
Miles and Johnson evidently became fast friends. A 1932 Memorial Day newspaper article stated “At one time Col. Miles of the Union army and Gen. Bushrod Johnson, Confederate, were in the habit of sitting under the church yard trees and talking over the war in which they had served on opposite sides. It is under these same trees where they sleep now.” A brief Memorial Day service was held at the Miles Station Cemetery, which included a salute fired over Miles’ grave and the playing of taps. A local minister “gave a short talk and Irene Meyers recited Edgar Guest’s poem ‘Decoration Day.’ “
Jonathan Miles died in 1903. The Alton Evening Telegraph, which mistakenly gave his place of burial as the nearby town of Shipman, noted that “An old bugler in Col. Miles regiment, who was a personal friend of Col. Miles, will be at the funeral to sound the bugle call of taps.” The newspaper also mentioned that Major Frank Moore would serve as one of the honorary pallbears. We can only speculate whether the conversations between Miles and Johnson also included accounts of participation in the Underground Railroad and whether the old Confederate general ever expressed regret for abandoning abolitionism.
“ ‘ Blue’ Colonel and ‘Gray’ General, Tale Traders, Rest in Miles Cemetery,” Alton [IL] Evening Telegraph, May 31 1932.
“Bushrod Rust Johnson,” American History Central. https://www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/bushrod-rust-johnson/ accessed September 23, 2022,
“Death of Gen. Bushrod Johnson,” Alton [IL] Telegraph, September 16, 1880.
Dunphy, John J. “Macoupin abolitionist became Confederate general,” The [Alton, IL] Telegraph, September 10–11, 2022.
— — — — “Local Union veteran befriended a Confederate,” The [Alton, IL] Telegraph, September 17–18, 2022.
“Funeral of Col. J.R. Miles, Alton [IL] Evening Telegraph, April 3, 1903.
Meszaros, Nina. “Body of Confederate general to be moved from Brighton grave to Tennessee Home,” August 5, 1975.
— — — -. “South’s final drumroll for General Bushrod,” Alton [IL] Telegraph, October 1, 1977.
Roady, Charlotte. “His heart is still there” (letter to the editor), Alton [IL] Telegraph, August 15, 1975.
no author given. Portrait and Biographical Record of Macoupin County, Illinois. Chicago: Biographical Publishing Company, 1891.
no author given. History of Macoupin County, Illinois. Philadelphia: Brink, McDonough & Company, 1879.
John J. Dunphy’s books include Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois, Lewis and Clark’s Illinois Volunteers, Murder and Mayhem in Southwestern Illinois, Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials: The Investigative Work of the U.S. Army 7708 War Crimes Group, 1945–1947 and From Christmas to Twelfth Night in Southern Illinois. He is also the author of seven collections of haiku poetry and owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, Illinois.