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J. W. Bensyl, whose home is an attractive place just east of Urbana, enjoys the honor and respect of all the people of Champaign County, particularly for the valiant service he rendered as a soldier of the Civil War. Mr. Bensyl was in the army for over four years, and his subsequent life and activities have been of a piece with the loyalty and devotion he showed his country in time of stress.
Mr. Bensyl was born at Danville, Illinois, November 23, 1839, a son of John and Elizabeth (Corray) Bensyl. Both parents were natives of Ohio. Elizabeth Corray, a daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Corray, was born in that state January 29, 1820. John Bensyl was born in Pickaway County, Ohio, December 5, 1808, a son of John and Mary Bensyl. John and Elizabeth Bensyl were married December 27, 1838, before a justice of the peace, Walter Roads. John Bensyl died January 23, 1844. J. W. Bensyl was one of two children. His sister, Mary Matilda, was born January 27, 1842, and died in Nevada.
The Bensyl family were pioneer settlers in eastern Illinois and the parents were married at Danville. John Bensyl took part as a soldier in the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832, a brief campaign in which many men had their first experience in military affairs. It will be recalled that Abraham Lincoln was captain of a company in that war. John Bensyl enlisted twice during the war. He was first under Captain James Farmer and afterwards under Captain Jesse B. Brown. Mr. Bensyl has in his possession the discharge papers of his father, dated June 23, 1832. This discharge states that John Bensyl carried the thanks and gratitude of his commanding officer, which is high evidence of his soldierly qualities. John Bensyl was a very active man, was of medium height, five feet ten inches, had a fair complexion, gray eyes and dark hair.
After the death of his father J. W. Bensyl’s mother married James Springer and removed to northeastern Missouri. The half brothers of Mr. Bensyl are: J. E. Springer of Urbana Township; William I. Springer, deceased; and Thomas Springer of Salt Lake, Utah. J. W. Bensyl lived in Missouri from the age of ten until he was nineteen. He had obtained his first school advantages in the old Bromley School, where his first teacher was George Hoyt. Later he attended the St. Joseph School, where his teacher was Armstrong Rankin.
J. W. Bensyl was not twenty-one years of age when the Civil War broke out. He soon caught the enthusiasm and desired to enlist with the first call for three months’ troops. However, he deferred on account of his mother’s objection. His mother at that time was in poor health, and on October 16, 1861, she passed away. After she was laid to rest the young man felt that his duty had been done by granting her wish, and that nothing stood in the way’ of his service to his country, which was so sorely in need of brave men. On the 25th of October, 1861, he enlisted in Somer Township in Company I of the Tenth Illinois Cavalry, a gallant organization in which he did his full share of hardships and duty. The regiment was first ordered to Cairo, then was sent back to Camp Butler at Springfield, thence to Quincy, Illinois, to Benton Barracks at St. Louis, and from there sent into southwestern Missouri, being quartered during the summer at Sand Springs on guard duty, twenty miles from Springfield. During the next winter the regiment was at Brownsville, Arkansas, and in the spring was sent on to New Orleans, to Little Rock, and about that time the term of enlistment having expired, Mr. Bensyl reenlisted. He and his comrades were granted a thirty days’ furlough, which they spent at home and at Springfield, Illinois, where the ladies of the town entertained the soldier boys most royally, giving them a reception which they appreciated the more because of their long experience in camp life. From Springfield, Illinois, the regiment was again sent South to Nashville, Tennessee, and to Little Rock, Arkansas, where their arms and horses were restored for duty. On first entering the service the members of the Tenth Illinois Cavalry had furnished their own horses, but at the second enlistment the Government furnished their mounts.
The Tenth Illinois Cavalry of which Mr. Bensyl was a member was recruited in the fall of 1861, was mustered into service at Camp Butler, and was discharged from service at the same place January 6, 1866, after four years, two months and seventeen days. It participated in the following notable engagements: Cane Hill, Clark’s Mills, Niauqua Creek, Prairie Grove, Van Buren, Cotton Plant, Arkansas Post, Little Rock, Bayou Des Arc, Vicksburg and Mobile.
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Mr. Bensyl was first discharged from service January 2, 1864, at Little Rock. At that time his captain was the gallant George L. Snelling. During his first enlistment he served as corporal. His second discharge was dated November 22, 1865, at San Antonio, Texas. He came out of the army with the rank of sergeant. His second captain had been William H. Coffman. Thus Mr. Bensyl was in the army four years, two months and ten days. Not long after he returned to Illinois he went to farming, and on September 25, 1870, married Armilda Brownfield. Mrs. Bensyl was born in Somer Township of Champaign County, a daughter of Benjamin and Lavina (Hayes) Brownfield. The Brownfield family consisted of four children and with her brothers and sisters Mrs. Bensyl attended the district schools.
After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Bensyl went to Martin County, Minnesota, where they remained two years engaged in fanning. Returning to Illinois, they settled in Somer Township on land which had been part of Mrs. Bensyl’s father’s estate and a portion of which she had inherited. Here they began building their permanent home, and in time they bought the interests of the other heirs and had a well improved farm of eighty acres.
Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Bensyl, two of whom died in infancy. The only daughter, Kathryn, was educated in the home district schools and the Urbana High School, and after reaching young womanhood married Charles U. Ross. Mr. Ross had formerly been a resident of Urbana, but at that time was engaged in business at Oklahoma City. The wedded life of these two young people was brief. At the end of sixteen months Mr. Ross passed away. Thus left alone in her widowhood, Kathryn returned to the home of her parents at Urbana and has lived with them ever since.
Eighteen years ago Mr. and Mrs. Bensyl left their farm and moved to Urbana, residing there six years. They then sought a home near Urbana, where they acquired a small tract of ground just east of the city and built themselves a most commodious and modern home. The home is located close to the interurban line, and they thus enjoy the conveniences of the city and the comfort and quiet of the country. Uncle Sam delivers their mail every day, and with telephone and electric light they are able to enjoy the scriptural injunction to eat and drink and enjoy the work of their hands.
The family are active members of the Christian Church at Urbana. Mr. Bensyl has served his community as school director and school trustee, and politically has always voted in line with the principles that led him to serve his country in the dark days of the ’60s. The Republican party has meant to him the greatest political organization in the world and the source of the best laws America has ever had.
Mr. and Mrs. Bensyl have witnessed many of the interesting changes and developments as a result of which Champaign County has become a garden spot of the world. He recalls a time when the town of Urbana consisted of only a few buildings and the country around was a scene of waving prairie grass and sloughs. The original log jail was standing in Urbana when Mr. Bensyl first came to the county. On a farm that afterwards belonged to Mrs. Bensyl a man named Weaver, while under the influence of liquor, shot and killed a Mr. Hildebrand. Weaver was arrested and confined in the old jail at Urbana, and after trial was sentenced to be hanged. The night before the morning set for the execution he broke out of jail and was never apprehended. It was said that he went to Wisconsin, where his family joined him, and he spent his last years there.
Thus the main facts have been recited in the career of a worthy Champaign County citizen who as a youth marched away with the boys in blue to save the Union from disintegration and after more than four years of fighting returned home to enjoy the fruits of peace and take his place among those who were fighting for the victories of civilization. More than ever today the world realizes how much the victorious boys of the ’60s contributed by their brave efforts to the well being of not only this nation but of the world, since it was the results of their sacrifices that made it possible for the allies to appeal for help to the United States and thus preserve the rights and liberties of freedom everywhere from the encroachment of monarchy and despotism.