Anthony Coyle. With the lengthening perspective of years more and more honor is paid the participants in that struggle by which the Union was preserved and the liberty of all men assured in the United States. Only a handful of the survivors of this great struggle remain as a reminder to patriotism in Champaign County. Those who are familiar with his career say that Anthony Coyle was one of the bravest men Champaign County sent into the war. Mr. Coyle, after a life of honorable effort and service, is now enjoying the comforts of a pleasant country home a half mile north of Pennfield in Kerr Township.
Mr. Coyle was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Champaign County since 1854. He is a son of Martin and Mary Coyle, the former a native of North Carolina and the latter of Maryland. The names of their children were Mary, Ellen, Martin and Anthony.
Anthony Coyle was fifteen years of age when he came with his parents to Illinois, and soon afterwards he found employment on Charles McHenry’s farm near Urbana. He was twenty-one when the war broke out and he soon enlisted and marched to the sound of the fife and drum to defend his country’s flag. He enlisted July 10, 1861, in Company I, Second Regiment of Illinois Cavalry, under Colonel John J. Mudd, for three years, or during the war.
In the year before the outbreak of the war Mr. Coyle had gone to New Orleans on a business trip. While in that city he was at the St. Charles Hotel. He became a witness to an altercation between John J. Mudd, who was then a St. Louis commission merchant, and a group of hot-headed Southerners. Mudd expressed himself as loyal to the elected President Lincoln, declared that Lincoln had been elected by a majority of the people and not only ought to be President but the people ought to abide by the decision of the majority. For all this Mudd was derided as an Abolitionist and his life was threatened. This scene occurred on the last day of December, 1860. It was the bold and fearless young Northerner, Anthony Coyle, who probably saved Mr. Mudd from the fury of the mob. He stepped in and showed such determination and vigor that the ardor and expressed intention of the mob to hang Mudd was somewhat cooled. By a strange coincidence when Mr. Coyle went into the army the colonel of his regiment was John J. Mudd. There always existed a warm friendship between the two men, and after the death of Colonel Mudd his grateful family wrote a special letter to Mr. Coyle, thanking him for the bold manner in which ‘he had expressed his bravery in New Orleans. It was also while he was in New Orleans that Mr. Coyle first became acquainted with General Sherman, who was then serving as military instructor at a school at Alexander, Louisiana.
Impressed by all he had seen and heard in the Southern city, and recognizing that secession was an imminent danger and that the Union was seriously imperiled, Mr. Coyle, hastily closing up his business affairs, came North and rode through Illinois on horseback to Chicago and over many of the counties, warning and arousing the people. In those early days he raised more men for enlistment than any other person. Some laughed at his fears, but he said, “Boys, this is no little play before breakfast; our country is imperiled.” Riding up to the home of Russell Kerr, who was stacking ihay with six men, he said: “Russell, our country is in danger, and every man is needed.” He then gave him further facts as he knew them by personal experience. Mr. Kerr stuck his fork in the half-finished hay rick, remarking, “Boys, there will be no more haying until our Union is saved,” and with all his men he enlisted and went to the front.
The Second Illinois Cavalry went first to Fort Massac on the Ohio River, a month later to Paducah, Kentucky, and from there to Columbus, Kentucky, and the Second Regiment was among the first of the troops to enter and capture that town in March, 1862. At the time General Sherman was at Cairo, Illinois, and did not arrive on the scene until the dashing Northerners had taken the city. The Second Illinois was soon ordered back to Paducah, later returned to Columbus, and from there moved to Jackson, Tennessee. In the two severe engagements at Bolivar, Tennessee, on August 30, 1862, the Second Regiment lost all its officers. Mr. Coyle was one of the men who saved Grant’s supplies at Bolivar on that day. He possesses a copy of the complimentary special field order issued by General Grant complimenting the Second Illinois Cavalry on its gallantry. It is said that this was the only time a general order ever paid special complimentary praise to an individual regiment.
At Bolivar, when Colonel Leggett was ordered to charge the Rebel front, expecting to find 600, he found instead he had a force against him of 6,000. His men engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict, fighting* six times their own number. Realizing the importance of reinforcements, the colonel detailed five of the cavalry to go meet General McPherson, who was slowly coming with artillery and infantry from Jackson, Tennessee. Anthony Coyle and his noted cavalry horse, Crusher, was one of these five men. Their orders were to ride for their lives as they valued the lives of their imperiled comrades. From the time they started they were constantly harassed by guerrillas and bushwhackers. Four of the horses tired out in that mad ride and their riders had to return to camp. Anthony Coyle was the only man who got through, delivering his orders to General McPherson. He then returned, his brave horse carrying him on the round trip, three days and nights. All the world knows the result of the battle by which McPherson’s troops saved the day. When Anthony Coyle rode back into camp a wild cheer went up from the boys in blue for the horse and this brave rider.
During the campaigns that followed the Second Regiment was continually on the firing line and did much notable service in the campaigns around Vicksburg. Mr. Coyle was wounded five times and after the fall of Vicksburg was honorably discharged. In his last engagement he was shot through the body and remained for two days and a night on the battlefield while the other wounded were gathered into the hospitals. His comrades thought him past all human aid and therefore turned their attention to others less severely wounded. He was finally put in a box car with the dead and dying and by that time the wound had festered and was filled with maggots. After being removed to hospital the wound was dressed, a silk handkerchief was drawn entirely through the body, and General Grant detailed two special nurses to watch over this brave and gallant soldier. Anthony Coyle has frequently been called the “minute man” of Champaign County. He was ever alert to warn the people of danger. At one time he was completely surrounded by Rebels who determined to close in on him and put an end to his dashing career. To their surprise he headed his faithful charger, Crusher, down a steep embankment where it was supposed no man could walk. At the foot was a high fence, but Crusher never stopped at anything he could see over, and vaulting the fence he carried his rider to safety. There is in the home of Mr. Coyle an enlarged photograph, framed, showing him and his splendid cavalry horse Crusher. After his discharge from the army he bought his horse which had carried him through so many engagements, and Crusher spent his last years in comfort and ease in Champaign County.
Mr. Coyle has as another souvenir of his war service a certificate of membership in the Lincoln Memorial Association. He was very active in the movement and had charge of raising funds for Lincoln’s monument. Among other souvenirs Mr. Coyle possesses some Rebel envelopes and literature and also the Rebel flag which he captured at Columbus, Kentucky, March 7, 1862. This is the noted “Bonnie Blue” flag, the theme of Southern song and story. The flag carries on the blue field a white star for every seceding state. The flag when it was captured was riddled with bullets.
There is perhaps no man living today who was better acquainted with Abraham Lincoln than Anthony Coyle. During Lincoln’s travels as an Illinois lawyer, following the movement of court from county to county, Mr. Coyle was frequently employed to convey the railsplitter from one point to another. At the time of the Lincoln and Douglas debate Mr. Coyle became so interested that he followed them around and heard several of the debates. Lincoln’s earnestness and keen wit and knowledge of law made such a deep impression on his mind that today, after nearly sixty years, he can quote Lincoln’s sayings almost verbatim.
At the age of twenty-six Mr. Coyle laid the foundation for his own home by his marriage to Manda J. Cooder, daughter of John and Permelia (Edison) Cooder, the former a native of Ohio and the latter of North Carolina. When Manda Cooder was eight years of age her people came to Illinois and located in Champaign County. All the children except Manda and her brother William died in infancy.
After his marriage Mr. Anthony Coyle rented land the first year and in time he was able to buy a place of forty acres, paying only $8 an acre, whereas the same land today is worth $250. His industry had its reward and later he acquired another tract of forty acres and has gradually developed a farm sufficient for the needs and comforts of himself and his growing family. Mr. and Mrs. Coyle had one son and one daughter, Frank and Clara. These children they educated in the Penfield school. Frank also attended the University of Illinois, taking the mechanical engineering course, and he worked at his profession at Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania, three years and afterwards was in the employ of the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, being located at Cleveland, in Michigan and various parts of the West. He is a very successful man, and his active career has covered a number of years. At present he is at home assisting his father on the farm. The sister, Clara, is also still living with her parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Coyle and family are active members of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Penfield. In politics he is a Democrat, though he cast his first vote for Lincoln. A public spirited man and always enjoying the confidence of his fellow citizens, he was elected supervisor of Kerr Township, and has also served as a trustee of the local schools. Mr. Coyle is a member of the Knights of Pythias, of the Grand Army of the Republic, and he was instrumental in instituting the first Union League in this section of Illinois. For a number of years Mr. Coyle was entrusted with the management of the large Parsons estate farm and also the farm belonging to the Battles estate.
Mr. and Mrs. Coyle have seen Champaign County develop from a primitive condition into one of the garden spots of Illinois. They have clone their part in life, have been attentive to the duties that lay nearest them, and besides the honor and credit that belong to his record as a valiant soldier Mr. Coyle has the esteem paid to the worthy and upright citizen at all times.