Thousands of young men experienced the whirlwind that was the battle of Chickamauga. Approximately 125,000 combatants were on the field, with perhaps another 10-15,000 nearby, or present but considered non-combatants. All of those who survived its fury would have stories to tell.
But of course, most of those men went on to lead full lives. Lieutenant Albion Tourgee (left) of the 105th Ohio was only 25 in September of 1863; Private Dankmar Adler of Battery M, the 1st Illinois Light Artillery was 19. They were both small cogs in the vast war machine that was the Army of the Cumberland.
Tourgee was a native-born American from Ohio, born to a family of Methodist farmers. He was enrolled at Rochester University in New York until he joined the army in 1861.
Dankmar Adler was a German Jew, son of a rabbi; he and his father immigrated to the United States in 1854, when he was only 10 years old. Adler had some schooling but no college. He was working as a draftsman in Chicago before he enlisted.
Both men fought at Chickamauga. Tourgee emerged unscathed, while Adler (right) suffered what was reported as a minor wound to his foot. Neither of their contributions were unusually heroic or noteworthy, though they did not shirk from their duties, which is perhaps heroic enough for any man caught up in the vast conflagration of a Civil War battle.
They would, however, leave their mark on the nation.
After the war Tourgee became a lawyer, a newspaperman, a novelist, and a judge. Not in Ohio – instead he went to North Carolina, where he attempted to help make reconstruction work. He was an abolitionist who fought passionately for equal rights for all citizens, a cause he espoused in both his books and on the bench. Despite the failure of reconstruction, he continued to be a part of the civil rights struggle all through the 1880s and 1890s.
In the America of the Gilded Age, fighting racism was a losing battle, but Tourgee was not one to quit. He also could not win. He was a co-chief counsel for Homer Plessy, the plantiff in the landmark Supreme Court case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, in which Plessy lost and “Seperate but equal” became the law of the land. Jim Crow would hold sway for the six decades.
Dankmar Adler’s impact on the United States was more concrete.
After the war Adler returned to his job as draftsman for a Chicago architect. He spent the next 15 years as an employee and later partner of several architects. In 1880, he formed his own firm, hiring Louis Sullivan to work with him.
The firm of Adler and Sullivan, of course, became famous. Sullivan designed the first modern skyscraper, a steel-framed building concept that could rise to dizzying heights. Adler’s specialty was acoustics, building a number of superb auditoriums, halls, and synagogues.
And, of course, before Sullivan and Adler split, the firm gave another aspiring architect his start: Frank Lloyd Wright.
I confess I find Adler’s acoustical talents most interesting. What must he made of the unholy chorus that was the battle of Chickamauga? And what of those cannon? Modern soldiers where ear protection to prevent damage, but such was unheard-of in the Civil War.
Tourgee and Adler might have only been spear-carriers in the drama of 1863, but they took leading roles on later stages.
More on Adler’s postwar career