All in The Family Part IV: Charles E. Hovey, Teacher, Lobbyist, and Soldier
by Brandon C. Hovey
Author’s Note: As I stated in prior volumes, I do not have the time to cover these lives in a comprehensive biography. What you will read are highlights from these figures professional and sometimes personal lives. I have gathered information from secondary sources, and several primary sources including the history of the 33rd Illinois Infantry written by a former colonel of that regiment, General Isaac H. Elliott. Furthermore, I only use Union names for Civil War battlefields.
Charles Edward Hovey was born on April 26, 1827 in Thetford, Vermont. He had ten siblings. His formal education lasted until age fifteen. At that age, Hovey began one of his lifetime careers: that of an educator. (Sesser, 2014). Hovey also worked as a lumberman and entered Dartmouth College in 1848. During his college years he also taught classes. At the time of his graduation in 1852, Hovey had amassed both work experience and a degree.
After Dartmouth, Hovey began a new career in Framingham, Mass. It was there he married Harriette Farnham Spofford in 1854. He would have three children with her, and one of them shall be discussed in the next volume. Shortly after his wedding he moved to Peoria, Illinois, where he would serve as the principal of the Boys’ High School. Hovey “also served as the president of the State Teachers Association and editor of Illinois Teacher” (Sesser, 2014).
Both he and Jesse Fell embarked on an incredible journey with their joint creation of Illinois State University. At the time it would be known as Illinois State Normal University. Hovey found himself challenged, and greatly rewarded with the creation of the new public university devoted to training teachers, of which at the time there was an immense shortage in Illinois. A particular challenge he had was recruiting instructors, tutors, and professors for his school.
On July 12, 1868 he penned a letter to one prospective colleague and friend, Dr. Samuel Willard. He wrote with a tone of urgency, pleading him to begin work.
“We shall need you extremely at the beginning of the coming term. The Board (no less than I) is adverse to the employment of temporary teachers. At the beginning of the year new students come in, & receive their first impressions– these are lasting. They must not be made by ordinary men-such as we could obtain for two months & then dismiss” [sic] (Hovey, Illinois State Historical Society, 1858).
Hovey wanted the best people. Samuel Willard did teach at Illinois State briefly. Hovey did not stay at Illinois State long either. There was talk of war afoot, and more than just rumor. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry occurred on October 16th, 1859. Brown, a militant abolitionist was going to seize the weapons there and arm slaves to lead a revolt against their masters and see liberation across the south. The news traveled and students were alarmed and ready for the possibility of war.
When Ft. Sumter was fired upon in the April of 1861, they were ready to enlist. Hovey counselled against immediate enlistment. He found a drillmaster to act as military adviser to what would become the nucleus of his future regiment’s Company A. This was a student militia known as the Normal Rifles (Abner, 2011). Hovey slaked his students desire for knowledge of drill, tactics, and the use of weapons. He was also pragmatic, he needed to produce teachers for the state of Illinois. Earlier in the beforehand mentioned letter to Samuel Willard in 1858 he clearly stated “The eyes of a state are upon us. We must succeed at any cost” (Hovey, 1858).
In July of 1861, Hovey had done enough pondering regarding his students in the war. He would speak to the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln to obtain a commission and raise his regiment. Jesse Fell accompanied him. By the time, Hovey and Fell arrived in Washington D.C. to meet with the president, the war began in earnest on July 21st 1861. The Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). Many civilians gathered to watch the battle from a distance, including Hovey and Fell. Fell assisted the wounded. According to some sources, Hovey obtained a long gun, (a rifle or a musket) and joined the fighting in some way (Sesser, 2014).
After Bull Run he was commissioned a colonel, and raised his 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment, a nine-hundred man force. They organized at Camp Butler outside of Springfield, Illinois. It was there they drilled and developed a deeper knowledge of battlefield tactics, (or how to do their very best to stay alive on a cruel modern battlefield where weapons were cutting edge, and medicine was far behind).
Hovey’s 33rd Infantry was not only comprised of college graduates, college students, professors, tutors, but also from people outside of higher education. The collegiate stigma though gave them a nickname reflecting their background: ‘The Teacher’s Regiment.’ Several other variants of this nickname existed: ‘The brain regiment, Normal Regiment and the Schoolmaster’s Regiment’ (Elliott, 1902).
After training at Camp Butler, Hovey and his 33rd Illinois Infantry crossed the Mississippi in over to Missouri to do battle with Confederate forces at Fredericktown, MO. They participated in expeditions, actions, and garrison duties in the Trans-Mississippi theatre (Sesser, 2014). Their first major action would be the Battle of The Cotton Plant on July 7, 1862. This battle took place in Woodruff County, Arkansas along the White River.
At the Battle of The Cotton Plant, elements of the 33rd Infantry was tasked with securing crossings at the White River with elements of the 11th Wisconsin Infantry joining them in the operation. Hovey’s force of 759 men marched three and a half miles down the road to Cotton Plant where they made contact with the enemy. Hovey’s troops suffered heavy losses, but they managed to disrupt the rebel positions. For his actions at the Battle of The Cotton Plant, Hovey was appointed to the rank of Brigadier-General on the field (Hanna, 2009,13).
Hovey at this time left the 33rd’s headquarters to lead a brigade. His next military operation would be in Arkansas as well. The Battle of Arkansas Post fought on January 9-11, 1963. Hovey’s major actions on the battle occurred on its final day. He participated in the assault on the battle’s eponymous fort. Supported by a fleet of gunboats his brigade advanced under heavy fire against the confederate main line of resistance. (Sesser, 2014).
Hovey’s unit fought bravely. In this fight he was wounded in both arms. The capture of Arkansas Post, was a decisive Union victory for army commander William Tecumseh Sherman. The Battle of Arkansas Post was the end of Hovey’s military career, he resigned from the army. Some said he was upset at being passed over for promotion. Some say it was his war wounds. (He was promoted to brevet major-general by an omnibus bill at the end of the war (Sesser, 2014).
General Isaac Elliott of the 33rd Regiment regarded him fondly. “Col. Hovey was ambitious for his regiment, and very ambitious for himself; and he had a right to be, as he was a man of ability and attainments, .(J) lulius Caesar was no braver than he, and under no circumstances did he ever become excited or even fidgety” [sic] (Elliott, 1902). Hovey did not return to the life of an academic. He did not return to Normal,Illinois. He began a new career in Washington, D.C. as a pension lobbyist. He died on November 17, 1897 at age seventy.