Alexander County

Biography - Napoleon B. Thistlewood

CAPTAIN NAPOLEON B. THISTLEWOOD. For upwards of forty years a power in the business and political life of Southern Illinois, Hon. Napoleon Bonaparte Thistlewood, of Cairo, is now representing the Twenty-fifth Illinois district in Congress, and in the councils of the nation is pursuing such an active and honorable course as to win the hearty approval of his constituents, his ability and courtesy being undoubted. A son of Benjamin Thistlewood, he was born March 20, 1837, near Milford, Delaware, where the immigrant ancestor of the American family of Thistlewood settled on coming to this country from Scotland in early colonial days.

Benjamin Thistlewood, whose father. James Thistlewood, was a lifelong resident of Delaware, was born in 1807, and died in his native state September 25, 1881. He led a busy, uneventful life, carrying on farming on a modest scale, in the meantime grinding the grain raised by his neighbors upon the burrs of his water mill. He cast his first presidential vote in favor of General Jackson, and after the formation of the Republican party was one of its most ardent adherents. His first wife, whose name was Eliza Marvel, died at the age of forty-two years, having borne him five children, as follows: Mrs. Annie E. Vinyard, who spent her entire life in Delaware; Napoleon Bonaparte, the subject of this brief biographical record; Philip J., of Cairo, Illinois, who at his death, which was caused by a railway accident, left a family; Benjamin F., who died in Delaware, also leaving a family; and Mrs. Mary Vinyard, of Milford, Delaware. A few years after the death of his first wife Benjamin Thistlewood married a Miss Hammon, and among the children they reared were the following named: Mrs. Sarah Nelson, Mrs. Wilhelmina Jacobs, Theodore, and Albert, all of whom are residents of Delaware.

Growing to manhood on the old home farm, Napoleon B. Thistlewood laid a substantial foundation for his future education in the rural schools of his native town, in the meantime assisting his father on the farm and in the mill, and developing his natural mechanical talent by keeping in repair the old dam used to conserve the water power that moved the mill's machinery. As a young man he began his career as a school teacher in the country schools of Delaware, and, foreseeing the development of the Mississippi valley, came, as soon as he had saved enough money to pay his way, to Illinois, locating at Collinsville in 1858. After teaching school in that vicinity for three years, Mr. Thistlewood accepted a position as teacher in Mason, Effingham county, Illinois.

Abandoning the desk in 1862, Mr. Thistlewood enlisted in Company C, Ninety-eighth Illinois Mounted Infantry. His regiment, which became a part of General Reynolds' Division of the Army of the Cumberland, went into active service, as cavalrymen, near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and on June 24, 1862, fought at the battle of Hoover's Gap or Tullahoma. The next engagement of importance in which the regiment participated was at Chickamauga, Georgia, and the following was in Farmington, the same state. Subsequently, after one hundred days of fighting, Atlanta, the- Confederate stronghold, surrendered, and the gallant Ninety-eighth Illinois Regiment turned back with General Thomas, and after spending a short time at Gravel Springs started on the Wilson raid. In the battle at Selma, Alabama, in the spring of 1865, Captain Thistlewood, who had been promoted from the ranks to the head of his company, was wounded, but was able to command his company at the assault upon Columbus, Georgia, the last engagement fought east of the Mississippi during the Civil war. Being honorably discharged from the service July 7, 1865, at Springfield, Illinois, the Captain, who with the exception of a brief period had been a member of General Wilder's famous brigade, returned to his former home in Effingham county.

Captain Thistlewood subsequently made a visit to his boyhood home in Delaware, and on returning to Illinois again assumed the teacher's profession, and taught for a year, after which he embarked in the grain business at Mason. Coming from there to Cairo in 1872, he continued in the same business, being in partnership with his brother, Philip J. Thistlewood, until the brother's death, as previously mentioned. The Captain dealt in grain, and handled farm products, including tobacco, for many years, his son being associated with him the latter part of the time. On retiring from commercial pursuits Captain Thistlewood entered the political arena, and has since given his time and talents in generous measure to public affairs.

A strong advocate of Republican doctrines, the Captain has ever manifested a warm interest in public affairs, whether relating to city, county, state or the nation. He served acceptably for five years in the city council, and in 1879 was elected mayor and re-elected to the same position in 1881. When he first assumed the mayor's chair, Cairo was found to be deeply involved in debt, a situation that could be remedied by direct taxation only, for the immediate payment of outstanding obligations, but the plan of issuing twenty year bonds was adopted, and the credit of the city maintained. It was during his mayoralty, in 1882, that occurred the memorable flood that threatened the very existence of the town, arousing the fear of the business and professional men, who joined the laborers in carrying sacks of dirt upon their backs to raise the levee above the surface of the waters of the Ohio river. The subsequent work of Mayor Thistlewood in the improvement of the levee was one of the important achievements of his administration, and proved so effective that the safety of the city from an overflow has never since been endangered. The municipality spent a hundred thousand dollars upon this work, and the railroads added fifty thousand dollars in the accomplishment of a situation that should render the southern end of Alexander county immune from further encroachments of the watery elements. In 1897 Captain Thistlewood was again chosen mayor of the city, and two years later received an endorsement at the polls for a second term, his service as business head of the corporation aggregating in all eight years.

Captain Thistlewood was elected a congressman to fill out the unexpired term of Hon. George P. Smith, and served with such a good record that he was elected to the House of Representatives in both the Sixtyfirst Congress of the United States, and the Sixty-second Congress. His interest in the work of securing pensions for his war comrades prompted his appointment on the committee on invalid pensions, and he has devoted all of his time and energies to the encouragement of legislation that will place the ex-soldier of the Civil war beyond the possibility of want during the few brief years still left him on earth. He supported the well-known "Sulloway bill" most vigorously, and hoped for its passage in the Senate, after the house had given it a good majority, but it fell a victim of interests antagonistic to the brave old soldier.

For many years Captain Thistlewood was a prominent and influential worker in the affairs of the Grand Army of the Republic, becoming a state factor in its membership, and being elected, in 1901, department commander of Illinois. He is a frequent attendant at the national encampments of the order, and its society is the only one on which his name is enrolled.

On September 6, 1866, Captain Thistlewood was united in marriage with Sarah A. Taylor, of Mason, Illinois, a daughter of Seth B. Taylor, a wagon maker by trade and a native of Ohio. Two children have been born to Captain and Mrs. Thistlewood, namely: Benjamin R., who married Hattie Gibson, died in February, 1910; and Blanche. The Captain and his family are communicants of the Methodist church.

Extracted 06 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 History of Southern Illinois, Volume 3, pages 1551-1553.

Visit Our Neighbors
Scott MO Mississippi MO Ballard KY
Search the Archives