Alexander County

Biography - Charles W. Wheeler

A seeming incident is oft times sufficient to change the whole course of a human life, to alter forever the intents and purposes of a plan of action previously decided upon and to establish the subsequent fortunes of a generation yet unborn. Thus, in the case of Charles W. Wheeler, had he carried out his original plan of action and embarked on the South American cruise to which he was practically committed by agreement, and for which he was eminently fitted by previous experience and by his natural inclinations, it is a foregone conclusion that the record of his life and work would read differently than is set forth in the following brief history.

Charles W. Wheeler was born in Stratford, Fairfield county, Connecticut, on October 10, 1840. The Wheeler family had been identified with that section of the country since early colonial days, and in the struggle for independence various members of the family took active and prominent parts. Samuel Wheeler, the grandfather of Charles W. Wheeler, was born in those parts on September 10, 1777, lived his life there and died on March 29, 1858, at the age of eighty-one years. He was a seaman for a time, later a ship chandler, and for many years ran a packet along the shores of the sound. He also owned considerable land in the vicinity of his home. Among his several children was Levi, the father of Charles W. Wheeler, born May 20, 1796, and passed his life in the vicinity of his birth as a longshoreman and boatman. He married Elvira, the daughter of Abijah and Abbie Betsey (Curtiss) Booth, both being members of old families established in the Nutmeg state in the early days of the young colonies, and she was born September 5, 1805, dying on December 18, 1882. The issue of Levi and Elvira Wheeler were: Sarah A., who became the wife of Alfred Curtiss; Mary E., who married William H. Batterson; Abbie H., who became Mrs. William Whipple; Francis Otis; Charles W.; and Gertrude B., who married Bruce H. Weller.

The common schools of the vicinity in which he lived and was reared gave to Charles W. Wheeler such education as he was permitted to gain from books, although he was trained in an atmosphere of thrift and industry that stood him in good stead in later life. The home environments and his father's example no doubt did much to instill in him the love for a seafaring life, and while yet a youth of tender years he made many trips along the shore with skippers known to him and the elder Wheeler. He worked for a time as a longshoreman, and later as a minor clerk with a local merchant he gained some knowledge of that business. The sea, however, drew him, and he made all plans to embark on a series of voyages to South American ports as handy boy and skipper's companion, when he was induced by a relative in Illinois to join him here. The prospect of seeing life in the western country proved alluring to the boy, and he finally abandoned the seafaring project and came to Illinois. There he entered the employ of a railroad company with whom his relative was connected, and he remained thus until the call for volunteers came at the breaking out of the Rebellion, and he first enlisted in the state service for thirty days at Newton, Jasper county, Colonel S. S. Good being in command of the regiment and rendezvoused at Mattoon. When he entered the United States service at Springfield it was as a member of Company K, of the Twenty-first Infantry Volunteers with Colonel U. S. Grant in command. The regiment rendezvoused at Springfield, Illinois, and was later ordered into northern Missouri, where it scattered the Confederate command under General Jeff Thompson, and at Mexico the sick of the command of Colonel Grant was left in charge of Mr. Wheeler while the regiment moved southward to Pilot Knob. Mr. Wheeler removed his invalid camp to St. Louis, and remained there with it until June, 1862, at which time he was discharged from the army for disability. During his service he had contracted a form of rheumatism which totally incapacitated him for further duties of a military nature, and he remained for several months at Olney, Illinois, while his health was recuperating. In 1863 he came to Cairo and found employment with the Adams Express Company, where he continued until the close of the war. Concluding his service with the Adams Express Company, he entered the employ of Gaff, Cochran & Company, a Cincinnati firm doing a hay and grain business in the city of Cincinnati, supplying the Government with feed and doing an immense volume of river business under contract. Following the termination of his connection with them, Mr. Wheeler was in the employ of Trovar Homans & Company and still later with the Cairo City Coal Company, in which connection he learned the details of management which later enabled him to establish and conduct a similar business on his own responsibility, which he did in the early seventies. Thereafter he conducted a thriving wood and coal business in Cairo until the year 1902, when he retired from that business and went to live on the farm which he had acquired and development in recent years. In 1882 Mr. Wheeler purchased a tract of land with a view to making it the family home in later years, and he now has a quarter section of farm land under cultivation, which for fertility and general productiveness defies competition. There he has lived for the past ten years in happiness and content, believing it to be the place of all places most suited to the proper development and early training of his young children. Every other interest in life is secondary to his determination to make a happy home for his family and rear them amidst the beauties of nature, and there the retired coal merchant of Cairo is spending his closing days in peace and plenty.

Mr. Wheeler has been twice married. First at Gratiot, Wisconsin, to Mrs. Amanda Spense, a daughter of Samuel Bragg. The children of their union are: Sarah A., a resident of Jonesboro, Georgia; Ella, living in St. Louis, Missouri; Josie, residing in Chicago, all three of whom are married; Augusta and Charles, who died in infancy; and Charles F., still a member of the family circle. The wife and mother passed away at the family home in Cairo in 1895. Mr. Wheeler's second marriage made him the husband of Agnes C. Glynn, a sister of John P. Glynn, one of the foremost business men at Cairo. The children of his later marriage are Martha, Eugene, Elizabeth, John P., Albert G. (commonly known as "Bill"), Abbie and Matthew.

In retrospection, Mr. Wheeler can recall many an incident and thrilling adventure beyond what is the usual lot of man. His early seafaring trips when but a lad yield memories never to be forgotten; his war experience marks an epoch in his life replete with interest and adventure; and his life is full of memories that make him a most interesting raconteur, which will never permit him to become other than a delightful companion to those with whom he comes in contact.

The life of Mr. Wheeler has been lived singularly apart from the influences of either religious or fraternal organizations and in a political way he is inclined to act independent of party interests, but always with a view to the betterment of general conditions.

Extracted from 1912 History of Southern Illinois, Volume 2, pages 589-591.

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