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Benjamin H. Grierson Papers

Identifier: MS-BC258

Scope and Contents

The Benjamin Grierson Family Papers, 1848-1895, consists of 21 ½ manuscript boxes and 1 oversized folder of correspondence, military papers, autobiography, maps, dairy, manuscripts, survey, letterpress book and musical scores. The collection documents the lives of Alice and Benjamin Grierson, their family and his musical, business and military career. The collection is divided into six files, Correspondence, 1848-1891; Military Papers, 1862-1895; Manuscripts; Musical Scores; Commissions, 1862-1890; and Robert Grierson, Jr. 1876-1880. The Correspondence File, 1848-1891 (Boxes 1-9, 20) is arranged chronologically and contains the correspondence of Benjamin (280 letters) and Alice (220 letters), letters of Ben’s father, Robert Grierson, Alice’s father, John Kirk’s letterpress book, and politicians and generals. There are numerous Civil War communications and reports. The letters between Alice and Ben are frank and discuss their personal feelings, the family and their problems and his experiences and life in the Army. The Military Papers File, 1862-1895 (Boxes 9-15) is arranged chronologically and contains about 200 items from his Civil War period with the bulk of material from his career in the Western military service. It includes a variety of routine military documents such as, invoices of stores, reports of arms, receipts, reports of monthly inspections, recruiting, accounts, certificates for transportation of recruits, reports of monthly returns of ordnance and ordnance stores, from letters regarding various commissions and railroad survey. There are around 200 letters from Grierson’s adjutant and friend, Captain Samuel Lippincott Woodward, forty some letters from Adjutant Robert G. Smithers, and eighteen letters from Lieutenant William Beck. The Manuscript File, 1863-1892 (Boxes 16-18, 21) is arranged chronologically and includes the unpublished manuscript of autobiographies for specific years and typescript and handwritten copies of his unpublished autobiography “The Lights and Shadows of Life”. Also includes typescript copy of diary and a copy of “Grierson’s Raid” by Brigadier General S.L. Woodward. The Musical Scores File, (Boxes 19-20) consists of twelve bound volumes and separate sheets of music with scoring for individual instruments and includes waltzes, songs, etc. The Commission File, 1862-1890 (Oversized Manuscripts 1-8) is arranged chronologically and consists of actual or photocopies of all of Grierson’s commissions from Colonel of the 6th Cavalry Regiment of Illinois volunteers, to his commission as Brigadier General of the U.S. Army in 1890. The Robert Grierson Jr., File 1876-1880 (Box 21 ½) consists of three bound volumes of diaries written by Robert while living in Jacksonville, Illinois with his grandfather. During most of these diaries his mother is in the west with his father. He writes of school, working with his grandfather, the death of Edith, social activities, girls, and his friends, including Richard Yates, Jr. He also speaks often of his mother and her letters.


  • Created: 1848-1895
  • Other: Date acquired: 00/00/1938

Conditions Governing Access

open for research

Biographical or Historical Information

Ben was not happy there and asked Governor Yates to help him find something better. He was transferred to the 6th Illinois under command of Colonel Cavanaugh who had little experience as a soldier. Ben was appalled by the disorder of the camp and the officers and soon was giving lessons in military tactics and organizing the camp. Within a short time he had turned it into a battalion to be proud of. Soon after the regiment was mustered into service and Ben started to receive a salary so he could support his wife and children and begin paying his debts. After 37 officers of the regiment signed a petition to Governor Yates requesting that Cavanaugh be replaced as commander by Grierson, Cavanaugh resigned and Ben was appointed Colonel. After this he became a major player in the Civil War. All of this time Alice remained in Jacksonville caring for her children, her motherin- law and occasionally leaving to see her husband who begged to see her. Ben was assigned command of the 1st Brigade and led raids through Mississippi and Louisiana in 1863. He was then promoted to Major General of volunteers and in 1864 he made raids into Tennessee and Mississippi. In 1865 he was brevetted a Major General and given command of the cavalry in the Department of the Gulf. He hoped to continue with a major post with the cavalry in Texas but Major General Sheridan appointed someone else. In January 1866 he was mustered out and returned to Jacksonville and was happy to be home with Alice and his new baby daughter, Eliza and his sons. It didn’t last long. In July General Grant recommended Grierson be appointed to command, as a Colonel, one of the six newly formed regiments of black soldiers. Grierson accepted and in September was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to organize his regiment. Once again Alice was left alone with the children in Jacksonville, living in the home of her father-in-law. The two of them often disagreed and maintaining a civil relationship was about the best they could do. This was the way their life continued, with Ben in the West pleading with Alice to come and visit and Alice packing up the children to go West to see their father. From 1868 through 1873 he commanded the district of Indian territory and took a prominent part in engagements against the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and various other Indian tribes. From 1875 through 1881 he was in Western Texas and New Mexico and was frequently involved with action against hostile Indians. But Grierson preferred negotiation and conciliation when dealing with the Indians. He believed in fair play, kindness, tolerance and justice, and that Indians should be educated and become full citizens of the United States. His views were not popular with all of the people. As the boys got older they often stayed behind in Jacksonville while Alice spent much of her time with her husband. In 1878 while at Fort Concho in Texas, Edith contracted Typhoid Fever and died. Robert, who was in Jacksonville attending school, received a picture of her taken after her death and cried because he would never see her again. Her death was very hard for Ben and Alice but it seemed to bring them closer together. In 1887 Ben was appointed commander of the district of New Mexico with headquarters in Santa Fe. It was there that Alice broke her leg. When she continued to have difficulty with it she returned to Jacksonville in the spring of 1888 and, although she had a tumor on her leg, the doctors advised the Griersons that it was not serious. Ben returned to Santa Fe, but in July was advised to return. He found Alice lucid enough to recognized him and ask about her sons but she was more often incoherent. In August she died. Ben stayed in Jacksonville for several weeks to mourn, and to make sure the children were taken care of the way Alice would have wanted. Unfortunately, Robert who had had some mental difficulties, never recovered from his mother’s death and was placed in a mental hospital in 1891 and remained there until his death in 1922. Shortly after Ben’s returned he was ordered to assume command of the Department of Arizona. In 1890, after having been passed over many times, Grierson was appointed Brigadier General and soon after retired from the military. He worked on his autobiography and in 1897, he remarried. In 1907, he suffered a stroke from which he never recovered and in 1911 Benjamin Grierson died.

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Language of Materials



From Jacksonville, Illinois enlisted in the Army as a private in the 6th Illinois Cavalry to be promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers after leading raids through Tennessee and Mississippi in 1863 and appointed commander of the 10th Cavalry, or the “Buffalo Soldiers, in 1866. He was married to Alice Kirk Grierson, with whom he had seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Two of his surviving children spent much of their life in mental asylums. Alice died in 1888, after suffering for some time with a tumor on her leg. Benjamin also commanded the Department of Texas and Arizona and the District of New Mexico. In 1890 he was appointed brigadier general of the regular Army and that same year he retired from the Army. Correspondence, military papers, autobiography, maps, commissions, dairies, manuscripts, survey, letterpress book, musical scores documents the life of Benjamin Grierson and his family. Many letters between Grierson and Alice. Letters from family members including his father, Robert Grierson, his brother, John Grierson and his father-in-law, John Kirk. Letters from generals and politicians including Nathaniel Banks, Shelby Cullom, Ulysses Grant, Edward Hatch, John Logan, William T. Sherman, and Richard Yates. Maps of military operations. Military papers include invoices of stores, recruiting accounts, monthly inspection reports, report of monthly returns of ordnance and ordnance stores and form letters for various commissions. Manuscripts music, twelve bound volumes and separate sheet, with orchestral scoring for individual instruments. Letterpress book of John Kirk and diaries of Robert Grierson, Jr. while attending school in Jacksonville in late 1870’s.
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Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
(217) 558-8923